There are certain moments in my live when I revisit all the joyful moments that I've experienced during my live. This always makes me think back of all the good times that I had with computers. Now, this sounds like the nerdiest and geekiest thing one can imagine: and it probably is. But the fact remains that computers brought a lot of joy and excitement in my life.
I haven't had much of those moments in the last few years, mainly because I used computers almost only for development, email and web browsing. Now: I've experienced very good and happy moments when programming: the times when you make something very complicated work, or the times when you are amazed by your own creations. But, for me that's a different kind of 'joy'.
This time the cause of revisiting all those joyful moments was the upgrade of my (personal) workstation. The hardware was getting really old. Now, as we all know that 'old' is very relative if you are speaking about computer hardware. Most of my hardware (the CPU, main board, memory and graphics card) was about 6 years old. That's almost comparing Napoleonic warfare with the modern battlefield in computer-years.
I'm one of those people who can be really spontaneous in buying small things, but when it comes to the 'bigger' expenses, I tend to wait as long as possible and try to research as much as possible. That's why my workstation hardware got so 'old'. For the last 2,5 years I had problems with it. It would halt on boots, and Windows 7 would not install. I managed to install Ubuntu after a lot of trouble, and just kept going using my ancient machinery. In the meanwhile I looked at all the reviews and and web shops in search for 'the perfect system'. I didn't want to spend too much money, but I did want to build something that would last me at least a couple of years.
I visited the US during vCampus Live! 2011, and we had training in the OSIsoft office in San Leandro. That gave us some free time during the weekend. We visited a gigantic electronics store, and I was amazed by all the computer and electronics stuff they sold.
I felt all curious and excited inside. Then it hit me! I was reliving my own 'joy of computing'. When I got back to the hotel I started writing it down. I wanted to share this with you, in the hope you might relive your joy you had with computers.
The Joy of Computing
I think my first experience with a ‘real’ computer was at a friend’s house. I must have been 7 or 8 back then. His father worked for a telecom company, so they were early adopters. I think their computer must have been an 8068 or a 80268, and it had a green phosphor screen. We played a lot of ‘Prince of Persia’ on it. I believe the game is now available for IPhone and Android, and I had a blast a few weeks back when I was able to play it again.
Then a few years later my father bought an 80368. He thought it would be good for our education. I was playing around with the DOS shell a lot, navigating through the file system, archiving and copying games on floppy disk, etc. Then a friend of my father’s came to the house one day, and he showed me how I could use batch scripts to create a simple menu for my games. I could pop up a ‘menu’ with choices, and I had batch scripts called 1.bat, 2.bat, 3.bat, that would correspond with the menu options. He then also showed me QBasic. I was stunned by what you could do with it! I quickly created more and more nice menus for my games. This all must have been in primary school.
When I went to secondary school (age 12 or 13), I had a friend who was also into programming with QBasic. The problem back then was that you didn’t have very good references or programming examples. It was sometimes really cumbersome to create something decent. His uncle worked at a university, and they had early access to the internet. He gave us some floppy disks with examples. At a certain point, he gave us a library to control the mouse. Together with the ‘graphics’ libraries in QBasic we were able to create more decent applications and games. I can remember I learned a lot from the ‘Gorillas’ game, which was wide spread as an example QBasic application.
I still had to use the ‘family’ computer for all my programming and exploration. When there was something wrong with the computer, I was always blamed. My goal in live became to get my own computer. They were pretty expensive back then. I already had ‘job’ delivering newspapers, so I started to save for my own computer. It must have taken me almost a year, and with some help of my parents (who were fed up with me crashing the family computer all the time) I was able to buy my first computer.
A Pentium 200 MMX, with 16mb RAM with Windows 95. I believe it costs me about $1200 at that time, which is a huge amount of money when you are 13. A few months later I bought 2 10mbit network cards with BNC cable and a couple of terminators, I can remember they were also really expensive.
We then moved to Turbo Pascal and C. At that time, we got more and more computers at school, and we also started to get computer lessons. We were always bored during these classes, and we were always trying to ‘get to the grade lists’ to see and change our grades. Off course we never got that far, because we had no idea what we were really doing. But I can remember we had a lot of fun exploring the school’s network.
I would invite friends to come over and play ‘Command & Conquer: Red Alert’. We would spent the entire morning building huge bases and armies, and then battle it out in the afternoon. We crashed the game a couple of times because there were so many units on the field!
I think we also got internet at that time. First with a 33k6 modem, and later we got two ISDN lines. I got my own ISDN modem, and a whole new world was opening up for me. I quickly discovered ICQ and IRC to stay in touch with my friends and meet new people.
I started to use mIRC, and found out about mIRC scripting. At that time I found more school friends who were also into playing games, programming and scripting. If I think back to that time, it still makes me happy. I was learning about programming and scripting, and met a lot of people trough IRC. We discussed different programming techniques, and how we could build IRC chatbots to ‘guard’ our channels. mIRC was highly customizable, and we basically could create our own applications with it.
I found out about ‘IRC warfare’. Basically, this means that you try to take over IRC channels by flooding other people out of the channels, so the you are the only one left, once you ‘cycle’ (leave and rejoin), you where the operator of that channel. I became obsessed with protecting myself on IRC and trying to get as much ‘power’ as possible. We would find SOCKS proxies to get SOCK puppets onto the IRC server, and so on. We really felt we were the ‘underground hackers’ at that time. Basically, we were just enthusiastic and curious kids looking for excitement. But this gave me the opportunity to learn about basic network protocols, and I was obsessed with learning as much as possible about the IP and TCP protocol.
Then my father came to my room with the phone bill… I think it was about $2000 for 3 months. My parents were furious, and wanted to take away my precious ISDN modem. After some debate, and after I convinced them that ‘it was good for my future, and I was learning a lot’, we agreed that I would pay half of the bill. So, I took 2 summer jobs and paid my parents back. Luckily, sometime after that we got our first ADSL connection, which saved me a lot of money and fights with my parents.
To be continued...