back to article 30-up: You know what? Those really weren't the days

It's 30 years since .EXE Magazine carried the first Stob column; this is its pearl Perl anniversary. Rereading article #1, a spoof self-tester in the Cosmo style, I was struck by how distant the world it invoked seemed. For example: Your program requires a disk to have been put in the floppy drive, but it hasn't. What happens …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    How the frak did she do that ?

    What HTML magickry enabled ou dearest Verity to do that reversed-inversed type ?

    When I saw that I thought my eyes would pop out.

    I obviously need a refresher course on HTML5.

    As for Dank Mono, that seems like a lot of work just to make a copy of Arial with different spacing.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: How the frak did she do that ?

      It ain't HTML. Read up on Unicode. All kinds of odds & ends in there.

      Even Cherokee. ᎠᏂᏴᏫᏯ

    2. DropBear Silver badge

      Re: How the frak did she do that ?

      Do you ever go on YouTube? If so, do you ever read any of the comments? I'm just curious, no reason... (the "inverted script" pops up so regularly there most follow-up comments don't even bat an eyelid)

      1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge

        Re: How the frak did she do that ?

        > Do you ever go on YouTube? If so, do you ever read any of the comments?

        Once, years ago. I am still regretting it.

      2. Dave559

        Re: How the frak did she do that ?

        No one who wants to retain their sanity reads the comments on CthulhyuTube; following that trail, the Mountains of Madness lie…

    3. MyffyW Silver badge

      You have not lived ....

      ... if you haven't tried to find the roots of a quadratic equation using FORTRAN 77 on a RM Nimbus 186* PC with aforementioned green screen.

      [*not a typo - there was a 80186 processor which my CompSci chums described as "different to the 8086, not necessarily better"]

      1. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: You have not lived ....

        ... if you haven't tried to find the roots of a quadratic equation using FORTRAN 77 on a RM Nimbus 186* PC with aforementioned green screen.

        Was that the RM which was a hefty black box with square aluminium handles, looking more like a modern rack-mounted server than like any PC on the market back then? Yeah, I remember one sitting at one end of the college lab. I also don't remember anyone ever using it.

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: You have not lived ....

          >Was that the RM which was a hefty black box with square aluminium handles

          You speak of the computer that came before it, the RM380Z. Close to a zx81 in big box form, with an operating system you had to load from cassette each time. The joys of J103 RESTORE

        2. Mage Silver badge

          Re: You have not lived ....

          No, the earlier RM380Z was an aluminium shoebox, Z80 & CP/M based. Stupidly with the bus as a ribbon cable across the top of the cards. Also stupidly only 7 bit data on printer port. We modded about a dozen for people so their Epson MX80 could do graphics printing and the upper part of the character set. The actual interface IC was all 8 bits. Sinclair was doing the Spectrum then and Acorn the BBC model. Schools could get a grant for Apple II (Why?), BBC Model B, or RM380Z. The BBC Acorn maybe had best range of "Educational SW" (mostly worthless compared to real teaching). The RM380Z had the most useful "professional" SW, such as Wordstar, SuperCalc, every programming language, databases, massive shareware etc, purely because of CP/M. I don't remember any school being daft enough to buy the computer without at least one floppy drive.

          Why would anyone have bought a RM380Z for cassette only? Maybe a home computer for games, but you'd not have ever bought any Research Machine only for home gaming.

          I was out of doing that stuff and designing industrial controllers before PC got past the 8088/8086. Hardly anyone used the 186. At least, with enough RAM, some PC makers supported various flavours of Unix on the 286 (Wang had a machine about twice the size of a PC that used giant cards and ran DOS or Unix (Maybe even MS Xenix).

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: You have not lived ....

            >Why would anyone have bought a RM380Z for cassette only?

            In 1981/2 it was still fscking expensive and we wor poor up-north

            The nice thing was that all the cool kids wanted to play games on the BBC-Bs a few later - but the old box was left in the corner all for me....

            The most interesting feature was that the TV modulator was so powerful you could tune any of the B&W TVs on other machines in the class to it without a cable and confuse people (we didn't have monitors when I started)

        3. sorry, what?
          Pint

          Re: You have not lived ....

          @Rich 11, that sounds very much like the RML 380Z's form factor. Though obviously with a different CPU since the 380Z was Z80 based. A really heavy piece of kit with a massively thick, seemingly indestructible metal chassis. I loved the fact that it had a lit up power/reset button that had a physical key lock next to it you could use to prevent bored kiddies resetting the machine. Oh, and the twin *vertically mounted* 8 inch floppy drives with the huge snap-shut closures. Real hardware for real programmers. #bliss#

          1. Rich 11 Silver badge

            Re: You have not lived ....

            Thanks, everyone, for clearing up my faulty memory. My RM nightmares, on the other hand, have resurfaced for the first time in 33 years... you bastards!

      2. Korev Silver badge

        Re: You have not lived ....

        ... if you haven't tried to find the roots of a quadratic equation using FORTRAN 77 on a RM Nimbus 186*

        You mean the old Nimbus with a custom version of DOS which meant you had to emulate "normal DOS" to run stuff?

        As a "deprived child" the one we had only 512KB of RAM which wasn't even enough to do that.

        1. MyffyW Silver badge

          Re: You have not lived ....

          Alas it was not the big box zx81. My inner Anastasia Steele thinks that might have been fun. In reality I think that would have sent me to the Students Union (or the dole queue) rather quicker.

          "My" Nimbus was beige and looked not entirely unlike an IBM-compatible PC. Until you tried to do anything with it...

    4. Steve the Cynic

      Re: How the frak did she do that ?

      What HTML magickry enabled ou dearest Verity to do that reversed-inversed type ?

      http://www.upsidedowntext.com/

      ˙ǝuoʎɹǝʌǝ ǝɹǝɥʇ ollǝH

      Final edit: /ɯoɔ˙ʇxǝʇuʍopǝpᴉsdn˙ʍʍʍ//:dʇʇɥ

  2. jake Silver badge

    "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

    Nah. By 1988, Usenet was quite a useful tool ... and it hadn't yet become corrupted by the Eternal September, which ended the Golden Age in '93.

