Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Apple Grew On Me

Christmas, 1984.

Rubber moon boots, Pee Chee folders, schoolbooks covered with repurposed grocery bags. Metal lunch pails adorned with The Hardy Boys and rock bands. That summer, the film "Beat Street" had introduced our small town to "parachute pants", popped collars, and breakdancing.

It was also the year the first Apple II's showed at my elementary school - weird beige boxes with brown keys that seemed completely foreign. They didn't have much software, and at first glance, a word processor looked like the computer had stopped working correctly. In 6th grade, I didn't have much to say yet, anyway.

A couple years later, the Apple IIc showed up in my 8th grade science class. This time it was bundled with some more software - Oregon Trail, some pinball game, a programming language called "LOGO", and  Br0derbund's "Print Shop."

Talk about a disruptive technology....

Print Shop allowed us (students) to co-opt the forms of the common daily newspaper and press our own views. (The only person who ever really mentioned the idea of being truthful and checking facts was our science teacher.) We'd write hilarious (to us) accounts of the school's principle abusing students, blissfully unaware of the potency of both the claims and the form they took - before "The Onion", there was my 8th grade school newsletter.

Got distracted... back to Christmas 1984.

I come home to see some large boxes gift-wrapped on our table (yes, we had one.) We tear open the gift wrap to reveal an Apple IIe computer. Zero day.

The next year is a blur - I can't imagine how many hours I sat in front of that thing, transcribing BASIC code from issues of Family Computing Magazine to figure out how to make basic games and graphics. I remember one record-breaking 14 hours playing "Akalabeth", (the precursor game to "ULTIMA") because there was no way to save your game. And those damn gelatinous cubes....

Somewhere along the line, an IBM XT clone shows up in the house, running the GEM operating system. I use this ugly thing begrudgingly. I'm sent to computer camp to learn to do 'computer stuff.' I learn the basics of AutoCAD, Pascal, and DBase. I learn basic animation techniques on the Apple II's using Dazzle Draw, and get exposed to Mac's HyperCard.

Then one day a computer store needs help assembling computers. I went to 'computer camp.' My god, I'm practically OVER-qualified for this job, sing my parents. This is how I escape food-service, the go-to path for high-school students in my district. Then it's how I pay for my AA degree. Then...

To this day, I've never owned another Apple product. Not that I didn't want to; circumstance made other choices for me.

But those formative years when by some miracle those weird beige boxes with the brown keys found their way to my 6th grade classroom - and eventually to the spare desk in our kitchen - those years changed every probability in my life.

Thank you, Dad.

Godspeed, Steve.