It's all spinning wheels and self-doubt until the first pot of coffee.

I was a pre-teen Transactor author wannabe (and still am!)

I've written before about becoming newly digital, and although I had my start an Atari 800, the Commodore 64 is where I really settled in for a self-education in how these machines worked. That was the first I managed to convince my family to buy, and the first anyone left in my unsupervised hands. And as I did manage to go through at least 4 of the things, the results were not always pretty. My mom was still finding 'extra' screws and bits of solder in my old room's carpet years after I'd moved out, until she finally tore it up and replaced it a year or two ago.

However, with less physically destructive hacking, in software, is how I spent more of my time. I used to love typing in the programs from Compute!'s Gazette and Ahoy magazines. Once I'd seen a program of theirs run once or twice, I'd fire up the monitor program and step through the assembly code to see how it worked and what I could tweak.

Early on in my junior high, an older guy (well, in his early 40's - positively ancient to me in my early 10's) who helped run a nearby computer store I haunted introduced me to The Transactor. Now, this was what I had been really wanting! The Transactor was a Canadian-produced magazine on the C64 (and later the Amiga) which dispensed with any niceties of games or home productivity crap and dove straight into the good stuff.

There were very few pictures in The Transactor: the magazine's pages contained mostly dense text and code listings. The first issue I got my hands on featured the first in a series of articles describing a wedged-in, extensive enhancement to the Microsoft Basic contained in the C64's ROM. The arrival of a new issue at our house was one of my favorite events - I read each from cover to cover until they stopped coming.

One of the final issues presented an article in which the author expanded the C64's 64K of RAM up to a whopping 1,024K of RAM with a combination of bank-switching in software, a modified external memory cartridge, and desoldering and replacing the RAM chips inside the C64 itself. In my mind, today's overclocking and funky glowing case-mods pale in comparison to hacks of that caliber. (Although, the hackers prying secrets out of gaming consoles--like my modded XBox--seem to have the spirit!)

So anyway, the point of all this nostalgia is this: I've always wanted to be the kind of hacker who did those sorts of clever things and wrote about them for other kids like me to read and try.

While I can't really attest to my own cleverness, I can at least work toward the writing part. Last Summer, Morbus Iff hooked me into writing a handful of pieces for O'Reilly's Spidering Hacks and I had a lot of fun with it. Now that it seems like my brain is working again, I'd like to try writing a bit more in that vein. Eventually--when I grow up--I'd really, really like to be a PhD-holding Computer Scientist doing research in academia or in some posh corporate lab - but for now, while I get my act together in that regard, I think I'd like to try out being a junior amateur computer scientist and publish here for awhile.

I know of a few bloggers and columnists (here too) who've regularly posted nifty little projects on the web, some of whom even get paid to do so and have to face deadlines and editors in the process. Me, I don't have an editor and can only set my own deadlines, so I'm curious to see if I can commit to a regular schedule for these mini-projects - say once a month, or even bi-weekly. But, I'd like to try; it'd be nice to work toward a little more activity around this site than collecting links and the occasional run of babble.

Writing in public about these intentions might be the oomph I need to get me started: all five of you out there reading this blog can be my editors! I plan to work on small- to mid-sized projects, presented in a periodic column format with entries around 2500-5000 words each. One of my first challenges is to brainstorm a list of topics; I've already got a handful of things I could work on, but I might need to troll the lazyweb to find a few more inspirations. Also, feel free to comment or ping me with suggestions! (And, if I don't seem to be actually getting any new entries out for a period of time, feel free to give me a kick in the pants!)

In the meantime, stay tuned! I might just have my first installment coming up in a bit...

Archived Comments

  • This sounds like a great idea, can't wait to see what you come up with.
  • God, how I loved Ahoy! I stumbled across a cache of my old, mid-'80s magazines in my mom's garage last year... I need to go through them and see if any issues of Ahoy are in there.
  • I'd personally love to see you do some more stuff with AgentFrank.
  • I'm interested to see what you write. Take this as a vote of encouragement. Looking forward to that first article.
  • Wow. What a blast from the past! Compute! Gazette... Ahoy... It's been a loooong time since I thought about them. I bet my dad still has a crate of them in his basement. Might have to crack open my old C64 and see if I can remember much...
  • yeah, that's the spirit. we'll be waiting.
  • Re: projects, go go go! Re: link to Ikea's Jerker desk -- are you sure you don't want a Fartfull instead? ;-) http://tinyurl.com/ttco Imagine an office full of those...
  • Nibble magazine was like that for the Apple II -- lots of type-in program listings and technical articles on things like accelerating the GOTO statement in BASIC and organizing your disks. Nibble wasn't the only magazine of that type either, just the biggest. Call-APPLE (the newsletter of the Apple Pugetsound Program Library Exchange, a big Seattle user group) ran a legendary article once on how to make the disk operating system load files about 5 times faster. A friend of mine and I submitted several programs to Nibble, but neither of us ever had one accepted. I did later publish some articles in a small assembly language newsletter and wound up editing a couple for the same publisher. This was the start of my writing career. I later slung code and words for a couple of Apple ii and Mac software developers and then switched over to doing just the words, which I've been doing ever since. Ahh, good times, good times. I have a bunch of things (scripts, mostly) kind of half-finished and partially released; maybe i should get serious about cleaning them up and publishing them in some way.
  • So lucky you could convince your family to buy computers. I had to use my own savings to buy my Atari 400 -- couldn't afford an 800. I did upgrade it peicemeal over '81 - '84 with third party add-on's like a decent keyboard that fit in the place of the orignal McMembrane keyboard and a whopping 48KB of memory. Who needed a 2nd cartridge slot anyway :)