Are You Geekier Than Me?

Last modified on March 4th, 2008

Mark just swung by my desk at work and we spun into a debate about who was the bigger nerd. This somehow led to a discussion about the first computers we ever owned. My first computer was probably when I was around six years old. It was a Radio Shack’s Tandy TRS-80. Back in those days you’d go out and buy a magazine with BASIC code in it and have to manually type your own games into the thing. I remember my dad and I struggled for days just to get this stupid game going where dots would bounce around the screen.

Tandy TRS-80The Tandy TRS-80, From Wikipedia

Next on the list was my Commodore 64 computer. I was far cooler than it at the time, so I got my own Fastload cartridge to speed it up a few notches. There was this local nerd in Chilliwack that worked for the phone company who could reprogram the EEPROM in them with your own custom logo. So of course, all of us in the wack had our own customized fast load cartridges. I spent that part of my life demolishing Ultima RPGs and lots of other wicked black and white games. At the end of that era both my dad and I had 300 bps modems where we we could call each other and do a rudimentary form of email. 300 bps folks. Contrast that to my current 10,000,000 bps connection at home.

After that, my dad upgraded to an Intel based XT computer, which started me down the road I’m currently on. I spent quite a bit of time hacking on it, learning basic ANSI art, custom hacks etc. When I was 15 I picked up my first “real” computer, which was a 386 SX-16 MHz computer with one of the largest hard drives available at the time – the 20 MB “Monster”. Once I installed DoubleSpace on it, I could rock out at 40 MB. Being the super cool kid I was at school, I decided to set up one of the first Bulletin Board Systems in Chilliwack, affectionately called “The Lost World BBS.” After that, I became somewhat of a local celebrity amongst the various chess clubs in Chilliwack.

That was around the time I first started dabbling in software development. My friend Jeff was already a fairly awesome C++ developer at the time, but all I had around was Turbo Pascal, so I started writing software with that. I wrote a shareware voting booth for Remote Access that lots of people ended up using (I even made some money form it). The roots of the internet were starting to take hold at that point in time, and inter-BBS communication using FidoNet was already occuring, at least nightly, for many BBSes. To help spur things along, I wrote a FidoNet Node Diff tool that would take the nightly diffs and merge them into local databases. Since I wrote mine in C++ (which was pretty hard core at the time), it ended up being faster than most of the other ones at the time. This eventually led me to create a full-fledged front-end mailer (called Crossroads, hence the name of my Flickr plugin) for BBSes that would handle Fidonet requests.

When university rolled around, I took a several year break from hard-core software development. I still did the odd project, mostly as an excuse to skip classes. One of the big projects was a full-fledged CD burning program in Windows called “Singe” (never released, but man, could it make a coaster in record time!) My friend Jeff and I also did a collision re-construction program for use by an engineering firm in Surrey (it was pretty cool – you could input vehicle parameters, trajectories, etc, and recreate an entire automobile accident on the computer).

The rest, as they say, is history. Drop me a nerdy story about yourself. Were you a bigger geek as a kid?

** as a side note, after writing this I had this crazy idea about merging the still active RemoteAccess code-base with asterisk to provide retro BBS experience. Maybe telnet based. Would be funky.

14 responses to “Are You Geekier Than Me?”

  1. Rebecca says:

    Okay I had this typed up for a post of my own a while back – lemme know if I just totally take over your comment thread and I can shorten it 😛

    1989… First computer was brought home from work by my dad. DOS was the operating system and we used it to play games that involved blips, boops, bleeps and spacewars

    1991… The next computer had a fancy new “colour” monitor and ran Windows 3.1. It wasn’t a big brand name, since my dad would always just get them built at Sprite Computers. He would get modems periodically, 14.4, 28.8 and then a fantastically fast, 52 kbps fax modem. This allowed my brother and sister to cruise BBS and let me type up my homework.

    1995*… Windows 95. Rogers Wave was introduced. Just as my friends were discovering what the internet was and were dialing up to explore world wide web fun, I entered the world of “cable” modems. The family got a new computer, which stuck with us past the Windows 98 “upgrade”. I used it to chat with friends on ICQ and AIM in 1997, and publish my first website using Netscape Communicator. *During this time I was using an Apple II GS at school in my Computer Sciences class, as well a Macintosh for yearbook editing and any homework done in the library/on site.

    2000… Windows 2000. My work was selling off Dell Optiplex “pizza boxes” that I was using at work to to encode and produce webcasts. This little guy served me very well until I got a laptop for my move to Boston.

    2002… Windows 2000. HP Omnibook, my best friend during the move and getting my life started up in Boston. Used it for work and play until I came back to Vancouver in 2004 and it decided to stop working one day. It’s actually sitting beside me right now, I guess some days I still have hope that I’ll hit the power button and it’ll pop on. I’ll jump for joy and explore all the files, since it’s pretty much a time capsule from that era of my life, now.

