I’ve been reading What the Dormouse Said (How the Sixties Counterculture Shaped the Personal Computer Industry), and it’s bringing back some memories. Ok, so most of this stuff is older than I am, but there are a few connections, so it’s reminiscing time. I’ve said some of this before, I believe, so feel free to wander on. This is me just thinking aloud.
I was taking some computer science classes because I’d found out that biology was rote memorization and cut-throat medical (which I did not want to do; I was hoping for marine bio), and a buddy was doing it. Given that I was at UCSD at the time, I naturally learned UCSD Pascal (as well as Fortran, which I fortunately forgot almost immediately, and Mixal likewise). I enjoyed algorithms, however, and could solve problems. I also was enchanted with AI (despite my first prof). And I was tutoring for some extra pocket money, math and science (even classes I hadn’t taken yet!).
Then I got a job doing the computer support for the office that did the tutoring (literally carrying decks of cards in Algol to run through the computer center). And a light went off; computers for learning! There was no major then at my school, but there was a program to design my own major, and I found a couple of professors willing to serve as my advisors (thank you, Hugh Mehan and Jim Levin). They even let me work on a project with them (email for classroom discussion, circa 1978; we had ARPANET, the predecessor to the internet). It eventually even got published as a journal article.
I called all over the country, trying to find someone who needed a person interested in computer learning. I even interviewed at Xerox PARC with John Seely Brown, courtesy of Tom Malone (I didn’t get the job; they wanted something I’d done but I didn’t know their term for it!). After a small job doing some statistical work for a research project, I managed to get a job designing and programming educational computer games for DesignWare (you can still play some of the products here, the magic of the internet). We went from Basic to Forth (for speed and small size), though I later moved away from coding with the demise of HyperCard ;).
And the main connection to the cool stuff, besides the interview at PARC, was visiting the West Coast Computer Faire. It was cool in and of itself, but there I met David Suess, who along with Bill Bowman was starting Spinnaker, a company to do home educational software. DesignWare had been doing games to go along with publisher offerings, and I was pushing the home market. After a conversation, I introduced David to my boss Jim Schuyler (Sky) and off we went. As a reward, I got to do FaceMaker. Eventually, DesignWare started doing it’s own titles, and I also did Spellicopter and Creature Creator before I realized I wanted to go back to grad school.
Along the way I also read Byte magazine and tracked efforts like SmallTalk and folks like Alan Kay. I’ve subsequently had the pleasure to meet him, as well as Doug Engelbart and Ted Nelson, so I’ve somewhat closed the loop on those heady days. There’s much more between then and now, but that’s enough for one post. And most of my counterculture experiences were behind me by that time, so I didn’t really get a chance to see those connections, but it was an exciting time, and a great exposure to the possibilities.