    And c'mon, admit it, you still use vi as nature intended.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

      Just, not everybody in 1988 was so lucky to have Internet access, or even to a BBS. People bought magazines, books and so on to find the information. It is true most software came with excellent manuals (if you bought it instead of getting a pirated copy, of course). Still, there was those "undocumented" calls...

      Nor programmers with a DOS/TurboPascal background usually like vi (by version 4 in 1987 TP had a full CUA editor...) - even the WordStar key combinations were better... <G>

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

        I didn't say "Internet", I said "Usenet". Neither require the other.

        BBSes were a good source for things like so-called "undocumented" calls. If you had access to a Fido node, the world was your oyster. I didn't know too many people who had a computer at home (with a modem) who didn't have access to one BBS or another. And even then, there was always UUCP via dial-up. All you had to do was look around, the options were there.

        You can make vi look and act like WordStar, if you like. Some folks did. I never really saw the utility in that, though. vi was built by programmers, for programming. It did the job admirably. These days, it's still the fastest way that I know to get my thoughts into ASCII without distraction.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

          "And even then, there was always UUCP via dial-up. All you had to do was look around, the options were there."

          Where you were, maybe. Where I was in '88 the only thing UUCP did was get you through to the other Zilog (via a parallel cable IIRC).

          And, yes, vi is still the direct connection between brain and file.

        2. LDS Silver badge

          "who had a computer at home (with a modem)"

          The problem was the modem - many computer didn't come with one, and they were expensive. Even in most companies you didn't have one. Also, in many places outside larger cities without a local number to call, accessing Usenet, BBS or the like was expensive. Moreover you kept a telephone line busy.

          "vi was built by programmers, for programming"

          That was true for TurboPascal as well - but TurboPascal was built around the IDE idea. in DOS being able to edit, compile and debug from the same applications was very welcome, since you had no multiprocessing. Tools that required to edit, exit, compile, return to the editor to fix errors, rinse and repeat, run, debug, return to the editor, etc. etc. were far less friendly. That was one of the reasons of TP success.

          Moreover many DOS programmers didn't have a Unix background, a lot learned programming on 8 bit computers. and after all, vi looks too much like edlin... <G>

          1. big_D Silver badge

            Re: "who had a computer at home (with a modem)"

            I remember we had a bank of modems at work and a multiplexing. One operator on the night shift had some fun with the Essex Uni system and MUD, running 6 characters. Luckily his was on good terms with head of IT, who managed to spread the 4 figure bill across a bunch of projects, on the promise that it would never happen again!

            1. Dave559

              Re: "who had a computer at home (with a modem)"

              spuddy.mew.co.uk ;-)

          2. Kubla Cant Silver badge

            Re: "who had a computer at home (with a modem)"

            The problem was the modem - many computer didn't come with one, and they were expensive

            Before BT was privatised and relaxed the rules, modems all had to be tested and approved by Post Office Telephones. As a result, there were about three models available, each costing more than a week's wages. All were robustly engineered so that you could stand on them to flash an Aldiss lamp - this being generally the fastest communication they could manage.

            vi was built by programmers, for programming

            I wouldn't have the nerve to badmouth vi. But for those of us who don't use it all the time, the startup sequence is usually like this:

            $ vi filename

            <start typing stuff, then notice that I didn't enable insert mode until the first 'i' in the stuff>

            :q!

            $ vi filename

            i

            <start typing...>

            1. John G Imrie

              vi for beginners

              $ vi filename

              <start typing stuff, then notice that I didn't enable insert mode until the first 'i' in the stuff>

              :e!

              i

              <start typing...>

              :e! reloads the file

              1. Steve the Cynic

                Re: vi for beginners

                :e! reloads the file

                Only if you cancel insert mode before typing it...

            2. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: "who had a computer at home (with a modem)"

              And local calls in the UK, even assuming you had a local BBS, cost more than long distance calls in the USA.

            3. strum Silver badge

              Re: "who had a computer at home (with a modem)"

              >Before BT was privatised and relaxed the rules

              BT retained the power to approve/disapprove modems for some time after privatisation.

          3. Geoffrey W Silver badge

            Re: "who had a computer at home (with a modem)"

            RE: "The problem was the modem - many computer didn't come with one, and they were expensive"

            Gosh. My first encounter with a modem was a weird box into which you inserted your phone - the old style, proverbial, Telling Bone phone - into rubbery ports and hoped for the best. What were those things called? My long term memory chip is frazzled.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: "who had a computer at home (with a modem)"

              That "weird box" is called an acoustic coupler. I have several that still work. For rather small values of work. Thankfully, Vadic (later Racal Vadic) came to the rescue and told MaBell to go fuck herself. The rest, as they say, is history.

              1. Geoffrey W Silver badge

                Re: "who had a computer at home (with a modem)"

                What on earth do you still do with those "Acoustic Couplers" so that you know they still work? Who has a "Telling Bone" phone to fit them these days? Those things got me into my first bout of computer trouble when, as a student, we spent so much time on them we almost bankrupted the college. Oh, god, I wish I could misspend my youth all over again...I'd misspend it all over again.

    2. John Riddoch

      Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

      Dejanews was the Google of the 90s - all sorts of useful stuff squirreled away in Usenet forums and generally not tainted with the crap you get now. Google covers a lot of things now, but part of the problem is the 100s of ways Linux implementors do things, so you get some instructions for RHEL 6 which don't work on Debian, Ubuntu or, in some cases, RHEL 7.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

        Dejanews came online in '85. It wasn't widely used until 1999 or 2000ish. In theory it still exists, but after purchasing it the gookids fucked it up rather badly. Seems they don't know what to do with ASCII communications, the poor dears.

