Monday, July 31, 2006

My first BASIC compiler

WARNING: This blog entry was imported from my old blog on (which used different blogging software), so formatting and links may not be correct.

Picture of compiler advertisement

I started my programming "career" on a
Dragon 32
microcomputer in 6th grade. It had 32K of RAM, although once you turned the computer on it would launch a Microsoft BASIC interpreter which left 24K for your own programs. I spent countless hours on that computer in 1984, 85 and 86, writing a lot of BASIC code.

It's fun to have looped around in my career and to suddenly be working with BASIC again - in the Semplice project. If you missed it, my coworker Herbert was interviewed on the Java Posse. In addition to talking about supporting BASIC on the Java platform, he talks about supporting other VM languages in general. It's a good, meaty technical talk.

Anyway, back to BASICs. I have moved recently, and as part of the large cleanup, I had to decide what to keep. I found a stack of old computer magazines that I had held onto. These were British computer magazines I subscribed to - and were largely responsible for teaching me English. Understanding the articles in those magazines were a lot more inspiring than the stories we were encouraged to read in English class!

I realized I can't drag these magazines with me forever, so I decided to thumb through them one last time before throwing them in the recycling bin. And in one of the magazines I noticed a part of a page had been cut out. Major flashback! This was the advertisement for the first piece of software I ever purchased! The missing piece was the order form I had cut out and mailed in. And what was this product? A BASIC compiler! (I've scanned in a portion of the ad on the right.)

Yep, I was programming BASIC, but performance was slow, and I realized (from all those computer magazines) machine code was where I wanted to be. I thought a compiler would do the trick - so I bought it. My programs did execute faster - but I didn't end up learning assembly code until I got a Commodore 128, and later a Commodore Amiga. Ah the memories. The advertisement has a picture of the tape cover (I didn't have a floppy drive until the Amiga), just the way I remember it.


  1. hey, great entry.
    I'm normally turned off by autobiographical entries in programming blogs, but this one works.

  2. Sounds like my start, on an old IBM PC XT with the built-in BASIC ROM and an Atari 400 making all manner of primitive, awful games (and cursing at that damn membrane keyboard...why couldn't I have had an Atari 800?). I was hooked...and I haven't stopped since.

  3. Yep, that brings on good memories, but it's too late to get the Dragon back now. I had a big cleanup the other day, so I decided I couldn't keep all of those old computers... Personally I felt that it was harder do throw away the Sun IPX, Sun SS-5 and all of the old Solaris releases I had (from 2.3 up to 9). But to reduce the chances for you to hate me forever: I did save your Amiga with your floppy's... Will you forgive me if I bring it the next time I visit? ;-)

  4. One of my lecturers at university helped design the Dragon 32...

  5. Sorry to use this for general communication...
    Tor! I've been trying to contact you since Sunday! Can you give me an alternate email address? Nothing I send to your Sun account seems to be getting there!