I wrote my first computer programs in 1973 for a mainframe computer at Kent University. You had the choice of Algol, Fortran or Basic. These are three programming languages; there were no applications, just languages. You had to write the program then run it. Throughout the 'seventies and 'eighties I worked for several small electronics companies, each of which was desparate that the microcomputer revolution would not leave them behind.
I didn't actually own a computer until about 1985 when I bought an Amstrad 8256. This 8-bit machine ran CP/M (pre-cursor of MS-DOS, long before Windows) and it had 256KB of memory. On this I began writing compiled programs in Pascal and Z80 Assembler. I was fascinated by it all and wrote some quite usable stuff.
|This computer sits well on the chart table and certainly keeps me occupied in port. I have no plans to plumb it into Rusalka's vital systems or give it anything too important to do.
There was no computer on Rusalka's shopping list for many years. Partly because, to me, computers are work and the boat is for play, and partly because I have seen too closely what a bit of luck most computer's on-going operation really is. CMOS electronics depends on a completely dry environment, the mechanisms inside disc-drives don't like motion and there is not a piece of software written that doesn't have bugs in it. Oh, no. A computer could never be relied on on a boat...
In July 1998 I finally succumbed and bought a Time laptop. It can run on 12V, takes up very little room and is so clever that I can't beleive it sometimes. It also crashes regularly for no apparent reason, I have had to re-install Windows 98 twice in four months and twice it has chewed up important files for which I had no back up...
So, what has changed? Well I still have no plans to put the computer in charge of the boat, navigation, steering or any other safety functions. But the internet... That's another matter altogether. It seems to me that the internet is going to revolutionise our lives in the way that the telephone, television and the car has in the past. For the first time since they were invented computers now have the ability to give you out vastly more than you have to put in. As terminals on the end of the internet, home and office computers provide a new kind of connection between people which is completely amazing.
|Those who reckon they can tell a lot about a person by reading his bookshelves can find out all about my computer activities from this lot, on the floor next to my elbow as I type at home.
I have also found time - with no real effort - to do all this in my spare time. That's how fascinating I find it all. With that in mind, it seemed time to think about my future. There seems to be no better way of earning a living other than doing something that you want to do anyway, and when it is something you can do from home, from on-board the boat or from anywhere else for that matter... Well.
I am aware that a twenty-five-year-old degree in electronics doesn't always impress like it used to and that a few months of self-training does not inspire maximum confidence in others. With this in mind I have enrolled to do a MSc master's degree in Applied Computing at the University of Portsmouth during the next few years. This will get me fully up to speed on the technologies as well as validate my knowledge and experience for myself and others.
The computer will not be running the boat, it will only rarely get switched on when under way, but hopefully it will become my work and will enable me to make a living when in port and when not travelling. I hope to be involved in and to make a real contribution to this revolution as it unfolds.