Boy Off The Grid For Years Writes GUI For DOS

In a hacker version of Jumanji, when [fiberbundle]’s parents divorced, his thrice-fugitive new stepfather took him to a remote location in Australia without any access to technology or the outside world. With him he brought an old 486, a gift from his real dad. Lest the police discover them, [fiberbundle] was forbidden contact from most of society and even restricted in the books he was allowed to read.

The boy spent years trying to get the most he could out of his two-generations-old PC. Using only two textbooks from a decade and a half earlier, DOS 6.0, and QBasic he managed to write his own shell dubbed OSCI (pronounced “Aussie”), a ray-caster 3d engine and lots more. No mentors, no Internet. The computers at school were even more outdated Power Macs.

Eventually life returned him to civilization to be mindblown by modern technology 1000x as powerful. He went from playing text-based adventures he had to write for himself, to seeing Crysis. From QBasic to C++. From ASCII art “shooters” to Half-Life 2. From a 486 to a 4-core CPU. From a rural library to Wikipedia.

Follow the link above to see screens of his projects over the years. As of yet no one has verified the story, but, even if only that it is worth a read.

Thanks [Gustavo] for the tip.

97 thoughts on “Boy Off The Grid For Years Writes GUI For DOS

  1. This chap has gone through something similar to what any 60 year old has already gone through, and more – great to see a much younger chap realise what it was like, the rest of you should take note and be more respectful, and grateful.

        1. Except he didn’t have the benefit of gradual introduction of new technology. Try imagining that you went strait from a 486 with no other experiences along the way to a system clocking in at ~2ghz per core (all 6+ of them).

          1. But surely that’s not the point? – going from a 486 to a ~2gHz system should be regarded as a pure delight – I certainly would not have complained if that had suddenly happened in 1989, and I am sure there are plenty of people who gave up at 486’s and then came back to computing when they retired (actually that’s not me I evolved with the technology but not every one did).

            What I am saying is he is far from being the first to have to squeeze every little drop out of early technology, and that people do not realise how fortunate they are to be living in the present (we now live in the information age) and the younger you are the better! Stop whinging and get on with it.

          2. He’s also probably got a better fundamental understanding of the hardware than 90%+ of the other programmers out there now, if the story is completely true. Having to create your own GUI from DOS?… from scratch? How many programmers can say they created their own system without any other help or basis?

            My only point of skepticism is that, if I’m wrong please correct me, didn’t Windows 3.1 come out about the same time as DOS 6.0? So he had no exposure since, what, before 1995 to a modern computer? for 30 Years? If this is true then more power to him.

          3. I think point was more what he had available. I’m old enough to remember the time before the internet , but I still have trouble imagining how I got anything done with out every datasheet available in seconds and having to rely solely on books and trial and error to figure things out when stuck

          4. Most of us can remember computer life before internet.
            It just was a lot more boring when you couldn’t just download the latest release of whatever.
            You had to drive to the shop and hope they still had copies.. or wait for the floppy net to catch you up.
            Downloading off a BBS at 28.8 was not much better.

          1. That totally depends on your career path etc., but hey it’s way more than 15 years – it’s closer to 25 – I didn’t take the article to be referring to “future shock” – I can assure you I would gladly have suffered that, and it’s important to note that 486 machines pre-dated the internet (at least in any publicly accessible way – it was *just barely* available to Universities).

    1. Oh yeah, because I’m not fixing a bunch of computer for old people that use the excuse technology has moved past them. Yeah, every 60 year old I met has been super knowledgeable about computers, they knew how to turn one on!

      Seriously, you want people that grew up with MODERN tech, you consult those of us in our late 20s and early 30s. We grew up with it, our parents just heard about it all on the news.

      1. I would argue that you would actually want someone in their late 30’s/early 40’s. The first wave of personal computer users. Back then personal computing was an exercise in both self-motivation and scholarship. You literally had to RTFM (and understand it) just to get the machine to work. Odds are, if you did, you got hooked and you’re still hooked. Not only growing up with the evolving “new” tech, but actually understanding how it works.

        For example, If today was you’re 30th birthday. You would have been 10 years old in 1994. Probably old enough that someone let you use their expensive computer. It is likely that you would have had some GUI operating system running on it as those things were becoming all the rage. If you did, you were were already a couple of steps removed from understanding the machine. (If you had to pound keys at a command line to get anything done, well kudos, but you were still in the minority.)

        And things have gotten even easier since then. However, all that “ease of use” comes at a price. Convenience is being traded for technical proficiency.

        So while most of the youngsters today “fix” their grandparents PCs. Few do anything beyond than downloading drivers or scanning for viruses. Not exactly “Computer Science” and certainly nothing justifying your arrogant remark.

        Simply “growing up” with this stuff does not make you “better”, as that is not a true measure of understanding. Mastering technology means knowing what to do even when all the buttons, check boxes and menus fail you.

