Me and computers: my hystory
What started all...
I always knew that I had something that other childs didn't got at the time,
and for this I suffered a good part of my childhood
It still surprises me how I was introvert, and how much I costantly changed
If there is something that didn't change at all it's my curiosity: if I saw
something that caught my attention, I would try to 'explore' or get my hands on it.
My mom told me even how I risked my life, because when I was 2/3 years old,
I sneaked behing the CRT TV, because "I wanted to understand how pictures
appeared on the screen, and the TV almost crushed me.
A new machine
I remember the first office of my father: in the hallway there were printers,
and maybe other computers and keyboards (for some reason I recall a Focus FK-2001,
but maybe it's a false memory), then to the end, on the left the door to his workplace.
My mom told me that when I was 3 years old, I started pressing my first keys on a computer,
althought I didn't understand what I was doing.
I clearly remember when I was 4 years old, I partecipated to a "computer course" at the
infant school. I remember using 'Paint', creating tags. I also recall how often I
went to the PC to look at it, and how amazed I was by that machine that I did not understand.
And when I've seen the inside for the first time, it was like a revelation, I would have
liked to put my hands there, but I couldn't.
My interest for that machine rised again when I was in elementary school: the cause was
the "multimedia room". A room full of computers, and a interactive board; it was my "paradise",
and I sought to get there often.
At home, my aunt got a laptop, an ASUS X51RL (2GB of RAM, a Core 2 Duo) with Windows Vista.
When I heard about it, I wanted to use it: there would be 'time slots' on saturday or sunday, because
my aunt used to have an ADSL (ISDN?) and on other days connecting to internet costed, while those days
it was free.
Some days, before/after school or for other reasons, I used to visit my father in his office, because there was
a computer he didn't use, and I wanted to use it, maybe to discover what they were about.
I always felt that those machines were a gateway to something more powerful, an 'oracle' that would answer my
I desired having a computer for my use, because at school I learnt that I could surf internet, write documents,
create images, write text, chat with other people, watch movies, listen to music.
Then something happened...
A new home
Somewhen around 2008/9, the first computer arrived at home, and my father decided it would stay on the desk
of my room.
I was excited: a computer that I could use whenver I want.
I don't remember all its specifications, but I remember the CRT monitor (an LG Flatron 775FT?), the Logitech
peripherals, the Creative speakers, and the most important part: the huge tower under my desk.
I know for sure it got an S3 Savage 4 (maybe upgraded later to a Radeon 9600/9700, X700, who knows), a Sound Blaster Live!
(later replaced by a Genius audio card) and a separated CD drive and burner.
I don't remember the other parts, but I could speculate: 2 hard drives for sure, a Cooler Master CPU cooler,
256/512MB of RAM, either a Pentium III/IV or an Athlon XP, and the brown motherboard (Award BIOS for sure,
maybe an Abit, ASUS, Soyo, Chaintech, ECS, who knows).
Into the network
Later would come the internet connection: I remember how in the first times there was a LAN cables going
through the door of my room and on the floor. Later the cable came from the wall (after my godfather did the job,
since he's an electrician) connected to a Zyxel P-660H (I don't remember the exact model).
Unfortunally I did a mistake (I was still a kid): I connected the power supply of that router to an old 56k serial
modem, and later re-plugged it in the router (probably I even changed the voltage), frying it.
So, later would come a TP-Link router (I still have it, boxed) that would often disconnect/get bugged (probably
'cause of some flaws that allowed other people to get into it and do a mess).
Still, the connection was probably 7Mb/s (later 10 and 14), but it was pretty fine for the time, since that the
web was less bloated than what today is. Sometimes I miss the fact that we used to do things with less resources.
How does it work?
From there my vision of an "oracle" became true, and I started learning more about computers.
