Two years ago I toured the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif., and if you ever have the opportunity, I very much recommend a visit. It was edifying both in what it taught me that I didn't know, and for the nostalgia that reminded me of what I once did. And on my way out that day, passing an entrance to one of the exhibits, I came around the corner and got a jackhammer right in the kisser.
It was a Commodoure 64 — the greatest personal computer of its generation, and one of the greatest ever — hooked up to an 11-inch black-and-white TV with a hoop UHF antenna, a gate-latch 1541 5 1/4-inch floppy disk drive, and a 1526 dot matrix printer. The spitting image of my childhood desktop. It took me straight back to rainy Saturdays I spent with Dad, inputting programs from the back of the old Compute!'s Gazette magazines.
I'd be sitting at the desk, 11 years old, by this time a touch-typer after learning first on the VIC-20 Dad bought my brother and me for Christmas in 1982. And Dad would be on the twin bed to the side, with a long pillow under his legs because of his bad back, holding up the folded-over magazine and calling out the programming for some game I wanted to play. Oil Tycoon. The Enchanted Journey. Baghdad. Beekeeper. The Frantic Fisherman. The Freeze Factory. Canyon Cruiser (or, as my brother called it, Intestine Flyer).
Think about that. For those of you who are pushing 35, like I am, like Dad was that year, think about giving up a Saturday afternoon to help an 11-year-old with data entry. For BASIC programs, we had a checksum auditor that tipped us off to syntax error; for machine language we had an assembler that was a bit more on the ball. But both of these, mind you, had to be programmed in BASIC themselves. And they only caught problems at the line level, saving you from entering the entire program, typing RUN and being left to wonder what the hell was wrong. For every typo I made or, God forbid, error in the code printed in the back of the magazine, Dad and I would still have to go back and read through the code, parsing every character for clues. Any number higher than 255 was a giveaway.
The video games were tedious enough, but nothing like our grandest project. One weekend we buckled down, from mid-morning Saturday and carrying into early evening Sunday and entered, literally by hand, the word processor that I used up to my sophomore year of college, the one that truly nourished my love of writing. SpeedScript was its name.
Dad called out the code and I entered it. I swear I can still hear him now: "127 ... 099 ... 086 ... 254 ... 181 ... carriage return".
"Next line: 101 ... 211 ... 050 ... 245 ... 112 ..".
Thank you Dad. Happy Father's Day, and I love you. And to everyone reading Kotaku, Happy Father's Day to your dads, too. Show them some love in the comments.
Compute!'s Gazette Index: July 1983 to April 1987 [Classic Computer Magazine Archive]