Friday, August 07, 2009


Wow, I stumbled on this - and I so remember it.

I remember my first Pascal (turbo of course), that really got me started programming at home, in my spare time. That was the beginning of the end.

And when I got Turbo C, that was it. I was hooked. I cannot count the number of times I had to reboot my computer learning C - as I was constantly overwriting memory in the beginning - but it was worth it. How many times did I have to flip flop the floppies "Insert Library Disk 1", "Insert Library Disk 2" - because I had no hard drive...

A blast from the past.

This morning, as I was crawling under my desk to get to the USB hub to plug in yet another device, I was thinking "remember back in the day when every device you bought came with an 'expansion card' and you had to crack the case to install hardware - this is too easy".

My first hard disk - partition it into 32mb or less partitions (DOS didn't do more than 32mb on a disk back then...), install hardware, reinstall hardware, load drivers (by hand...), have at a really really slow disk..

My first computer CD device - hardware to install first, then lots of device drivers (by hand, edit that config.sys)...

My first scanner, ditto

Modem... the same.

and so on. It is very much easier these days, but you lose a bit of knowledge with that ease of use. Maybe that is why I had to opportunity to write this...


Blogger Brian Tkatch said....

So, Tom, what was your first computer?

Me, the youngster i am, started on an Apple ][e.

Fri Aug 07, 07:57:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Don Lewis said....

Flip-flopping floppies, overwriting memory, cracking cases...? Luxury! When I were a lad, computers were seventeen hundredweight, gas-fired, radioactive and likely to explode without a by your leave.

IT folk today, they don't know they're born! In my day, computers were kept in a tiny room with great big holes in the roof.

Then we got more servers: twenty-six of 'em, not a UPS in sight, 'alf the floor was missing, and they were all 'uddled together in one corner for fear of falling.

Of course, when I say 'room' it was only a hole in the ground covered by a sheet of tarpaulin, but it was a room to them.

Then we were evicted from our 'ole in the ground; we 'ad to go and live in a lake.

In fact, I had to get up in the morning at ten o'clock at night half an hour before I went to bed, drink a cup of sulphuric acid, work twenty-nine hours a day int Server Room, and pay IT manager for permission to come to work, and when I got home, me Dad and our mother would kill us and dance about on our graves singing Hallelujah.

And you try and tell the young people of today that ..... they won't believe you.

Fri Aug 07, 07:58:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....


First computer...

Funny, that article is just a day short of 4 years old now - and entirely dated. Terabyte drives - commonplace, not anything to be surprised by.

And of course, every single link is broken :) the link to the Tandy computer still says tandy in the URL but goes to a cannon description for some reason and the review I linked to no longer exists...

Fri Aug 07, 08:01:00 AM EDT  

Blogger al0 said....

Are you sure that your first HD was above 32Mb? And that that version of DOS has support for partitioning at all?

Fri Aug 07, 11:16:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....


absolutely, it was 40mb, I partitioned it into 2x20mb (I like symmetry)

And FDISK existed way back when

I was using DOS 3.x by the time I got the drive.

Fri Aug 07, 11:42:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Chuan said....

You are getting old, Tom. Young people never look back, probably they have nothing to look at in the past....

Fri Aug 07, 01:43:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....


I don't know about that.

When I was in high school - I remember thinking how simple everything was in grade school - recess, easy course work, lots of structure. High school was a lot of work.

When I was in college - I worked near full time and attended class. I remember thinking how easy high school was. I also remember wondering how I was going to handle having a regular desk job since I could never seem to make it all of the way through a class without snoozing :)

Everyone looks back, all of the time.

I just can look further back than I used to :)

Fri Aug 07, 01:47:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

This is the IT equivalent of

Fri Aug 07, 06:22:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Arun Mathur said....

Good read, Tom! It made me think of my first computer in 1984: A Radio Shack MC-10. It had 4k of memory, which I upgraded to 20K to "join the big leagues" :) I also used cassette tapes to store my BASIC programs on.


Sat Aug 08, 10:14:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Marco Gralike said....