        Most Linux distros have their own forums where you can get questions answered. Going through google is an exercise in frustration.

        1. colinb

          Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

          Jake, sure it was '85? I don't remember it untl the 90's and wikipedia has it as '95.

          Dejanews used NNTP and that RFC was only written in 86

          1. Mark 110

            Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

            Are there any Usenet servers still running . . . quite tempted to go have a look. Just to see if all the Usenet spambots are still running and spoiling it for everyone more than anything else . . .

            1. David Roberts Silver badge
              Thumb Up

              Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

              News server?

              news.individual.net from the University of Berlin.

              Been using it for years.

              The ratio of troll to useful content is not always good (see Twitter).

          2. jake Silver badge

            Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

            A couple odds & ends follow:

            Dejanews was 1995, not 1985. 3AM typo. Mea culpa.

            DejaNews wasn't "the google of the time". That was AltaVista or InfoSeek (the WorldWideWebWorm had promise, but never really went anywhere).

            I personally never found anyone (on 6 continents) who couldn't convince a local college or uni to give them a dial-up UUCP link. Squeaky wheel & all that.

            I didn't say anything was free. YES, telephone calls cost money back then. Even most local calls. And you were tethered with a cord between the wall-mounted telephone and the handset. (Cool kids had a really, really long cord so they could hide from their parents while talking).

            You can customize how vi starts up with ~/.exrc (or ~/.vimrc).

            Vim allows column ("block") copy and paste.

            Yes, Usenet is still alive & well, despite the best efforts of the spambots and the bunny set. Either ask your local Uni for a text only feed, or talk to EasyNews, GigaNews or Altopia (in no particular order) about your particular needs/wants. Hint: text is cheap (free for some folks with minimal needs), binaries can cost money.

            IRC still works. Can be quite handy for real-time help with all kinds of things, from coding to stuck fermentation in your plonk. Or just plain old shooting the shit with like minded people.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

              @jake: Regarding access to usenet via your friendly neighbourhood university: sadly, most JANet sites dropped their feed a few years ago, and probably most undergrads would have had no idea what usenet was/is for rather longer.

      2. Steve the Cynic

        Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

        Dejanews was the Google of the 90s

        The irony in this is ... sickening. Dejanews stopped being Dejanews when Google bought the company and transformed it into Google Groups.

      3. strum Silver badge

        Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

        >Dejanews was the Google of the 90s

        For those that knew about it. I remember leaving my (IT) boss gobsmacked, that I could answer a previously-intractable problem, with a simple DN search.

        A few years later, in another job, I was gobsmacked by a 'senior' programmer, who had never heard of Usenet.

    3. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

      By 1988, Usenet was quite a useful tool

      It still is (for a very limited definition of "useful")..

    4. big_D Silver badge

      Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

      Ah, WordStar... And Peter Norton's pink shirt book on programming the PC.

      1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

        Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

        There was also IRC ...

      2. Jeffrey Nonken Silver badge

        Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

        I used Wordstar in non-document mode for nearly a decade. I still miss the ability to do column copy and paste.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

          @ Jeffrey Nonken, column copy and paste is alive and well in notepad++

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

      Usenet was quite a useful tool

      Yes, pity it completely ceased to exist.

      Good thing nobody ever figured out how to share binaries on usenet.

      First rule of Usenet is.....

    6. lesession

      Re: "you were seriously stuck up a gum tree"

      Have an upvote just for the use of 'Eternal September' which is a phrase I've not heard in many a year. The whole fricking world apart from you & me is now in Eternal September,and quite frankly I'm not so sure about me ...

  3. Admiral Grace Hopper

    All these years on

    and I still find myself in third normal form.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: All these years on

      Pity those who never even seem able to get to even 2nd normal.

      1. Admiral Grace Hopper

        Re: All these years on

        I pray for them. In Codd we trust.

  4. Nick Lord

    Verity Stob - the only reason I occasionally take a look at the Register.

    1. Mark 110

      And where did she suddenly appear from?!? I thought she'd retired. And she is way more coherent than normal . .

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        she is way more coherent than normal

        That she speaketh of things you cannot follow does not always imply *she* is the incoherent one :).

        Ah, Turbo Pascal. I used to save money on software by being a beta tester for Borland and although I never amounted to much as a programmer (at least in my eyes) I have done a lot of weird things with both Turbo Pascal and Paradox.

        On one occasion I replaced two man weeks of typing with a 15 minute batchfile that (a) ran a report on the central server to generate a report (the thing that was normally typed in by 2 people over a week), (b) grabbed the resulting file with Kermit (that the sysadmin agreed to install), (c) stripped the headers and cleaned it up with some Turbo Pascal code, (d) ran a Paradox script to import the result, chew on it some and then spit out the result those typists were after. But accurate (my motivation was not the speed - the inaccuracies always messed up my work).

        As I wasn't allowed to do this (programming was seen as a magic process by management, not to be performed by mere unauthorised mortals lurking in outposts and warehouses on the dangly end of a serial MUX) I had to do it on the sly, and even after I got it to work it was sort of not acknowledged because that would piss off the programming gods at HQ.

        But boy did it get a workout :).

        Come to think of it, it was in those days the first inkjet arrived, and in those hallowed days you could still give something a "BJ xxx" (BJ 130) designator without people sniggering in the back (yes, I heard you) as Canon called it a "bubblejet" which was mercifully silent compared to the Start dot matrix I just overheated by accidentally making it print a page of solid black (don't ask, but it failed very spectacularly :) ). Of course, I came up with the idea of using the thing as a barcode label printer which was completely out of spec for the poor thing, but it just worked and as a "proper" thermal transfer printer would have set us back for a factor more, we didn't care - we'd get a new one if it broke (which, to Canon's credit, it never did).

