My First Experience with Programming

During my second year of college I took an introductory course in psychology. It was a large class that met for lectures in a large auditorium. The labs were held in smaller groups and presided over by graduate assistants. They had recorded the lectures and made them available in the library so that if you missed the live lecture you could make it up at your convenience by listening to the recording.

They had also created computer based instructional material on a new system that was also available in the library. The system was called Plato. Plato was a mainframe based program that ran on a computer at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. The system supported numerous graphical terminals that could be connected remotely via modems and phone lines.

I was so impressed with the system that I applied for a user account on it. When it was granted, I found a user who was a computer science major and had program space allotted on the system and befriended him. He gave me a portion of his programming space to use. I bought the book on Tutor, the language in which Plato was programmed and set about teaching myself to program.

Tutor was an interesting language. It was similar in some ways to Fortran and in others to Basic. It had features that were unique to it, at the time at least. One of the most interesting features was the ability to take a list of words and phrases and match them to an arbitrary block of text allowing authors of instructional material to automatically score answers to essay questions.

The terminal on the system had a resolution of 1024 pixels wide by 768 pixels high. It was a monochrome plasma display. The pixels were orange when they were lit and brownish black when they were dark. The display had a programmable character generator so you could create custom characters in addition to the standard alphabet. This allowed for text that was displayed in different alphabets as well as character based graphics. It was also capable of line graphics.

The screen was touch sensitive so you could point to items on the screen to select them. The keyboard had more keys on it than a standard typewriter keyboard. This included several special function keys as well as special shift keys that allowed for extensive keyboard command short cuts.

I enlisted the aid of my wife at the time to design a custom character set that allowed me to animate a simple drawing of a halloween cat walking across the screen. This thrilled me that I was able to use the computer to make a programmed animation.

Later the next term, the local administrator of the Plato user accounts conducted an audit of the programming space allocation. My computer scientist friend had accounts on other computers on campus and hadn’t spent much time on Plato. He had not done any curriculum related work with his portion of his account.

I, on the other hand, was a cinema and photography major. My animated cat was directly related to my curriculum and ended up saving my friend’s (and my) programming space.

The system was lots of fun. It had a user to user message system. It had discussion threads, and it had a bunch of multi-user games. For example, it had a multi-user implementation of Star Trek. It had a dog fighting game. It had a game called Empire where you tried to conquer the world. These games were often written by users.

A few years ago I was Googling around on the internet and discovered that someone had written a Plato emulator that ran on the internet and an emulator of the terminal that ran on Windows, Macs, and Linux machines. There were a bunch of videos about the system on You Tube. I downloaded the terminal emulator and requested an account on the system. It was interesting to revisit my first experience with computers. It reminded me of why I had become so passionate about them.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

The Closest Thing to Writer’s Block that I Get Anymore

For a month I have written about two thousand words a day. Three quarters of those words comprised the draft of my novel. The rest were blog posts. After thirty days of writing, I find myself struggling to think of topics for my blog.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had writer’s block. That may be because I haven’t let the fact that I couldn’t think of anything interesting to write about stop me from writing about stuff that would bore a statue to tears. I’ve been focused on producing a quantity of words without considering the quality of words.

The rationale behind that strategy is that if you write enough you will eventually get better at it. While this is true it still doesn’t change the fact that at some point you have to start writing about things that you care about, things that mean something to you.

So, let’s make a short list. At the top of the list is my family, my pets, and my friends. I feel like that writing about my family or friends, at least without disguising them in the cloak of fiction, is too intimate. My pets are cute and often funny. But they don’t have much of a dynamic range of emotional complexity.

Next on my list are my geeky hobbies, writing, programming, building electronic gadgets, and ham radio. These actually are a pretty good source of ideas to blog about. They don’t offer much in the way of dramatic content or plot though. Maybe a blog doesn’t need those attributes. I do believe that all writing is story telling at its  heart though. That poses the challenge of writing about these seemingly factual topics in an entertaining way by telling a story or even adding an element of humor.

I have blogged about the experience of participating in the NaNoWriMo challenge. I seem to learn something new every time I participate. I expect that will continue with every writing project that I undertake, whether it is under the auspices of NaNoWriMo or not. It certainly makes sense for me to share some of those insights as they occur to me. It also serves to help me remember them when I have recorded them as blog posts.

I have blogged about computers and programming and the history of computers and software development as it unfolded during my career. I think this kind of blog post is an important way to contribute to the historical record. That is assuming it doesn’t just evaporate as soon as I die.

I guess my final thought on the matter is that I shouldn’t wait until I sit down to write a blog post to start trying to come up with an idea. Instead, I should make a list of ideas for blog posts and add to it as I think of more ideas.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

An Eventful Day

I have finished NaNoWriMo with a word count of 50035. That was a long haul. I managed to finish writing and get my word count certified so I have officially “won”. I am not pleased with the first draft but I understand that is a typical reaction upon finishing a first draft.

The next step is to start editing my novel from 2014. I’m going to let this one sit for a while before I try to evaluate it. I’m excited to get back to the older novel. I have some good ideas for cleaning it up.

Also, I managed to get my new laptop mostly set up. There was a big effort to get the iTunes situation straightened out. While I did that I made good use of the time installing various other packages that I needed.

Then, on top of everything else, we had a string of tornado warnings so I was monitoring the ham radio emergency weather network. It looks like there may be more rough weather tomorrow.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

A Pitiful Excuse for a Blog Post

I’m writing this blog post on my new MacBook Pro. It is a Ferrari of a laptop. It didn’t arrive until around seven this evening. It was raining. The traffic was congested. Who knows why it took so long. I set it up while the wildings stormed Castle Black (a reference to Game of Thrones) on TV.