The wish of understanding how a computer worked was still in me, and after learning that a site called "Wikipedia"
existed, I started reading stuff there pretty often, and I would read about many computer-related articles, which
parts composed a computer and how it worked. I even learnt about Sun Microsystems and SPARC (for many years I won't
have a clue that many RISC architectures and systems existed), I thought it was cool and for a bit I wished getting
a Sun workstation for some reason.
In few years I would know them better than my father does.
We even used to run Ubuntu in dual boot (using Wubi), and during those times I heard even about "free software", "open
source": I had no idea what it was all about, but it seemed cool. Unfortunally weeks later, my father uninstalled,
because it took space on the hard drive, and people in the house didn't understand how to boot into Windows XP, so
my short Linux adventure ended for quite a long time.
Over the years I changed computer many times: from my original full tower, I've got other computers (still old,
with obscure specs, since that I didn't care much), then in August 2014 (?) I've got a new PC: an Acer E1-572G.
Finally I had a decent notebook that I could use to do my jobs and to play videogames. In that time I used to play
Minecraft and Team Fortress 2, even if I enjoyed playing classics such as Unreal Tournament, Quake and Half Life.
During middle school I felt that a laptop wasn't enough for me, since that I wished to have a self-built PC,
and I even hoped for prices to drop: I was even sure that AMD was going to release a damn good CPU and break Intel's
In those times, one of my hobbies was born: retro computing. I would snag some used computer parts that nobody cared about,
and bring them home, just for the sake of playing with them and testing stuff and operating systems, and learn about their history.
If I think that we threw away many old PCs, I regret it, especially for my first PC (the full tower one), since that
I love full tower cases and I have many memories about it.
New school, new PC
In 2016 I joined the ITIS Scano, mainly because I wanted to learn to code, to create videogames (cliché almost that every
student fresh from middle school falls into), and from there my life changed.
Before that, I was a pretty lonely and introvert person, I've got almost no friends, I had no clue of what I was
losing, I couldn't get understood by people of my same age. But this was about to change...
One day, since I was struggling with people in my classroom (I'd rather not talk about it...), a classroom mate asked
me what happened. From there I've got my first true friend (for convenience I will call him Lawrence), and we still are (he's the creator of Mentalabs).
We got along well, since that we both liked tech-related stuff, videogames, music and memes.
In August 2017, my dream came true: I ordered the parts and I build my first PC (that I still use today, I will make a page for it).
It was also the time of the video card mining crisis, and I've got to buy an used R7 360 (it still runs). I even got into mechanichal
keyboards with an IBM Model M2 (a crappy buckling spring keyboard), and later a Rantopad MXX (Gateron Red).
During the second year I started learning a bit about UNIX, since that I was more into retro hardware, and especially Silicon Graphics:
I wished to get my hands on an SGI workstation, but I couldn't, it was a dream...
Third year of high school
If the first year we used to write HTML, do stuff in Excel and Scratch (I hated it, and I was a bit upset when I discovered
that in the past years they used to teach Pascal instead), and the second we did mainly theory (numeric systems, conversions, samplings)
because for obscure reasons second year classes aren't expected to do lab (it is said that was fault of the "Gelmini Reform", the
ruin of italian school system), even if some classes were lucky enough to go in the lab and learn a bit of C++ and Python.
Instead me and my class would start fresh: we've got first introduced to Slackware Linux (and we weren't allowed to use file managers,
since that we had to learn to use the terminal), then the Emacs text editor and then the C programming language and x86 assembly.
From there I can say that it was the beginning of everything: some days after, I discovered that other window managers were installed
(we used KDE, and I hated it), i tried some, and I decided to stick with WindowMaker (even if sometimes I used Fluxbox and FVWM).
We all used Emacs, except my friend, since he used Nano: he even told me to never use "Vim". Because of this, I took this as a challange,
and I had to overcome the classic obstacle: exit the editor and save. Some time after, I learnt to use Vim quite well, and it became my
text editor of choice.
Getting into UNIX
One day, me and my class had to teach other classes how to assemble/disassemble a PC, and I managed to know a teacher of their class.
