1 March, 1998
Thursday was a busy day for me at uni, so I didn't get back home with a copy of "C for Dummies: Volume One" (hence referred to as Dummies) until early that evening. To be honest, I didn't do very much apart from read the introduction and flick through the first few chapters. The next day was a bit of a lost cause as well; I had to work during the day, so it wasn't until Friday night that I got to go through Dummies properly. It might appear extremely sad that I spent a Friday night indoors, learning how perform miraculous feats in C (such as bringing my name up on a DOS screen), but I shamefully admit I really enjoyed it. My flatmates were away for the weekend and my girlfriend was acting in a play, so the flat was quiet and my evening proceeded interruption-free. I went through the book slowly and methodically, coding from about 8 till midnight, taking a break every now and again. To be quite honest, there wasn't anything that caused me real trouble. I was just reading each chapter, working through the lessons, entering any example programs that were given and making sure I understood how they worked. Easy.
When you look at a C program for the first time, it appears to be a mixture of gibberish and almost-proper English. This tends to be both encouraging and frustrating, but it's also one of the reasons C is quite easy to learn - it has roots in everyday language and logical thought. C is a 'mid-level' programming language, hovering in-between BASIC (easy to learn, but clumsy and inefficient) and assembler (fiendishly hard but very efficient) in the grand scheme of programming languages. The exciting thing about learning C is that as you learn more, the gibberish element in other people's code gradually disappears. For instance, your early C programs will all follow a fairly standardized outline. Within that general outline there is room for a great deal of flexibility, but as soon as you begin to get the idea behind the rules of how C programs are written, you will be able to look at fairly complex C source code written for the Yaroze with a greater understanding of what's going on. I happened to have downloaded the source code for a simple 3D object viewer on the Yaroze a few days before, and after briefly looking at it that day I decided that I really didn't have a clue what was going on. After Friday night, however, I was able to understand that it was a large program built up of numerous smaller programs. I also began to understand that a lot of the commands that were being used in the Playstation programs were not going to be taught to me in Dummies, but were specifically for use on the Yaroze. Now, I'm not a C prodigy or anything - most of the source code was still incomprehensible to me - but these glimmers of insight were both encouraging and exciting. I was already gaining a sense of structure as well as developing a knack for spotting Yaroze programming techniques that I had touched on in my own lessons.
The other thing that happened on Friday was that my application form for the Yaroze arrived through the mail. I eagerly tore the flimsy packaging apart to glimpse the coolness inside. Really, there wasn't all that much to get excited about, but Sony's glossy fold-out Yaroze leaflet just oozes class, and the dinky logo on the letterhead was pretty smart, too! A letter was enclosed ("Dear Mr Ferguson" - wow, that's me!) which just mentioned how the web site worked and reminded you that you can get Codewarrior for Yaroze if you want it etc. Much cooler IMHO was the opportunity to buy professional quality software at worryingly low prices - 3D Studio 4 is available for £375 and Animator Pro 1.3 is only £175 to Yaroze owners; that makes a combined saving of £1,135!!! There was also some glossy fluff on those software packages, and a photocopied article from the December 1997 EDGE which covered the burgeoning UK Yaroze scene. The application form itself is in triplicate, and I was horrified (aye, horrified!) to discover I had to pay £12.50 for postage and packing on top of the cost of the Yaroze system itself! For those interested, you can pay for Yaroze using Visa, Mastercard, Delta (but not Switch), Eurocheque, a postal order or bank draft.
After my fairly early night on the Friday, I was up early on Saturday. I coded through the day, taking the afternoon off, and for some of the evening, too. Alas, I had some 'proper' work to do as well (damn this university lark!), and a party that night. Hey, who said programmers had to be geeks..? Still, by the end of the day I had covered the first couple of chapters in Dummies - stuff like variables, strings and basic maths. In fact, I was so encouraged by my progress that I decided to go for it and just send off my Yaroze application form that afternoon (with £362.49 cheque attached), although I winced when I put the letter in the post-box at the thought of what it was going to do to my bank balance. At least I was getting the £350 special offer!
Sunday was another early start, and I ploughed through Dummies for most of the day, like a man obsessed (which, in retrospect, I probably was). It was a fairly purposeful weekend, I suppose, and by the time I got to sleep on Friday night I was wallowing in the murky depths of C, creating my own functions, simple loops and exploring the joys of if-else conditions. Sounds great, huh? Looking at my precious piece of genuine Yaroze source code I was delighted to see that I understood even MORE of it than before! I rounded off the perfect day by looking up a few of the Yaroze fan sites on the web. Unfortunately, many of then seem to be updated sporadically (at best) and a few hadn't been touched since summer 1997. Ah well, I suppose the restricted members' websites are where the real action is anyway!
Or return home?