At lunch last week a few of us were reminiscing about early language environments, compilers and what not. Anders was there telling us stories about his early days. I thought I would come clean for a change. I let everyone in on my dirty little secret. I was true. I had used Turbo Pascal before. That wasn’t the embarrassing part. It had not actually been an officially sanctioned copy of Turbo Pascal that I happened to be using at the time. I wasn’t sure how everyone would take it. It was Ander’s baby, his birthright. Everyone stopped eating and looked at me. I think the room must have fallen to complete silence, except for the distant whine of a toddler somewhere near the soft drink cooler. It was as if time had stopped in its tracks. I could feel their eyes penetrating, etching into my skin. What would they say?
I mean, after all, it had been nearly twenty years ago. I was only a teenager goofing around on IBM XT; monochrome green and amped at 4.77 MHz. Software was hard to come by. If you wanted something done you usually had to program it yourself. So when someone offered me a peek at this nifty little compiler, I thought, sure why not. I was practiced in a little Pascal programming. I’d give it a spin. Hey, these were the days of dial up bulletin boards. There were people I knew that visited these things called pirate-boards, where digital files were traded, games mostly, and these special programs called ‘utility’ programs. It was a crazy time, I know. Those guys had collections of software that could fill up hundreds of floppies. Heck, if you wanted to copy all that stuff onto a hard disk it would have taken up nearly a megabyte. I suspect most of those guys were harmless. Most of the copied bits stayed on disk, forever, never to be booted, never to live again. Nothing at all like today with Kazaa and Morpheus and such. Now the Internet has turned the activities of a secret society of phone hoppers into a national pastime.
Not that I’ve done any of that. I’m waiting for a better IMusic for WMA, but until then I’m strictly a CD man, bought and paid for. I’ll gladly cough up the pennies for my music! But I’m not all that innocent. I did make use of that compiler. I put that disk in my drive. I launched that puppy and started to code. I don’t recall now what it was that I built; probably a line-bouncing pre-screen-saver app, or some such diversion. I spent an hour writing it in the built in editor, perfecting it, polishing it to its final greatness. But I’ll never know how good it could have been, because it never compiled. It never ran. I got stuck in the editor and couldn’t get out. I hit the escape key and nothing! Zilch. Nada. F1 through F10 and not a hit. CTRL-S for save? Nope. If I had an official copy I would have had the manual, and I would have known that the editor used wordstar key sequences, but I had nothing, just a black monitor with a blinking green cursor from hell. I was devastated, and overly frustrated. I gave up and rebooted.
So anyway, there I was at lunch, waiting for something to happen, for the second salad fork to drop. Seconds must have elapsed, and then Anders spoke. “I guess you owe me fifty bucks,” he said. Everyone broke out into a good laugh.
But I digress