samedi 13 mars 2010

Memory Lane

Formal introductions are a bore, and do belong to a sidenote I am too lazy to write right now. Instead, allow me to sketch myself by sharing a few memories.

Working in computer science, I am convinced I owe a lot to the computers I used. Here are a few.

Early 1980s: Commodore Vic 20

This is the first computer I ever touched. It belonged to a schoolmate of mine.

I have to confess that I only played games on this one (I remember some sort of Space Invaders), but it introduced me to these strange computer things.

Self quote: "Where do I plug this cord already?"

Early 1980s: Sharp MZ80K

This one also belonged to a schoolmate. Both of us banged our head on an awful BASIC programming manual, hoping to write the next killer application.

Self quote: "I did not really understand this concept of variables. Do you have any clue?"

1983: Thomson TO7

In 1983, we moved to another town, and I applied to the newly created local computer club. They had these Thomson things, with which I started to learn programming. I'm still learning!

Beside an awful keyboard, soft and beeping on each keystroke, the TO7 had a light pen. Writing a drawing program was a piece of cake, but I never really understood what else you could do with that.

Self quote (syntax not guaranteed!): "
10 inputpen x,y
20 plot x,y
30 goto 10

1984: Sinclair ZX81

When you are a kid, you don't know how skilful you are; you only notice these skills when you lose them, while growing up. Indeed, it took me an extraordinary combination of menacing, cajoling, praying and what else, to have my father finally buy me my first computer: the Sinclair ZX81 (that you may know as Timex-1000).

I must have been really efficient, because I also had a 16KB RAM expansion at the same time!

I spent hours polishing my BASIC, then jump into the Z80 assembly language bandwagon. It was the time when I really dived into programming.

My cousin, already a hardware hacker at the time, completely rebuilt my ZX81 in an aluminium case, with a mechanical keyboard. I still have this curious beast somewhere, and I will probably make a post about it someday.

Self quote: "Mind if I use the TV set?"

Mid 1980s: Amstrad CPC 464

The race was on: I put money aside for years, to buy a new, more powerful computer. Isn't that what we have been doing ever since then?

I bought an Amstrad CPC 464 (you may know it under the Schneider brand), which was the most affordable of the "modern" computers of the era. Incidentally, the one on this photograph is not the model I used: Mine had a monochrome display (green on green - ouch!), and an AZERTY keyboard, not a QWERTY one.

With this computer, I lost all my faith in graphics programming: I have never been satisfied with the graphical programs I painfully wrote, don't ask me why...

But I got my kicks writing a multitasking system for my CPC! It took me days, and never ran more than two programs at a time, specifically the two ones I developed for the system. Probably in the top three of the most crash-prone programs I ever wrote - and I wrote a few!

Self quote: "mode 2"

Since 1988: PCs, PCs and a couple of Macs

I became a computer student in 1988, and I have been using mostly PCs ever since then. But I am quite addicted to Macs, even though I rarely used them.

And, yes, I actually programmed in C on a Mac in the early 1990s. Well, not a memory I cherish...