My Life – In Computer Years

the presented feen

Nothing like a major milestone to throw you into a whirl of nostalgic self-reflection. Today I'm 30. 30 years old. There's no doubt about it - I've done the maths and it adds up. I've tried recounting everyday since my first memory (a huge green praying-mantis in the back yard) but there are certainly a lot of holes in there.

One thing I've noticed to be a recurring theme in the mesmerizing drama that is/was my life is the presence of computers. If my existence were portrayed as an art flick, you'd turn to your friend 3/4 of the way through and say "What's with all the computers?"

In case one or more of you out there wish to produce such a film, I'll supply some background information - so you get the details right.

My Life Through Computers

The Vic 20First off, some clarifications - I'm talking about Computers here - I did have ample exposure to the Atari 2600 and various game&watches, but I just wasn't into them so much. No, the first time I realised the awesomeness of computers was one christmas - when the next-door neighbours introduced me to their brand-new Commodore Vic 20.

It was 1984, and I was 8.

2 GOTO 1

It was amazing.

My very own computer

It would be another year until I would receive a computer of my very own. It was Christmas 1985. The Commodore 64 was rapidly becoming best thing created by mankind ever. However I was told by my parents that Santa wouldn't be bringing me a computer that year. I believe it was because the C64 cost a pretty-penny, and Santa didn't think I REALLY wanted a computer.

The Spectravideo SVI-318Luckily for me, that year saw the introduction of a "competitor" to the C64 by a company called SpectraVideo. The SV-318. Sold in the middle of the local shopping centre, it was much cheaper than the C64 and featured a 3.6Mhz Zilog Z80 CPU (still used today in washing machines!), a not-so-massive-even-for-the-time 32kb of memory, and a games catalog numbering in the 10's. Santa grabbed one for me - allaying my growing concerns that perhaps, just perhaps, there was something fishy about his existence...

Although I thought the SVI-318 was absolutely unbelievable (IT'S GOT A LIL' JOYSTICK BUILT RIGHT INTO THE KEYBOARD!) it did suffer the noticeable problem of not being owned by anyone except me. That made it pretty hard to swap games, but was also responsible for changing my life forever... Once I got bored of my 5 games, I commenced a hobby that has stuck with me to this very day - I read the programmer's manual.

Learning BASIC presented a pretty exciting and magical time that lasted until I realised the SVI-318 could not run the Alfred E Neuman code in Mad magazine. It was time to take it to the next level.

Hitting the big time

The C64Bingo! It was my 12th birthday and I got the C64 I had wanted for some time. It was everything I ever imagined; tape drive, disc drive, International Soccer cartridge - I would be LOAD"*",8,1ing my way to good times for years to come!

When I was 15 - half a lifetime ago now - I witnessed my first real-life nerds. In the shopping centre near my house a bunch of odd-looking characters had set up a display of computers in order to attract the crowds into joining their computer club. They had C64s, Commodore 128s, Amigas, and other things I'd never seen before, like a telephone sitting on top of a weird looking box. This menagerie of computing beasts (the computers, not the nerds) was a sight to behold. I convinced a friend to come with me and hang out with weirdo-nerds every Thursday. I'd found my place.

Over the following couple of years I learned all about computer nerd culture: assembler, the demo scene, super-star coders, and most importantly - trackers. Trackers are programs for making "pattern-based" music on your computer. It was awesome fun, but bloody hard on the C64. After using NoiseTracker on the Amiga I knew it was time to move on...

Make some noise!

FastTracker IIThe Amiga 500 - With the 1/2 Meg upgrade it was a multimedia powerhouse. Programming was a lot more difficult now - there was no built in BASIC, and learning assembler for the Motorola 68000 microprocessor was a task I'd never undertake.

But making mods in NoiseTracker was awesome - And when the dodgy tweeters in my aging television didn't cut it? Plug the Amiga straight into the guitar amp of course! Mono-rrific!

The rest is history

I got a PC in 1995 - a 486 with 16 Megs of memory, running Windows 3.1, with a SoundBlaster16 (just couldn't afford the Gravis Ultrasound) and a 9600 baud modem. I signed up to a couple of BBSs and shortly after, I got the internets.

The next 11 years was, um, I forget - Good times though. Good times!