Sunday, March 05, 2006

Syntax Error. No change there then.

The first time I touched a computer was when I was nine. Or ten. I forget.

Anyway.

It was an Acorn BBC B. My primary school, in a Tomorrow’s World-induced fit of technological advancement, had invested in one in order to drag the fourth, fifth and sixth formers into the brave new world of programming and, well, playing Chuckie Egg, for the most part. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen a computer though. Oh no. An acquaintance of my stepfather, a man named Dennis (and he really was a Dennis, from his little round glasses to his side parting), had some sort of home computer which was invaluable (as demonstrated to us en famille one Sunday afternoon) for things like cataloguing the contents of the freezer, or running pointless programmes to establish whether there would be more foxes or more rabbits in fifty years’ time. Armed with this knowledge, the school computer didn’t frighten me in the slightest. It was hardly likely to, mind you, since it had the processing power of a toaster and all the mystique of a game of Operation. The acronym “IT” was still light-years away, and computer classes had a rather more prosaic approach towards teaching us the fundamentals of programming. I can’t be the only one who has typed in a variation on:

10 PRINT “MATTHEW NEILL SMELLS OF WEE”
20 GOTO 10
RUN

and giggled helplessly as a lurid green screen proclaiming whatever shortcoming you cared to enter flashed endlessly even as the teacher approached and you tried (and failed) to remember which button made it stop. I remember an endless, pointless project which involved drawing a picture on graph paper, plotting the coordinates and then plugging them into the computer. It took about three weeks, and, since I’m not very good at a) plotting coordinates or b) being arsed to do something properly mine was rubbish, to say the least. I didn’t care though, as I was in the computer club, and therefore had the ultimate privilege of being able to sit in the Science room of a Thursday lunchtime playing either the aforementioned Chuckie Egg or Hunchback until my eyes went swimmy.

Shortly after this we took delivery of our own home computer. I wanted a Spectrum ZX81, as it had squashy blue keys and JetPac. Sarah Finn had a Commodore 64 with Hovver Bovver and Frogger on it. But no. What we ended up with was probably actually a rung down the evolutionary ladder from the BBC B. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Dragon 32. Seriously. It had a whopping (as the name suggests) 32k memory, a great big plug-in thing on the side for games cartridges and the streamlined looks of a nineteen-forties typewriter. We didn’t care though. It came with Space Invaders, and Pacman, and a version of Backgammon that you could never, ever win at because it cheated. My stepfather spent an unrivalled six hours trying to complete Space Invaders one Sunday, and only gave up because of the blister on his thumb from the “fire” button on the yoghurt-pot-cocktail-stick combination that passed for the joystick. The entire family spent about three years failing at an infuriating text game called “Calixto Island”. I recently downloaded this just to see the solution, and it was so vague that I’m not surprised that our collective efforts failed. For no reason that I can recall, I once spent five weekends typing in the programme that made the computer play “Greensleeves”. Badly. For about two minutes. Fucking thing.

These days, I am awed by Small Person’s grasp of technology. At my mother’s house, she will ask Nanny if she can go on the computer. She can switch it on, connect to the interweb, go to the (execrable) CBeebies page and browse to her heart’s content. By the time she is into essay and composition writing at school, I’m sure the majority of it will be done on the PC. She’s lucky in some respects to be growing up in an age where technology is so prevalent. But where’s the mystery? Where are the things that she can discover for herself, without stumbling across things that aren’t meant for small eyes and minds? For her, it’s in books. For the time being, she’d rather read books than surf the internet. And that’s fine by me.

Now, do please excuse me. Only I’m trying to get to level six of the 1984 Radio Shack version of Donkey Kong, and I keep getting squashed by jerky, pixilated barrels. Bastards.

19 Comments:

Blogger DavetheF chimed in with...

Before he could even read properly, my nerdish grandson could go on the Internet and download material in order to give presentations to his class. He is also the most amazing game player I've ever seen, beating his supernerd uncle, aged 25 and with a job in computers, into a cocked hat. I can't even get half-way down the road in "Medal of Honour" before being riddled with bullets, likewise if I get past the evil scientist and his guard in "Castle Wolfenstein", I am usually already badly wounded and easy prey for the storm troopers down the corridor.

05 March, 2006 18:47  
Blogger Spinsterella chimed in with...

I REALLY don't understand computers. Could you please ask Small Person what has happened to my blog?

It's just a blank white screen. I am a bit hungover and emotional and I think I might cry if it doesn't reappear soon.

05 March, 2006 19:06  
Blogger surly girl chimed in with...

oh. i see what you mean - thought that was just my laptop. try logging into blogger and republishing...

