Computers--the way it was, the way it is.


Graham Watkins

Since I'm now writing books that are being marketed as "techno-thrillers," I fairly commonly find myself being asked how long I've been working with computers, how long I've been on-line.

And the answer is--not quite since the days of UNIVAC--but close. When I began working with microcomputers, I was working at Duke University at the time; the standard in our computer labs then was the DEC PDP-11 (if you remember those your age is showing). Our on-line communications blistered along at 110 baud; we felt we'd achieved a breakthrough with 300 and then 600 (600! can you imagine?) baud. Much of our programming was done on large IBM mainframes using punch cards, which, for those of you who don't remember (most of you) were paper cards with patterns of square holes punched, allowing for automated reading (the origin of do not fold, spindle, or mutilate).

Into our labs at this time came the new 8080 microcomputer chip from the then-small and almost unknown company Intel. From these and from the new 1Kx8bit EPROMs and 1Kx1 bit static RAMs, we build, using wire-wrap technology, some functional small computers--for which, of course, we had to write all our own software, strictly in 8080 machine language.

The feeling at the time was that these devices could be expected to be useful as smart controllers for various equipment, but not that they could take the place of "true" computers like the venerable PDP-11.

I felt differently; to demonstrate, I took several months to write, in 8080 machine language, an astronomy/astrology program to run on a computer with just 8K of total memory. All the floating point routines, the trigonometric routines, had to be written first; the program then calculated (in time, it wasn't quick) the right ascencion and declination of the planets for any given date and time, using base data taken from the Naval Observatory ephemeris as a reference. After doing this strictly scientific astronomical work, it converted all the heliocentric references to geocentrics and calculated the positions with reference to the standard astrological systems, and then worked out the conjuctions, oppositions, trines, etc., so important to astrology. It was a good demonstration of the capabilities of the 8080--even if it did run at only 1MHz.


Some time later, I gave up the homemade 8080s for a new, much more sophisticated computer, the Commodore 64--which for its time was a truly capable little machine. Not being able to find suitable software for it, I wrote an operating system I called EDOS, which actually wasn't copied from MS-DOS, but, since it was written beforeMS-DOS came out, actually predated it (it was, when we used it with tape drives on the homemade 8080s, called ETOS (Editor for Tape-based Operating Systems), the D entering with the standalone Commodore floppy disk drives (huge capacties--we thought so then--of 170K per disk). I also wrote a text editor for it, naming it QED after an old IBM simple editor, giving it the capability to handle large documents by breaking them into pieces and linking the pieces. Doing this, I was able to create 1 MB manuscripts and store them on those 170K floppies; several of them, of course. My novels Dark Winds and The Fire Within were both written on a Commodore 64 using QED running atop EDOS. I think I might be unique in being an author who wrote his own operating system, his own word processor, and then his novels using them. I also might've been the only person around driving the brand-new Hewlett-Packard Laserjet II from a Commodore 64, too, but the results were excellent, all the way around.

Being on-line in these days meant ARPANET from the University sources (our first modems were self-designed and self-built as well), and, a little later, from the new and exciting CompuServe on-line service, run in text-only mode (there was no other mode) at 300 baud from the trusty old Commodore 64. For some years this was the case, until the Internet began to congeal, it seemed, all on its own...

Those were good days, exciting days, interesting days. However, I'll admit that my current Systemax E4400 Intel core 2 duo 2.4GHz, with 2GB RAM, a total of 3TB of HD space, and cable broadband is maybe just a little better than the ones we built, not so very many years ago...


A good bit of the research for Virus and Interception was done on the Net and through articles in an excellent magazine:

Wired.


Useful software links:

General Internet Software:

The Search Engines:
Google HotBot Excite Yahoo
Webcrawler Bing Euroseek Ask.com

Specialized searches:
Yellow Pages: White Pages: Reverse Lookup: DNS Lookup:
Superpages White Pages Freeality Bankes DNS Lookup Engine
Infospace Searchbug The Eagle's Nest DNSstuff.com
Miscellaneous Tools: Scripting Aids:
MIDI Files: MP3 & General Media Files: Maps: JavaScript and CGI:
  Audiofind Mapquest Matt's Script Archive
MIDI World (Classical Music) Espew Yahoo Maps  
HTML and website aids
HTML Aids Search Engine Submissions GIF resources Security Tools
Rutter's HTML Guide ABS Easy submit Alchemy Mindworks Gibson Research Corporation
  Submit Express   Electronic Privacy Information Center


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