Whiz Kid / Wizax 2004,
Added on February 5th, 2011 (4082 views)
Tell us something about yourself.
Name: Jakob Ashtar. Age: 38. Born: In Aalborg November 16, 1972. Reside in: A suburb to Copenhagen. Job: DSP Software Engineer. Interests: Audio algorithms (noise suppression, speech enhancement), self-regulating systems, pattern recognition, philosophy, consciousness, self-awareness, the concept of time, meditation, out-of-body experiences, artificial intelligence, dynamical systems, self-organizing/adaptive systems, cognitive systems, mathematical modelling of physiological systems, Chance vs Determinism, the boundaries of scientific methods, the human sensory system, programming in C, C#, Assembler and Matlab.
What handle(s) did you use and how did you come up with it/them?
Oh, I probably had several handles, but I stuck with Whiz Kid. I don’t remember how I came up with it. I guess I just thought it sounded cool.
What group(s) were you in?
I was working alone until I joined Wizax for a brief amount of time, and then later Dixie.
What roles have you fulfilled?
Mainly coding and some swapping on the side.
How long were you active for?
Tell us about those years and how you got into the scene in the first place.
I got my first computer, a Commodore Plus/4, in 1984 because it was supposed to be more advanced than the Commodore 64. I was looking forward to playing a lot of games, but I quickly discovered that finding games for the Plus/4 was more or less impossible, and the games that were available were totally boring. But then I started playing around with the built-in assembler, and that's what got me into programming. It was awesome to feel like a God; meaning that you had almost full control of an exciting new universe where you were the creator. Since there were a lot of stuff going on in the C64 scene, I decided to buy a C64 which at that time took a lot of delivering newspapers. :o)
Describe a typical day for you in front of the computer.
Almost every day after school, I hi-jacked my parents' TV and spent a lot of time getting familiar with the C64. The C64 came with a manual which also had a section devoted to the instruction set. This was very helpful when you had to tweak your code and minimize cycle consumption. Profiling back then was quite different from what you see today. I remember that the common method for cycle estimation was to change border colour before and after a block of instructions. That would visualize your cycle consumption and you could keep track of bottlenecks and know where to spend time optimizing.
As I got more into coding, I also started swapping with people in Europe and attended copy-parties. Those days were really fun. I would always bring a bottle of caffeine pills because I knew I had to stay awake for several hours coding like crazy. I remember attending a party outside of Copenhagen. Some guy from Fairlight had a beef with some other guy which he forced to stand up on a chair and yell: "I am a lamer! My code sucks!" That was quite amusing even though I felt bad for the guy. In the late 80's, I was quite involved in the demo scene and it was really rewarding when you saw demos from other groups who gave props to you in their scrolltexts. The whole atmosphere around the demo scene was quite thrilling. A bunch of people meeting and showing off their work, setting new standards and pushing the limits of what could be done on the C64.
Did you personally invent any special techniques or tools to make things easier for you?
One of the things that I invented was a full-screen scroller. The idea was actually a spin-off from some code which showed how to remove the sideborders. Usually, the scroller in demos would be limited by the sideborders, but I invented a method which made it possible to make a full-screen scroller. However, I was too slow with the launch and some other group did the same thing and got the props for it.
When you look at what you did back then, what are you most proud of?
Proud is probably the wrong word. I can't pinpoint something specific that I am proud of. If I have to use that word, I would say that I am proud of the fact that I was part of the demo scene and all the stuff that was going on at that time. Coding back then was really hardcore and it was nothing like the fancy stuff we see today where you get a lot of help from your tools. Information back then wasn't as widely available and spreading as fast as we see today via the Internet. Knowledge was obtained and shared at copy-parties and get-togethers.
Who were your heroes on the scene and why?
Omega Supreme of The Shadows. He was an awesome coder and a major contributor to the demo scene. I was told that the guy actually was able to code in opcodes. I also remember Einstein of Triton Technology. He made some fascinating demos. Troels Harmark a.k.a. Spike of Bones was a good friend of mine and he taught me a lot. Music wise I was (and still am) a great fan of Martin Galway. His music is awesome! My favourite is the Parallax tune. Jeroen Tel was also a great composer.
What, for you, was the coolest thing ever invented on the C64?
Hmm... If I remember correctly, it was only possible to have eight sprites on the screen, so it was quite amazing when the sprite multiplexer was invented.
Did you go to any copy-parties, meetings or tradeshows?
I went to the 2000 A.D. party in Esbjerg. I also went to one outside of Copenhagen together with some members of Bones. I met the musician from Red Sector at that party. He made some awesome music and he had brought a lot of music equipment to the party, so it was quite a show when he was composing.
In your opinion, what was the scene all about?
Showing who was best!
What were the particular highlights for you?
I would say the introduction of vector graphics and getting rid of the sideborders.
Any cool stories to share with us?
I don't know if this is a cool story, but at least it's funny. A guy from Wizax had been working for I don't know how long on a demo which was going to be presented at a demo party. When he was close to being finished, all his equipment got fried by lightning. He ended up in a mental hospital. OK, the mental hospital thing is not true, but the rest is. :o)
You know, most of us were 12-14 year old zit harassed not-so-cool-looking geek weirdos with no social life and not many friends. One of the dudes I exchanged code with turned out to be this well-dressed body builder with a pink umbrella.
Are you still in contact with any old C64 people today?
Once in a while I talk with Troels. His math skills are awesome! Back in the day, we had lots of philosophical discussions and he really inspired me. Recently, I also started talking with an old friend of mine, Tech of Upfront. He was and still is an excellent coder.
When did you get your C64 and do you still have it lying around somewhere?
My old spray-painted breadbox (I was into graffiti as well back then) is in a moving box somewhere in my shed. I am a collector by nature, so I have papers, magazines, disks, notes and a bunch of other stuff from back then. Once in a while I take a look at it and walk down memory lane remembering the good old days.
Was the C64 really as special as we like to think it was?
It was not only special, it was an INSTITUTION!
When can we expect to see some new C64 output from you? :)
When I am retired and my kids have moved out of the house, haha!
Do you have a message for your old contacts and/or anyone reading this?
Feel free to contact me to talk about old times and share the latest news.
back to the list of available interviews