Monthly Archives: November 2007

Samantha in November

P1060053.JPGNovember has been a great month for Samantha. She went to the doctor for a check up about two weeks ago and everything is just fine. At the time, she weighted 9 pounds 14 ounces. Just today, Cynthia took her to a weekly “Well Baby” event and she weighed 10 pounds 10 ounces. Of course, there was another baby there who was 3 days younger and 3 pounds heavier. Just like Matthew, she is smaller than average but growing and progressing well.

The pictures linked here are mostly of Samantha but there are a couple of others of Matthew and the rest of the family. As the pictures show, she is starting to smile a bunch. She still has a great disposition and is very patient when she is hungry. The feedings are still averaging about every 3 to 3.5 hours but every once in a while she will go 4 or 5 hours in a stretch. We are getting a bit more sleep though.

She is enjoying her gym a fair bit also. The pictures show her sleeping in it but that was after playing for a while. She kicks and grabs for the toys hanging over her. So, when she isn’t sleeping, she really likes to play in the gym.

Other 8-Bit Computers

Within a couple of years of building our Apple ][+ clone, it seemed like almost everyone had a computer. But, almost no one I knew had an Apple ][. My best friends both got Atari 800XL’s. We played a bunch of games on those. I remember playing Conan on the Atari quite alot. Also, one of my friends got a 300 baud modem for his Atari. Sometimes I would watch as he would log onto a local BBS. He would post messages to different boards and I remember he would get into heated arguments about something or other with these people he had never met and didn’t know at all. It all seemed pretty strange but I would see it all again on Usenet a bit less than 10 years later.

Then a computer store opened in our small town. The owner was an Atari fanatic so my friends fit right in. We would hang out there quite a bit and talk about computers. I would get a bunch of ribbing about my Apple from these guys which probably helped to instill a sense of defensiveness about my choice of computer which would often pop up over the next several years. More on that later.

Perhaps looking for more like-minded people, I joined the “London Apple Corps” at some point. It must have been around 1984 or so because I remember someone bringing a Macintosh 128K to a meeting. At these meetings, new software and hardware would be demonstrated, people would ask for help with some problem they were having and just talk about Apple. They sold freeware software and if you knew who to ask, you could also obtain some other not so free software also. Later, I would become the librarian for the user group. This meant that I kept a good supply of the software for sale, making copies of the 5 1/4″ disks as necessary and filling orders.

But more than anything else, people had Commodore 64’s. I hated the C-64. Compared to my Apple, it just seemed slow and clunky. On my Apple, I could draw graphics without incanting peeks and pokes. Just a couple of “HCOLORS” and “HPLOTS” in a Basic program and you could do some interesting things. On my Apple, you can cram 256 characters and tokens on a single line of Basic which was great for making cool and complicated 1 or 2 line Basic programs. On the C-64, you could only have 80 characters on a line which seemed like a serious problem at the time. But more than anything, the performance of the disk drive on the C-64 drove me nuts. I cared because at school, this is what we had.

In high school, we had a grade 11 and grade 12 computer science course. They allowed students who were interested to take the grade 11 course in grade 10 and the grade 12 course in grade 11. However, I was allowed to skip the grade 11 computer science course and take the grade 12 computer science course in grade 10. Oh joy, I get to use a Commodore 64!

For our year end project, we had to decide on something we would write and then code it. I decided to make a “Adventure Writer” and an “Adventure Player”. I created a simple language to describe the locations in an adventure game, the relationship between these places and the objects in the game. The writer allowed you to create these things and save it into a data file. Then, you could run the player, load your data file and play the game you had made. So, I was actually writing two programs for my project, not just one. And, they were the most complex Basic programs I had written and were very long. The disk drive on the C-64 was so slow that the time to load and save the programs was significant. In a one hour period, I would spend several minutes just waiting for my program to load. And if I didn’t start saving it early enough, I would be late for my next class. In the end, I got it done but I did have to go to a friends house one Saturday to work on it.

By 1985 and 1986, things were changing. At the London Apple Corps, there was conflict between all of the Apple ][ users and the new Macintosh users. It seemed more and more time was spent talking about the Mac. Eventually, the user group would split and the die hard Apple ][ users like myself wouldn’t have to worry about the Mac anymore. Also, the Amiga 1000 and the Atari 520ST arrived. At the computer store in town, the Atari fans would extoll the virtues of the ST, deride the Amiga and completely mock the Mac which had no colour at the time and was far more expensive. One of my friends replaced his 800XL with a 520ST and would later upgrade it to a 1040ST. I never met anyone with an Amiga at the time but later in university would meet an Amiga owner.

By 1986, my Apple ][+ clone was just not as cool as it once was. But what would I replace it with. Soon enough I would have my answer.

Life with an 8-Bit Computer

As I said in my previous article, I didn’t just use my Apple clone to learn programming. There were games to play and work to do. Most of this software was copied, which was the style at the time (to quote Grandpa Simpson) but not all of it was illegal. Honestly, the games we enjoyed the most were the ones we bought so at least the developers of those great games were properly reimbursed.