Wow 5000$ - A High End user ;-)

I wonder what that will buy you today...


Sun Aug 09, 04:22:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Dusan Valasek said....

Yes, 1991.
How to find more room in 640KB RAM on IBM PC AT(286) . Trying to use so called "expanded" memory while having 1MB of RAM only. Joining PC's together, using Novel Netware Light 1.O, peer to peer network. How exciting it was, persuading our management that we had to spend some extra money for buying network cards and network licences.

Gold times of FoxPro 2.0 - it really worked!

And after that, how happy I was after getting PC 386, with first "really" working Windows.

Ok, I'm not going to be pathetic here. But, at least, I knew that times what I was doing, configuring autoexec.bat and, in order to save memory. Just a little knowledge of how it works.

Mon Aug 10, 05:12:00 PM EDT  

Blogger spkv9xz9 said....

I am Amane Matsumoto. I am from Japan.
I am makie-shi (Japanese lacquer artist) and shoka(Japanese calligrapher).
I have spent my life working on traditional Japanese lacquer(urushi).
I am the Kyoto style artist and I have samurai soul.
I can make samurai maetate of Japanese helmets ,inro ,saya of Japanese sword ,gold Japanese lacquer boxes and so on.I have the highest skill in Japan.

Japanese lacquer art is made with gold ,silver ,platinum and so on.
The subjects I pick are very often nature.

I admire Mr.Lawrence Joseph Ellison in every way.
I am very happy that he research and learn
about Japanese culture and arts like Zen.I think he is a true samurai.

I'd like to ask him to become my patron.
He must have been extra busy , but if he would not mind helping me get through this tough competition, that would be tremendously appreciated.
I sent my work(sho) and the photograph of my work(urushi)to Oracle head office. But I hardly ever get back his reply.
It may be that he doesn't get my photos and works.

Could you help me?
I'm at a loss. But I can not want to give up.
I would like to contact him.
I would like to go to America to meet him.
I'd like to ask him to become my patron.
I wish I could contact him somehow or other.
Could you help me? My Email Address is .

Thank you so much for your kind reply.

Mon Aug 10, 11:11:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Don Lewis said....

I got a "C" in Technical Drawing at school some 25 years back.

Would you mind putting in a word with Larry for me? I think I could design the world's biggest yacht for him at a reasonably modest fee of $1.5M per day.


Fri Aug 14, 06:23:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Porus Homi Havewala (પોરસ હોમી હવેવાલા) said....

Tom, I used to work with Turbo-C too (Philiipe Kahn of Borland kindly sent me a complementary copy because I was writing a book on Turbo-C), but that was in the days of the IBM PC (10MB hard drive, 32 KB RAM). Before that, I used the Tandy TRS-80 where I wrote my first BASIC programs.

Mon Aug 17, 01:23:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Stew said....


I didn't realize what a youngster you were!

My first home PC as an Osborne 1, a portable that I bought for $1995 in 1982. It had 64k of memory, dual floppy drives (92k each), a B&W 5" screen and it weighed 32 lbs.

I programmed at home in DOS BASIC, then a couple years later switched to Turbo Pascal. Thanks for bringing back the great memories of that. What a great language it was for the time! I wrote a DEC VT100 emulator for the DEC Rainbow PC that I released to public domain and it became pretty popular! So long ago!!!

Mon Aug 17, 01:21:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Kevin said....

Here's a link to mine. I was the first (and only) kid on my block with one. Explains why I got beat up so much.

Mon Aug 17, 06:28:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Valkyr said....


I wish you had a "General Comments" section where people could post things of interest! :)

Anyway, knowing you're a LEGO fan, I thought you might like this:

LEGO Sales Defy Economy

Wed Aug 19, 08:46:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Dave said....

Good post Tom! It certainly brought back memories here. Installing a 1200 baud modem card where the manual was wrong about the DIP switch settings (COM2 and COM3 where switched) which gave conflicts. Took me 2 hours with Checkit 2.XX to find the problem! ;-)

Mon Aug 24, 11:59:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Porus Homi Havewala (પોરસ હોમી હવેવાલા) said....

