When your line manager's recreational reading is the IBM Handbook.
April 18, 2014 6:11 PM   Subscribe

How I got here in the end. Picture this: you're a former drug dealer who has turned to hacking for a living. You're crashing in an apartment a bit older than Texas, surrounded by about seventeen computers, sleeping on a futon with a girlfriend with metre-long purple dreadlocks, and planning your defection from one net-based futuristic corporation to another over Korean take-away food.

MetaFilters Own cstross wasn't always a famous writer. He's also been a state-licensed drug dealer, a Perl hacker, and the guy responsible for keeping Danny the tomcat from shorting out Demon Internet's Scottish POP. And for forcing the invention of robots.txt.

He's written a short autobiography with entertaining asides on the early British Internet, credit card processing, and accidents of timing.
posted by bitmage (20 comments total) 60 users marked this as a favorite
I've had beer with cstross and his wife. Lovely people!

It always feels weird recognizing someone who pops up in a thread on the blue. (Especially before they're actually named in the post.)
posted by Pronoiac at 6:51 PM on April 18, 2014

Amstrad PCW FTW. I had a 9512 for a few years. For fine computers cheap few companies could compete. After the PCW my first PC-compatible was also by Amstrad.
posted by localroger at 6:55 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, wow; I knew I'd taped a couple of his readings, but I'd forgotten I used Google Video for one. Old video is old.
posted by Pronoiac at 8:29 PM on April 18, 2014

Picture this: you're a former drug dealer who has turned to hacking for a living.

Might have needed his services previously, not sure about now.
posted by telstar at 11:37 PM on April 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

A great read. Read it before, but bears the reread. Thanks for posting.
posted by motty at 11:43 PM on April 18, 2014

A damned good read- quite unsurprising in that regard.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:37 AM on April 19, 2014

* waves *
posted by cstross at 12:58 AM on April 19, 2014 [26 favorites]

No joke - I read the title and thought "Hmm...sounds like that book I just finished - Bob is always going on about his line manager..."

*waves back*
posted by ninazer0 at 1:17 AM on April 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Fifteen years later, I wrote all my GCSE, A'level and first year undergraduate coursework on an amstrad PCW 8256. They were great. My CompSci friends would bring people to my room so they could point and laugh at it. You had to change disks to run the spellchecker and you could hear the dot matrix printer from the communal kitchen. But it was a proper work horse. It was very popular with writers even in the late 90's and I've heard tales of the issues of getting work off those 3" floppies now.
posted by Helga-woo at 2:40 AM on April 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also it was designed so the printer could sit on top of the monitor, which was brilliant if you were living in a tiny room in halls.
posted by Helga-woo at 2:43 AM on April 19, 2014

Great read!
posted by illuminatus at 2:49 AM on April 19, 2014

Really captures the flavour of the time. Just sitting here nodding along, yup, remember those boxes....
posted by mikelieman at 3:04 AM on April 19, 2014

And I hadn't known until now that ( I guess ) all those volumes of docs on the shelf should have been filed differently back then. And seriously, if there was any hope at all for SCO back then, they should have given away the TCP/IP stack for free instead of an add-on... That's the one thing that burned ME enough to pull the switch company wide to Linux...
posted by mikelieman at 3:24 AM on April 19, 2014

I love reading this, because I have loved all of Stross's books, but the terrible leading made my eyes hurt. I had to use firebug to add a 200% line height.

Dear cstross, please please please have someone do that on the back end so nobody's eyes melt!
posted by miss tea at 4:04 AM on April 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Extremely enjoyed reading this, thank you! Hey, re: young punks who never touched a command line I believe the trend is reversing. Anecdotally, my kid brother and all his friends have Raspberry Pi's and they are like perfectly at ease, it was pretty awesome / mindblowing suddenly getting asked linux questions by them.
posted by yoHighness at 4:23 AM on April 19, 2014

"But we upgrade to COBOL next year!"

Oh, man. I'm not sure that I could have suppressed laughter at that point.
posted by octothorpe at 5:11 AM on April 19, 2014

Well, that explains why I read everything above the cut and thought, "Sounds like a Charles Stross book."
posted by skycrashesdown at 8:41 AM on April 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

The UK tech/hacking scene used to be so tiny that every time I read an account like this I feel like a cross between Forest Gump and Del Boy*.

*millionaires Rodney, millionaires
posted by fullerine at 9:21 AM on April 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

> (As it happens, you can do what I wanted to do in BASIC; but I couldn't see how back then. Not enough theory.)

If that means "write a word count utility" I did that in Apple][ BASIC. Read in the text editor file (not word processor file, didn't have one of those) character by character and keep a running total of the space characters and CRLFs. Two CRLFs in a row counts as one CRLF--that's a paragraph break, with a blank line between paras. It almost worked! It was always off by one compared to a careful manual word count. Fencepost error in there somewhere.

My second language was 6502 ASM. Between that and BASIC the Dijkstra brain damage was permanent and terrible.
posted by jfuller at 2:20 PM on April 19, 2014

Thanks for posting this, I read it over a couple of hours and now i'm overwhelmed by memories.

Let me just say that Computer Shopper was by far the _thickest_ computer magazine ever.
posted by 3mendo at 4:52 PM on April 19, 2014

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