Where It All Began

I recently attended my 50th high school reunion, which, among other things, included a tour of the school itself. I actually started going to the high school campus in 7th grade, because the district hadn’t finished building a new middle school.

The school is the source of many fond memories. But one of the most important ones involves a small room behind a non-descript door.

Why? Because that’s where my now 55-year-old passion for programming began. On a teletype terminal connected to a GE time-sharing system located who knows where, over a 110 baud modem. The only language available was Basic.

My first program was very, very simple:

10 LET N = 1
30 LET N = N + 1
40 GOTO 20

I still remember typing RUN and watching the paper roll out, each line with a new number. And being both amazed and fascinated by how a set of instructions from my mind were causing something to happen, under my control, in the real world.

Needless to say, I spent a lot of time in that tiny room.

I remember, too, working on some pretty complex problems, including trying to write a program that would generate an ephemeris to support another early habit, astronomy1. We couldn’t even save our programs on the computer itself and had to print them out on a punched-tape machine, and then reload them from the resulting paper tape. Amazing to think how far we’ve come in less than one lifetime.

  1. I figured if Newton could do it with pencil and paper, surely, I should be able to do it with a computer. Turns out the math involved is quite complex, and the simple, brute force, inverse-square-law-of-gravitation-approach I took isn’t up to the task. But I learned a lot about the problems associated with computing involving whole numbers with very tiny parts, e.g., 37.0000000000000000031343, with those last five digits being incredibly important. 

2 thoughts on “Where It All Began”

  1. There were computers when we were in high school? I do not remember that. I first experienced them at work in 1977. Then again in graduate school in the early 80’s. Impressive!

  2. Hi Georgeanne! Yep, “they” were there…but only one of them. And it wasn’t what you’d think of as a computer nowadays. It was a terminal tied into a mainframe over a phone line.

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