|About the Author|
First of all, if this is a serious employment inquiry, you may want to browse my curriculum vitæ for my life and works up to now, from a software development angle. But keep in mind that I wouldn't leave my job or get out of bed for less than £100,000 <g>
Other than that, if it's the weekend or any other moment outside the regular business hours, let us not talk shop and simply let our hair down. Since any talk about the english weather or similar subject is bound to send everybody to sleep — and myself to the doghouse — why don't I tell you a little bit about my long lasting relationship with computers instead?
I have just received a mid-life shock/crisis after realizing that I had my first computer experience back in 1984 (Ok, I have started early in my life — I am not quite eligible for free bus passes yet). That's a long way back, and very near the time when personal computers' popularity was just beginning to rise. It sure wasn't due to their performance though! Compared to them, my fuzzy-logic washing machine today has probably more number-crunching power than the ZX Spectrum I had back then. And it definitely gives a brighter finish to whites!
They were funny machines them Spectrums. Those of you that had/saw one will remember the macro-keyboard that would output a complete word for each button press, instead of a single letter. Try to code anything other than BASIC with that for all it's worth! Granted, it had some pretty cool games (the PlayStation of its era); my personal favorite was Knight Lore. And how about the cassette-drive, eh? And you though floppy disks were slow... Mind you, one could get lots of entertainment while waiting for the LOAD command to do its job. I bet many a techno music "composers" must have had their inspiration after over-listening to that irritating jumble of audio digital 0-1 simulations — with matching random visual effects round the border. And after all the waiting, <L Error in data 0:1> and here we go again. The thing was ideal for truck/coach driver instruction into nasty vocabulary, wasn't it?
At least there was the internal BASIC interpreter to play with and 64kB of heap too. No wonder that BASIC didn't have any malloc() command then. Still I could not resist programming one. Being a youth of an industrious disposition I hacked a 10-liner that could calculate the interest given a starting capital sum and the rate of interest. The application was complete by reporting the results on screen in a user-friendly and polite manner. Now this lad has a bright future in front of him...
In retrospect I am sorry to have flogged the trusty old unit for next to nothing. I sold an irreplaceable piece of computer history to get its bigger brother Spectrum 128, featuring double the RAM and an embedded cassette drive. Still no scope for applications like 2xExplorer there. The annoyance factor was as high as ever though and the flippin' cassette unit would invariably break all the time. No wonder then that this was the shortest-lived computer I ever had. Mom, can I have an Amstrad for christmas? It's going to be the last one I ever ask for, honest! (Well, she lied to me about Father Christmas, didn't she?)
Now we are talking computers! Although still powered by the same Z-81 "work-horse", at least there were no more cassette controversies here, thanks to a funny little "floppy"-disk. And who could forget the full screen editor? Those where the days, eh? Actually back then I had somehow coded what I still consider to be the most complicated thing I have ever done. A very short program in BASIC that would generate all the permutations out of a set of letters, as e.g. GOD, DOG, GDO etc. The brilliance of the thing was that it could work with any number of letters and do so without recursion (not available back then!) and without any for loops (since the number of initial letters was variable). Lords of the underworld though^&%$£"@@~ I have lost the source code for this...
One of the features of Amstrad 6128 was that the second 64kB page could be used for storing things in a semi-heap fashion. Next thing you know I was programming a menu-driven database application that promised to handle all the requirements for the operation of a video rental shop (a booming industry in Greece back then). Did I make a fortune out of it? I don't think so... Will 2xExplorer make me rich? What are the chances of that happening, eh?
How could one fail to love a computer that could talk back to you? Not to mention visually stunning games like the Defender of the Crown. It was down to the knackers yard with the Amstrad and on to the Amiga 512 (sorry mom!), that oddly shaped all-in-one box of wonders. Proper 3½ floppy disk, half a megabyte of RAM, and a brilliant multi-tasking operating system, Amiga was my first and only love in computing. I even splashed out for a colour monitor — no more of the green monochrome "safe-for-the-eye" items; it's "pleasing-to-the-eye" where one should be aiming at!
