Friday, June 17, 2011

"What geeky pursuits did dad inspire you to discover?"

So asketh TechRepublic.

I can probably honestly say: All of them. I don't know why he wanted to buy us a computer back in the early 80's. I know that I used to go play Temple of Apshai on my friend Robert Dickert's Apple ][ in that same timeframe. We were friends in 4th/5th grade I think? So that would have been 1980 or so.

For some reason, my dad got interested in computers around that time. We had an Apple ][e (IIRC) with a floppy drive - maybe two - and a green monitor, if memory serves. My favorite game in 9th grade was Karateka. I remember playing that constantly. I also remember being online quite a bit with CompuServe. I'm sure our modem was 300 baud. My first "online friends" were made there. I recall chatting with screen names that reflected my interests of the day: "Sinful" from Pete Wylie's album of the same name and "Colossus", from the X-Men. Those two came later in high school, actually. And for some reason, I didn't recognise at the time the sexual connotations of the names. Or I did, but wasn't overly concerned with it.

I fondly recall going computer shopping with my dad and looking at the new Osborne "portable" computer and thinking how cool that was - a computer you could fold up and take with you!

I don't recall my father spending as much time on that computer as I did. I do recall that he paid the CompuServe bills when they would arrive. I learned to stay within the pre-paid time limits, however, a couple hundred dollars in charges later.

I wrote school reports in Bank Street Writer that I printed out on our dot matrix continuous-feed printer. I remember flipping up the paper guides so that I could align the holes on the perforated paper with the teeth on the drive wheel. Printing an assignment, then tearing off the sheet and folding it all up to easily tear the guides off the edges.

I remember playing other games, mostly Ultima ][. I loved the free-form gameplay, that you could talk to anyone, go anywhere in the world, and even to other worlds! I remember playing the Dr. J & Larry Bird basketball game where you could dunk and shatter the backboard. I remember playing Spy Hunter and pinball and some card games. I do not recall ever paying for a game. It took a long time to copy on those 5 1/4" floppies. :) I remember getting pissed at the computer when I would try to do something during the game and hitting the computer.

I remember the computer heating up and having to open the top and re-seat the chips.

I remember taking a programming class and learning BASIC.

10 print "Sam is cool"
20 goto 10

I remember trying to input a program from a Byte magazine, taking hours and hours and hours but it didn't run. I'm sure I was missing a step. But from that, I learned how to step through code. I recall breaking into programs back then and reading through the code and trying to change some things, like what characters would say, things like that.

I didn't use computers much in college, but my girlfriend had a Mac, the first Mac I had I ever used. My good friend Tony had an Amiga that he swore by. I preferred the Mac. I preferred that girlfriend, too - she's now my wife. :)

From all the computer work I did back in those days, it seems natural that I now work in IT. All the new devices don't faze me - it's just a computer at heart. They do what we tell them to do. Mostly.

I always would say, when I was getting ready to graduate from college, that I wish I knew a skill like my dad did - his father was a bricklayer, and my dad could (and still can, he just doesn't) lay brick. He built a brick wall between our house and our neighbor in the house I first lived in. He set the bricks in our steps at the house we moved to when I was 9. When we drive around Memphis, he points out all the houses that he built while working for his father.

Looking back now, I see that I do have a skill. That I had this skill back then, but I didn't know what it was. To me, I was just playing around with computers. I didn't realize that I was learning the skills that are needed to work with most every electronic device we use today - iPhones, TiVos, MacBooks, Windows, DirecTV, microwaves, Blackberrys, iPods, Androids, etc.

These devices aren't foreign to me, thanks to my father. How they work, what they do is as familiar to me as the back of my hand - a hand that, thanks also to my father, has never really seen a hard day's labor work in my life. He taught me that "you should get paid for what you know, not what you do."

Now that I'm standing up here, on top of this bed of knowledge, I see that he taught me all these things about technology - by putting a computer in front of me. And letting me explore, and encouraging that exploration.

Thanks, Dad.


  1. Thanks for this Sam...right read,at the right time :-)


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