    2005… Windows XP. Frankenbox. It’s served me well, even though it sounded like a sea plane, but it had to be replaced.

    2007… Macbook, iMac and Powerbook at home for John and I. End of story.

  2. John Biehler says:

    I don’t know if you have enough space in your database for my geeky list so here are 3 firsts:

    First computer I touched: Apple ][e in school
    First computer owned: Radio Shack TRS-80 Model III
    First business I ever had: charging friends $0.25 to SEE the TRS-80. $0.50 if they wanted to touch it.

  3. Keira-Anne says:

    I still have a fully functioning Coleco Vision with an assortment of games, including Artillery Duel. Maybe I should bust that out next time I’m on the Island.

    My first “computer” wasn’t even a computer…I was fully stoked to get an electronic typewriter for Christmas when I was a kid. It had a little 1″ x 4″ screen. So much fun.

  4. Brennen says:

    D don’t forget your most important accomplishment. University Doom Kills

  5. John Biehler says:

    @Keira-Anne I’ve got a Colecovision too with a pile of games and even those super action controllers that look like hard plastic boxing gloves.

    Also have Ataris, Intellivisions, Vectrex (two of them – one not working though) and various Nintendo machines among other vintage computers.

    Maybe we should have a retro gaming party some time.

  6. Duane Storey says:

    @John – I’m pretty sure my games can kick your games’ ass.

  7. Mostly Lisa says:

    what’s an Atari? u guys are super old. my first game console was a Super Nintendo. which i got exactly one day after my birth in 1988.

  8. Duane Storey says:

    What a sad, sad childhood you must have had without an Atari!

  9. John Biehler says:

    @Mostly Lisa – I saw Star Wars IN THE THEATRE the way it was meant to be!

  10. Chris says:

    The Lost World? Man.. I swear I used to poll your board or something back in the day when I ran mine. Although my memory is foggy, I always had issues with the local boards and dialed LD from Ladner just to get info through sometimes and I’m sure it was yours.

    Mind you, that could also be the Advil talking.

  11. Kevin says:

    Our first computer was a TI-99 if I remember correctly. I didn’t use it much, it was more my brother’s machine. I didn’t really get interested in computers until we got our C-64 (which I still have in the basement somewhere).

    Like you Duane, I spent lots of time typing in a whole crap load of HEX to get games running on the thing. We started out with a tape drive, but eventually got a floppy drive for it.

    After that it was various IBM / clones. I remember spending $2K on a 486 DX-2 66 MHz machine just before university…

    Thankfully Boris converted me over to a mac back in 2004 (I think) and I haven’t looked back since.

    BTW – I spent some time on the BBSs as well back in the day, what was the name of that RISK-like game they had?

  12. Chris says:

    I just remember getting hooked on BRE (Barren Realms Elite) and LoRD (Legend of the Red Dragon) – the only reason I originally had my board involved in FidoNet.

  13. I need no words for evidence of my spectacular youthful geekiness. I have a photo:

    I rest my case.

  14. Ken Vandergriff says:

    I grew up before home computers were available. The first computer I was able to get my hands on was at work. It was a Westinghouse P250. The P250 was really a Xerox Sigma 3 computer with some Westinghouse input processing hardware tacked on. This was a “process computer” at a power plant and I just somehow was in the right place at the right time. I was assigned to work in the computer room. At the time my responsibilities mostly dealt with the hard ware. (Yes, we actually repaired boards at that time. Most of the boards in this computer had many op-amps and diodes to form AND, OR, NOR, NAND, ADDERS etc. Eventually I migrated into the programming of this P250. We used mostly assembly language and some FORTRAN. Programs (source code) were “punched” onto a paper tape. The tape was then read back in as the assembler or compiler processed the source code. An “object code” tape was punched as output from the compiler. The various object code tapes were then fed back into a linker which then output a “Foreground Loadable Image.” This was then loaded onto the disk as an executable program. This computer did not have a file system. When we loaded a program onto the disk, we had to specify a sector address in hex and we had to make sure that there was a big enough “hole” that we didn’t overwrite something else. We often made patches to our or vendor’s code using a ModifyHexDisk command specifying the sector and starting word on the sector. We then typed in the 16 bit hex values and ended the session by entering an exclamation point !.
    I feel very fortunate to have been involved with computers at this time when we dealt with the internals of the system, yes we actually made some changes to the OS. When we finally purchased a mag tape drive (one of those big vacuum column things) I wrote the device driver for the tape drive and wrote a program that would write a “boot loader” as the first record of the tape then write the contents of our disk onto the tape. We could then boot this tape and restore the disk if the disk became unbootable (and it did sometimes). Computers have come a long way since those days.

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