The WokrBench 1.3 and the underlying kernel were just so ahead of everything else available at that time, that there simply was no competition. Something like the MacLaren cars in F1 racing, and Schummachers were nowhere to be found (I'm watching the Australian GP while typing this, does it show?). PCs hadn't had even text windows when Amiga featured multiple windows in true graphics mode. It really invited one to poke around with it, try to imitate all these windows, be up there at the top of the software world. I certainly felt that way. My previous experience however proved insufficient for any serious efforts, and AmigaBASIC albeit a serious tool, was just not enough. It was time for a change.
Enter the C language. I am not sure why I picked it up; most probably it's because I heard somebody in college having programmed an anti-virus thing with it. Without being absolutely sure what that was all about, it has surely left an impression in my young brain cells: C is the dog's bits and I've got to learn it. I was lucky to pick a very good entry level book that instructed me to both the C language itself and the Amiga ROM kernel calls ("Amiga C for beginners", the author's name escapes me).
My initial encounter with a C listing sure gave me a shock, although in retrospect it was just a simple program that counted from 0 to one million — still it sure wasn't a "Hello World" one either. All these foreign symbols... which are the keywords in here?... why is that name all CAPITALS? and so on; it just wasn't BASIC I guess (it just ain't cricket as an englishman would have said). Given some time to familiarize myself however, it all started to make sense. Unlike other languages that are full of exceptions, C had just a few rigid rules. Once comfortable with these elementary blocks one can build solid large-scale edifices. It was then that the whole computer operation clicked in place, I realized what a stack was all about, and cleared the linker library issue. Let me declare at this point that I have never received any proper instruction in computing, being a Chemical Engineer. I am as self-taught as this term can be, driven by a strange and powerful force which is a mixture of curiosity, analytical-mindedness and the need to be in full control down to the smallest detail. Given that incentive, 2xExplorer was just a matter of a few years of on-the-job experience and copying of good examples/techniques I would find all around. Thank you for your attention. Now let us continue.
The only problem to contend with was my youngest brother, who acting completely his immature age wanted to play games (martial arts combat virtual — and actual — expert he is!) all the time, failing to realize the internal beauty of the machine and the creative power it could unleash. I must confess that I spent many hours fooling around myself. Any sort of racing game (Turbo Outrun was a good'un) could give me a grin. Ok, I liked the Rainbow Islands as well, but let us not make a big fuss about it, shall we?
Back to programming though. It didn't take me long to discover the two official ROM Kernel manuals that gave me access to everything my overpowering curiosity could ever have demanded. Bitmaps, linked lists, layered windows, dynamic memory management, multitasking, Amiga ROM libraries had the lot. And no stupid limitations for 640kB of memory either. The 68000 CPU unit in the business centre of Amiga could access a whopping 4GB of address space in full 32-bit mode — unlike them 8086 pathetic oddities. In my college's report record there is a vertical slump in my performance/results — after the first two reasonably successful years — that corresponds exactly to that period in my life. Who cares for thermodynamic three-state equilibria when one is handed the best-kept secrets of life on a platter? There ain't nothing a visit to the IntuitionBase library couldn't achieve. I sure made good use of it; to this day I think that the word "IntuitionBase" is just about the fastest thing I can type on the keyboard.
Naturally it all didn't go flawlessly. I had frequent meetings with a certain "Guru" for "meditation". That's the system crash sentinel for those of you not Amiga-minded, BSOD. It's a trial-and-error process, isn't it? Break your face, patch it up and get back for some more hammering. The situation didn't improve markedly when I started getting into the assembly (near-machine) language so as to hold serious conversations with the Blitter in the Amiga's chip-set. Hello guru, how are we today? Tell me something, does this table exist when I am not looking at it or what? Yeah, thanks for the tip.