        1. I thoroughly agree with the point about proficiency and age/experience. Each generation’s “norm” is one layer abstracted from the previous ones. You used to have to know how to solder to mess with a computer, then that faded and knowledge of digital logic was more important as the previous layer became so reliable that you could get away with no knowledge of the underlying workings. That continues on and on to nowdays where an OS is so reliable (or hides it’s failings well) that a modern “tech whiz” knows how dropbox, gmail and iCloud works as well as how to change a wireless network name and they are doing better than most.

          Thing is, more technical proficiency != the best fix. If you ask a mechanical engineer to fix your car’s overheating problem, you’ll get a working car, but might end up with a custom built intercooler with a hand designed circuit to convert the more accurate temperature sensor output to the something the factory ECU understands. Ask a mechanic and they’ll say something like, “yeah, the Honda intercooler fits the old model Subarus, so I put one in”.

          1. That’s an interesting example, but it probably illustrates the exact opposite. The guy who knows the existing component is the guy who’s happy to use the already existing Smalltalk. The guy who reinvents the wheel is the guy who designs .NET.

      2. actually i deal with those same 20-30 somethings on a regular basis, most don’t know crap about computing fundamentals or network fundamentals. that’s why i get paid. i understand the underlying concepts not just how to use modern tech but how it functions and interacts with other components. there’s a huge chasm between someone who can build a system and install windows/linux and some apps, to someone who can diagnose PROPERLY when something fails and not waste a paying customer’s time. most 20-30 somethings have very poor fundamental skills even if they grew up with technologies. the mid 40-55 year olds who grew up with those same areas of interest have a much deeper grasp of the technology, they had to. my first operating system was a prompt where you entered commands in the basic interpreter. no fancy shmanchy dos, or gui. guys before me had to input commands using binary and flip switches after building their altair. unless they’ve gone to school and taken a cs course load 20-30 somethings know squat about diagnosing a real issue and coming up with the proper fix.

      3. Be careful default_ex. While I’m sure that’s true in many households, it by no means is true for all. I know many where a parent in their 50’s grew up with technology through the years and are the go-to IT person for the entire family while the kids who are in their 20’s are expert Halo players but can’t diagnose even basic computer issues underneath the case.

    2. Taking this account at race vakue… Respectfully the only one I see whinging is yourself. Nit sure how this was in anyway dusrepectgul or how anyyone could fell disrespected by it.

    3. If that’s the case, then you should be able to tell everyone about horses and buggies, and how to treat and train a horse, how to build a buggy, the wheel size, etc. And those new people driving them’ automobiles are just arrogant, and should be more respectful. Give me a f’n break, grow up. You probably don’t know jack s*** about the past, as much as anyone else. Probability you do, You’d have to have an IQ of 150, socially strong, and a polymath, therefore 1 in 1,500,000…. hmmm… I take my chances and say your starving for pride, and not for knowledge or respect. Interesting you point out the flaw in the supposed “this” generation, yet its your defining trait.

    1. Looks like someone doesn’t know about the VGA 16 color palette. W3D probably looked like that because those were the colors you knew you’d have, so rely on them the most. Resolution and processing power would make it blocky no matter what he did.

    1. Well, the source article says “my mind absolutely BLOWN away by Crisis screenshots”, so, one option is that Crisis is a knockoff game of Crysis which was also coincidentally mindblowing. Another option is that he had a typo and I duplicated it. 50/50. Some mysteries are best left unsolved.

    2. LOL. We know they meant the video game, but at least “Crisis” is a real word. Maybe you’re not old enough to have experienced any, but I promise: one day, the word ‘crisis’ will have deep personal meaning and possibly will make you feel disappointed in yourself.

  2. We all should consider this might very well be an elaborate hoax or a ruse to score a programming job.

    Some examples:
    – ‘Vaguely recall a friend talking about John Carmacks wolf3d raycasting technique?’ and then figure it out for yourself while practically in total isolation?
    – Talking about such in depth topics as raycasting while at school, but never talk about other technical advances or the games the other guys are playing?
    – Never catch a glimpse of a computer magazine while shopping and never read a few pages of one of the other kids’ magazines? While I was at school practically every third of my friends had a computer magazine on them. His dad couldn’t have possibly controlled every second of his school time.
    – Using the retarded US date format for an Aussie OS mockup?

    1. More dubious parts of the story:
      – East NSW is the good bit of NSW. The more west you go the more remote.
      – Schools in rural NSW around that time had better resources than he’s describing. Around 2000 I went to one in a central NSW farming town of 1000 people and they had internet. I was too young to remember any more details beyond the teacher saying that the search engine of choice was “ANZwers” because it apparently only returned Australian and kiwi content.
      – Country town TAFE teachers wouldn’t understand a CLI in 2004. TAFE is a technical college type of college. Typical examples of the courses are welding, responsible service of alcohol, IT, chef level 1. That kind of thing. They do more involved stuff in bigger towns, but then they would have better resources.