Anyone remember CrossTalk? That was the way we used to send files across branches before the days of the internet.

Tue Aug 25, 02:25:00 AM EDT  

Blogger LDS said....

Well, that was the "romantic era" of IT, when after one returned home with a new hardware of set of disks would carefully checking manuals and setup... no Internet to look for an advice/fix.
And now developers are given tools designed to boost other products sales, while bold companies like Borland who taught a whole generation how to code with its cheap but clever tools went into oblivion (it was recently acquired, although its dev tools were sold to another company long before)
Let's see if the next generation will be able to build the same skills.
People with slow, huge computers, punched cards, slide rulers and drafting machines where able to go to the Moon and build the Shuttle.
Todays engineers have to retire the Shuttle and blow the dust off the Apollo blueprints - despite all the computer power, sophisticated interactive applications and 3D CAD they have.
I am afraid all they can build is an Apollo capsule with fancier LCD screens on board - what a progress! A small step for engineers, a huge step backward for mankind.

Fri Aug 28, 09:02:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Martin said....

Nostalgia :)
Myself started off on a Bondwell 12 a very interesting machine. I've actually kept it until today.

I must echo your comment about it being too easy today.

No need for drivers, no need to have separate memory configurations for different purposes, no need to understand the fundamental computing knowledge.

In one sense it's good, some senses it's not.

Nice blog post that brought back memories...

Do you still hear the dial up signal of a modem every now and then? I miss them...


Wed Sep 02, 09:00:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Porus Homi Havewala (પોરસ હોમી હવેવાલા) said....

Yes, I remember the connection tone of a modem. That gave satisfaction. What about when they refused to conenct due to a bad line and gave a totally different tune? That was like a nightmare.
Then we had to keep check if all the lights in the modem were flashing or they had gone out (line had dropped).

Wed Sep 02, 11:01:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

Yeah, having the physical sound on the connect was good back then. You would get to a point where you could tell by the modem chatter whether it was working or not :)

I remember Oracles first VPN solution. It was a hardware device - a grey box the size of a deck of cards - you did a cable from laptop to box, another cable from box to phone jack. After the modem chatter the grey box would click a bit during it's negotiation - I could tell by the clicking whether it was working - much better than a hour glass or a sliding bar :)

And after the box negotiated the connection - you'd have to use a pin generator - a little device like a tiny calculator - the VPN software would challenge you with a number and you plugged it into this device and it gave you another number to type in.

Then, you logged in using a username/password :)

All in all, it probably took 5 minutes just to connect everything and get online.

Ahhh, the good old days.

Wed Sep 02, 11:13:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Kim Berg Hansen said....

Just had an experience day before yesterday where a programmer used sounds for confirmation...

I was picking up licenseplates and paid with creditcard. The computer of the lady serving me was connected to the card terminal (as usual so the correct amount could be transferred from her PC to the terminal) and I entered my pin code and finished the transaction.

When I pulled my card out of the terminal (chip card, not swiped) her PC sounded "ka-ching" just like an old-fashioned shop register. No doubt on either side that money had just been transferred successfully :-)

Fri Sep 04, 09:20:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Hariharasudhan said....

Tom ,

its as simple as the difference between oracle ver 5 Vs Oracle 10g .Probably you started understanding oracle using black screen and SQL prompt and nowadays i am trying to understand the same concept using different Charts and other graphics provided by enterprise manager and other tools .

Wed Sep 09, 12:52:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Porus Homi Havewala (પોરસ હોમી હવેવાલા) said....

I still get fascinated when I see the movies of the 60s and 70s and early 80s, and they show a modern office but the desks are bare - there are no computers but only large typewriters. I guess 50 years from now, the new generations will look back on us and say "How quaint".

Wed Sep 09, 08:27:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

@Porus Homi Havewala

50 years?

Hah, more like 5 probably.

Look at an office from the 1990's - they are quaint already. My office in the 1990's had two screens.

a 3278 green screen terminal next to a vt100 orange screen terminal.

and two keyboards - one of which was made out of cast iron, you did not put that keyboard in your lap - it weighed a ton.

