Daily Update: My technological life Part 1
I’m a self professed geek. I’ve loved technology for years. Hell, decades. I remember the day my step-father brought home pong. Yes, the original pong that you hooked up to the back of your television. I think I was 7 or 8 at the time. Oh, sure. I’d played TANK and Pong at the bars in town (yes, when I was a kid it was fine for anyone to go into a bar) and I’d played my share of pinball, but having something at home I didn’t need to feed quarters on a continual basis, that was mind blowing.
Of course we progressed to Atari when it came out and could only afford a handful of games. We still made the most of it and loved playing with the pixelated graphics. The controls were clunky, but we still had fun with it.
At some point I picked up a screw driver (I think I might have been 10) and opened up the old Pong game. We hadn’t played it in a long while so I did see the harm. I was fascinated by the internal workings of the device. The resistors, capacitors, circuit boards, chips. I didn’t know what any of it was, what it did, or how it worked, but I was hooked to technology as soon as I cracked open that case.
My one friend at that time was also big into tearing things apart. Someone had left an old television by the side of the road near his house so we tore it open and looked inside. Vacuum tubes! Dozens of them. We found one that looked black and burnt out like a light bulb would burn out. We pulled it and rode our bikes to the drug store in town. It was a 10 mile trip (one way). We spent the better part of an hour digging through tubes in the used tube bin looking for the right one. When we thought we’d found a match, we tested it (it was good) and rode back to try it out. With the replacement of that one tube the TV was back in working order. We were allowed to drag the behemoth into his mother’s living room and plug it in. We hooked up rabbit ears and presto! A working television.
This was only the start of what was to become a life-long obsession for my friend. For me, I had other interests and desires. I continued to play video games as much as humanly possible. I knew what lay inside of a television, I wanted to know what was inside one of the video games. But I never got the chance to dig inside one.
When I moved away to live with my dad I was 13. Being a kid and having trouble dragging me away from the television, my dad handed me the programming manual for his brand new TRS-80. “These things are going to change the world. Have fun with it, just don’t break it.” I spent the rest of the day absorbed in writing code.
10 print ‘hello’
20 goto 10
And of course that was only a beginning. I went through the entire book entering in each and every program. Something in my mind clicked that day. My dad came back several hours later to see me still sitting there on the computer. He asked me what I’d been up to.
I’d written every program and saved them to tape (yes, like a cassette tape) and I’d written a menu that would load which ever program you selected from the menu. I even corrected the errors in the book and made notes on what was wrong with their code. Needless to say my father was stunned.
I took Apple Basic my 10th grade year. It was nearly the same as TRS-80 basic and I had no difficulty with the class. The instructor would teach class, I would raise my hand often enough that he’d get annoyed with me, and we’d move on. The teacher’s biggest thing with code was that it had to be tight. He explained that you needed to do as much work as possible with your code with the fewest possible lines and comments, comments, comments. The shorter the code, the better.
After a couple weeks we got our first lab assignment. We had a week to complete the tasks. I finished in about 15 minuets and while the teachers was out of the classroom, I helped the other kids in the class who seemed to be struggling. I got in trouble when the teacher got back because he thought I was goofing around. He made me demo my program (which I had enhanced and gone way beyond what he was looking for). He didn’t like me much and pushed me hard, but he also gave me a lot of freedom because I was so helpful in class.
During his class I discovered the modem. A 1200 baud modem. It was my link to the outside world. I discovered BBS (Bulletin Board System) and read more about Apple programming than the teacher was teaching us. He wasn’t teaching fast enough for me. It drove me nuts. So I went seeking more the only way I knew how. There wasn’t anything in the library, so I went online.
When it came time for the final project, I had a perfect score in the class. The teacher said he never gave out anything better than an A and that was the best we could hope for. He did not believe in A+ work. It just wasn’t possible. No one had ever gotten an A+ from him. That’s just how it was.
Oh, a challenge.
We had 3 weeks to complete one of the four final projects. Needless to say that in 2 days I had written all four programs, added a menu to load the program of your choice, and then I did what would drive him nuts. Apple had POKE and PEEK commands. One POKE command if set as line 1 would hide the entire listing of your program. So my program looked something like this
0 REM the following line hides the program
1 POKE 214,255
Oh, he didn’t like that much at all. Yes, I loaded my program into the computer. Yes, it ran all four final projects off a menu tree. Yes, my program was commented and contained exactly two lines.
“Show me your code or you fail.”
“That is my code. Based on your instructions, the less lines of code, the higher your grade.”
“But this doesn’t do anything.”
“It’s doing everything laid out in the final instructions.”
“I can’t grade this because I can’t see your code.”
We went round and round for a while. I told him that if he couldn’t list out my code, then I deserved an A+ because it was the shortest code that did all the required work. If he could figure out what I did, then he could give me an A. If he could not, I earned an A+ for the class. He grumbled, took my disk, and left the classroom. I didn’t get my disk back for a week. I spent my time helping my classmates, and I discovered a M.U.D (Multi-User-Dungeon) based out of Minneapolis. I also discovered other Apple games.
After the week went by he took me to the teacher’s lounge so we could have a private discussion. He admitted defeat and asked me what I did. I showed him the POKE command list I’d pulled from the BBS. I then showed him the PEEK command to undo what I’d done and listed out my program. I also printed it out for him. He was impressed with the code, but he was also impressed that I’d stumped him. He begrudgingly gave me that A+.
This is just the start of how I got to where I am today. There will be more tomorrow.