Hello, world!

Every new WordPress site comes with a first post, with “Hello world!” message.

The tradition of using the phrase “hello, world” was at least influenced by an example program in the 1978 book, The C Programming Language by Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie. The 2nd-edition of this particular book was one of my favourites. Learning C programming was one of my childhood goals, and knowing this book inside out got me my first two industry jobs. The first was working with embedded-C in credit-card readers and so-called “smart-phones”. In 1997 these looked like regular desk-phones. My 2nd job was working with Java-servlet applications. The two companies were run by brothers, and I shared a flat with one of those brothers in Edinburgh. They gave me the exact same test. I remember hearing that I got 98% in the test, and it was an immediate hire.

While looking for an image to represent this first post I noticed a few simple lines of code on the ZX Spectrum, or ZX81. This brings back memories. In fact my first experience of using computers was a ZX81 with 16K RAM-pack that my parents had got me for Christmas. I was 8 years old. At that time I had searched the house sometime before Christmas and found this computer. During the night one-time I connected it all up to our black & white TV. Somehow I managed to load up a game that came with it. The game was called Perilous Swamp. To me this was all like a kind of magic. I put it away, and nearly got caught. On Christmas day my parents couldn’t get it to work, and I couldn’t admit that I had figured it out already, and I knew what to do. My mother had been cleaning a house, and they had got this 2nd-hand from the people living there. Thinking that this did not work reliably it was taken back. So, I dreamed-on for a computer for some time.

At one time I took an Usborne book home, with a “create your own adventure” type activity. Some of it was code, but much of it was about designing the adventure game. My parents seemed concerned that this made me want a computer more, and they couldn’t afford one. However, we did get a Sinclair ZX Spectrum eventually, and grandparents later bought us an Amiga 500 and I made the most of these. My fathers parents were both teachers and they encouraged me to develop my interest in computers. I read books on business computing and used Amiga-DOS. I learned 68000 assembly programming at high-school. A few friends had Amiga computers too. I remember using dial-up BBS’s via modem, and a hand-held image scanner as peripherals. I never had any doubt about what I would study at University, or that I was going to do anything else.

While at The University of Aberdeen I acquired a 2nd-hand Amiga 2000, which had the benefit of a 50MB hard-drive. Using the Lattice-C compiler I was able to write my own programs which took advantage of the Amiga hardware for audio-visual productions. I wrote an IFF ILBM image parser library following the file-format specification, while developing an interest in formal languages and compilers. I would download Amiga programs on the University lab computers from Aminet using floppy disks, and something called Messy-DOS on the Amiga for reading MS-DOS disks. I spent quite a bit of time in the lab, sometimes playing Civilization on Windows 3.1 for hours. There were different computer labs around campus. Some of the newest computers included Silicon Graphics SGI workstations. The web of course was in its infancy. Aminet used FTP and I remember seeing Mosaic for the first time too. It’s amazing really how things have changed.

The book on business computing I read when I was very young had said something about automating tasks that people do, and something of the hostility to this. It is strange in a way also seeing how as much as things change, how so much stays the same. People are often suspicious of computers taking their jobs, and don’t always appreciate changes. Still, not all change is for the better, and it is the hope in writing more on this site that I can explore the best options that are shaping the future, and delivering the solutions that people need & want.

PS. The Usborne book that I had, which I had to give back (maybe it hadn’t been paid for yet, possibly some try-before-you-buy type arrangement!) is among a bunch of books from the 1980s that the publisher has made available for free on this page. The PDF for the book I had in my hands and filled me with more wonder and excitement was this one.

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