My First Program: Dee Zsombor

I have forgotten what the first program I wrote actually did, but I remember the machine and circumstances quite well. It was on a Romanian Sinclair Spectrum clone called HC85:


It had the appearance of a bulky keyboard that you had to hook up to a television set for a display. Permanent storage was provided via old magnetic tapes of the same type as used for music before the Compact Cassete had become widespread. You had to hook the tape recorder, listen to noises akin to what modems made, while programs were being loaded. This was an isolated socialist country, I’m not that old.

In an age where buying a tv required years on a waiting list, the full setup above was very expensive and none I knew had one. Instead it was a shared system, made available on a rotating basis to interested kids passing a test in math. An hour every second week.

The machine had a key combination for every BASIC instruction, if you wanted to write “THEN” you had two press a two keyed combination instead of T-H-E-N you normally type today. Inserting new lines meant typing out the new line along with a line index, assuming you had the foresight of reserving insertion points. Changing a line meant typing it out again with the same line number. Saving the work was storing it on a tape to be continued next time.

The starting problems were simple formula based ones, introducing the concept of variables. For example compute the length of the hypotenuse in a right triangle, my first program must have been something similar, but the details are lost.

Do remember a wow moment later after creating a program that guessed a number by putting up questions like ‘is it larger/smaller/equal than x?’. The idea that the machine by acting out on a plan, may have the appearance of perfect intelligence is fascinating to me.

Alas the initial flirtation with computers did not last long. The HC85 experience was too shackling with little opportunity for an imersion so I pursued other interests. Years later I encountered Turbo Pascal, now running on modern machine and it was that second time that I’ve got hooked!