Drew Tennenbaum
Head of Engineering

Monthly Archive: March 2019

The year was 1985…

I was 12 years old and my parents had just purchased a Commodore 64 (C64), Wico Command joystick, a 300 baud modem and a 1541 disk drive for the children. This was our very first computer. My parents didn’t purchase a monitor so we had to hook it up to our television. Playing video games was the initial purpose but as you’ll soon discover it was the gateway to my future programming career.

Commodore 64

The C64 ran at 1.023 MHz with a total of 64 kB of RAM and the 1541 stored 170 kB of data. A far fetch from the specs of a current computer.

Commodore 64

At first, I played lots of video games on it and it immediately replaced our Vectrex and ColecoVision gaming systems. Summer Games by Epyx was one of my favorites at the time. Jiggling the Wico back and forth as fast as possible to simulate your character running was tiring but I eventually got good at it.

Summer Games
Summer Games by Epyx

A family friend bought me a book, “Assembly Language For Kids Commodore 64”. I had no idea what assembly language was. I didn’t bother reading it at the time and I filed it away in one of my bookshelves.

Programming

A few months later, I’m cleaning my room and I see the book again. I think out of pure boredom and wanting to do anything but clean, I opened the book and started reading it.

The book explained how to program in assembly language. Assembly language is a very low level programming language that often used to create the video games that I spent so many hours playing at the time.

Assembly Language For Kids Commodore 64 (Programming)
Assembly Language For Kids Commodore 64

I loved building things – I had every Lego set imaginable. I also really enjoyed reading Encyclopedia Brown. Leroy “Encyclopedia” Brown was a genius boy detective who helped his father, the Chief of Police, solve the town’s mysteries. I loved solving mysteries, and solving programming problems gave me that same feeling.

Bulletin Boards

Armed with my C64, the 300 baud modem and my new programming skills, I discovered the world of bulletin board systems (BBS). BBSes were the precursor to the internet. Hobbyists would have dedicated phone lines connected to their computers via their modems for the sole purpose of creating an online community. Just like today, the BBSes had message forums with threads covering politics, hacking, and everything in between. They had areas where you could trade games and play online games. I had only scratched the surface.