the early years
Entered the world as I intend to leave it. Kicking, screaming, naked,
held upside down by a nurse slapping me on the backside.
a night at the Lesser Free Trade Hall
Wrote my first basic program in BASIC on a Tandy TRS-80. Editing
facilities were fairly limited. I think to modify Line 10, you had to
simply re-enter Line 10. In its entirety. This was rather time
consuming, tiresome and almost put me off computers for life.
10 PRINT "DR. HANDS IS A RUBBISH TEACHER"
20 GOTO 10
These lunchtime sessions also taught me how to interrupt a BASIC
program rapidly. Useful, particularly when the physics teacher,
Dr. Hands, made an unexpected return to the lab.
losing my religion
At Warwick University, the Computer Science lab was equipped with
green VT-100 terminals hooked up to a PDP-11. Warwick was where I was
introduced to C programming and forcibly indoctrinated into the ‘vi‘
text editor. I remember thinking it was handy that Rogue used the
same key bindings for ‘up’, ‘down’, ‘left’ and right’.
I left the confines of my room and went on the milk round. Instead of
coming back with a pint of silver-top, I somehow managed to land a job
with a software house as a ‘Junior Programmer’ and started work on a
Unix project using ‘vi’ and state of the art amber VT-100’s.
a short stay in purgatory
Reallocated to a project on VMS where I was forced to use a
bewildering command syntax and a limited, primeval text editor called
EDT that made extensive use of the numeric keypad.
Later, I was made aware of an alternative editor called EVE. Better
still, EVE was actually built using an extensible TPU (Text Processing
Utility) library for VMS. Joyously, I discovered some clever person
had built a ‘vi’ clone using TPU. It took me 3 days and cost me £79 to
download the software over a 2400 baud modem but it was worth it.
New Dawn Fades
Left permanent employment and became a freelancer. My nightmares about
the DIRECTORY/SIZE command subsided as did my repetitive strain
injury. I now found myself porting an Ada compiler from a mainframe
system to Unix, reunited with a decent editor, short commands and the
joys of pipelining.
the road to salvation and true enlightenment
Started work for a relational database company. On day one, after
coffee and introductions, I was offered the choice of a Sun
workstation or ‘as you’ve used VMS a lot, you’d probably prefer this
DEC Workstation’. I forcefully elected the sensible option, held up a
crucifix and threw some garlic cloves in the direction of the
VAXStation. I claimed I’d used a Sun workstation for many years (a
lie) and had to surreptitiously watch my neighbour to learn how to
manage X Windows.
I sensed my colleague was slightly suspicious but he had a beard and a
pony-tail and was quiet but helpful. I noticed that while I had my
screen divided equally into 6/8/10 equal sections each running an
xterm, his large monitor simply displayed had a background of the
Monty Python ‘dead parrot’ sketch and a single application taking up
90% of the monochrome screen estate.
‘What is that program you’re using to edit files, Steve ?’
The man with the beard and the pony tail swiveled in his chair and
uttered the immortal words
‘It’s called Emacs. Do you want to see how I use it ?’