My first computer experience ever was with a TI-99/4A, for it's time, a quite advanced games and home work machine that my father showed me in his office. I still remember that day, when I was around 7/8 years old - asking my Dad if he could bring one home for us to mess around with. That night, one appeared in our house.
(Note the enter key was the same size as alphabetical keys) Here's what it looked like when you turned the machine on:
We spent a lot of time with this machine, I remember vividly typing in many programs from magazines that were often written in Basic. Some worked, some didn't, some I tried to port from other computers Basic implementations such as the Tandy TRS-80, etc.
Initially, we also didn't have a tape deck to save programs we'd typed in, so many times, after a few hours of typing and playing around, we'd simply switch the machine off and all would be gone (perhaps this is how I learned to type so fast! :)). After a few months though we managed to connect my Dad's old wireless radio/tape deck to the machine and could save our work to cassette.
We used to play quite a few cartrige based games as well with the TI-99/4A, "Hunt the Wumpus", "Lode Runner", and a horizontal shoot-em-up called "Parsec". Later, we also got hold of a speech synthesiser for the TI which was very cool, and quite a few of these games and the underlying operating system had voice support where you'd hear all sorts of comments while playing - "Nice shot pilot...", etc. This was something the PC world would catch up on only years later when soundcards became available.
The TI had a 3Mhz 16bit TMS9900 CPU running in it, with 256 bytes of RAM (yep - 256 bytes!), and 8k ROM. An additional 16k of RAM could be accessed via video memory. Screen resolution was 192x256 in 4 bits (16 colours).
The TI was somewhat of a computer catalyst for me. After seeing what could be done on such a machine I became completely hooked as a youngster (and I still are today!), and wanted to use any computer I could get my hands on. I used our TI at home, hung around my Dad's workplace to see/use any of the computers in his office, hang around school to use any of the machines in our (small) computer labs. When there was no machine, or no one to talk to about computers, or when I wasn't able to use one, I'd be reading about them in magazines, watching TV shows about then, even drawing computer cases and/or manufacturer logo's on paper. As you can see, I was totally hooked! :)
Over the following years I used many different computers ranging from the tried and trusted Commodore 64 (also the VIC-20, and C16), to those from Sharp (mainly CP/M based business machines, Apple (Apple II/and derivatives), Tandy, etc).
One magazine I used to read in particular was "Australian Personal Computer" (we even have some of the original first editions back home). Something that was really interesting back then was that every computer that was released came with it's own operating system, which was either something completely new and different (eg. Apple Lisa), or CP/M based (eg. Osborne 1), or a combination of both (eg. C128). It was really interesting to see how each system differed hardware and software wise.
During the years that followed several new machines appeared at home for short visits such as busines machines like the Sharp MZ-3500 and MZ-5600, but the one that found it's way into our home, and I wonder how many of you will have heard of this one! was the Sharp MZ-700 (as you can tell by the picture above, one sexy machine :) The Sharp MZ-700 was a Z-80 based machine that ran at 4Mhz, had 64 KB RAM, 8 colour video.
The MZ came with a Basic interpreter that also understood most dialects of Basic software printed in computer magazines, etc. The MZ didn't load the Basic interpreter by default however, when the machine was turned on it simply booted it's firmware and you had to load Basic if you wanted to use it as the underlying operating system. This meant you could get software that ran directly on the machine (many games did this for performance), or in the Basic interpreter itself.
The MZ was another milestone computer for me. We actually had the MZ-721 which included a built in cassette recorder making it much easier to save and restore work. After a short while we also got the plotter printer unit which slotted directly into the MZ-700 case (essentially upgrading it to an MZ-731). The plotter had a horizontal arm which a 4 colour pen unit would move along, and roller which would move the paper being drawn on vertically. Many applications used this to print on paper that was around 4.5" (15cm?) wide.
We had the MZ-700 for many years and I spent most of my time learning how to program it, usually under Basic by looking at existing software (using the simple "list" command) and by writing my own. The MZ-700 also had an interesting but limited approach to graphics as well. It didn't support a user programmable bit mapped graphics display (so you couldn't directly perform 2D or 3D graphics via lines, curves, points, etc), instead it had an extended character set that you could use that had predefined arcs, lines, etc. Along the bottom of each key was a small picture of 2 graphics symbols that could be accessed via a sequence of keys (and/or peek/poke instructions).