      You wouldn’t get a computer magazine in a country town unless you special ordered it and when I was there the other kids were only into pig shooting magazines and porn so they wouldn’t have one either. And according to the story the raycasting friend was back in civilisation and I can’t imagine anyone in the country knowing much about such topics.

      1. I lived in the far west Central Tablelands. Not sure if it really counts as East or West NSW specifically, or rather more towards the middle. Also in 2000, the high school I ended up going to had internet too. It was mostly being allowed to use it that became a problem for me. I was in primary school at that time.

        I didn’t write “CLI” or go to TAFE in 2004 either, not sure where that came from. As for the TAFE – they offered (and I attended) a Certificate II in IT but that was in 2005-part of 2006. I’m fairly certain they covered III and IV as well but we moved away at the end of 2006 and I never got the chance to take up another certificate. The teachers I had were more involved in teaching the basics of computer usage (simple stuff, navigating Windows, using Office etc), so the whole CLI thing seemed to be too advanced for that particular certificate for them. You are right though, they didn’t really seem to understand it, but they did mention at that time that I seemed to (for that particular certificate) have an above average grasp of what they were teaching. Having internet access which was more readily available at TAFE etc was a huge help there.

        You’re spot on about the magazines – or rather the interests people held. I don’t remember seeing anyone bring in any magazines about anything, but the interests other people held was with NRL, farming, pig shooting/hunting (mostly people talking about going hunting with their uncles and shooting enormous wild pigs etc), porn, women, and more NRL or AFL. I didn’t know anyone who was into computers until I met a good friend later on in my high school years.

    2. I actually agree wholeheartedly with Mike here. Though all of this looks really cool, I also believe it must be a hoax. I’m sure it’ll ultimately come to be the same thing as “Google Earth Saves Cast-Away Seven Years Later” baloney.

      However, while it might not land you a programming job, it WILL land you a marketing job at Apple or the Republican Party.

    3. Lol, a 486 with only 640kB memory??? My old and broken 8088 I got from my dead grandpa had 640kB in 1986, fully maxed out. Unfortunately the Osborne 486 I’ve seen uses 72pin SIMMs and the smallest 72pin SIMM size is 1M. Used in pairs would give 2MB at least. Even if the 486 used really old 30 pin SIMMs, the smallest SIMM size would be 256kB. So with 4 of them he would be above the 640k limit.

      Which adds another point to the ‘this story is bullshit’ list

    4. Actually, as I’ve mentioned multiple times in my replies, I don’t want to work in programming. I have a job I enjoy, and am happy where I’m at. In fact, I haven’t had any job offers, asks for interviews etc as a result. I stuck the pics up on imgur, and someone decided to then repost them to reddit, it exploded and suddenly people assume that I’m trying to somehow benefit from this? I don’t get the logic in that, nor would I imagine it would score anyone a programming job.

      As for raycasting, technical advances or the games other guys are playing – What other guys? This is at a school that literally had sheep on campus and an agriculture crop. The other guys around me were interested in NRL, AFL, and farming. I was able to conjure up the topic of computers with exactly one person the entire time I was at school. I’m assuming that you live in America and probably went to a suburban school with a computer study room and people who had parents who bought them or had a family computer in the house. Not how it worked out in the country.

      As for catching a glimpse of a computer magazine while shopping- I was a kid/teen. How exactly was I supposed to drive to the shops in a car I didn’t have, without getting stopped by a restrictive control-freak psychopath for a stepdad?

      At school, no-one I knew had computer magazines. The very limited group of people I hung around with (who were not necessarily friends, more just “the people I stood next to during lunch and recess breaks”) were more interested in spitting on the ground and talking about NRL.

      And for the final part, the PRINT DATE$ function in BASIC writes it as MM-DD-YYYY by default, so that’s how it came out. I know this can be changed, but I saw no logic in changing it. This experiment of mine was never going to be published or used for anything big, so I wrote it as the book told me.

  3. Fair dinkum, mate, during my outback schooldays we had to use a series of various pitched whistles to send the modem tones over the Flying Doctor radio to The School of the Air, pedalling all the while. We typed the IP packets in by hand. Luckly I have perfect pitch …

    1. I remember this when I was knee high to a grasshopper, and I had to do it uphill both ways!

      The tin lids these days don’t know how good they’ve got it with all their strawberry pies and Nintendos.

  4. This is what made me think this was a hoax: “the TAFE college was running obsolete systems with Windows 2000 on them, which was basically like 98, but crappier.” If you think Win2k is crappier than Win98, you probably never used Win2k.

    1. That’s probably just a case of someone mistakenly referring to windows millennium as windows 2000. Your right windows 2000 was nothing like 98 and was a great operating system. However, there was a version of windows that was released after windows 2000 that was called millennium. It was like 98 in that it was based on the win9x kernel and not the NT kernel as 2000 was. However, some people always manage to get windows millennium and win2k confused because they mentally associate the year 2000 with the word “millennium”.

    2. I was using Win2K right upto last year.
      Perfectly fine OS. It supported a large number of cores too – much more then XP in some cases.

