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August 3, 2015 2:21 PM   Subscribe

Hacking the digital and social system: Voja Antonić on being a microcomputer enthusiast in Yugoslavia (via Hack A Day)
posted by GenericUser (7 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
In the same year, my friend [Zoran Modli], a famous radio host, started broadcasting programs for all current microcomputers in his weekly show on the FM radio, and even on TV! There were no floppy nor hard disks at that time, so the only magnetic media were compact cassettes. Data coding was performed in audio range, which made it convenient for broadcasting. So we had the wireless network (or at least its predecessor) in 1983!

I'm a software engineer, and the old leader of my team grew up in (what was then) Yugoslavia. He used to tell us about exactly this - you would set up a tape to record overnight, and the radio would play weird static, and when it was done you had a new program. He also had a smuggled microcomputer (from the UK in his case) to run the games. I've always thought it's such a cool way to deal with some pretty significant limitations - the idea of broadcasting the data like that via radio is just incredible.
posted by Itaxpica at 2:47 PM on August 3, 2015 [8 favorites]

Fuck war.
posted by Bringer Tom at 3:35 PM on August 3, 2015

the radio would play weird static, and when it was done you had a new program

This is only strange if you never had code on cassette tapes; if you had one of those the first thing you wondered was what did the thing sound like?

Wikipedia has your back. Some more stories. Meanwhile in the US all we had were these crap books one had to hand-enter. I remember getting one for Christmas that had these great 80s illustrations of what looked like really cool games on every page but you had a few miles of imagination between that and what they really did which was "ENTER ANGLE IN DEGREES (0-90)?"

The OP has some sweet intersections; old computing, communism, geekery during wartime and beyond. Early computing wasn't easy; this guy tosses it off like stack hacking was no big deal. That animation is ill. Damn, even his modern video translation is pretty hacky.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 9:02 PM on August 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

I wish the history of technology in the Eastern Bloc was better documented - there are so many amazing stories (and artefacts), but it's hard work finding them. This was a great story, and reminded me somewhat of the genesis of the Warajevo Spectrum emulator in the besieged city of Sarajevo during the Bosnian war.

"The program was developed in horrible conditions. The grenades fell everywhere, there was little electrical power (at one time even the hospitals didn't have power for two months!). When we had electricity it was only for 2-3 hours during the night. However, we did not quit and caught every moment when the electricity was on to develop the program. Zeljko worked at home on his 80286/12 MHz, 1.44" floppy, 40 Mb hard disc, Hercules card and Citizen 180D printer. He used TASM assembler. It was very interesting waiting for days of electricity. Samir worked mainly in army camp barack on 80286/16 MHz, 5,25" + 1.44" floppy, 2400 bps modem, VGA mono monitor, WITHOUT HARD DISC because it crashed. The power generator in the army camp was an improvised generator, with a voltage that varied from 150 V to 300 V! It was in fact car engine without carburator, connected to natural gas pipeline. This car engine was tied with shunted electromotor giving about 30 kW for 100 rooms."
posted by Devonian at 11:02 AM on August 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

How do you checksum that radio shit?
posted by symbioid at 11:04 AM on August 4, 2015

You don't checksum it. Fortunately most of those cassette interfaces were at fairly low bit rates. A lot of them were amenable to using filters to single out the tones that were used. But yeah, a burst of static could have ruined your whole evening.
posted by Bringer Tom at 1:41 PM on August 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

Well, you can (and many formats do) checksum it - you've just got no way to get a retransmission, but at least you can avoid running corrupt code. The BBC Micro broke up its tape loads into short blocks and had a relay that could pause the tape, so if you did have corruption you got the chance to immediately rewind a few seconds and try again.

The BBC also had an experiment in sending code over TV, by having a small flickering white square in one corner of the screen. You had to build a special photo-detector interface for that, though, and it was vastly slow, so it wasn't a success.
posted by Devonian at 12:20 PM on August 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

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