ingo's home computers topic home

I made my first steps on the popular 8-bit home computers of the late 1980s, when 64 kilobytes (that's just 65536 individual numbers!) were enough for everyone. (Today, a single compressed image on a web page is often larger than that!)

I was lucky to grow up in a time where computers where still very simple, had an easy programming environment built-in and ready after power on, yet offered compelling graphics and sound, and were thus highly attractive to an introverted male teenager[1]. I'm sure it gave me a head start for my university education, and that, as a professional, seasoned software developer, I still benefit from the solid basis laid by those early steps with home computers[2]. With no technical or engineering background in my family, this was the perfect moment to become attracted to computers[3]. (Otherwise, I probably would have become a chemical engineer — I had wanted to become a toxicologist when I went to primary school.)

C64 collage


notes

  1. In contrast, the PC generation was overwhelmed by its complexity and thus mostly developed a more passive users' mentality, not the "let's look under the covers" programmers' world view. This process only began to revert itself in the second half of the 2000s with the advent of easy web programming via JavaScript, the Processing environment, and powerful new dynamic languages like Python.
  2. Someone going by the pseudonym mrm00 captured this eloquently in a blog comment in 2010:
    I'm certain [starting with home computers like the C64] makes us better programmers now, if only because it taught us to relish the unknown, to think of the computer as a very large bucket of generic Lego, rather than the Star Wars Jar-Jar Binks Torture and Execution set (5 pieces, batteries not included, not compatible with sets from other manufacturers).
  3. My way towards computers, hard- and software somewhat mirrors the earlier, original hackers of MIT and Silicon Valley, brilliantly characterized by author Steven Levy in his book Hackers; Heroes of the Computer Revolution. For me, this book lucidly illustrates the attraction of early computers (like mainframes or the PDP-1) to nerds in their teens (like my fascination with the home computers on display in the local department store or at school), the early exploration of a new field (like my dabbling in computer game design, and later electronics), and the gradual shift to commercialization (that had long happened with the off-the-shelf home computers I owned, but which I re-lived with the move to the PC and complex systems like MS Windows). Finally, a golden age comes to an end, with mostly only folklore and legend remaining, except for some timeless values perpetuated by (sometimes unknowing) descendants. (For me, this is the open and collaborative work in online communities, reminiscent of the early hackers' use of the early Internet.)