Journal: News & Comment

Thursday, April 08, 2004
# 3:40:00 PM:

Quarter-century story

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Tim Bray tells some tales about his 25 years as a computer programmer. I can't do that—the last time I tried programming, nearly 20 years ago, I sucked at it. But here is my 25-year computer user story.

In 1979, my dad was taking courses at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, programming in Fortran on the campus mainframe. He'd sometimes bring me down to play some games—Wumpus, Star Trek, and a car racing game that played in plain text—on the dumb terminals. I was nine.

Later that year, an acquaintance of his who worked at B.C. Tel (now Telus) loaned us a dialup terminal we could use at home. It used an acoustic coupler—two rubber cups into which you plugged the two ends of your phone handset after dialing the B.C. Tel computer—and transferred data at a maximum of 110 bits (or about 14 letters) per second. I used it to play Wumpus, Star Trek, and similar games, except instead of a screen, the terminal spit out scads of thermal printer paper.

From there we moved, in 1980, to a borrowed TRS-80 Model I ,which tended to reset itself if you had any sort of static charge on your body when you sat down to type. I typed in some games, line by line in BASIC code, from a book, including one called RamRom Patrol. Then, in 1982, we bought our own Apple II Plus, on which the coolest game was Choplifter. Soon after, we visited a technology showcase at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Vancouver, where the only thing I remember was a very expensive dedicated word processing system that showed spelling mistakes in (gasp!) colour.

I don't play games much anymore. And my dad rarely programs, especially not in Fortran. I haven't seen an acoustic coupler in many years. But you can still play Wumpus.


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