While I was in middle school, we received an assignment to write a fictional short story. I remember this assignment was given around the time when we had to research a company, and I had recently received a copy of Apple's Annual Report in the mail.
I decided to write a story about Apple Computer that included them having a secret submarine that could dock at their corporate headquarters:
Yeah, about that: looks like I should have consulted a map first, as Cupertino, California is land-locked...
Maybe Apple had a secret underwater tunnel from the San Francisco Bay to their headquarters... they could have had a secret submarine after all!
In middle school, we had a computer lab of Macintosh LC computers, and a teacher that knew how to keep the lab running smoothly. Warranty issues, though, had to go through an Apple Authorized Service Provider.
I remember one of my classmates having an issue on the LC they were using. I don't remember what the issue was, only that it must have been a warranty issue.
A few days later, that LC was gone from the lab. Our teacher commented on the repair status: the technician said the computer needed a "Function Level Reset".
In the pause between his two sentences, I'm already thinking that sounded like a made-up repair.
Sure enough, our teacher continued commenting that he has never heard of a "Function Level Reset".
To this day, I've still never heard of a "Function Level Reset" in the context of computer repair. (I even checked the Macintosh LC service manual, it's not in there.) All I've been able to figure is that this technician came up with a fancy name for "software restore"...
I don’t remember what led me to finding a BASIC programming book for children during one fortuitous trip to the public library. It might have happened by accident, or because I was looking for a book on the next shelf over. But I remember checking it out and taking it to school a number of times.
It was a fascinating concept to my fifth-grade mind: you can write your own programs for the computer, not just run programs from the box of disks beside it!
And the best part about the book? It says that the programs in the book will work on the Apple II+ or the Apple IIe. This was great, because there was an Apple IIe in our classroom, and it was the easiest to get time to use! While I still wanted time on the Macintosh LC, that Apple IIe became my favorite as I still had programs to try from the book.
Note that our computer time happened at the end of the school day, if there was time left over after the daily lesson plans were completed. And at some point, my teacher started a weekly chart of who could use which computer on which day of the week when time permitted, to be updated monthly... only for her to stop updating it several months later (I was stuck with Apple IIe time). Bad for my desire to explore the Macintosh, but good for my exploration of BASIC programming.
My time with that yellow book started me down a path to wanting to learn more about computers... but the history doesn't end there.
Sometime in the past few years, I started thinking about that yellow book, and wanted to locate a copy of it for posterity. I couldn't remember the exact title or the author — all I could remember was that this yellow book was a BASIC programming book for children from the early-to-mid 80's, and that this book covered six different computers, including the Apple IIe, the Commodore 64, the TI 99/A, the TRS-80, something from Atari, and something from Timex Sinclair.
Unfortunately, I had forgotten that the book actually covered six different manufacturers, which complicated my efforts to find the book. And yes, my first check was of the library's online catalog for books on BASIC, just in case they still had the book. (Nope.)
About a year ago, after discovering that the Internet Archive has archives of computing-related printed materials, I decided to try searching their catalog and scrolling through the results, all in the hopes that I saw a familiar-looking cover. Success at last!
I once again know the title of that yellow book from the library: BASIC Programming for Kids by Roz Ault. And I can share that book with you, right here!
And if you happen to know Roz Ault, let her know that I said thank you for writing that book.
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.