Technical Difficulties from on Top of the Mountain
2019-04-20
  How I discovered my future
I learned about computers in the summer 1978. My father had used them previous at work, but I had no idea what they were, or that I wanted to spend the rest of my life playing with them. But thanks to a young school district that still had money after paying its teachers a pittance, the GATE program bundled me up in with 40 of peers on a school bus and sent me to Berkeley for a week. (GATE stood for Gifted ad Talented Education, a name they quickly had to come up with after we took the previous acronym: MGM and turned it from Mentally Gifted Minors into Mentally Gifted Morons, an insight that our slightly elevated intelligence was in some ways a hindrance in the social torture program society called school.)

So under the expert driving of our bus driver Dan "the oil pan man"*, we were whisked away to Lawrence Hall of Science for Astronomy, Earth Science, some other forgettable classes; and "Computer Lab". The computer lab was a giant concrete walled room, two stories tall, with rows of teletypes connected to a time share system, and a pen plotter at the far end.

teletype machine

We were shown how to log in, send messages to each other, access the central store and print out files (mostly ascii art), and create our own files. One of the files we could create, was a set of instructions for the pen plotter to draw a picture. Some of the other students drew their initials with it, or some interesting geometric shapes, but I had bigger ambitions.

Star was had come out the year before, so I wanted to draw space ships and laser fire. Major production value. Some how I got ahold of some graph paper, and drew out a ridiculously complex scene for a junior high school student with only a few hours to enter it in, and I spent every free minute I could typing in all the pen up/down and move commands to render my masterpiece. I get all the instructions typed in by the last day of the class, and command the printer to go, setting the pens to dance around and draw each segment painful step by step, when suddenly it all goes horribly wrong, and through some mistake in my instructions a large errant line is drawn across the entire page. There's less than 10 minutes left in the lab and the picture is ruined. I must have looked pitiful, because a sysop took pity on me and told me to follow him. We walked up the stairs to a mezzanine above where the sysops could watch over the room and do work. The sysop sat down and something completely strange which he referred to as a "glass teletype", opened up my file on the screen, pressed a magic key called a cursor key, and moved through the file to the line with the errant digit in it, which he replaced with the correct one I supplied, and then saved it.

glass teletype
I had never seen a mistake so quickly and effortlessly corrected. My picture printed out, correctly, though its since been lost to the sand of time; but more importantly after staring at that glass teletype, I knew with a certainty that I wanted to spent every possible moment of the rest of my life in that alternate universe where ideas could be constructed almost as easily as though, there was no entropy, and changes could be made in an instant. Looking back, it seems I have been fairly successful doing that.

* A story for another day, though I will give the hint that everyone on that trip learned that the lowest point on the underside of a bus is the oil pan, but he is the only bus driver who's name I can still remember 40 years later.

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Life in the middle of nowhere, remote programming to try and support it, startups, children, and some tinkering when I get a chance.

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Blogroll
Paul Graham's Essays
You may not want to write in Lisp, but his advise on software, life and business is always worth listening to.
How to save the world
Dave Pollard working on changing the world .. one partially baked idea at a time.
SnowDeal
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Land and Hold Short
The life of a pilot.

The best of?
Jan '04
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Feb '04
Oops I dropped by satellite.
New Jets create excitement in the air.
The audience is not listening.

Mar '04
Neat chemicals you don't want to mess with.
The Lack of Practise Effect

Apr '04
Scramjets take to the air
Doing dangerous things in the fire.
The Real Way to get a job

May '04
Checking out cool tools (with the kids)
A master geek (Ink Tank flashback)
How to play with your kids

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