For convenience, I will refer to him as "Frank".
There was already a strange thing: I've got the oldest PC of the batch (a Pentium II), and Frank saw me. I was able to describe the platform,
and what eventually I would install there (some old Slackware distros, BeOS or Windows NT). In that period I was seeking a good CRT monitor
(i've used to have some CRTs again after years, but they weren't good), and he told me he got one.
I felt that I could talk with him about things I was learning, he saw my enthusiasm, I even used to talk with him when I didn't felt good.
He even knew that I was into mechanical keyboards. Then one day he brings some gifts: an LG Flatron F900P (19" professional CRT monitor) and
an IBM Model M (when he gave it to me, he said: "from now then you should write good code"). I was excited, and I thanked him a lot for this.
He even lent me a book about retro computers (mainly micros, and some "office one"). Thanks to him I've even explored the interest for the
UNIX operating system.
I already heard the surname "Kernighan" (it was the password of our accounts), and from there I decided to investigate: from there I learnt
the history of UNIX, the C programming language, POSIX, SGI, BSD, and many others. In that moment, I felt that I was wrong for years,
I thought for a lot of time that people as Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were the geniouses of computers: I've been fooled, and many other people
From there I started recognizing the people who really contributed to computer history, such as Ken Thompson, Dennis Ritchie, Rob Pike,
Bill Joy, Dave Cutler (even if he's responsible for VMS), Brian Kernighan, Theo de Raadt, Tim Berners Lee, Jun-Ichiro Hagino, Gary Tarolli and many other unsung heroes.
The "Blue Toaster"
During the second year of high school, I've learnt about Silicon Graphics, and how it influenced the computer graphics as we know it.
I even learnt about their workstations, and that some people got them somehow. I wished to get my my hands on one of them, but there was a problem: the price.
They were getting expensive (and they still do ;-;) and they were mainly located in USA, and getting one in Europe was going to cost a lot.
Then (during the 3rd/4th year of school) a friend that I used to know on NekoChan told me that he got a friend in Sardinia, and that he could bring an SGI Indy for me.
Unfortunally, due to personal reasons, he didn't got the opportunity to give me one. To excuse himself, he provided me instead an SGI O2 (the workstation I desired,
since it was more compatible with peripherals.
When it arrived I was damn excited, since that was my first RISC/UNIX workstation ever (i've got hold of a Sun Ultra 5 some months before, but I didn't
got a keyboard nor a terminal to use it), and the idea of having something so unique (and pricey for the time, that was used for CGI by/for Hollywood, Pixar,
Dreamworks, SEGA, Nintendo, South Park, research centers) was so strong that I almost couldn't believe it happened.
Then the later days I've asked help to various people on various groups to install IRIX (I used booterizer): the environment it's pretty intuitive, it's a System V system
(so, I had no issues using it, thanks to my Linux experience). Then I've been able to make work the MIPSpro toolchain and to make work some software I found, like
Lightwave, SoftImage 3d, Blender, Photoshop, Maya.
My classroom, from the third year, always been a dynamic work group, where we share ideas, we help and teach new
things each other.
We've got (for a reason or another) some "ideology war", according to the year and what we were studying.
Here some examples:
- Emacs (many people) vs Vim (me) vs Nano (Lawrence used it at the time): some people wanted to learn VIM because they were amazed by my skills, other were loyal to Emacs
- WindowMaker (me) vs KDE: some people liked my workflow and that window manager, to the point that some adopted it
- Java vs UNIX/POSIX/C (me): I advocated for the "UNIX Philosophy" since I heard about it, and I despised Java (I found it too baroque for my taste).
The last year, many classroom mates wanted to do Java threads instead of POSIX, but the teacher instead made us study the POSIX ones (less painful for me). Shame that
he didn't taught us "fork(), exec(), waitpid()" and other system calls.
- Object-oriented vs Functional and Procedural programming