        In those days the amount of buyers was still low enough for Canon to spot that we where blowing through ink at about 4x the expected rate ('coz we waz printing a lotta black, man) so we got a call, "WTF were we doing, is the printer bust?". When we told Canon we were torturing the poor thing with barcodes, we were told it would not stand up to that and break in a month. Telling them we'd been doing it for half a year now with no problems earned us a personal visit of the EMEA head - which turned out to be a former Borland rep. Small world - but you could get sh*t done.

        As for BBS et al - does anyone recall DoubleDOS? :)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        >I thought she'd retired.

        That would be unexpected, she is still young.

        While here references places her DOB clearly, it would still be ungentlemanly to state her age. Let us just say I expect her to be around for decades to come.

        1. Geoffrey W Silver badge

          RE: "I expect her to be around for decades to come."

          Well good! I hope I'm here to read her...

  5. SeanEllis
    Thumb Up

    The Meaning of Stob

    One column that made it onto the wall of my cubicle "back in the day" was your additional Meaning of Liff definitions. Even now, I refer to myself "climbing a Dollis Hill", and complain if people's programming style is "too pimlico".

    Happy Anniversary, Ms Stob.

    1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: The Meaning of Stob

      climbing a Dollis Hill

      Amusingly, there was a Dollis Hill council estate in the London Borough of Barnet (where I was dragged up).

      Not a place you wanted to go on your own. Or even in a small squad with major weaponry.

      1. David Haig

        Re: The Meaning of Stob

        And Dollis Hill was where one of the GPO's research facilities was located Before Adastra Park....

  6. Vulch

    Alternative 2018 floppy disc put-down

    "How cute! You've 3d printed the save icon!"

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Alternative 2018 floppy disc put-down

      Swallow the coffee and put down the cup. USB and internal 3½" floppy drives are still for sale on Amazon. You can even buy a pack of disks - you will only need 4 for the Raspberry Pi Linux kernel!

      1. John 110

        Re: Alternative 2018 floppy disc put-down

        I'm looking at a stack of 3½" floppies now. It's next to the DC2120 tapes and those halogen MR16 bulbs I can't give away. The USB drive is over there under my Hudl...

      2. red floyd

        Re: Alternative 2018 floppy disc put-down

        What I'm looking for is a 5.25" USB floppy drive. Or even an internal drive. I have a copy of Windows 1.03 that I want to install on a VM, but it's on 5.25" disks.

        1. bobajob12

          Re: Alternative 2018 floppy disc put-down

          Maybe this controller can help?

        2. BostonEddie

          Re: Alternative 2018 floppy disc put-down

          I have a AUTOCAD 11 on 5 1/2 floppy with the drive for 386, complete with two drawing pads and the templates for drawing schematics and text. No USB; sorry. Probably have the xternal power supplies for something or other. I keep it under my workbench with my Data General One laptop and my Sears 1922 Neutrodyne.

  7. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "Whenever I declared a LongMixedCaseIdentifier, I instantly forgot its precise spelling."

    Right now the younglings are thinking "Why couldn't she just copy and paste it?".

    Thanks, Verity, of 30 years of IT writing that ranks with the sadly-missed Stan Kelly-Bootle.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Copy paste

      "Right now the younglings are thinking "Why couldn't she just copy and paste it?"."

      yyp

      :x

  8. Wellyboot Silver badge

    'Twas in the year of '88

    Turbo Pascal, first programming environ I used on PCs, I do remember it as being quite usable after previously being all COBOL on various mini's.

    WIMP & GEM, I though that's a very pretty way of kicking off the full screen DOS programs compared to 'menu.bat' everyone used but the mouse cost (about £30 then) was just plain silly, mind you an ordinary Cherry keyboard was touching £100. queue gasps from the youngsters :)

    1. Spazturtle Silver badge

      Re: 'Twas in the year of '88

      "mind you an ordinary Cherry keyboard was touching £100. queue gasps from the youngsters :)"

      Youngsters would think that £100 is a pretty good price for a Cherry mechanical keyboard.

    2. Martin
      Headmaster

      Re: 'Twas in the year of '88

      queue gasps from the youngsters

      cue - signal or indicator

      queue - a row of people waiting for something.

      Sigh

      PS - happy anniversary, Ms Stob - brilliantly witty for thirty years. Just to mention two, your code walkthrough article and Lord Peter Wimsey skit will live long in my memory.

    3. Mage Silver badge

      Re: 'Twas in the year of '88

      GEM was used by at least one DTP program. It wasn't much worse than windows 2.0 on 8088/8086

      Counterpoint was the ultimate graphical DOS Launcher. Gem was pointless for that.

      1. red floyd

        Re: 'Twas in the year of '88

        Atari used GEM for the ST, didn't they?

      2. David Given

        Re: 'Twas in the year of '88

        That DTP package would be Ami Pro, by Lotus. I used it a lot as a teenager; it was pretty good. Relatively nippy even on a ghastly old 286. GEM wasn't much more than a single-tasking shell and GUI toolkit, but it was clean and got out of the way and suited Ami Pro fine. (And was a huge step above the trainwreck which was native DOS GUI applications.)

        Strangely I can barely find a mention of the GEM version on the interwebs. There are plenty of mentions of the forgettable Windows version which came out later, but nothing about the GEM version. I wonder if I can find a copy? I bet it'd run really well on a modern PC...

    4. David Roberts Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: 'Twas in the year of '88

      WIMP and GEM?

      Am I the only one brought up on character terminals and DOS PCs to have been given an early MAC and spent an hour looking for the command prompt, and on being told there wasn't one spending another few hours wondering "but how do you make it do anything useful?"?

      1. David Given

        Re: 'Twas in the year of '88

        Re Apple Macs and command lines: yes, that was precisely my experience. The first thing I looked for was the menu option to exit the GUI.

        I'm particularly proud that after diligent searching, I *did* actually manage to find the CLI, by locating the interrupt key on the side of the machine; this dropped me into MacsBug, which was completely incomprehensible...

