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Students in the U.S. probably take it for granted that there are computers in each classroom, if not a computing device assigned to each student. That wasn’t always the case.

I attended a different elementary school in the fifth grade, so I am unsure if some district-wide change happened over the summer, or if it had more to do with the school and/or class I was in. Nevertheless, on the first day of fifth grade, I walked into class and saw them: not one or two, but three computers IN the back of the classroom!

The computers in our classroom were an Apple IIe, an Apple IIgs, and a Macintosh LC. They were arranged as if someone purposefully put them in chronological order.

I was immediately drawn to the Macintosh, though I'm not sure why. Perhaps because it was the newest of the three. Perhaps because the fancy GUI made it look hi-tech.

Perhaps it was just because you didn't need a floppy to run the installed software, which meant the floppy drive couldn't make loud, evil grinding noises.

I was also drawn to the Apple IIgs, because it was familiar and, like the LC, had a color monitor.

The Apple IIe wasn't so attractive. It looked old. It had a monochrome screen. It looked like it could do less than the Apple IIgs. But it was easier to get time to use it. Perhaps that's because all of the aforementioned reasons made it less attractive to most everyone else.

Yes, I realize that an Apple IIgs is more capable than an Apple IIe. But the school system had not licensed software capable of using its advanced features, at least not for the elementary school classroom.

But after one fortuitous trip to the public library, my opinions on the three computers in my classroom changed...

The first computer I ever used was an Apple IIgs, located in my elementary school's computer lab. And the first program I remember running was The Oregon Trail by MECC.

Which, of course, means that the first famous computer game phrase I remember is, "You have died of dysentery."

For a fourth grader, it was a magical experience: You picked a program from the box of floppy disks, all proudly emblazoned with the MECC logo. You slid the disk into the floppy drive, closed the door, and turned the computer on. Within seconds, you would see the splash screen for your chosen program. And you'd hope that your program disk didn't have a bad sector (an unfortunate common occurrence).

For if your program disk did have a bad sector, the floppy drive would make loud, evil grinding noises. I've since come to realize that was the sound of the drive heads being repeatedly commanded to the end stop, in order to get the drive heads back to a known location before re-attempting access to the disk...

Should your program disk be free from defects, and your gameplay wise, then perhaps you would make it to Oregon before you died from dysentery.

A number of sequels to The Oregon Trail have been released since my fourth grade days. I've refused to try any of them, because the Apple II version from the mid-to-late 80's is the only true version in my mind. It's the version my inner geek wants to play again, on actual hardware, for the nostalgic value.

The Oregon Trail is also the first computer game that I never finished... Perhaps that's actually why I want another shot at playing this game.

This was originally a speech that I gave at a local Toastmasters club, as part of the Pathways "Communicate Change" project, two days before Computer Reset closed.

Computer Reset was located in Dallas, TX. It was a relic of the pre-to early Internet computing industry, and one of a dying breed of computer surplus stores. It apparently also served as an independent U-Haul dealership… and due to the ill health of its owner, its doors are now shut for good.

To some, the store looks like the mother hoard, containing nothing but the jetsam of others. To others that see past the disorder and chaos, valuable pieces of computing history are buried treasure for the right discoverer. To the family, it’s the beginning of the end of a generation, a business they had to close, and real estate that must be emptied by whatever means to maximize their return.

I was unable to find a website for Computer Reset, but was able to find the owner's sparse LinkedIn profile, which states that he had served as Computer Reset’s “General Counsel” since June of 1986, and described his responsibility as to “Oversee a Used Computer and recycling business and an Independent U-Haul Dealership”. 

YouTuber TX DJ, who is a friend of the owner, did a live stream from Computer Reset on May 21 (the video has since been deleted). TX DJ has known the owner since the 80s, and in fact they first met at this very store.

TX DJ described Computer Reset as a 38,000-foot warehouse that is a treasure trove of all kinds of old computer technology. He admits that while there’s a lot of junk inside that most people are not going to be interested in, he says that there are treasures buried inside as well. There is technology that you’re not going to be able to find anywhere else for the same prices.

I wish I had the chance to see if any accessories for the Yamaha CX5M Music Computer were available in this treasure trove. However, I will never have the opportunity.

Unfortunately, due to the circumstances of the owner's health, the family has made the difficult decision to close the business and sell the real estate. Their agent had advised them that the building will be worth significantly more empty than if they sell it as-is. Unable to continue running the business to sell off inventory, the family had no choice but to hire a disposal firm to remove everything from the building and dispose of the contents however they saw fit.

This treasure trove of vintage computing history may become literal buried-in-a-landfill treasure.

I empathize with you, the vintage computing enthusiast, who was unable to make it to Dallas before Computer Reset closed. I also wish the owner the best at this time and ask that you respect the decision that his family has had to make.

The following are resources to help you continue your journey into live coding with Sonic Pi.

Sonic Pi

Download Sonic Pi, see example scripts, download materials for teaching Sonic Pi in the classroom, and more!

Live Coding Education

This is the Tutorial I used as the basis for a speech I gave at the Piney Mountain Toastmasters (Charlottesville, VA) meeting on August 30, 2017.

Getting Started with Sonic Pi

A learning page on Sonic Pi from the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

Music Note to MIDI Note Table

Use this helpful table to convert MIDI notes found in Sonic Pi scripts you see online to the actual music note. Remember that “Middle C” is in the 4th octave, and is MIDI note 60. (This table was found on this blog post by Andy Murkin. Andy's blog post has nothing to do with Sonic Pi, but is linked here as the citation.)

The MagPi Essentials: Code Music with Sonic Pi

MagPi is the official Raspberry Pi magazine published by the Raspberry Pi Foundation. This is an entire 109 page issue devoted to Sonic Pi, and the PDF version is free to download!

Materials for Classrooms

I thought I would include links to additional classroom learning materials that I found during my research on Sonic Pi.

Sonic Pi Lessons

A 5 lesson plan from the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

Sonic Pi: Live and Coding

An 11-week lesson plan for incorporating Sonic Pi in the classroom. Includes a set of short films and inspirational works by artists. KS3 in the UK roughly equates to Middle School age, for those of us in the States.

Happy Live Coding!