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Memories of computing; around 1994

In which I reminisce about the first PCs I came into contact with, as well as our own software — GKO — Gammalt Kinesiskt Ordspråk ("Old Chinese Proverb")

In 1994, my friends Stefan and Paul (brothers) had just got a new computer, a Compaq machine if I remember correctly. They were the first kids that I knew that had got a computer. I think it was an all-in-one computer, maybe it was one of these, a CDS 524:

Before that I had only ever touched my paternal grandfather's old computer that booted from 5.25-inch floppies straight into a "word-processor" and whatever gibberish I wrote could be printed on a matrix printer.

Anyway. Stefan & Paul's computer booted MS DOS and then Windows 3.1 on top of that. Playing a computer game meant shutting down Windows, and going into the DOS prompt. I guess their father Istvan taught them, because YouTube wasn't to be invented for another 11 years. "Searching the internet" definitely wasn't a thing. Istvan was either studying manuals or asked unknown 1994-era computer geeks 👻

According to the history if internet in Sweden the first internet connections were available in 1994. But not to us. Certainly not to us. Interestingly, HSB BRF Hilda (where Stefan & Paul lived) would be one of the first areas in Sweden where everyone got 100 Mbit connections with an Ethernet plug in each apartment and a low cost to boot. But at that time I had already moved to Kristianstad. But I digress.

Our unnamed hero taught Istvan who taught Stefan & Paul, who then taught me, how to open the MS DOS QBasic editor. There we found a game we could play called Gorillas. It looked like this:

I remember us trying to figure out how to change things in the source code. It was gibberish to me then, but someone figured out how to change stuff like colors, and banana speed.

Before all of this my most eye opening computer experience had to have been using the Amiga Workbench to produce speech from text. That was amazing and helped cement my love for computers. I owe thanks to whoever created that gem. Friends of mine had crates of Amiga diskettes which were copied at their house after school. Everyone seemed to have an infinite number of games. Giana sisters which was both a Super Mario Bros rip-off and original in its own right. Another World was an amazing computer game that we played on the Amiga and I can't believe it was released in 1991:

I never had an Amiga though. I had a NES 8-bit system, which was great, but I only had about 8 games. And it had been going strong since around 1989. The only "piracy" I did was hooking it up to a Game Genie which let anyone with a Game Genie Manual skip levels and get health boosts.

We played a lot of Duck Tales on my friends Ricardo and Carlos' (brothers) Commodore 64. I always felt it was such a hassle to rewind the tapes though.

After 1994 the home computer revolution really got started in Sweden. Ricardo & Carlos' father worked with computers, so they were also very early. During recess, we would run to their apartment and play WarCraft in their parents' bedroom. It was always a race against time to run back to school in time. My best friend at the time, Samy, also got a computer around this time, but I think it might have been in 1995 or early 1996. His Packard Bell computer booted into this madness:

Packard Bell Navigator was an alternative shell for Windows 3.1 that was supposed to be "easy to use". Thankfully it didn't take long to go the way of the Dodo.

Anyway, anyway. Sorry. Back to 1994: QBasic was beautiful magic. Somehow, probably with Istvan's help, we managed to learn some QBasic. And we put it to good use, too. I still remember how much fun it was to run our program and see the results. I don't remember whose idea it was to make a random sentence generator, and I don't remember what the code looked like. I do remember laughing so hard I almost passed out from not getting enough air.

Häll aldrig olja i din grannes parabolantenn, Never pour oil in your neighbor's satellite dish, funnier words have never been spoken by anyone, let alone a computer — signed twelve-year-old me. We named it Gammalt Kinesiskt Ordspråk: Old Chinese Proverb. It was promptly shortened to GKO. We expanded the list of sentences over time but it was hard to recreate the kick of the first few days. I'm a bit sad that someone didn't realize that saving the source code was worthwhile. Years later, around 96-97 I would get my own PC, and after crashing it a few times I started a somewhat rigorous backup scheme. First on 3.5-inch floppies and then on CD-ROMs.

Much later I got to hear that ideas are worthless. In 1994 no one was asking us to create something that didn't exist before, and the act of creation was and is a wonderful thing. There are a lot of caveats, of course, but they seem self-evident. The list of caveats will vary over time as well. The one that finds this a week, a year, a decade, or more from now will have to apply the ethics of their respective times.

Gammalt Kinesiskt Ordspråk started me on a long path of programming. I'm still programming, and I still think it's a lot of fun to be in the creative state of mind. Taking ideas and making them into something tangible.

I have one more game I want to mention. Years before, I had the pleasure to play SkiFree on my uncle's monochrome (red monochrome to be exact) "portable computer". It was the size of your regular pizza-box computer, required to be plugged into the wall to run, and had a very small LCD screen built-in that you could lift out of the chassis. SkiFree is the game where you ski downhill trying to jump over things and avoid obstacles, and you can do that for as long as you like, or at least until the Yeti gets you.

I still have a lot of memories of computing, probably many more than I will ever have the energy to write about, but I hope I'll return to the world of Stefan, Paul, Ricardo, Carlos, and all of the other kids that went through the motions of grades one through eight in Rosengård, Malmö, Sweden during the 80's and 90's.