I took a brief break to move to the bedroom. I haven’t had a laptop for some time. I’ve never had a laptop that was so comfortable to use anywhere. It is light and cool and the keyboard has a nice feel to it.

When one has tools as nice as this, one feels an obligation to use it to craft truly outstanding work. I’m afraid I’ve fallen somewhat short of the mark tonight. I am resolved to do better for my next post. But for tonight, I’m just going to go with what I’ve got.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

Adolescence Begins

Nineteen sixty nine was a landmark year. It was the year of the summer of love, Woodstock, and the year that Crosby, Stills, and Nash formed. It was the year that I turned fourteen. It was the year that I started high school. These were all important pivot points in my development.

The summer of love was the height of the hippie movement. I have always considered myself a hippie. Through four years in the Army, and thirty six years working as part of the industrial/military complex, as we so colorfully called it, I still considered myself a hippie.

Woodstock was the cultural event of the decade. Henry the Fifth’s St. Crispen’s day speech in Shakespeare’s Henry V captures the essence of how those of us that weren’t at Woodstock felt about missing it, i.e. “we counted our manhood cheap”. It launched the careers of so many bands, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Canned Heat, Sly and the family Stone, and others too numerous to mention.

Crosby, Stills, and Nash and sometimes Young are still affecting my musical vocabulary to this day. I study their music in an attempt to fathom the art of the rock ballad. So many of the things that happened to me later in life had echoes of Crosby, Stills, and Nash entwined with it. When Skip and I did our duo act, their songs comprised a significant portion of our repertoire, when I was in the Army in Germany their music was on all the stereos all the time, and when I got out of the Army and started working in the Computer industry, their music was still a major part of our daily soundtrack.

I started high school at Lone Oak High School in Lone Oak, Kentucky that year. My mother taught English there and my aunt taught Art there. I had my first introduction to choral music in A Capella Choir. I took music theory there. I learned to play the trombone there. I learned to debate there.

And then, after my sophomore year, we moved to Murphysboro, Illinois. But that was the beginning of another chapter in my life. One that would be influenced by that golden year of nineteen sixty nine but that would change my story again, bending it in yet another direction.

This blog post isn’t a portrait, it’s an impressionistic painting. It is an attempt to capture the flavor and emotions associated with this time in my life, not to chronicle the details of what happened. I don’t know if I could remember them well enough to adequately report what actually happened.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

I Know How Moses Felt

Tonight my new MacBook Pro that I ordered in October is sitting in the UPS warehouse in Huntsville. Thanks to the magic of the internet and UPS: Tracking software, I followed it from China to Shanghai, to Anchorage, AK, to Louisville, KY, to Nashville, TN, and finally, at 2:09AM this morning, to Huntsville, AL. It will sit there until Monday when it will be put on the truck for delivery.

To say that I am frustrated is an understatement. I have a perfectly good computer. It is serving me well for the things that I use it for every day. I read my email. I record my vitals. I write my words, which for the past month has entailed writing a minimum of 1667 words per day on a novel. I use it to write my blog post. I occasionally use it to write software.

The MacBook Pro will allow me to do all that plus more. It will allow me to record music with Garage Band, edit video with iMovie, develop iOS, macOS, tvOS, and watchOS software in Swift using the XCode IDE. It will allow me to do all that anywhere I want to take it. It is the lightest, most capable laptop Apple has ever made.

And yet it sits in the UPS warehouse until Monday. I will live. I will enjoy it when it comes but I will do other things until then. But I will be frustrated, thinking about how close it is and yet still not here.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.

I’m Thankful

My father in law gave me a half a box of tomatoes yesterday. About half of them were a little bit green so I put them in the window to ripen. The other half were extremely ripe. So, I got busy. I washed them and chopped them up and then mashed them. I diced a large onion, four miniature bell peppers of various colors, two jalapenos, two cloves of garlic, chopped about six stems of cilantro, juiced  one lemon and one lime,  a half a tablespoon of salt.

That was about an hour of chopping. I sealed it all in a big bowl and put it in the refrigerator to marinate. It will be good tomorrow and better as the week progresses. I love to make fresh salsa. I used to eat it with chips. Now, I eat it instead of salad dressing. I eat it on baked potatoes. I eat it with carrots and celery.

I continue to lose weight. I’m hovering around 240 now. I expect to drop into the 230s this next week. I’ve been losing about five pounds a week. It’s not a straight line. There is a good bit of oscillation up and down. The important thing is that the downward swings are larger than the upward swings.

I counted Thanksgiving as a cheat day. I allowed myself a single bite of turkey, just for the flavor. I didn’t kibitz about butter in the mashed potatoes or sour cream and bread crumbs in the squash casserole. And I totally ignored the fact that the dressing had way to much processed flour in it. I had a salad for dinner and I still managed to lose a pound yesterday.

Today I was more or less back on the program. I did have a couple of pieces of Pam’s low sugar pumpkin pie and a serving of the left over squash casserole. I’ll be more careful about what I eat tomorrow.

Tonight we had dinner with friends. All things considered, I consider myself very blessed. I am thankful for good food, good friends, family and all  the other great things in my life. I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving and survived black Friday.

Sweet dreams, don’t forget to tell the ones you love that you love them, and most important of all, be kind.