23 April 2024

39 Years of Coding

39 (licensed CC BY by Tim Pierce)Last week was my 39th anniversary of coding. I got a Commodore 64 as a present for Easter Sunday from my mother. I own an old image to prove that. The exact date is tricky: There are no time stamps on my files, I do not know how old my oldest programs are. I wish I had added comments with time stamps back then. I was able to pin down some programs, like demos, to the year they were created by investigating file names and scrolling messages. On of these attributes to Easter 1986, so my start must have been in 1985. One of my neighbours had made fun of people using the Commodore only to play games, and I had bought a book about coding BASIC even before I owned the machine. It was a nice book with exercises to write pieces of code into gaps in the text. I imagine I wrote some silly Hello World program right away on that Easter Sunday, which would have been 8th of April 1985.

I spent a large part of my teens fiddling with the Commodore 64 and its BASIC. It will always have a special place in my heart. I never really left BASIC behind. From time to time, I code a little kata in the emulator, e.g. Prime Factors, Game of Life or several years later Roman Numerals. When learning a new programming language, my usual exercise is to create a Scheme (Lisp) interpreter, but I have also played with BASIC as a Scala DSL and even turned it upside down creating a BASIC parser in Scheme, using TDD, unit tests and a file watcher to run my tests for all modified files. It was a fun project and I stopped after parsing most of the BASIC code I was able to find on my old disks.

Monkeys Everywhere
So what did I do on the evening of my anniversary? I opened a can of energy drink and had a look at a new programming language. I went for Garmin Connect IQ, a platform by Garmin to build applications for their watches. While I did not own a Garmin device, I wanted to support a developer at my client who wanted to create her own specialised app for her watch.

Chimpanzee (licensed CC BY by William Warby)Connect IQ reminds me a lot of Android: There is an SDK, support for various devices, an emulator, an API for different kinds of apps, an app store with review process and so on. It has manifests, permissions, storage, intents etc. Someone at Garmin had some humour, as the programming language is called Monkey C (with extension .mc), the build system is called Jungles (.jungle) and the system libraries use the Toybox namespace. They even have their own domain-specific property language for managing style elements, derived from CSS. The whole thing is branded with monkeys all over the place.

Using a small, proprietary language has disadvantages: There are only few public code samples to copy from and ChatGPT is unable to create any working code in Monkey C. Still I found everything I needed during that first evening: a minimalist Unit Testing framework and CLI commands to build and test my code. Piping the test output through a small shell script added ANSI colours, i.e. Red and Green respectively, to the test output. Perfection! In my tradition of learning new languages, I TDD'ed the Prime Factors code kata as first exercise:
import Toybox.Lang;

class PrimeFactors {

  static function generate(n as Integer) as Array<Integer> {
    var factors = [] as Array<Integer>;
    for (var candidate = 2; candidate <= n; candidate++) {
      while (n % candidate == 0) {
        n = n / candidate;

    return factors;

The language itself is object oriented and looks a lot like JavaScript with optional types, the as ... clauses. It is a compiled language and all type declarations are optional but can be forced with a compiler flag. I felt at home immediately. What a happy anniversary ;-)