(am sorry that sounded so much like "try switching it off and switching it on again...)

05 March, 2006 19:09  
Blogger Spinsterella chimed in with...

It worked!

Thank you Surley, you're a fucking genius.

05 March, 2006 19:26  
Blogger Spinsterella chimed in with...

I mean Surly.

Sorry.

05 March, 2006 21:27  
Blogger Urban Chick chimed in with...

oh my GOD

we had a dragon and plugged it into a cassette player to load the games and the interminable squeaking and squawling as pacman loaded and i had a game where you searched a house and den for a key and stuff and it didn't have any graphics but it was really exciting

ooh ooh ooh

and my programs were sth like this:

10 ASK "WHAT IS YOUR NAME?"
20 SAY "HELLO XXX"
30 ASK "HOW OLD ARE YOU?"
40 IF >12 SAY "HEY! YOU ARE REALLY OLD!"
50 IF <12 SAY "HEY, YOU'RE JUST A LITTLE KID!"
60 CLOSE

05 March, 2006 21:37  
Anonymous caroline chimed in with...

Don't worry! my older two HAVE to have lap tops at school (bugger it) and the novelty soon wears off, they've both reurned to those funny things made from trees.

05 March, 2006 22:11  
Blogger surly girl chimed in with...

uc, you are my spiritual twin.

nuff said.

05 March, 2006 22:13  
Blogger surly girl chimed in with...

spinny - let you off.

rest of you - as you were.

05 March, 2006 22:14  
Blogger bedshaped chimed in with...

So, No delights of Manic Miner then?

05 March, 2006 22:22  
Blogger surly girl chimed in with...

was that on the spectrum? memory fails...

05 March, 2006 22:23  
Blogger Smat chimed in with...

I was rather embarassing in the Old Computers exhibition at Bletchley Park by drooling over the ones we used to have - 'fraid I can pre-date your Speccy with a ZX80 which had a whopping 1MB. Then Mr Smat realised his mobile had more processing power than most of the exhibits, got over-excited, and we had to leave.

05 March, 2006 22:46  
Anonymous Other Half chimed in with...

I like 'pooters, they are fun and you can make lots of friends when you use them !

Guess who works in IT, I am SG's very own geek...

06 March, 2006 09:36  
Blogger JonnyB chimed in with...

It wasn't a Spectrum ZX81, it was a ZX Spectrum, with the squishy keys. Don't ever try to out-geek me.

I remember Calixto Island though as my friend Paul had got a Dragon 32. Spent ages trying to sit in a chair. Discovered ages later that you needed to type 'GO CHAIR' in order to sit in the chair. I felt betrayed and humiliated. It was a shitty experience.

06 March, 2006 11:10  
Anonymous Piggy and Tazzy chimed in with...

I built my forst computer from a kit - that gawd awful fucking ZX80 which affected me for the rest of my life.

Through the same experience I went, over and over - the Newbrain, a Research Machine, The BBC A and B, the Oric, The Amiga A500, A600 and the 1200, then the Apple IIc and IIe before settling on a PC for serious stuff and an Amiga (once again) for games.

Strangely, I never had a Spectrum, which all of my friends did.

Best games I ever played were 'Leather Goddesses of Phobos' and 'Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy' adventures on the PC and 'Superfrog' on the Amiga.

Chucky Egg was bloody pants.

06 March, 2006 15:13  
Anonymous Whinger chimed in with...

We were strictly a Macintosh family and had a variety of computers with screens that were a whopping 5".

Teachers can no longer teach the Research Paper like in days of yore when there were note cards to detail the bits of information one plagiarized at the library.

Now, research is done on the Internet, papers are drafted on the computer, and the most a teacher can do is try to impart knowledge on how to tell real information from fake.

06 March, 2006 17:22  
Blogger surly girl chimed in with...

>>'Leather Goddesses of Phobos'

????

hmmm.

06 March, 2006 18:39  
Blogger Jemima chimed in with...

Was it the Spectrum one where you loaded games via a tape player, it took thirty minutes of high pitched wheezing before it failed and you had to go through the whole process another sixty times, and then your Dad came in and turfed you off so he could play (Or shout and swear at it for not loading properly.) I much prefer today's technology.

06 March, 2006 18:52  
Blogger First Nations chimed in with...

remember the huge desk sized monsters that made the paper tapes of the program you had just created and punched out all the little dots that went all over and were impossible to vaccuum up? and then the tape ripped because the paper was shitty so when you went to load the program for your grade it wouldnt run and you failed? and it wasn't your fault?
remember finding a speaker magnet stuck to the side of the metal case where all the student floppy disks were stored?
ask ME.

06 March, 2006 19:10  

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