Thursday, August 21, 2008

Pioneer Geeks

Have you seen the movie Armageddon? Do you remember the scene in which Bruce Willis' ragtag crew-turned astronaut heroes march towards the ship that will launch their mission to save the earth? Who woulda thunk it?

Back in the summer of 1970 a different crew set out from Dorsey High to be pioneers of geekdom at Hamilton High for a summer session devoted to computer programming.

Yes, before "PC" stood for the sublime Personal Computer or ridiculous Politically Correct, when program instructions were punched onto cards and fed into a reader to be executed by a massive mainframe computer whose processing power was dwarfed by today's microprocessors a googleith of its size, Keith Honda, Randy Onishi, Norman Senzaki, Sharon Kaneko, another girl who my brain is too fizzled out to remember, and yours truly marched into the computer lab that first day of summer school to be charter members of the computer generation.

Who else did us po' ghetto folks from the 'hood encounter? Some of the strangest human beings imaginable, who I thought commuted between ours and another unseen dimension. Students for whom no parallel existed at Dorsey. True wireheads. After watching Men in Black I'm thinking maybe they could have been disguised.


Why we happened to be selected from Dorsey I have no idea. I mean, none of us were dumb; in fact Sharon went on to be our class co-valedictorian and I know Norman, Randy and Keith were very intelligent. But I don't think any of us were eggheads and that was definitely the trait that characterized pretty much everyone else in that class.

It was for the most part a free-form class. That is, students were not regimented with seating charts and roll call and such formalities; instead they were like today's Verizon customers, free to roam about and do their thing, devising computer programs and then taking turns at the keyboard to punch the instructions onto the card. Back in those days if you made a typing mistake, you had to repunch the card - there was no error correction.

So how did the ragtag band from Dorsey fare? To their credit, Sharon and the other girl diligently applied themselves to the tasks. I'm afraid us guys became intoxicated with the freedom afforded us, however. Part of the time we spent playing hearts in one of the side rooms, along with the geniuses. Thing is, these other guys could afford to play hearts because whipping up a computer program was small potatoes for them, leaving enough spare time to engage in playtime.

We spent another large chunk of time eating hamburgers on the lawn in front of the school, hamburgers we had gotten from the stand across the street whose name I have completely forgotten.

And we did devote part of our time to actually trying to tackle our assignments but all that goofing off took its toll causing us to fall further behind.

Now, I don't remember my grade or anyone else's and I can only speak for myself but at that point in time I was pretty lost in the class. I wasn't particularly interested in what was going on and wasn't disciplined enough to force myself to study. Because of my own doing, I learned very little that summer and saw the class as just another academic drag on me.

Little did I know that was the entrance to the future. Many times thereafter I've looked back on that summer and wondered what would have happened if I'd applied myself and actually got involved early on in the world of computer programming. Years later, in the latter part of the 1980's when our company purchased a couple of IBM XT-286's (ooh, so powerful, with 256kb of RAM and a whopper 20 MB hard drive), the lightbulb went on in my head and I've been a computer fanatic ever since. I'd be lost without them!

But back in those days when we had the opportunity to be pioneer geeks, many of us blew it. I sure did. Still, my wondering about what might have been is tempered with my knowing that it wasn't the right time for me. There's a time and a place for everything and I lacked the mindset that summer to take advantage of what was being put on the plate before us.

Like I wrote in the first post for this blog, there's a time for everything, a season for every activity under heaven. That summer at Hamilton was the time to enjoy a season of some days heading over to Florence's house with Duane to shoot pool or just hang out, play tennis, goof off, what have you. You just can't push it. Makes for some good stories to tell, though!

No comments: