Daily Archives: May 15, 2008

Formational Experiences

When I was 9, I started playing with GW-BASIC by typing in programs found in the old kid’s 3-2-1 Contact magazine. This soon progressed to QBASIC, where I mostly made cool graphics with lines and circles.qbasic_output

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QBASIC is not included in Windows anymore, but you can still get it.

 qbasic_lines

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I had also tried modifying the including GORILLAS.BAS and NIBBLES.BAS, but I was still a little too new at this.

When I was 14 I was getting into C/C++ via Borland C++ 3.1 in a big way and spent hours coding prank programs. I had two that I remember:

First was a program called Camels that displayed “I Love Camels!!!” in a vertical, colorful scrolling sine wave down the screen. It trapped Ctrl-Break/Ctrl-C so you couldn’t break out of it. If you hit Ctrl-K, it brought up a password screen that allowed you to exit if you knew the password. Then I put it on a lab at school, set AUTOEXEC.BAT to run it, and modified CONFIG.SYS with “switches /n” to disallow the user hitting F5 to skip processing of AUTOEXEC.BAT. This stunt kind of got me in trouble–the day after school ended, I got a call from my computer science teacher that he couldn’t access the computer and if I wanted a grade I had better get over there and remove that program because he couldn’t get onto the computer. So I had to bike a few miles to school (my parents were out of town) and remove it. Why didn’t the instructor just use a boot disk? No idea… By the way, I got an A.

One of my first Windows programs was something called “Chucky” (why? I don’t know…). Chucky liked to eat….hard disk space. He would startup with no Window, run in the background, and every few minutes it would add a few thousand lines of text to  the file C:\Windows\Chucky.txt. It was probably something like “I am Chucky, I am hungry.”

I even eventually convinced my parents to get me Turbo C++ so I could build Windows programs (suing OWL).

v6upWhen I was in college, I got Visual C++ 6 and thought a fun program would be a desktop utility that occasionally changed your Outlook signature to include a random quotation. You could build up a little database of quotes you liked, and the program would change it on a regular schedule. A friend of mine and I stayed up for nearly 3 days straight working on it. I did most of the programming–he was thinking of new ideas, ways to do things. It was great fun.

These important formational periods are what got me excited about programing. The learning that goes on during a 72-hour hacking session is something that can’t be duplicated in a classroom. The glee at creating pranks is not matched (often) by homework assignments. Sometimes when I’m feeling the drudgery of the current code I work on, I need to remember the excitement I felt back then.

I also need to find something equivalently exciting to work on. One of the things I’m going to do to “get the magic back” (so to speak) is to make sure I’m always experimenting with the latest and great .Net stuff coming out. I need to finally get into WPF, and I’ve even got a fun project to apply it to.


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