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Back to the BASIC

My Programming Autobiography, Part 1

By Rex Goode

Me at 12

When I was 12, I lived in Flagstaff, Arizona. It was a college town. We lived first on the west side and I went to Marshall Elementary. That would have been around 1968.

One of my classmates was a particularly cerebral young man whose father worked at Lowell Observatory on the hills above the town. I was thrilled to be invited by this friend to visit his father’s work and see the computer. My friend carried a cardboard box, which I later found out was a computer program he was writing, stored on a stack of punched cards.How I envied him. To be honest, I couldn’t tell you today what the computer looked like or even the room that housed it. I only remember that kid and his cardboard box and the envy I felt.

I was drawn to him because I was a pretty smart kid myself, but I didn’t come from a family that would have had access to something like a computer. Programming computers or even going to college to learn how seemed an impossible dream, so I settled for wanting to be a lawyer.

About five years passed and I found myself living in Portland, Oregon. I moved into an area that put me within the boundaries of John Adams High School. Adams High was not long for this world, but it was an interesting school. It was an early version of the alternative school. It had all sorts of strange classes I could take. The first one I signed up for was called, “Alienation,” some kind of psychobabble thing about what it feels like to be different. It sure applied to me.

The other class I got to take was called, “Computer Math,” taught by a Mr. Rea. Now, at Adams High School in 1972, you didn’t call your teachers things like Mr. Rea. My teachers were people like Barbara for Algebra, Mary for “Writing to be Read,” and Bob for Computer math.

They didn’t have a whole computer at the school. There was a terminal with teletype. I stored my first program on a roll of white paper tape with holes punched in it. The language was BASIC.

I’m trying to remember where I first learned BASIC. It was somewhere after my visit to Lowell Observatory and before my arrival at Adams High School. I think I learned it from a book I checked out. Learning a computer language without a computer to try it on is a difficult thing. Needless to say, I didn’t know it very well by the time I arrived in Bob’s class.

I couldn’t tell you what my first BASIC program did. Probably not something very significant, but to me, it was like a miracle. I carried that program around in my pocket, wrapped up and held safe by a rubber band. When I wanted to run it, I would sit at the terminal, feed the end of it into the reader, punch a couple of buttons, probably a “LOAD” command, and it would load. I would type the command, “RUN”, and my program ran. If I made any changes, I would “SAVE” it and get a new tape to wrap tight and put in my pocket.

It was all very fun, but still not something I thought I could make into a career. My senior year at Adams High School was the beginning of a dichotomy I have faced the rest of my life. I signed up for a class called Medical Careers, taught by Mrs. Ann La Salle, “Ann” of course.

Part of that course was to go to Providence Hospital in Portland and work at a real job. First, we had to learn all sorts of stuff about things like anatomy, sterility, handwashing, gowning, biology, using a sphygmomanometer and just about anything to do with working in a hospital. It was a great deal of fun.

Sphygmomanometer AKA Blood Pressure Cuff

Ann would take each student individually and assess what department in the hospital we would fit into best. I envied those who got to work in the operating room (OR). I thought I could do that. Most of the students ended up in places at the hospital where they got to wear scrubs. I envied that.

I was starting to wonder where I was going to end up. Most people were being assigned somewhere and I was still following Ann around the hospital. Days went by and those of us still unassigned were walking around with Ann. She showed her second-to-the-last student to her assignment and then looked at me.

She said, “I have something special for you. As I’ve observed you these past few weeks, you seem to be the kind of person who is really accepting and compassionate towards other people. If I had any problems, you’re just the kind of person I would want to tell them too. If I were to pick out a medical career for you, it would be as a psychologist or a hospital chaplain. Come with me.”

We walked into the Pastoral Care department and I was assigned to work under the direction of the chaplain, a Roman Catholic Priest. Ann knew that I was  a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint (LDS), and that I was a priest. I had explained to her that there was really no comparison to a Mormon Priest and a Catholic Priest in terms of function, and especially education. She said she understood, but nevertheless, I was to learn how to be a caring and helpful person in a hospital.

It was difficult for me. I had not been active in the Church for a long time. I had only been back to church and ordained a priest a couple of months before. What was even more difficult was that I didn’t know how to talk to a sick person in a hospital bed. My daily task was to go to the main desk, get a list of every patient in the hospital who listed LDS as their religious preference and talk to them, see if I could do anything for them, contact their religious leaders or something.

What Ann didn’t know was that an active Latter-day Saint is not likely to end up in a hospital room without their religious leaders already knowing and, hopefully, no shortage of fellow church members seeing to their needs. People were willing to talk to me, if not in too much discomfort, but I certainly never got a request for me to do something for them. I would have a pleasant, brief conversation and leave. If I had any time left on my shift, I would go to the chapel and sit and pray. That’s not a bad thing to do, but I didn’t need a chapel in a hospital to do it.

To be continued… A Nerd is Born!

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4 Responses to “Back to the BASIC”

  1. Melissa said:

    Are you going to mention trying to teach your very young daughter Basic? Thanks to you I still know how to write a loop. Thanks Dad!

  2. Rex Goode said:

    Actually, I forgot about that. I was too busy recovering from the frustration of trying to teach it to your mother and grandmother. Ahhhhhhh!!!!!

  3. Steve said:

    Good heavens, that’s a flashback to our semi-shared past. I will, however, steadfastly refuse to admit I ever knew BASIC.

    I suspect I used the same computer in high school you did, or something close. We had TTYs which dialed into the school district’s HP2000 timesharing system and their Honeywell mainframe. At least that’s what we had when I got there, there were enough years that they might have upgraded something inbetween but then again this is the ESD we’re talking about.

    But I recall a lot of time in June every year spent saving all our programs to paper tape before the district wiped everything clean over the summer. 🙂

  4. Rex Goode » Flexibility said:

    […] best thing I did was that I went back to school. If you read Back to the BASIC, you will hopefully remember my high school Medical Careers teacher who thought I should become a […]

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