04/22/2014 03:46 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Calculator of Computers' Infancy

If you ask my son what his dad is, he would probably say, "a calculator of computers!"

If you ask me to tell you about the first time I saw a computer, although I do not really remember, it was probably the one with solar batteries brought by my father from Serbia, which he used to calculate the wedding costs for his brother.

If you ask me to tell you why I wanted to work as an software engineer, again, I do not know exactly, but I have liked logic problems, puzzles and simple mathematics since I was a child.

If you ask me whether I like to work as a software engineer, the answer is YES.
Why? I do not know.

I was a wedding godfather the other day. Do you know what that means? The invisible role of it. ORDER AND CLEANLINESS. I had to re-arrange and clean everything from the house and turn it upside down for the noble cause. It was then that...

I came across something magic, something that reminded me of my childhood. It was audio cassette tape with games for my old HC (a ZX Spectrum computer class). It was wonderful! I was overwhelmed with memories!

I had my first contact with the world of "computer" and games in 3rd grade when I got my hard earned 150 lei (approximately $10). I skipped a day from school so my friend and I could spend the money on playing PAC-man.

My next encounter with computers took place during 4th grade when I visited my neighbor who had a ZX Spectrum. I had to wait for 20 minutes to load the game ( after three trials, the fourth was the lucky one) so that I could race and dodge trees with a motorbike. WOW, what a feeling! I was so immersed in the game that a fist seemed to emerge from the little TV that my computer was connected to and it felt like it hit me in the stomach every time I bumped into a tree.

The real boom came on a summer day in 7th grade when my folks returned from Craiova ( we had already moved to Tirgu-Mures). I received my first HC-90 (a ZX Spectrum class computer)! Incredible! I immediately visited my upstairs neighbor to have a "data" cable made, mini jack plug to 5-pin DIN MIDI (I made this "trip" at least once a week for almost 3 years, due to the poor quality of the cables). The next step required an audio cassette tape, which I had to get from a friend at the other end of the town. This was followed by a loooooong period of waiting (there are not enough "o"s to show how long I used to wait) while loading up games.   

Wonderful games and feelings that I have not experienced in any virtual world since.

Jumping Jack

Chronos - Jing it baby!

In the 9th grade, I started to learn actual programming and the math behind it. Along with it, I began exploring the world of programming languages (it was fascinating to learn how one can make a machine react as humanly as possible). I used to go everywhere with my HC-90, it could easily fit into the suitcase I used when I was going to my grandparents, along with my inseparable cassette player, 2 or 3 data cables and the set of games or programs. I used to code almost everything: interactive logos for my father's company, clocks or fractals (at least what I thought fractals were... simple XOR lines).

spectrum fractalsfractals

During that time, I would lose all of my work when I pulled the HC cable out of the plug. I did not have a cassette tape recorder at that time, I was using a simple Walkman. Yet, I was fascinated. The next day, I would start fresh, with better ideas inspired by my work from the previous day.

Step by step, I managed to "explore" my poor HC-90 in its entirety. I created my first text mode game. A smasher! I was exploring the jungle, getting caught in the traps, attacked by tigers, etc., playing for days in that wonderful randomized world. I did not know at that time that for ten years (right after I finished high school) I would be so fond of a similar game on the internet (a MUD). We used to play or create games even while we were "training" for competitions (we were not allowed to carry cassettes or cassette players into the IT lab)

The age of my HC slowly faded away when I moved into the 10th grade and onto the efficient XTs. The HC itself wasn't lost for good, since I sold it for a humble price to the neighbor above, who had spent more tin on my cables than the value of the HC+its price.

My dream as a high school student was to develop the best game of all time. In fact, I managed to take everything that I learned in school, and find an application for it in the gaming world: 
  • Graph theory: I used this as a base for the AI in a 3D strategy game I was developed. Finding the shortest and fastest way between 2 points in space was a lot easier with graph theory. 
  • Trigonometry? I used it as base for my first 3D library, in the same 3D strategy game. 
  • Physics? Inertia calculations for the same project. Uniform accelerated motion (x = x0+vt+1/2at^2) or non uniform? Guess how I moved the objects in my game? 
  • Geography came in handy when I created terrains and biology helped me with DNA shape structures. 
  • I even studied a lot of literature and art, as I needed a plot and characters for my game.

When I went to college, my priorities slowly changed. However, after all those years, I still use my free time to code games for my son and me. We have a lot of fun playing and coding them: Sonic maze or Gioconda slide puzzle

Maybe some day, I will revive my old project... Why not? Although the 3.5" disks containing the source code are gone, 99% is still there. In my mind and my imagination. 

P.S. For those who wish to remember: World of Spectrum (including the manual)