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My life through the keyboard

Well I started playing with computers when I was, umm, probably about 12 in 1981, playing with VIC-20's and various other computers that were around at that time in the local Comet store. Eventually I'd saved up enough pennies to buy a Commodore VIC-20 of my very own!

With this I played around with programming in BASIC. Around this time I was doing my O-Levels and chose Computer Studies as one, which was mostly about magnetic tapes, punched cards and batch processing, all of which were about equally relevant to my future life, scoring about 1 on a scale of 0 to 0xA. :-)

But we had BBC model B's, as well as Trash-80's and even an RML Z80 box. It was from these that I found that I could get completely engrossed playing around with the software on the tapes and disks that came with them. I wasn't a programmer (I'm still not!) but trying to figure out how they worked had me hooked.

Then when it came to starting A-levels in 1985 I picked Computer Science as one of them, along with Physics and Maths. Now because the school I was at (Fitzalan High School) didn't have the ability to teach A-level C.S. it was held at what was then the local College of Further Education at Llandaff (now part of the University of Wales, Cardiff) and took pupils from a couple of other schools as well as ours.

For the first time I was using a multi-user system, a PRIME running PR1MOS. I remember that my user-id was sc7044, and that before you logged in you could either say "login <user-id>" to login or "date" to find out what time it thought it was. I remember precisely 0 bytes about the rest of PR1MOS, which is probably good for my sanity..

After I'd passed my A-levels I went on to Aberystwyth in 1987 to do a degree in Physics with Planetary and Space Physics. However, whilst I was doing that I fell in with certain people who could have been described as being a bad influence on my degree :-). People like Alan Cox and Alec Muffett to name but two of the more notorious ones. :-)

Anyway, for various reasons I started using the Honeywell L-66 that the then Computer Unit ran at Aberystwyth, learning to use GCOS-3. The main reason for this was to be able to use Honeyboard, a bulletin board system written in the ancient programming language B, created by D. M. Ritchie and K. L. Thompson. Through this I found out that there was a network out there called JANET, the Joint Academic NETwork to which Aberystwyth was connected.

This was a bad thing. :-)

It meant that I then found a bulletin board in UCL called Bullet that was accessible via the GUEST account there. This lead to rivalry between the two bulletin board systems. Then someone came up with the idea of extending the talker on HoneyBoard to have channel descriptions. This rapidly evolved into an adventure game.

Now I would love to claim that I was central to all of this, but I wasn't. Instead I watched and played with the game as it developed as one of the first players of it. Then I started asking people about what I could do, and thus I started to learn to program in B.

At this point I could ramble on and on about AberMUD, but seeing as Alec Muffett has already written a small potted history of AberMUD from his point of view - all I will add to that is that those who complained that AberMUD was written badly because it did all it's IPC through a shared file are missing the fact that the whole bulletin board that spawned the original code was written because Rob Ash (the sysadmin) had said that it wasn't possible to write one because GCOS-3 had no native IPC!

Oh, and Alec missed the Ethergate of Death - so called because you'd be happily talking away on Bullet or playing MIST and suddenly you would


... get disconnected, which usually meant all comms in and out of Aberystwyth were down for the night.