Remember the bulky huge CRT's everyone had? Now it is all thin screen LCD.

I remember when I thought I had it made because I put a 24x80 character monochrome card in my desktop PC and I could have two monitors - one of them ran the debugger and the other was a 640x480 grapic screen running windows/386.

Now I run 3 full screen monitors with lots and lots of pixels.

The 1990 office already looks "quaint"

Wed Sep 09, 08:56:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Porus Homi Havewala (પોરસ હોમી હવેવાલા) said....

I just remembered how I checked to see how every new PC I upgraded to was faster than the previous. I just ran the dir /od command and then watched to see how fast or slow the directory listing was.
There came a point when it was so fast I gave up comparing future upgrades of the PC.

Fri Sep 11, 12:59:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Jeanie Clark said....

I don't understand a word you just said, yet I still know you better than (most) people who do. Glad you are still a great friend of mine 20+ years after spending weekends on your couch to escape my horrible roommates at Pitt!

Sat Sep 12, 07:46:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Brian Tkatch said....

@Porus Homi Havewala

That was likely more a test of your hard drive and how heavily the OS used it, rather than a speed test of the "computer".

Mon Sep 14, 08:26:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....


No, I did exactly the same thing myself. It was more of a "how fast is screen display" though than a CPU test.

dir would read and cache a bit - and then print.

And the early computers with CGA screens.... slow slow slow...

with EGA... slow slow slow....

with VGA - at first, slow slow slow and then faster, faster (my 20mhz 386 from Gateway was starting to get faster than you could read as it scrolled by) until you just couldn't tell the difference anymore.

But, I did basically the same thing on a new computer every time...

Dir :)

Mon Sep 14, 08:57:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Brian Tkatch said....

@Thomas Kyte

Heh, i forgot about that!

Now i remember. I used's to minimize screens (under Windows) to speed up things like that.

Can't remember why i was doing it though. :P

Mon Sep 14, 09:32:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Joel Garry said....

Now the big thing is to get away from all the specs and emphasize uses. I blame Steve Jobs, though I find those ads about the guy who invented the USB port being a rockstar both entertaining and somehow annoying.

I still have my TVGA computer in the basement because sometime I intend to propagate those 5.25" floppies. I know, $12.95 for a usb 5.25 floppy drive, but...

I still have to minimize screen on XP when I'm working on massive updates and have output coming to X-windows that I haven't redirected.

I remember having an odd 9600 modem that couldn't always deal with... aw heck, I don't remember. But I do remember sportsters and all those sounds.

word: distion

Mon Sep 14, 05:27:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

Ask Tom (15-SEP-2009):

ORA-06502: PL/SQL: numeric or value error: character string buffer too small

Error Unable to write activity log.

Maybe time to get Ask Tom off the Casio digital watch hardware, get it monitored, and treat it like it actually has some value?!

Tue Sep 15, 09:56:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....


recently discovered bug

your HTTP_USER_AGENT is absurdly long (thanks Microsoft).

Since I am moving asktom to a virtual machine very soon - decided not to fix it, it only affect IE users right now, a small set of users.

Tue Sep 15, 09:59:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....


does that still happen?

Tue Sep 15, 11:33:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

Yep! Still happens!

Tue Sep 15, 12:33:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

Also, some employers insist on a specific browser. IE is (scream!) still the Browser of Choice for many sites.

Tue Sep 15, 12:36:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

Ask Tom: It's fine now.

Wed Sep 16, 01:32:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

@Anonymous - thanks for confirming, I was never able to reproduce myself.

Wed Sep 16, 06:31:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Brian Tkatch said....


"I was never able to reproduce myself."

There are way too many replies to that one. I'll just chuckle to myself. :)

Wed Sep 16, 08:21:00 AM EDT  

Anonymous Pierre said....

About ORA-6502 error, it can be reproduced with a specific discussion: see my post

I'm using Firefox 5.0 and error also occursn with Internet Explorer 9.

Wed Aug 24, 02:17:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....


looking into it...

Wed Aug 24, 03:19:00 PM EDT  


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