Thursday, October 13, 2005

0100 1000 0100 1001 World

“Computers,“ my grandfather, Jim Jim, said. “The future is computers.“

We were 11 at the time, in fifth grade, and we didn’t know much about computers, but we knew, if Jim Jim said something, it was probably true. He didn’t make pronouncements often, and though he kept a stern eye on us at each meal to make sure we practiced best table manners, after dinner we were more likely to be found leaning against his knees while he read the economic news and we read back issues of Washington Post cartoons, than listening to any lectures.

But Jim Jim was an oracle for us, nonetheless. He was the only non-Southerner in our entire extended family, and though he’d moved from California nearly fifty years before, he still had a quickness and business sense about him which seemed to us to hearken from the cool, rational, North.

So we took this advice to heart, my sister and me. We volunteered to work on a computer badge for our Girl Scout troop, memorizing the binary code for the alphabet and visiting a nearby university to watch a super computer at work. To encourage us, Jim Jim bought us our first computer, a Commodore 64, and night after night Ellen and I would take turns typing in pages of code that the computer magazine promised would turn into a game or music program. At camp while other kids were canoeing and horse back riding, we studied BASIC, and in middle school I became the system administrator, of sorts, for our school’s computer room (whenever something didn’t work I’d turn off the computer and hard reboot, it almost always worked and I never could figure out why the teachers couldn’t remember this simple trick. But they didn’t, so my status as guru for nothing was early on established).

Then I picked up the violin and discovered chamber music and orchestras, and for years I didn’t think of a computer as anything more than a word processor, number cruncher, paper printer and game console. It wasn’t until 1994, in graduate school, when I had the chance to start building websites for the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, that I caught the bug again. But that's another story.

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