The pinnacle of my career back then was when I had one of my programs published in the eminent "Amiga Computing" magazine, featured in the cover disk (no CDs back then, and vinyl records are ill-fitting for the cover of a magazine). Imagine me a mere Greek getting all famous in UK, it made it all worthwhile. The application in question was "Huge", an aptly (or daftly?)-named image editor that would allow a software developer to design his/her imagery (to end up on the e.g. toolbar of a window) and then automatically convert the visual image into the hexadecimal bitmap data that needed to go into the source code. That was very useful back then when resource editors were at a premium. Huge could also convert between all the known image formats and also had a neat user interface. I nearly ended up forming a company for it, after lengthy discussions with a Dutch software house (UGA-soft, I wonder what has become of them now?). Too late now, I have even lost the source code, too! Now where is that kid-brother of mine? I need to give him a good thrashing. He probably has overwritten it with the latest version of Mortal Combat or something. RIP.
Well, it's all sobered up and serious after the Amiga years. I upgraded to an Amiga 2000 but could not afford a hard disk for it. You cannot imagine how much a 20MB HD drive would have cost back then! It seemed that I had to take out a mortgage or something. Add on that access times not that far off a floppy disk drive and you will start to wonder what it is all about.
I had reached an age that I should turn more "professional", too. Developing numerical algorithms for non-linear optimizations and process simulation blocks is not the best pastime but it fills the bank. I suppose scientific software development has its challenging bits, too — but where is the magic? Not to mention having to work with bleedin' PCs again, or even worse VAX/VMS mainframes. It's back to green text-only mono monitors sir, take it or leave it.
I have to admit that as far as development was concerned, PCs moved on much faster than any other computers. They were beginning to catch up as far as user interfaces were concerned, too. The massive compatibility issue and the entailing huge market meant that prices fell down so many more people could afford them, thus they became even more popular, and the market grew bigger and even cheaper, and... The definition of a vicious circle. Reality and popular demand meant that I was forced to abandon the cherished 68x00 crew and join the mainstream pack of 80x86 "enthusiasts". And — lo and behold — I even enjoy the post Windows 95 facelift and internal windows developments. I am a converted man now, I suppose.
Still I have a secret grin whenever a certain Mr. Jobs has one over Mr. Gates, keeping the little pro-68000 spark alive. And I can't subscribe to that Pentium mania, either. What is it now, numero IV? These things seem to change faster than women's garment fashions. Surely they must be mistaking us for half-wits if they expect us to buy a new computer every year? I say they should stay on the drawing board a bit longer so that they get everything right first time, not requiring an upgrade/fix every year. Sharpen up Intel! Get your act together, why don't you?
Believe it or not at home I only have a trusty 486 DX2 (66MHz), that apart for the addition of a larger HDD and a bit of extra RAM, works like a song. What's the point in claiming a boastful 500MHz clock speed when this is only achieved in the tiny level-1 cache? No need to waste 1,500 hard earned for a monster games machine either; you can buy 15 PlayStations for that kind of money and stack them one on top of the other. At least my 486 is 66MHz all over (nearly!) — now that's honest salesmanship. That's where 2xExplorer was developed on. I don't plan to replace it either, unless something breaks. Even then I guess I'd buy last years' technology in bargain basement prices. I am an 68000 rebel I am.
[30.3.2001] This page has been in this website ever since I can remember. I wrote it back in early 1999; some of the information content is way past it's sell-by date — and it shows. For example, that trusty 486 is down the knacker's yard already. I let it to some friend of mine who managed to melt the motherboard while trying to do home improvements — now why Intel had to make those CPUs square? Well done, sport!
Me, well, my principles were bought big-time by large corporations. See I don't have a problem working on the latest gizmos, as long as I don't have to cough-up for it. So it's out of the window with the cavalier/rebellious attitude and hello to corporate perks. Thanks for the smart PIII-650 laptop Imperial College Plc! Now how about that Lamborghini Diablo then? I've got this competitor company that made me an irresistible offer, see? ... <g>
But still, after all those years, one thing remains constant: I'm struggling with my laundry. Mother! why hast thou forsaken me? <g>