Among those games which we bought and spent hours playing were the Ultima series. Specifically Ultima III, Ultima IV and Ultima V. To me, Ultima III was the one which I enjoyed the most. It was a simple role playing game where the goal was, in general, kill everything you see. If you need a bit more gold, we would often raid a city, kill the inhabitants and take all the gold. And, if you leave the city and come right back, you could do it all again. It was a quick way to get the gold you need for buying a new ship or whatever you thought you might need next. But with Ultima IV, that all changed. In Ultima IV, your actions and choices affected your ability to progress in the game. Your character needed to develop different virtues like honesty and honour. So, killing the inhabitants of a city and stealing their gold didn’t help anymore. I finished Ultima III (a couple of times I think) but I never got to the end of Ultima IV. I was pretty far along but didn’t get there. I don’t think I spent more than a couple of hours playing Ultima V. My brother, Steve spent a bunch of time playing that one. But it came on a crazy number of disks and I really didn’t enjoy all of the disk swapping which was required.

We also played Summer Games alot. I remember that we would often play a single player game and take turns on the events. My brother was best at some events, I was best at others, our friends best at other ones. Our goal was to try to get the best score possible. But, no one was good at the gymnastics event and it seemed to go on and on forever. So, if someone screwed up their event, they had to do the gymnastics event.

That wasn’t the only olympics style game we had. We “acquired” a copy of Microsoft Decathalon and am I thankful we didn’t pay for it. Firstly, because the game sucked. Secondly, because it allows me to say that I am one of the few people who haven’t ever purchased a Microsoft product (and this is the only one I ever pirated). I remember the shot put event the most. You had to use the joystick to control your players arm. One axis controlled the rotation of your shoulder and the other axis controlled the rotation of your elbow. Try as you might to throw the shotput, inevitably you would end up with your arm in a completely unnatural position and the shotput would go anyway. Truly an awful game but not a bad piece of software for Microsoft. I honestly don’t recall it ever crashing which is something.

It wasn’t just games on our Apple though. I had a copy of Apple Writer which I was using to write essays and other things for school. We bought an Epson RX-80 dot matrix printer and a Grappler parallel interface card to hook it up. So, I could print out whatever I was working on in Apple Writer. But, an Apple ][+ only had 40 columns of text and no lower case (unless you bought an 80 column card or modded it to get lower case, neither of which I did). In Apple Writer, it showed everything as upper case but if you printed it, it was all lower case. If you pressed “escape” and then a letter, that letter would be shown in inverse text and indicated it was actually upper case. Sure enough, it would be upper case when you printed. So, that is how you got upper case and lower case in your documents on a computer which only supported upper case. The printer had 80 columns of text (I think you could get 132 with the right control sequence also) but the screen only had 40. Between the different columns of text and the lack of lower case, it definitely wasn’t WYSIWIG but it was good enough for me.

We also bought The Print Shop from Broderbund. Suddenly, we were printing banner, signs and lots of other crazy things. It was a great little program though and it made it really easy to create a nice simple, reasonably good looking documents. Or, you could use lots of pieces of clip art, turn on all of the different text modes and really create a god awful looking poster. We did that quite often too.

The other neat thing about the Grappler interface card was that it could print directly from the Apple ][‘s graphics screen. Using the right commands, you could print the text screen, the low res screen or the high res screen. So, all of the little programs I wrote to create strange patterns in hi res I could print now. Pretty soon the walls around the computer was covered in paper of different images I had printed.

We had that computer from 1982 until 1987 and it served us very well. In 1982, I didn’t know anyone else with a computer but within a couple of years, it seemed almost everyone had one.

Away last week

Last week, I was on my first business trip in about seven years. Also, it was the first time since we were married that Cynthia and I had been apart for any significant period of time. Cynthia was pretty worried about taking care of both Matthew and Samantha on her own for a week, but she did very well. The day before I left, she and I did a bunch of cooking to prepare lots of easy to re-heat meals. We still have some left-over tomato spinach soup in the fridge.

The trip was fairly uneventful. I left on Sunday and it did look like we might end up stuck in Chicago. The flight from Ottawa to Chicago was delayed and there was a chance we would miss our connection. But, everything in Chicago was delayed. We arrived at San Jose airport at about 12:30 local time which made for a very long day.

Unlike years ago when my trips were mostly to visit customer sites to perform upgrades or to fix problems, this trip was to our Mountainview location to begin planning our next software release. The work days were long, attending meetings in the day, working on the current version of the software when we could and leaving for a late dinner and the hotel late at night. As often happens to me on business trips, I came down with a cold almost immediately and am just getting over it now.

The other difference with this business trip was getting back home. When I was travelling years ago, I would get home to a quiet and empty apartment. This time, I returned home to a family which was very happy to see me.