      Ram limit was, of course, the restriction, but with a patch you at least could goto 3.2GB. (rather then 2)

    3. I made a comment about it below, but I’ll stick it up here anyway.

      The reason for my horrid description of them was simply due to the fact that the systems booted incredulously slowly. Sometimes it would take anywhere from 5-15 minutes, and most of the lesson was spent sitting there waiting for them to start up. This was very likely due to under-speccing (the TAFE scrambling together ancient pentiums and fragmented disks), as well as poor general maintenance, but I can agree with you guys that it wasn’t the OS at fault.

    1. Indeed. Good thing Jurassic Park was a documentary, and on the flip side, that nothing in that Pearl Harbor movie ever happened.

      Fake things make great books and movies. They do make crappy news articles through, since we here at Hackaday do not review fiction. Some of the skepticism so far is hardly damning of anything though, mostly just feelings. The story’s been posted all over the net and we are the first I’ve seen of people doubting him. It felt plausible, though possibly fishy to me. I covered it anyway since it’s had enough eyeballs on it by now to have crowdsourced obvious BS sniffers… and because I think almost all of us have a memory of owning a crappy computer we had to push to its limits because mom and dad couldn’t afford to spend. It was marginal whether it warranted an article or not. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

      1. To be honest, from what I’ve been reading or had sent to me, it seems a lot of people are nitpicking over the incorrect terminology. A lot of people are actually very correct – I did get a lot of terms wrong. I was never able to study programming or computers in the same length and detail as most people who excelled at them did. I’ve had people calling my story fake because, and I quote “A real programmer doesn’t use terms like “code” or “programming. What on earth do you mean when you say you were “writing in BASIC”?”, and “it’s obviously horse shit, what 13 year old back then didn’t have a mobile phone and access to ADSL internet? That’s child abuse.”. Clearly however, none of these people have grown up with a truepsychopath and an autocratic control freak for a “carer”. I don’t know what things were like in America, but it sure as hell wasn’t like that where I lived in 2002.

        There’s been no benefit in this for me either, and when I stuck it on imgur, it never was intended to gain benefit (Someone actually ended up crossposting it to reddit which then caused it to explode). I didn’t get the so called fantastic job offers, money etc that people have acted in annoyance of (Despite myself saying multiple times that I’m not interested in pursuing a programming career). If someone had, I would have said no regardless.

        But yep, I did screw up with a lot of the terminology I used, and this stemmed from my lack of education on computers in general. The day my dad was kicked out, the most I knew how to do was navigate a DOS environment and very little else. I don’t think I knew anything on a technical scale about memory, restrictions, processors, true Operating Systems, and especially very very little about Macintosh systems. They were terms to me that were somehow related to computers at most. I find it very surprising how many people are calling fake on the story because -they- knew way more at the same age and full access to internet and books on the subject, yet cannot seem to comprehend the idea that a control freak for a stepfather did not buy his step-son a mobile phone, expensive ADSL internet and a $3000 computer. The logic for that one is a mystery to me.

        I used the term powermacs to refer to Macintosh Classic II’s. Everyone else at the primary school I went to called them “power macs”, so naturally I did too. I also never wrote a true OS because I never truly knew the true definition of what an OS was at the time – it was either “Windows” or “a Mac” to me. I had assumed that the DOS Shell was an OS (even though it was a shell running on/in a DOS OS / environment).

        I also called Windows ME crap, which was incorrect, although I think this stems from the fact that the systems they were installed on were horridly maintained and probably never defragged or reformatted in their lives. The desktops were cluttered and they were agonizingly slow to boot. So I accept I’m wrong there – I honestly didn’t know any better at the time than to assume it was the operating systems fault. Looking at the boot screens for both, I believe it was 2000 on the school systems, not ME.

        So with these, I could understand someone finding my story sounding weird/wrong or particularly inconsistent with what they grew up with, but there’s a difference of colossal magnitude I feel, in growing up in a suburban area with access to the internet, people teaching you about computers, gamer friends and having the resources to learn about systems, programming etc, versus living in a farming community where the school literally has an agriculture/sheep pen on-campus, where people have absolutely no idea, nor care for computers outside of writing a text document, and an incredibly controlling stepfather. I’ve heard about what my friends teenhoods and childhoods were like, and it completely smacks me around inside hearing from everyone I left in the late 90s – “Oh yeah, when I was your age then, my dad bought me a HP Pavilion and signed us up for ADSL. I also got this book on writing in OpenGL and C++.”.

    2. Not even a particularly believable hoax…
      “Bart a D turns into a B so easily. You got greedy.”
      Nah this sounds like the rantings of a 27 year old hipster that used his first command line and found a usenet listing of shell/dock manipulation to write the rest after a day of forum rabbitholing. It would have been more believable if he had powered it with cowfarts or had at least upgraded with an Overdrive Processor at some point lol. I remember thinking our 486DX4 could run a small country when it came out lol. Also the fact that the hard drive did not massively fail on him or getting locked out of something with a bad command and it taking 6 months to hack back in. Those are the realities I expected to see. It is like when you read a scriptkiddy howto and there are no misspelled commands and the paths are all correct-you know it is a trap ;)

    3. The dead giveaway for me was the fact that all of his “programs” use text-mode. Anyone even remotely interested in graphics and using QBasic would have quickly discovered the SCREEN command – in particular, SCREEN 12 (640×480, 16 colors) and SCREEN 13 (320×200, 256 colors) were much more fun than SCREEN 0 (80×25 text mode)

      1. Also, the mention of the use of line numbers: QBasic didn’t require line numbers, and supported text labels. It even allowed multi-line functions and subroutines with parameters. And it had a great (for its day) built-in help system so ignorance of these features is not an excuse.

        1. There’s also the niggling little detail that QBASIC (the version that came with DOS 6) didn’t have a compiler and therefor could not be used to create executable files. QuickBASIC, the full, “you have to pay for it” version had a compiler, which I used many times to create useful, though simple, exe files. It is unlikely that he had access to QuickBASIC if he was as isolated as he claimed.

          1. That’s correct, I only had access to an old version of QBasic that apparently came with it, which, as you mentioned, couldn’t create an executable. That always really bugged me.

      2. I think you’re right. The raycaster pics don’t make any sense. It doesn’t look like a graphics mode, and the “graphics” can’t be IBM ASCII. It requires redefining text (only EGA/VGA). Very few DOS apps did this, one of the few exceptions is Norton Utilities mouse pointer.

        1. Well CP437 and most other charsets used by old DOS machines did have “half block” characters, but looking again there seems to be much higher vertical granularity than that in the “raytraced” shots. I suppose it’s possible his computer used a charset with extra graphics characters for graphs, etc (a. la. the Commodore 64), but the screenshots were obviously made on a modern computer, with an OS capable of running 16-bit DOS programs or in DOSbox, so those non-standard characters would show up as the standard ones. Seems more likely this was all faked using a terminal with Unicode support.

          Another possibility is that he actually *was* using a graphics mode (you could still PRINT, etc in graphics modes) but in that case, it makes no sense to use the Extended ASCII “framing” characters instead of just drawing a rectangle around different regions. Similarly, the “map” would be much easier to use if it were rendered with pixels and lines, instead of characters.

    1. Yes and no. The oldest and slowest PowerPC Macs ran at 60 MHz, meaning the worst PowerMacs were at least approximately equal to the best 486’s. A typical 68k Mac was comparable to a 386 or 486 PC, and a typical PowerPC Mac was comparable to a typical Pentium PC

      1. Also, based on the context of the article it’s clear the author either misspoke or has no idea what a PowerMac is; based on “tiny,” “boxy,” and “from the 1980s” he’s clearly talking about the old all-in-one 68k Macs (Mac 512K, Mac Plus, Mac SE, Mac Classic, etc.). The first PowerMac was released in 1994.

        1. I presumed he meant something like these: (1987).

          Though, he says clearly “PowerMac” so it’s hard to guess what was in his head. I didn’t feel comfortable “correcting” something that is his memory. Maybe everyone in school called them PowerMacs so it stuck. In any case, what he clearly meant was some old crappy macs from the 80s.

          1. Don’t worry I wasn’t referring to you not knowing what a PowerMac is. When I said “the author” I was referring to the author of the original imgur “article”.

          2. Heh, yes, I understood you meant fiberbundle, not me. To be honest, I’m not an Apple guy, I had to look it up too, but I did so while I was writing and figured it was their colloquial term for anything with an Apple logo on it, since, it would have been the early 2000s when they were using them, they were probably not even born yet when the computers were first purchased, how would they know the name for them?

          3. I wasn’t very familiar with Macs in the time, and I assumed that, like PCs, the term was universal (ie there as no “mac” term variants, that they were all power-macs just as all PCs are PCs.). A few people referred to them as power-macs (although according to wiki, they’ve been around since 1994) so the term stuck with me. I am completely hopeless when it comes to Mac tech.

            However, the correct computer I was referring to in primary school, upon a bit of research, appears to be a Macintosh Classic II (or one very similar to it). They were very small with one floppy drive, and shaped like a small box at that, with a simple one-button mouse and basic keyboard. Definitely not a powermac.

        2. You’re correct – I was completely unfamiliar with Macs at the time. The correct Macs that we had in primary school appears to be the Macintosh Classic II. They had floppy disks and very basic 1-button mice. People still seemed to refer to them as powermacs though, but according to wiki, they’ve been marketed since 1994, so I’m guessing people heard about them and just used the term regardless of what they saw (just as I did).

  5. Haha, when I was a kid I loved writing GUIs with DOS’ box chars and QBASIC or GWBASIC (after moving up from my Apple //c which had a BASIC tutorial disk). I also didnt have the internet until a bit later, as the built-in help was very good at explaining what all functions did with simple examples.

  6. Having personally made the transition from using the same Apple //e to a 486 a decade later, the story mimics some of the anecdotes of programming in a pre-internet hobbiest world. However beyond that it smells like BS. For one thing, nobody would waste time making a shell environment to make files more manageable — managing files in qbasic would be slower and much more kludgy than DOS. Also, PowerMacs were much more fluid and easier to use than MeSsy dos in that era so I’d be shocked that he wasn’t more inspired by that user experience in contrast. Also kind of surprised someone would be into programming and not get access to ThinkPascal or something on the mac side. So I hope that the story isn’t true for a number of reasons, but to be frank it doesn’t add up. (Also not sure how his dad would diagnose the clock is bad before tossing the computer, most people would just say the motherboard is not working for an unspecified reason. Old PC clones tended to have crap diagnostics)

    1. To your first point: I did. I was a kid and it was fun.
      Same scenario as you (except I came from a //c). I built a massivley sluggish DOS menu UI for an old 8088 (in QB) because it looked neat, and better than the plain DOS prompt. I’m sure there may have been other readily-available apps but I was not part of a computer club nor did I have internet or any kind of subscription to any kind of computing magazine

    2. I did it as well. Back when EGA was all the rage I wrote a complete GUI for DOS which ran well on my 286. I quickly discovered that it took up too much memory to run any decent applications, I solved that by writing a very tiny TSR that permanently resided in memory and executed it on startup. When my GUI wanted to “launch” another app it simply wrote the filename to memory and exited; the TSR would then execute that program, wait for it to quit and then launch my GUI again. This was years before the internet came along, and I was living in rural Australia myself (Canberra) but the info to do this type of stuff was widely available in books, magazines, libraries, BBS’s etc. And yes, the TAFE I went to had a huge computing department. I actually think he’s probably telling the truth because I and my friends were all doing this sort of thing back then, including primitive 3D engines, the only thing that smells is him claim that he was working in complete isolation.

        1. The reason for that is that I used the DATE$ function that came with QBASIC. The result of using that (even here in Australia), is that it prints in the MM-DD-YYYY format that the USA uses.

      1. It wasn’t 100% complete isolation, but I didn’t have any computer-literate or game playing friends for a huge majority of that time. I was very lonely a lot of the time and I struggled in finding anyone with even a remote interest in computers. Most of the other kids were interested with NRL, AFL, and agriculture. The teachers at the school I went to were not particularly computer oriented save for about one.

        My stepdad however, being the type of person he was, felt the need to both monitor and control what both I, and everyone in the family did. Phone calls were all screened by him personally. I eventually met one good friend in high school who I still talk to today, and he was very into computers at the time as well. The problem with making friends was that my stepfather used to drive people away. No-one wanted anything to do with me due to how he reacted when he found out I had the possibility of making friends who might hear about what was going on at home – he drove to the aforementioned friends house late one night, banged on their door and yelled at his family to disallow me into their house or near their son. Sadly, a lot of other people I tried to make friendships with were driven away by this sort of thing. He would bully, harass and threaten anyone or anything if it offered me some kind of safety or respite from his control and monitoring. He knew that I would get easy, unmonitored access to a phone, uncensored internet, etc.

        I did very gradually (albeit rarely) begin to gain access to the internet at high school in my higher grades. The internet was seen as more of a privilege and some kind of super special thing that you only used if you were going to take on some kind of serious research project. It wasn’t something you just surfed/browsed for fun things and information or social activity in the eyes of the staff (and to a degree, I agree. If you’re in school, it should be for study and not distraction). I would be lucky to score 5-10 minutes on the internet (Which was also censored/had lots of blocked sites etc) in the library once one finally freed up. Usually however, you would have to crowd up outside the library door and be the first in to get in front of a computer.

        So technically, not complete isolation. However, the first few years in which I wrote the code that got shown on imgur, I was very isolated for various reasons. As time progressed, I made the friend above, and by the time I started gaining smal bouts of internet access, there was far far more things on my mind that I wanted to research than programming. I had given up on achieving anything remotely useful or interesting by then. I also had a bit more access to people I had not spoken to in years and was able to even get in touch with some of my best friends from the good school I attended in the mid 90s, before the divorce etc.

    3. Sadly, it’s true. There’s a lot more to the story that wasn’t reported in this article (as the original is quite long) but to sum it up, I had a very controlling stepdad and I didn’t have anything else to do. The result was that making some kind of shell environment or file management system was somewhat interesting to me. I would have loved to have actually built a full blown Windows clone, but I had no idea at the time that this sort of thing would be insane or probably even impossible to do in the BASIC environment with the tools and knowledge I had access to (two books by James S Coan). I also had no-one I could ask from the start. It would’ve saved me a lot of time and effort if there was a computer-literate person I could’ve asked who was proficient in coding so that I could’ve turned away from programming right then and there and focused my efforts into something more useful.

      So naturally, if you put someone in a room with two outdated 1970s books on BASIC, a DOS environment with QBASIC, and hours after school every day with rare outside interaction, you’re probably going to end up with someone set about experimenting in as many ways as they can to see what sort of stuff the BASIC language was capable of.

      I didn’t have access to ThinkPascal since the schools I went to didn’t teach programming to students. It wasn’t considered an essential part of learning and education, but I’ve heard it’s becoming more and more commonly pushed for nowadays. I had heard once of (Metrowerks?) Code Warrior and Borland C++ from my dad over the phone and they sounded awesome, although I had no CD drive on the Osborne to install anything with. I could be wrong, but I also assume that the versions available then were probably Win95+ only rather than DOS based.

  7. wasn’t windows 95 or 98 made for the 486. I get it might not have been available in the outback. I didn’t mess with Qbasic much but it was very powerful. Even Apple’s PRODOS could do some cool stuff and that was on an apple IIc. I had my Apple IIc well into 94. The keyboard chip kept failing though. Cool story, but I’m putting it on the non-fiction shelf.

    1. Yes, back then I installed 95 on a 486DX50, but if the article is true and that machine had really no more than 640kB of extended memory, trying to run Windows would have ended in swapping hell.

  8. Fake! I was just in a 3rd world country on business. No one had shoes but they certainly had a cell phone! Do you honestly believe this kid didn’t see one cell phone???? Totally fake. nice try.

  9. You say:
    “He went from playing text-based adventures had to write for himself, to seeing Crysis. […] From ASCII art shooters to Half-Life 2. From a 486 to a 4-core CPU”

    Article says:
    ” It had a shareware copy of Rise of the Triad 1.0, and I believe, one or two other shareware titles, Xargon and Wacky Wheels. The last game I saw before leaving New South Wales in the 1990s was a Half-Life preview in a games magazine.”

    Great taking the drama out of proportion, you should work for a tabloid.

    1. I apologize for framing the story in context and connecting his projects over the years to things that were happening concurrently in the rest of society. I should have been drab and descriptive instead.

      And as we all know, seeing a picture of a game in a magazine is exactly the same as playing it 9 iterations of Moore’s Law later.

      I would absolutely go work for tabloids, but, I presume if I quit Hackaday then you will have to step up to fill in writing, meaning I would have to do *your* job… creating drama, talking down to and sarcastically insulting people writing content for me to enjoy for free. Surely this is hard work. How am I doing so far?

      1. That’s correct. I did get a copy, but I never got to play it, although my comment got the year wrong – it was 1999 when I got it, rather than 98. 1998 stuck out in my head because I always knew it was the release date, and I really wanted it as soon as it released.

        I was 11 and both my mum and dad kept it aside for when they believed I would be mature or old enough to play it (since I was young at the time, dad always believed that he should limit kinds of violence I’d be exposed to in games). In the early 1990s, I wasn’t ever allowed to play DOOM or Wolfenstein 3d but he was happy with me playing Rise of the Triad because it had a content lock on it for violence, and that’s where I got hooked on wanting a full copy. He got me a boxed copy of ROTT: Dark War around the same time from a Harvey Norman bargain bin.

        I never got to play that either because the divorced happened, and the only system capable of playing Half-Life or ROTT went with my dad. The Osborne system I used didn’t have a CD rom drive in it when he gave it to me, so the ROTT cd was practically useless. I don’t know if the Osborne would’ve ran Half-Life though, since the Pentium 1 I ended up with much much later down the track had a hard time with it.

        I do remember the preview vaguely though – it was possibly more of a walkthrough than a preview, and it was featured in a PC gaming magazine. I vividly remember reading about how there was a lift that would malfunction and fall down into toxic waste, and I always thought how horribly scary it would be.

  10. Yeah, I too wrote an alternative shell for DOS on my 486 when I was a kid. It included text editor, bulleting board, tamagotchi, few simple games, etc. in about 2000 lines. Not because I was isolated, but I deleted some important boot files on my 486’s hard disk so Windows 3.1 didn’t start anymore. No Internet, no friends who knew QBasic either.

  11. My condolences, Kudo’s, and Respect Sir!. Survival under extreme desert conditions (both mental and physical) at parental hands yet keeping the mind alive. It would be quite pleasing to reside in the same lab, Sir!

  12. One other point that calls this into question is the fact that Dos 4 or later actually came with a GUI shell already! It was called dosshell and not only did it give you a shell with a GUI, it also supported “task switching”. Task switching was not quite the same as multitasking as only the foreground program would actually be active at any given moment, but you could launch multiple programs and switch back and forth between them. Of course with the advent of windows dosshell was forgotten by most. Anyway, seeing as how microsoft already included a GUI shell for Dos that work about as well as one could given the memory access limitations of real mode and Dos, why would anyone write their own. The only reason you might would be if you were going to also implement a protected mode dos extender to allow access to extended memory and paging and all that good stuff. By the time you did all this you’ve basically written a entire operating system in and of itself. Also, there’s no way you could write something like this in basic. You’d have to use assembly language on at least the low level parts.

    1. An exception to this was so-called “RealMem” mode which quite a few companies were using in the early 90s…for all of about 5 minutes. Basic idea was you used a small amount of assembly to switch to 32-bit mode, set up a single segment in the descriptor table covering the entire 4GB addressable space and then switch back to 16-bit mode leaving the descriptor table intact. Net effect was you stayed in real mode but could access all of memory with 32-bit instructions. It was slow as hell of course because the compiler had to prefix all 32-bit instructions with an extra byte, but it worked, and it allowed you to access all extended memory and even SVGA memory linearly without having to resort to the complexity of a proper dos extender. Unsurprisingly it didn’t work at all alongside anything else, and thus died a very quick death.

    2. At one point, when the computer was in my dads care, there was indeed some kind of dos shell that I vaguely remember (with colours and hand-editable menus that we used to load up games and such). I do remember it having a white background with blue foreground bars.

      The “OSCI interface” I built however, was never remotely close to an operating system nor did it bear some kind of complex internal mechanism. I made the dumb mistake of referring to it as an OS in my original imgur post, but that comes from my own ignorance of the actual technically-correct terminology and such that comes with the proper teaching and such of computer systems and programming on the whole. The whole thing was more of a project/experiment to see what I could do in my spare time since I didn’t have a great deal else to do short of studying.

  13. Dos shell for MS Dos 6.0 was on the Supplemental Disk so isn’t installed by default anyway. The 640k is no dought referring to the amount of conventional memory available to the dos programs being used. There may well have been more memory on the machine. All the 486s I’ve come across had at least 4megs of ram. It’s possible the clock battery died, which is quite common. Many a machine has hit the skip because of this.

    Some things just don’t seem to gell though, may be just a memory thing. The real humour though is reading the comments on hackaday.

    Keep up the good work.After all it’s all about moniez ah? ;)

    1. I think you’ve got it more accurate than I did when I wrote the original story on imgur. I do definitely remember 640k showing up during the boot sequence, but it’s very possible that this was just the conventional memory rather than the total RAM available (I am certain though it used to say “640k extended memory” or something along those lines.)

      A billion of the details I’d love to have back have been lost to memory. Perhaps I just don’t have quite the same photographic memory of most people out there – I can barely remember what the first house we lived in looked like.

  14. This article is such a load of bullshit. Gee, where were all the fanboys and easily impressed simpletons to celebrate when I made a GUI for my own purpose back in 1989 at the age of 9 years old on my IBM 8088 (yes, that’s THREE chipset generations before the 486, and before protected mode was even possible with a 386SX). I wrote it in Qbasic 2.0 with assembly language calls figured out using DEBUG, and switched to Turbo Pascal and MASM when I was 10. So what is the big deal about some kid using an 80486 and easy tools that came after that to make a GUI? To give credit when I already did things beyond this at a far earlier age (as have many other people, too) is ludicrous. I’m waiting for him to claim ownership over FIDOnet and Compuserve next, too! GTFO kid. I see noob and attention whore written all over his article lol

    1. Have you still got it? If so, why not post it? This kind of thing is really fascinating.

      I was the original poster on Imgur, and I felt I had to reply to what you said – Despite what you seem to think, I’m not some noob who thinks he’s hot shit and going to get amazing attention from submitting this. I actually think it genuinely sucks that you haven’t received any attention for your efforts (and not only yourself, but the efforts of all of the home-grown programmers out there who have built some bloody amazing things in their spare time), including and especially those who were around my age or younger.

      I also don’t think the “OSCI interface” and other stuff I built is some amazing thing worthy of praise over what others my age had built. I stuck it on imgur because “why not”, and someone ended up reposting it to reddit, and then it took off from there. I think most people seem to be more taken by the crappy circumstances I was in rather than what I built.

      But with that being said, no, I’m not after attention. I don’t believe I’ve coded some miracle nor stuck it online with a starry-eyed amatuer vision that it would somehow present to me this much attention, or things like job offers and money etc. I’ve received no job offers, money or media interviews, and if anyone did offer, I would turn them down. Programming is not for me, and I’m happy with what I’m doing now. However, the fact that some people believed it to be well and truly impossible that someone could be exposed to such isolation and shitty parenting in the modern world should be a serious real wake-up call to the fact that this crap still happens.

      I think what you wrote at the age of 9 sounds amazing, and I really wish I could see what it looked like – I have no doubt it would completely trump the stuff I made. It is these kinds of things are the sort of fascinating history that is sadly, lost to time, and quite frankly, I think it would be a hell of a lot more of a more interesting thing to see than my primitive work.

      1. I don’t know if your comments were stuck in a spam filter, whether they were incubating in some technical womb for 9 months, or if you just came across the article now, but, it was posted a long time ago :P. It’s been great to see you give feedback and clarification on the things people were questioning. If I would’ve had a way of getting a hold of you before I wrote the article I would have done that. In any case, you’re not likely to get much continued feedback on an old story, but, I wish you the best of luck.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.