The time I made a rocket fly with BASIC

I am a child of the ’80s. That means that a communication device you could carry in your pocket and allowed you to talk to anyone on the planet was a thing reserved for Captain Kirk. It also means that the first time I sat down at a computer, it was a blue screen with white text and one language: BASIC.

I was of the first generation to have computers in school. My eighth-grade class spent about a week learning BASIC on what were probably Commodore 64s. The code was simple and mostly what we did was set up GOTO PRINT and IF… THEN statements. After following along with the teacher, we were allowed to play around on our own. The first thing I did was create an image of a giant rocket out of text and symbols, then made it repeatedly fly up the screen. I almost didn’t get to finish it before class was over, and I just got it to fly a couple of times before they told us to shut down. I remember some of the kids in my class flipped out at my rocket. It was really easy, although it took a long time to write it.

A few weeks later, I went with my dad to work on a Saturday. He worked at what was then Sky Harbor airport in Phoenix, AZ. He worked for Republic Airlines and had access to computers that held reservation and manifest data. I asked if I could use one of the terminals and he let me – after first logging out of the network system. It didn’t take long to figure out that the computers also ran BASIC. Score! I took my time setting up my rocket again while my dad worked.

Just as I finished, my dad came over to tell me it was time to go. He asked what picture I was making and I said it was a rocket, but watch this. I ran the program and my rocket started flying up the screen. My dad flipped out just like the kids in school, but I think his first concern was that I did something crazy to the terminal that might affect the other systems. Once he realized that it was limited to just my terminal, he relaxed. Later at home that night I heard him telling my mom what I had done and how amazed he was.

It took me a long time to get to work in computers again. We never had one at home and in my art school, there was only one Mac that was reserved for senior students (I never got that far). In the Air Force, I worked in cargo and was able to learn the computer manifest system, and later our office got a PC. I didn’t actually do any more coding until 1996 when I got into HTML and started building websites.

To this day, when I’m working in CSS, JavaScript, Python, or any other language, it’s like I’m 13 again and making a rocket fly.


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