    5. BostonEddie

      Re: 'Twas in the year of '88

      OMG--am I that old? (I wont mention my exposure on the IBM 360 Mark 1965, fresh out of the box; I have a Certificate of Competence on the IBM 026 Duplicating Keypunch) I remember the Eternal Summer when the internet went to hell...and even the comp.women debate. At the time I had a DEC terminal that I could connect to the internet; there was a local ISP that I could connect to for free after 5 PM. During the day Ed Featherstone would extract and email usenet postings. I later did field circus on Nat. Weather Service weathermap receivers controlled by tone controls over the phone lines

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 'Twas in the year of '88

      As a now almost-oldie myself, the thing that always most horrifies me about these reminders of the past is that apparently there actually really were some misguided people who were somehow “trying” to do stuff with those primitive DOS beige boxes, while the rest of us were *really* getting things done (in glorious musical Technicolor) with our Amigas, Atari STs, or even (if you had very wealthy parents) Apple Macs…

  9. OssianScotland Silver badge

    DnD?

    "My first DnD encounter"

    I am, unfortunately, old enough that my first thought was of a certain role-playing game with funny dice.

    1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: DnD?

      I am, unfortunately, old enough that my first thought was of a certain role-playing game with funny dice

      Nowt wrong with ADnD. Apart from the riduculous racially-limited class system. And the many inconsistencies. And the overt sexism..

      (But hey - I was a student then and spent far more time playing ADnD and CoC than actually studying..)

    2. big_D Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: DnD?

      There is another sort of DnD?

      I remember one DM getting fed up with one dwarf always going into the brothel, he ended up "slipping in" an evil witch that hexed him, it made night time travel on the road easy, but being stealthy when your nether regions glow through your leather trousers is not easy.

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: DnD?

      drag/drop certainty: right-click 'copy' on source. go to other explorer/caja/konqueror/whatever window. right-click 'paste'. Then, when it's complete, optionally delete source with another right-click maneuver

      takes more time, but you're unlikely to drop it on the wrong thing that way

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: DnD?

        Ah. One of the things most of us carry over from that era is the knowledge that keyboard shortcuts are a LOT faster than the whole mouse thing. In my experience it also leads to far less RSI.

  10. iron Silver badge
    Pint

    Congrats on the anniversary Verity! I can't claim to have read your columns since the beginning but I did use Turbo Pascal at Uni and had many pleasurable years with Delphi while all around me were cursing Visual Basic.

  11. Just Enough
    Thumb Up

    Happy Birthday Verity Stob!

    Thanks for sharing 30 years of what always appeared to be a more interesting, varied and funny programming career than mine.

  12. vtcodger Silver badge

    MY thanks to Ms Stob

    I'd like to thank Ms Stob for making me realize that I've been avoiding drag and drop for three decades. Didn't like it in 1988 and don't like it now. I have no idea why.

    And I'd also like to thank her for letting me know that I'm not the only one who finds git to be baffling. Not that I think get is bad or evil. I just don't grok it. Fortuitously RCS is sufficient for my needs.

    1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

      Re: MY thanks to Ms Stob

      Make that CVS and I'm with you.

  13. PerlyKing Bronze badge
    WTF?

    Ligatures in editors

    The last time I encountered ligatures in an editor was using Eclipse in about 2012. I don't know if it was something weird about my setup, but it insisted on rendering "fi" as "fi" (Unicode character 'LATIN SMALL LIGATURE FI' (U+FB01)), semi-randomly ruining the monospaced character alignment.

    Presumably someone somewhere made a deliberate choice to use ligatures wherever possible, but this one is a step too far in my not-so-humble opinion!

    1. caffeine addict Silver badge

      Re: Ligatures in editors

      That ligature font looked really nice at first. Then I saw their code samples and I realised just how awful an idea it was. I'd quite like to be able to *see* === not have to guess it from it's relative width...

      I have to admit that I've been tempted by ligatures on the web. Mainly because I quite like the idea of using the word "menu" but have it ligature to the hamburger icon. Strikes me as a nice accessibility wossit.

  14. herman Silver badge

    DnD - That is Dungeons'n Dragons innit?

  15. Marco van de Voort

    Yellow and blue

    Old school programmers used yellow on blue, not black on white. Duh!

    1. vtcodger Silver badge

      Re: Yellow and blue

      Actually, we old timers punched cards. ... Fade to scene of a dozen gaijin and Japanese programmers frantically moving hundreds of boxes of punched cards from computer room floor to tables as typhoon driven floodwaters slowly infiltrate computer center. Yes, that happened.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Yellow and blue

        We old timers used stone circles, survives hurricanes really well - but takes for ever to reboot

      2. jake Silver badge

        Re: Yellow and blue

        Punch cards? Luxury. We toggled switches and read Blinkenlights ... and we liked it!

        (This reply being typed on an amber-on-black IBM 3151 + Model M keyboard, which is attached to my laptop's docking station via serial port. Text-only logins are kinda handy when doing development work and the GUI goes titsup. Try it, you might like it.)

    2. John Gamble

      Re: Yellow and blue

      White on blue, actually.

      Observed in the wild, where the coders at my company were given a default-to-screen-colors editor (green on black), and watched as the white-on-blue style spread to everyone's startup file over the course of a couple of weeks.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Yellow and blue

        I never did understand white on blue. That combination gives me a headache and completely screws up my night vision. It's far too bright. Amber on black or green on black is where it's at (no preference), with grey on black a distant third.

        1. onefang Silver badge

          Re: Yellow and blue

          White text on a black background is what this old codger likes. I read the web that way to.

    3. Roo

      Re: Yellow and blue

      Admittedly a late entrant, but I preferred an amber screen VT320 back in the day. I'm grateful to have a choice of millions of colours to choose from these days. :)

  16. Peter Prof Fox

    1988

    No email, hard drive space, cramming everything onto floppies to be sent in the post to the customer with line-by-line instructions on how to unzip (zip having to be included on the disc of course). (2018 FTP and let recipient test when their bit of the world wakes up.)

