Archive for September, 2006

The rise of Wikipedia

Tim Bray observes that Wikipedia is showing more and more on top of Google searches, and while it’s a phenomenon I have observed as well, his interpretation is quite surprising:

Cast your eyes back across those web addresses. What are your chances of guessing them? Of remembering them? Of writing them down accurately? If you bookmark them, how confident are you that they

Good old days

Someone recently pointed me to
, a Web site dedicated to old French
computer magazines from way back when.  The creators of this web site took
hundreds of magazines from the time, scanned them and made them available for
all to see.

Talk about a trip through Memory Lane…  Going through these old
magazines that taught me the very first things I learned about computers was
quite an experience.


The oldest one for me is

L’Ordinateur de Poche
, which started in 1981 and covered "pocket computers",
as they were called back then (HP 41, TI 57-58-69, and later, slightly more
powerful devices such as the PC-1211).  The pages are replete with endless
listings of code that definitely qualify as language machine today but which,
back then, were considered the state of the art in terms of expressivity.

I remember typing in a lot of these listings which, most of the time,
contained reams of "DATA" lines with dozens of numbers per line. 
Sometimes, getting one of these wrong meant the program would not start at all,
and you’d have to double check every single line.  After BASIC, I slowly
started understanding assembly language (helped in that with my various HP
calculators) and how these two languages could be used together to create the
best of both worlds.

But the real fun started with my Amiga, circa 1986.  A couple of years
later, I started writing articles for the main Amiga magazine in France,
Amiga News
(which we had to rename A-News after a few issues because Commodore sent us a
cease and desist.  It was pretty obvious to us that Commodore felt that we
were competing with their own magazine,
, which we ended up outlasting).  If you are interested by
additional trivia on A-News, read
my interview
by the creators of the Web site.

My first in-depth article was the complete disassembly of the
SCA virus, which appeared
on the Amiga in 1987 and is widely recognized as the first "public" computer
virus that impacted hundreds of thousands of people.  If you are not
impressed with these numbers, keep in mind that back then, we had no networks
and no hard drives.  That’s right, the virus was communicated through
floppy disks…

I remember being absolutely stunned by the listing I uncovered, mostly
because while I appreciated the technical excellence of its author (it fit in
less than 512 bytes), I just couldn’t figure out why he wrote this piece of code
in the first place.  What was the point, really?  I just didn’t get
it, and to me, it was just an intriguing idea without much future.  How
wrong I was about that…

At any rate, you can see the entire disassembly

(in French, sorry).

I continued my trip by thumbing through more reviews and it was quite
interesting to see the various discussions about the future of the Amiga. 
Windows was, of course, seen as the main competitor, but it was not rare to see
OS/2 being mentioned as a very viable option as well…

Still, the Amiga community was very fanatic and didn’t take criticism
lightly.  When Windows 95 finally came out after numerous delays, it didn’t
take me long to realize that while Windows 3 was most likely inferior to the
Amiga Dos, Windows 95 had definitely leapfrogged everybody else and that the
days of the Amiga were numbered.