programming in the
twenty-first century

It's not about technology for its own sake. It's about being able to implement your ideas.

Nothing Like a Little Bit of Magic

Like so many other people, I was enthralled by the iPad introduction. I haven't held or even seen an iPad in person yet, but that video hit me on a number of levels. It's a combination of brand new hardware--almost dramatically so--and uses for it that are coming from a completely different line of thinking. I realized it's been a long time since I felt that way about the introduction of a new computer.

I remember the first time I tried a black and white 128K Mac in a retail store. A mouse! Really tiny pixels! Pull-down menus! Graphics and text mixed together! And the only demo program was what made the whole experience click: MacPaint.

I remember when the Atari 520ST was announced. Half a megabyte of memory! Staggering amounts of power for less than $1000! A Mac-like interface but in full color! Some of the demos were simple slideshows of 16-color 320x200 images, done with a program called NeoChrome, but I had never seen anything like them before.

I remember when the Amiga debuted that same year. Real multitasking! Digitized sound! Stereo! Hardware for moving around big bitmaps instead of just tiny sprites! Images showing thousands of colors at once! Just the bouncing ball demo was outside what I expected to ever see on a computer. And there was a flight-sim with filled polygon graphics. Behind the scenes it was the fancy hardware enabling it all, but it was the optimism and feeling of new possibilities that fueled the excitement.

I remember when the Macintosh II came out, with 24-bit color and impossibly high display resolutions for the time. It seemed like a supercomputer on a desk, the kind of thing that only high-end graphics researchers would have previously had access to.

PCs never hit me so unexpectedly and all at once, but there were a few years when 3D hardware started appearing where it felt like the old rules had been thrown out and imagining the future was more important than looking back on the same set of ideas.

Am I going to buy an iPad? I don't know yet. I never bought most of the systems listed above. But I am glad I've been experiencing that old optimism caused by a mix of hardware and software that suddenly invalidates many of the old, comfortable rules and opens up territory that hasn't been endlessly trod upon.

permalink January 29, 2010



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I'm James Hague, a recovering programmer who has been designing video games since the 1980s. Programming Without Being Obsessed With Programming and Organizational Skills Beat Algorithmic Wizardry are good starting points. For the older stuff, try the 2012 Retrospective.

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