    Then the curse of the mouse. Stealing my desk and forcing me to have another cable which probably meant a special adaptor to connect to the PC. (2018 Wireless trackball)

    'Paper white' screens, all CRT cream of course, with fuzzy zones limiting tiny text. (2018 3 large solid state screens. Still deep dark blue background for coding as that's easier on the eyes at night.)

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: 1988

      Then: De-fluffing your mouseballs and getting all the crud out of the rollers.

      Now: Not doing that. Admittedly now you need to change the batteries every few months.

      1. BostonEddie

        Re: 1988

        "Then: De-fluffing your mouseballs..." Hey--I did that yesterday!

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: 1988

      No email in '88? Where were you? RFC561 was 1973, and RFC733 was 1977! By 1988, email was normal enough to be on business cards.

      1. John Gamble
        Meh

        Re: 1988

        "By 1988, email was normal enough to be on business cards."

        That very much depends upon the environment. I recall in the 1992ish era a recruiter, seeing my e-mail address on my resume, asking if it was actually useful (at the time, not much; all my contacts came via phone. Land line, of course).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: 1988

          A recruiter knowing anything, let alone what an email address was in 1992? I don’t believe it!

  17. ida71u

    You Missed WYSIWYG the magic of wizzy wig ! Youngsters have never had it so good, well apart from the Mal/Ransome/Crypto WARE that is now sinking the digital ship :(

  18. Lee D Silver badge

    I would be quite happy if some physical limit had prevented processors ever going past, say, 100MHz. Like, literally, it's just not possible to operate at a speed faster than that.

    And some physical limit on "memory you can fit inside a handheld/computer size device".

    Then maybe we'd actually see some decent attention to the user and their needs and the hardware capabilities than just "recompile Android, sling it on".

    1. theOtherJT

      The best thing about that time was that design was forced to take a back-seat to functionality.

      Everything had to be simple and functional because there simply wasn't free memory or spare clock cycles available to make sure that the menus fade in, or slide down, or wink into existence with a massive puff of animated unicorn farts or any similarly unnecessary shit. This meant that designers* were forced to worry about things like appropriate menu depth and interface discoverability because "making it prettier" wasn't actually possible, so they were forced to do something useful instead.

      *The people who decide what it's going to look like and how it's going to operate, as opposed to the engineers and developers who had to code it all up.

    2. jake Silver badge

      An aging Aunt & Uncle of mine ...

      ... found it faster and easier to use Netware, MS-DOS 3.3 with WordStar, dBase III+ and Lotus on an airgapped 25 year old network than it was to use the latest offerings from Redmond. I finally converted them over to a Slackware based solution a couple years ago[0] ... Their final year of using the legacy system brought them a tick over 1.5 million in sales, in 2015 dollars. Not too bad for a small mom&pop family business!

      [0] It was becoming quite spendy to get parts ...

    3. Blue Pumpkin

      Umm ...

      Like the week I spent trying to optimise 4101 bytes of 8051 assembler code so that it would fit into the 4096 bytes of ROM ... maybe not

      1. Lee D Silver badge

        Re: Umm ...

        Did you have room for the talk-home DRM, the background service running all the time, the media indexing-against-online blacklists, the constant file-search process running, etc. in those 4096 bytes?

  19. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Happy

    Thanks Verity, that brings back memories!

    I started my first programming job in 1988, coding image processing stuff on an 8 MHz 80286 with Matrox PIP1024 frame grabber. The latter had ONE WHOLE MB of video RAM so you could actually do something useful. I really needed some clever compression schemes to store images on the 20MB HDD. I still have some old Dr. Dobb's Journals from that time lying around, and even the last few issues of Micro Cornucopia to appear in print here in the Netherlands.

    I still use some of the C code I wrote in those days. Stuff that ran quickly on a 286 runs like the clappers on modern kit, even without creating parallel versions of the code.

  20. Mage Silver badge

    1988 too early?

    No, I was doing OOD with Modula-2 in 1985 and C++ in 1987. The seminal C++ Programming Language by Stroustrupp was published in 1986.

    Glockenspiel ported the AT&T C++ preprocessor to MS DOS to sell a C++ compiler for DOS (the back end was MS C DOS compiler). Also they worked on Amiga, Atari and Xenix versions. ALL before 1988.

    You don't need C++ or Smalltalk to use the ideas of OOP / OOD, though it's difficult in Fortran :)

    1. David Roberts Silver badge
      Windows

      Re: 1988 too early? - OOP

      Reminds me of the time when, as an occasional programmer with some C experience, I was first introduced to C++.

      "Isn't this just a fancy way of describing reuseable modules of code?" I wondered.

      Thankfully all that is behind me now.

  21. bobajob12

    The best of times, the worst of times

    I have a bit of nostalgia for the sheer variety of computing back then - 68K, 8080, even the weird-and-frankly-quite-broken stuff like the 80186 (IIRC Research Machines used to have a demo mode on their 80186 PCs that could play a little Bach fugue). And the tools, being forced to run in such compressed environments, were pretty clever (and cheap). TSRs like Sidekick. Zortech C for 29.99. The BBC Tube (I mean! Co-processors across an interconnect! For kids in schools!)

    Then I remember just how hard it was to get anything done. CONFIG.SYS not exactly right? Sorry. Don;t remember the exact PEEK and POKE? Sorry. Segment:offset addressing? Yuck. It's a miracle anything happened.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The best of times, the worst of times

      Much of the problems came from the Intel - Microsoft constellation. The 68K had no segmentation, nor did the 6502. I worked in a company where we made a ship navigation system with moving maps where the console was a BBC Model B powered by a 2 MHz 6502. You could get most things done but you had to think carefully.

      I know someone made a reprogrammable cell phone based on the Z80 in the early days of GSM. Much of the advantages of modern tech has been eaten up by sloppy programming.

