I miss my Commodore 64

Building modern software is so complicated. So many layers where things can go wrong. Vagrant, VirtualBox, Docker, Maven, JVM, Vert.X, Spring, Node, NPM, Cypress, Chai, SSH, tunnels, git, GitHub, Jenkins, Travis, the list goes on and on.

I understood everything about my Commodore 64. Now I barely understand NPM. I know there are good reasons why things are the way they are. But that doesn’t mean I don’t lament what we’ve lost.


8 responses to “I miss my Commodore 64

  1. Taking this absolutely literally, can’t you get a new one? I still have my earliest computers in the garage: my Dragon 32, my Electron (which is a bit poorly, so I bought a reconditioned BBC Micro, which is what I wanted in the first place anyway), my first self-build PC, a Vax workstation (3100/76; also poorly so I updated to a 4000/60) and other things.

    Er anyway, though I used the Dragon much more, the Acorn stuff was much more interesting. The Dragon used MICROS~1 BASIC which even then had a reputation for being teh suck. It would’ve been a lot more worthwhile to faff about on if I’d had a floppy drive system so I could experiment with Flex and OS/9. Well, and actually be able to save stuff too: my memories of crinkly cassette tape are not fond ones.

    But I continue to miss the point, partly just merrily going on my own tangent, partly because I’m sort of bloody-minded like that. What you describe reminds me of some of the “outrage” (well it probably wasn’t quite that; not like, say, vi-vs-emacs: and I bet you’re an emacs man) when Unix V6 decided it has aspirations to be a proper big-iron style operating system and V7 and friends came along. Out went the simple, fast, easily-understood-by-one-person-without-thinking-too-hard and in came a sort of pre-Solaris bloater. Though like the fat kid at school, in hindsight that looks positively svelte and streamlined compared to the litany of “would you like an extra 100GB of seasoning with that?” packages that are today’s thing.

  2. Michael Kohne

    I sympathize. I long for the days early in my career when I worked with full-bore embedded systems where you could, at least in theory, know what’s going on. For all the benefits that today’s computing environment brings us, the fact that we can’t really understand these beasts we purport to command breaks my heart sometimes.

  3. I think this is why more and more companies are going for software as a service. They are glad to pay someone else to deal with all the details and just get on with editing files, selling stuff online, designing engines or grinding big datasets. I suppose we can blame Steve Jobs and the original Mac which offered delightfully transparent WYSIWYG interfaces with extreme internal system opacity.

    I’m of two minds. I love all the powerful packages and what they can let me do with surprisingly few lines of code. Want a new font, just pass in a different parameter instead of converting obscure bit formats or trying to understand the vagaries of anti-aliasing and font scaling on my own. A man can only Google so far down a rat hole before it gets hard to breathe.

    Meanwhile, I love playing around with little Arduino like processors with their lockstep instruction timings (proto-ARM) and down to the bits and bytes circuitry. Even better, there are little black box gizmos to do all the nice things – detect proximity, measure temperature, show pretty blinking lights – that make life interesting.

  4. On a much related note,

  5. Quite. If there’s a reason I’ve been getting lower and lower level and closer and closer to the machine as years go by, this is why: because at near the firmware level the thing is nearly simple enough to be comprehensible: even if there are still multiple layers between you and the now utterly unfathomably complex mass of gates, that occasionally go wrong in demented and incomprehensible ways, at least at near-the-OS level there are few enough of them that most problems can eventually be tracked down, more or less. Most of them. (I currently have two longstanding incomprehensiproblems which I mean to isolate one of these days. One of them has something to do with networking, multithreading, oh and there’s at least one closed-source router on the networking path that might be involved too, and even the network cards have insanely complex and known-buggy-in-the-past loadable firmware…)

  6. I miss it too – until I realised over Christmas that probably the thing I miss the most is being young and having spare time! I bought “TheC64” in September for my birthday, since I did not want to fiddle with emulators, I did not want to spend £200 to find an original C64 on ebay and hoping it worked, and because I wanted the click of a keyboard to remind me the good old times.
    I had to wait until the Christmas holidays to unbox it, since work has become so crazy in Covid times (and thank God because I have a good job in these uncertain times!).
    So I did my unboxing, connected it to a screen, printed some old magazine from internet to feel again the thrill of typing in a program…it was fun, but I have to say a lot of effort, especially for editing mistakes, keeping on pressing the wrong keys – I guess a bit of muscle memory is needed, since now my brain is wired with my SSMS editor for SQL Server and all the keyboard shortcuts…
    After all, it was a good experience but I have realised what the C64 represented for me when I was a kid – probably it’s best if I just keep that memory!

  7. I know what you mean, Enzo — no doubt, the rosy glasses of nostalgia make the days of the C64 seems better than they were. But ultimately the thing I miss is not that specific machine, but the sense of being in control. I felt that same sense back in my days as a C programmer — because I understood what all the library functions did. (There were not many of them, so learning them all was not a big undertaking.) That’s the sense that is long gone.

  8. You had spare time when you were young? I was just non-stop drowned in homework.

    *Now* I have spare time (but then I’m single and prohibited from doing anything outside the house or meeting anyone by law, so the spare time is rather forced upon me, unless I want to work literally non-stop).

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