I wrote several programs (I called them games but looking back they were really "demos") that used this character set, but really wanted to be able to access the pixels directly - which later drove me to do more programming at high school on their BBC Microcomputer network and also the successor to the MZ-700 at my Dad's work, the MZ-800 which had 320/200 and 640/200 graphics.
The MZ-700 also featured sound so you could get it to play notes over several octaves, and I used to program in several songs from my guitar lessons alongside graphics.
We had the MZ-700 for quite a number of years which I used at home. At school I also joined the computer club and used their machines as well which were mainly a combination of
BBC Microcomputers, and
the Commodore 64s. Everyone would have heard and used both of these as they were everywhere, particular the C64 which was the de-facto home and games machine at the time.
When the IBM PC era really started to take off, clones appeared all over the place. The PC clone that we ended up getting was the following:
An Amstrad 2086, which was a IBM PC XT compatible, running an Intel 8086 CPU at 8Mhz with 640kb RAM. It supported VGA, and also an extended SVGA graphics mode (which at the time no software was able to take advantage of, except the demo slideshow that Amstrad shipped with the unit).
Operating system was DOS 3.3 and a very early version of Windows if I remember correctly. We also purchased the very first Soundblaster card for it, which gave us mono 8bit sound, rather than the simple beeping PC speaker.
I never really connected with the Amstrad, I think mainly because it wasn't a hackers machine. Most applications were binary code so you couldn't see how they worked, DOS wasn't very friendly at all and the 8086 couldn't run OS/2 either, the Basic Interpreter that Amstrad bundled didn't even have a graphics mode. A real programming language compiler also cost real money, and the games on the system didn't even compare to what was available on older like the C64 and even Amstrad's CPC464/664/6128 series.
After struggling with the Amstrad for a few years, I gave up on the PC and went out and purchased my own computer:
An Amiga 500. A machine with all the charm in the world. In some ways for me it was the Powerbook of the past. It was a Motorola 68000 CPU based system running at 8Mhz with 512kb RAM (standard, I upgraded it to 1 mb with the add-on real time clock card). It supported a host of graphics and audio features, and cost under half what our Amstrad PC clone did.
What made it really amazing was the great combination between hardware and software. "Workbench" really set the Amiga apart from the inferior PC world as it was a full multi-tasking operating system. No longer would I have to wait for mundane tasks to finish like formatting a disk on a PC before I could use the system again.
The Amiga was another catalyst for me, and I can still remember quite vividly the first time I turned it on, and a friend of mine put the game "Lotus Turbo Challenge" into the disk drive. I was *completely* blown away by the graphics, sound and riveting attraction of the system. *Absolutely* amazed.
I had the system hooked up to my Sony Mini-HiFi system that I'd slaved myself to get, and I through that the 4 channel stereo sound (with my Sony giving it some extra mega-bass!) was just awesome.
The Amiga was a catalyst because it introduced me to the creative side of computers, where people were trying to push the hardware and software to the limits of what could be done. Through my Uncle who used Amiga's for video productions, I met several local people who also shared a similar belief, and together we collected many games, slideshows, and applications, etc. By far though, we collected demos.
It was really hard to describe to a non-Amiga user what a demo was without getting a "huh" response, but demos - animated and rendered video and audio effects totally rocked on the Amiga and really pushed what could be done on the hardware. I had far more demos than any other genre of software for my Amiga.
Some of my most favourite demos were:
Substance by Quartex (Second Place Amiga Convetion Summit '91)
Global Trash by Silents (First place at Static Bytes & Prologic Party '91)
Enigma by Phenomena (First place at Anarchy Easterparty '91)
Hardwired by Crionics & Silents (Second place at TP91)
amongst many others. All of these demos influenced my trip to Assembly 98 in Helsinki, Finland.
When I started at Univeristy I needed to get a PC again, so during my first year I purchased a 486 DX50 PC clone, running DOS 4.1 (I think?) and Windows 3.11. I had hoped things had moved on since the Amstrad 2086 but after experiencing the Amiga for a few years you can imagine what it was like when I saw how advanced the Amiga still was in comparison to the PC.
The demo scene eventually made it's way over to the PC after the demise of the Amiga. I remember ftp'ing or even fsp'ing PC demos using our College's tiny network connection and transferring them onto disks via a slow serial connection. Many many hours were spent following the PC demo scene.