  22. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Happy

    A refreshing change

    .. from bre[CENSORED]

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane Verity, and may many more notable notes come from your pen er keyboard um touchpad?

  23. Barry Rueger

    Ye Goode Olde Days

    Sigh. WordPerfect 5.1.

    1. bobajob12

      Re: Ye Goode Olde Days

      Is that a good sigh or a bad one?

      Took me a year of cursing at WP5.1 before I knew enough keystrokes to be useful in it (the little plastic Fn key template being as useful as a chocolate teapot). But once I got it, ye gods, what a productive tool. Much as I like Word these days I still miss the fullscreen blue mode. Word even had a blue mode itself for a few years but sadly they ripped it out in recent versions.

    2. BostonEddie

      Re: Ye Goode Olde Days

      Got it in front of me now, on my Zenith 486 laptop.

      (sigh) Autocoder and Snoball on an IBM 360. "Nailing Peanut Butter and Jelly to a Tree" (FORTRAN tutorial)

  24. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    Judging by

    some of the failures in programs I've seen floating about

    I think the modern method of creating stuff is not

    "Google, click, Stack Overflow, copy, paste, compile, try it, coffee"

    But more like

    "Google, click, Stack Overflow, copy, paste, compile, throw it out the door and maybe patch it later if you're still in business"

    And we're still using green text of black screens for the robot controls......... although sadly , they're being slowly phased out in favour of new fangled LCD screens

  25. g00se2

    Original Git girl

    THIS is the original Git girl:

    http://technojeeves.com/tech/git-headless.html

  26. earl grey Silver badge
    Trollface

    Ah you kids

    now get off my lawn.

    cards and 7-track tapes and no disks to speak of; truckloads of up to 6-part forms to decollate and burst. all mainframe all the time.

  27. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    ...Delphi, now rated as one of the least popular...

    Ooff, that hurt. Citation please.

    If you're searching for the word "Delphi" then maybe, but what about XEx (where x is an integer in the range 1 to some Mersenne value) which is Delphi in essence, plus Lazarus.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      "Ooff, that hurt. Citation please."

      IIRC it came out in one of the StackOverflow surveys. I think in the past years many developers have been brainwashed into hating Pascal (which was instead quite popular 30 years ago), and anyway having to work in Delphi I think is seen as a career dead end today, as all the hype is on far more fashionable languages and technologies.

      The fact it was seen as a Windows-only proprietary tool (although it now attempts to be a cross-platform one, but still the IDE is Windows only) didn't make it popular with the *nix crowd. Many mistakes by the companies owning it didn't help either, and the switch to web UIs diminished greatly the need of Windows desktop applications - which is what Delphi does best.

      The XE versions of Delphi are the latest official versions of Delphi. It briefly used FreePascal compiler to target OSX years ago, but now it does no longer, it uses LLVM derived compilers on non Windows platforms.

      Lazarus is a separate open source project, an IDE and library built with and using FreePascal, inspired by Delphi 7.

      1. onefang Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        Re: "Ooff, that hurt. Citation please."

        "developers have been brainwashed into hating Pascal"

        I have an (un)reasonable hatred of any language beginning with the letter P, and I include Ruby as an honourary member of that group.

        1. John Styles

          Re: "Ooff, that hurt. Citation please."

          Puby?

        2. LDS Silver badge

          "I have an (un)reasonable hatred"

          I have the same for any language beginning with J or K, probably only because those letter doesn't exist in my language, I guess...

      2. GerryMC

        Re: "Ooff, that hurt. Citation please."

        Embarcadero have dropped the XEn monikers, new versions are all "Delphi 10.n CityName"

    2. Tim99 Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: ...Delphi, now rated as one of the least popular...

      Sometimes you have just got to use goto, Pascal/Delphi really, really, discouraged it. Mine’s the one with FORTRAN and Dartmouth BASIC manuals and K&R in the pockets. >>====>

      1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

        Re: Sometimes you have just got to use goto

        I've not used goto for many many many years. Last time I used it was using assembler language for 8080 and 6800 architectures, where for instance it was JNZ or BNE (respectively) for GOTO if not zero.

        1. jeffdyer

          Re: Sometimes you have just got to use goto

          I'm sure I haven't used GOTO since moving from FORTRAN in 1989.

      2. LDS Silver badge

        Pascal/Delphi really, really, discouraged it

        With exception handling, exit/continue/break instruction (which are controlled forms of goto, I agree) and nested functions the need of explicit goto instructions becomes zero, but for very, very uncommon code. TurboPascal first, and then Delphi, became far more powerful than Standard Pascal.

        I never had a particular stance against goto, after all when programming in assembler you can't do without unconditional jumps. Anyway each language has its own philosophy, and usually trying to program in one as if it was another won't bring you far, and will end in ugly code.

        1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

          Re: programming in assembler you can't do without unconditional jumps

          There were those annoying coders that would perform a JSR (jump to subroutine), pop the return address off the stack, pushing a different one on, then returning using RTS. Good for jump tables and for confusing disassemblers.

      3. digitig

        Re: ...Delphi, now rated as one of the least popular...

        No, you never need to write a goto nowadays. You just throw an exception and let the compiler write it.

  28. Daniel von Asmuth Bronze badge

    Proceeding from personal experience, exactly as one never should

    Well, statisticallty speaking, the chance for a lady to encounter a company with a 2:3 female-to-maile programmer ratiio is somewhat euqal to a lad's chances to end up in a shop with a 1:30 female-to-male ratio.

    There is a female-run software company in our lowly country, but when appearing on tv they still used gus to do the actual tech stuff.

  29. BobC

    Gray Hair Everywhere...

    So nice to see my fellow fossils reminiscing. Thought I'd toss in my own $0.02.

    I wrote my first program while in high school in 1972. On a "retired in place" IBM 1404. In FORTRAN IV. Using punched cards (still have a couple of the decks). Lots of blinkenlights.

