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This Week's Scuttlebutt

Byte-ing into an Apple,
Dec. 23, 1986

Did I ever tell you about the first computer I used? If I did, bear with me while I retell the story....

Home computers were new on the market in the '80s and Apple was giving away computers to schools. Our school principal had put our school on the Apple list without telling anyone. Two days before Christmas break, the principal called me down to the office. The school was receiving an Apple computer tomorrow and I was chosen as the guardian of the school's new computer because I was the science teacher.

Until that moment I was one of the many who still had not entered into the computer age. Oh, I'd made a few brief forays such as taking an introductory class at the junior college and playing around with PLATO at the library. But I'd not undertaken any serious computer activities. Basically, all I knew about computers was what I'd read in the newspapers. And now in two weeks I was supposed to have a weekly computer class for eight groups of students in grades five through eight?!!

After the surprise wore off, reaction set in. What was I going to do with this one-eyed monster? Bytes, bits, ROM, RAM, and Rem were all words in a foreign language that I would have to learn quickly. Any machine that came packed in six boxes and had four thick instruction manuals had to be a monster!

I spent the days after Christmas sitting on the floor unpacking boxes, trying to figure out how to assemble the computer. It didn't help that the written instructions did not match the diagrams in the manuals, or that two pieces were missing.

Off I traipsed to a store in a distant suburb where I was assured they had the missing pieces as well as some children's books on programming. Finally, all the parts were assembled.

The next direction said to "Boot the computer." Boot the computer? Was I really supposed to kick the machine? By this time I was sorely tempted to boot the thing out the window! I spent the next day calling everyone I could think of that knew anything about computers. I finally learned that "boot the computer" meant “insert disk into disk drive and turn on the computer.” Right then and there I decided that computer techs had a weird sense of humor.

I held my breath, inserted what I hoped was the correct disc into the drive, and turned on the computer. To my amazement everything worked! Unfortunately, after everything was up and running, I had absolutely no idea what to do with the machine.

Several days of drilling myself on basic computer terms, writing flow charts, and attempting to write some simple programs convinced me of two things. First, I had a LOT more to learn. Second, the material would have to be broken down into very small steps for classroom instruction.

I then made the first of several trips to the Museum of Science & Industry as the museum not only had a computer display, but was selling computer-related items at the museum store. I bought a couple of simple programs, a set of twelve books that introduced Basic Programming for the Apple, and some blank discs.

Thank heavens the older students picked-up on computer stuff faster than I did! Somehow I made it through the next semester, staying one step ahead of them!

And that's how I started using computers.  


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Wednesday, July 29, 2009