Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Quarter Century Of Geekdom

I've got news for you - I am a geek. Chances are if you are reading this, you are in the same boat. And I just realized I am an OLD geek. That's right, it is September 2009, which means that pretty much exactly 25 years ago (+11 days) I touched a computer keyboard for the first time in my life!

The fact I still remember the exact date (September 4th 1984) is just one of the many evidences of geekiness, but since it marks the beginning of my life behind the screens, it could be presented as evidence "A". Of course, there were some other things in my early life that prepared the soil - the fact that I was very into reading (with the occasional attempts at writing) Science Fiction where computers used to live in the 70s (until the birth of the first Apple later that decade) and that I was crazy about Star Wars. I was so into it I actually wrote a rather long poem depicting everything happening in The Empire Strikes Back when I was 15 - since I know at least one Bulgarian is reading this blog, here is the link ).

In those early days behind the Iron Curtain, nobody expected a political change in our lifetime. In fact we were brainwashed to assume the status quo could never change - the Soviet Union had existed for almost 70 years and the Bulgarian anthem contained a line about how "Moscow is with us in peace and war". A nuclear holocaust appeared more probable than a political revolution. Thus the mere idea of working in the area of Hollywood visual effects at any time in the future was quite out there, and of course it never came to my mind. But the desire to do something creative including computers and futuristic space ships was quite natural and I was really very surprised when despite my best attempts to do something else with my life, I ended up doing just that... In a way, I believe that I am living the dream that I never had.

On that fateful September day of 1984, a schoolmate of mine told me about a computer club. Like everything in those days membership was completely free. All I had to do was show up at 8 in the morning and register. My friend also gave me a 4 pages introduction to computers and BASIC programming and after swallowing the whole info before going to bed, I couldn't get any sleep because my brain was trying to combine the few graphics-related commands it knew into something resembling a Zaxxon-like diagonal scrolling game. When the course started in the morning, our teacher told us about an expo with free access to computers that was going on in a big concert hall in Sofia (the expo was called TNTM, short for "Technical and Scientific Creativity of the Youth" in Bulgarian). I went to that hall and spent some of the most exciting days of my life there - I felt something big was happening in my life, but I had no idea how big.

Here is something else interesting to consider. In those days Bulgaria had a population of about 8 million, so the chances of being born Bulgarian were pretty small statistically speaking. Every country in the communist block had an industrial specialty in order to avoid duplicated efforts in multiple countries. For example the USSR was producing most of the cars and planes, while Bulgaria specialized in building forklifts and... computers. In the early 80s, a clone of the Apple 2 was "created" in Bulgaria, a couple of years later the building of PC clones started and most of them were exported. But it also meant that hardware and software were available and the education of specialists in these areas was part of the state policy. (When the Perestroika happened, around 1988 almost half of the computer viruses in the world were Bulgarian, a sad result of having too many specialists with nothing to do). What I am trying to say is that no matter what I did or where I went, computers were around me and appeared to be stalking me... Was I meant to be doing what I am doing? I think so.

So that's how it all started for me. A quarter of a century later, I still get the same excitement when I sit behind a computer, with the small difference I have a slightly better idea what I am doing.

Food for thought: Apple II used a CPU running somewhere between 1 and 2 MHz. My next computer, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, used a 3.5 MHz CPU. 25 years later I am working on 8 cores with 2.66 GHz each. That is a really nice curve, Mr. Moore.


  1. Eheheh I had SO MUCH FUN reading that poem! It's brilliant! The drawings are cool too :) You definitely did surprise me there :D

  2. very nice story bob. I didn't even thought u where Bulgarian. and sorry i didn't red he poem, kirilica is a bit too complicated for me :)
    anyways nice childhood story.