    Joined the US Navy after high school. Learned to program the venerable CP-642B. In machine code. By pushing front panel buttons. To. Load. Each. Instruction. Until we wrote a program to access the paper tape reader. Then we were able to enter machine code on paper tape. The punchings from the paper tape fell into the "Bit Bucket". S'truth!

    Got my first PC in 1979, an Apple ][ Plus. With the Language Card and UCSD Pascal. And a 300 baud Hayes modem. Soon upgraded the 5.25" floppies to massive 8" drives. I may have filled one side of an 8" floppy. Maybe.

    Was so impressed with Pascal (compared to BASIC) I left the Navy in 1981 and went to UCSD. Hacked on 4.1BSD, primarily on the brand-new networking stack, particularly sockets. In minor ways I helped convince folks to skip 4.2BSD and go straight to 4.3BSD. l also got to work on quorum-based distributed filesystems. Spent lots of time on the Arpanet (before and during the Milnet/Internet split). Graduated in 1986.

    Entered industry and immediately specialized in embedded real-time systems: Instruments, sensors, and control systems. Generally avoided systems that interacted with humans, focusing more on M2M. Devices for things like nuclear power plants, nuclear subs, aircraft, UAVs, ultra-high-speed digital video cameras, satellites, and much more. 8-bits at the start, multi-core 64-bits now. Boxes are smaller and don't get so hot any more. Haven't burned a finger in over a decade.

    Wonderful toys, each and every one of them. Couldn't imagine having more fun. And I get paid to do it!

    My only career goal has been to stay out of management. Mostly successful at that, but not always.

    I'll turn 62 next month, and I have no plans to retire. I'll keep doing this until they pry the keyboard from my cold, dead hands.

  30. Tim99 Silver badge
    Windows

    Screens

    I hardly ever use Windows now, but this is somehow appropriate >>===>

    "showed code in light text against a dark background - specifically green or amber out of black"

    Screens: *Back in the day*, we never even dreamt of using a screen. When I started, proper data input/coding used optical recognition cards (punched cards were expensive) - These looked like punched cards but you filled boxes in with a soft pencil. I spent a lot of time rubbing stuff out after the nice data input clerks said things like "It didn't run, there is a divide-by-zero error". Then, if the clerks liked you, they would convert the optical cards into punched cards; apparently they were "more reliable". If the punched card programs were run regularly they would transfer them to punched tape. Eventually, when I was senior enough, I was allowed to use a shared teletype on this new fangled Internet (ARPANET) thing.

    This is why a lot of us went out and bought stuff like Apple ][s and Commodore PETs for work. Eventually, when I had my own budget, I could use amber/green screens or even real Tektronix and VT terminals: Some of which could even do *colour* text and graphics.

    1. Ken Shabby Bronze badge

      Re: Screens

      Similar to the Mark/Sense system was the IBM Port-A-Punch machine, cards but with real holes created by hand via semi punched holes and a stylus (plus a mat with holes in a plastic holder), 40 columns only, any denser an I suspect adjacent un punched holes would fall out. I still remember the codes.

      Graduated to the hand keypunch card machine and then luxury... the IBM 029 Keypunch. (Woo Hoo)

      Still hate vi though... (came to it after Emacs, sorry, no contest)

    2. onefang Silver badge

      Re: Screens

      "When I started, proper data input/coding used optical recognition cards (punched cards were expensive) - These looked like punched cards but you filled boxes in with a soft pencil."

      I used those to, in high school, using APL. Sent off to the local government computer centre. I got cocky, bought a Rotring ink pen of suitable size, specifically for marking those cards. If you're gonna use a write only language, then you don't make the sort of mistakes where you have to write it again, coz then you gotta be able to read it.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    PKarc..

    Ah, those days. I only had a 10MB drive on my PC clone so eventually I had to start compressing and unpacking directories to have enough space to work. Adding a 20MB drive was luxury. Nowadays it's not even enough to hold Notepad..

    That's actually one of the few things that vexes me about modern IT (other than Microsoft in general): there seems to be depressing little extra value for the extra gigabytes that software needs. Why do I have to *wait* for Microsoft Word when I am *typing*? WTF is it doing?

    1. onefang Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: PKarc..

      "Why do I have to *wait* for Microsoft Word when I am *typing*? WTF is it doing?"

      Sending every keystroke to Microsofts AI servers, to be approved, (in)corrected, and recorded, before being sent back to your screen.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    1988 -- Non-Computer Person.....

    ....with an AT computer, doing non-computer-person stuff with Wordstar, Lotus 1-2-3, and dBase III.

    1993

    To paraphrase Philip Larkin:

    The Internet began

    In nineteen ninety three

    (which was rather late for me)

    ....

    2018

    Wordstar and Lotus 1-2-3 now replaced by LibreOffice.

    dBase III now replaced by Harbour 3.0

    .....so not much has changed!

  33. charlie-charlie-tango-alpha

    Re: Stob Note

    Around about 1993 or so I was the proud owner of a "Verity Stob has not got a big bottom" T Shirt. I think I may still have it somewhere - though it might now be a rather tight fit.

  34. charlie-charlie-tango-alpha

    Re Stob Note

    Around about 1993 or so I was the proud owner of a "Verity Stob has not got a big bottom" T Shirt. I think I may still have it somewhere - though it might now be a rather tight fit.

  35. schifreen

    Happy anniversary

    Congrats on 30 years, Verity. Can't believe it's 3 decades since I commissioned the first column when I was editing .EXE magazine.

    OK, so "commissioned" isn't quite accurate. More like "Took one look at this hilarious thing that someone sent in, and immediately decided that it needed to be a monthly column".

  36. digitig

    I wish more of Verity's .EXE columns were available. I know some made it into the book, but there was one about the choice of programming language for a nuclear reactor control system that I used to have pinned next to my desk and still want to point people to when auditing safety-critical software systems.

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