Anyway, I'm digressing this already huge post. ;)
Back on a PC I struggled like most of us did with Windows 3.11, but after upgrading my 486 DX50's memory from 4mb to 20mb RAM I was able to install OS/2 and life was much better. I found OS/2 to be really great - back in the style of Workbench with a full multi-tasking operating system, a nice desktop and useful applications. In addition the Windows emulation mode made it seamless to run (and restart :) ) Windows applications side by side next to OS/2 applications.
At the same time, since we were using Unix more and more at University (first Digital Unix, then later Solaris) I decided to make a small 300mb partition to run Linux, so I could learn more about it and Unix style operating systems. To this day, I've used Linux ever since.
My first Linux distribution was an early Slackware release, that had a pre-1.0 Linux kernel. In contrast today I use Debian as my main Linux distribution.
My DX50 lasted until my final year of University when I upgraded to a Pentium 120 PC from a company called Optima. This machine still lives back at my parents place in Adelaide and was (so far) the last machine I bought back home in Australia.
After moving to Germany, I purchased a Dell Dimension desktop, a Pentium 3 500Mhz system, and a few years later again a Dell Inspiron 8500 notebook.
At the beginning of this year, I once again ditched the PC, this time in favour of a PowerPC alternative, the latest 1.67Ghz 17" Apple Powerbook running OS X. OS X has been awesome and I've really enjoyed using it.
That brings history up to current timemline. We'll see what the future holds! :)
Check this funny post about the new iTunes interface, hehehehe :)
Just been reading and working through a really great photoshop tutorial about how to create glassy buttons like:
It works through everything from making and saving non-rectangular parts of an image, to creating and loading selections from channels, to partial transparent gradient fills, to drop shadowed text, etc. Nice introduction into many graphics editing concepts.
Also, since all of the tutorial works with transparent selections and fills, etc, it's also easy to make families of buttons with differing colours, text, etc, that still remain partially transparent with a document background.
I definitely found it worth the time it took to get everything working.
iTunes 4.9 and up introduced podcasting and audiobook technology, that allows you to create gapless audio files that include chapter or multiple tracks. This is really great for live music, or some of the trance/house music I listen to, where tracks are mixed to fade into one another.
This article explains how to do it all, using a few tools to mark an AAC file with emdedded tracks with their start times, etc.
The nano looks incredibly cool, I'm looking forward to seeing it in real life as soon as possible.
The iTunes phone from Motorola was also released, as were a few other items such as iTunes 5, and Harry Potter audiobooks and Madonna albums on the iTunes Music store.
So, now we're all looking forward to seeing what will be released at the Apple Paris Expo at the end of the month :)
Connecting the video was easy using the S-Video out on the right side of the Powerbook (even though we had to go through the S-Video to Composite, and then to SCART converter). Once the SCART converter was connected and set to input, "Detect Displays" works fine from my Mac I was able to drag DVD Player over to the TV display and enter full screen mode to view the video.
Connecting the audio was also fine using the headphone/line out connector on the Powerbook, but I was wondering how I could get more than just stereo out of the connector since the DVD's we were playing had full 5.1 dolby surround sound, and the hifi we had included a receiver that could handle this.
I remembered reading something about optical in/out existing on the Powerbook, so after a bit of googling I was able to find some articles that described how to get this working, awesome!
On the left hand side of the 17" Powerbook there's two connectors, one for headphones, the other one for a input line. Both also double as optical digital input/output sockets as well for sending digital audio to/from your Powerbook!
The headphone port is a 3.5mm analog/optical combo jack, that can send S/PDIF (IEC60958-3)/AC3 audio all the way up to 96KHz. The input line port is also a 3.5mm analog/optical combo jack that can accept optical digital audio.
Using an optical cable (the kind that came with my old Sony MiniDisc player), you can connect your Powerbook to a 5.1 surround system for example and watch your DVD's in full surround sound. Likewise, you can send audio into your powerbook for recording from other digital sources such as a MiniDisc, decks, and/or digital instruments.
Arrived back from a trip to Tallinn, Estonia over the past week which was awesome.
I was quite impressed by Estonia, particularly in the field of technology, it's almost E-stonia. There were wireless hotspots everywhere, and most activities could be booked online. Even cinema tickets had bar codes printed on them for scanning when watching a movie.
We spent a lot of time in the Old Town, which is where the photo comes from - one of the Russian style churches, but we also travelled outside of Tallinn, to some of the islands in the west of the country which was also awesome.
Lots to see and do ;)