1970s - somewhere around 5th grade (age 10?) I found a book about programming in BASIC in the public library. I read this little book from 2972 over and over! The idea of a little electronic brain just fascinated me. The contents made a little sense but didn't have a computer, so I wrote "programs" on notebook paper without any way to test them. A year later, I begged access to the local university's Vax and was horrified to learn none of my code really worked. Some of it was close. I hacked until it mostly worked or if I was completely flummoxed, I would ask one of the adults there in the lab for help.
I read everything I could find about computers and programming and most of it was way over my head. I persisted, though. A year or two later, after extensive whinging and begging, my parents bought me an Apple ][ (48k RAM, 1mhz 8bit) with one floppy drive and an 8" Sanyo B/W monitor. It was like opening a gateway to another universe. Unlimited possibilities.
I found another book, the 6502 processor by Lance Leventhal, at the college bookstore. (The computer science program was still under the Department of Mathematics, and the languages taught in the first year were Cobol or Fortran. Pascal was a 2nd year language. Then Assembly in 3rd year. None of this interested me at all. I just wanted to learn to write video games.)
So this 6502 Processor book by Leventhal (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Assembly-Language-Programming-Lance...) it was a tough way to learn assembly language but it was all I had -- a very hardcore engineering reference full of timing diagrams, interfacing schematics, etc. which discussed the 6502 instruction set in tremendous, obsessive detail when what I probably needed was a high-level overview. But I guess it was enough... I wrote my code in Applesoft Basic first, then translated line-by-line to assembly and hand-compiled to machine code (tough, slow and error-prone work). Hello World or a dot on the screen was a triumph. When I found the LISA compiler (Laser Interactive Symbolic Assembler https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lazer%27s_Interactive_Symbolic...) for the Apple (it was expensive, as I recall. $99, I think. a LOT of money for a kid), it was like graduating from a manual transmission to an automatic. I could just write directly in ASM!
I bought a copy of https://www.scribd.com/document/4489859/How-to-Program-the-A... from the local ComputerLand store and that book helped make sense of all the heretofore uninteresting instructions I read about in the Leventhal book. (And a few Gorilla brand 5.25" floppy disks (which I would promptly "notch" with a tool so I could flip them over and use the back-side too. 80k of storage each!!!)
The Apple ][ Red Book still stands for me as a high point of documentation. It unlocked a lot of secrets and I still look it with great admiration for the craftsmen who made it possible.
>>if you came up with a question you had to answer it yourself through research or experimentation.
Yes!! A thousand times yes!
Books and loads of experimentation. Tearing apart other's code and learning from it. both source and looking at disassemblers. Nibble and Byte magazine... typing in several pages of code and then debugging your mistakes. Making changes. It was all just fantastic.
There was no-one to ask. There was no google. I didn't know anybody else who had an interest in computers.
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