A brief history of my early digital life.

As far back as I can remember, Dad always got us into whatever the latest and greatest technology happened to be.

In 1980, we had a Tandy Color Computer (TRS-80) model one, with a whopping 4k. We even had a newfangled data cassette drive, so that we could record and play back programs off audiocassette. 

Back in the 1980s, there were computer magazines that had programs in the back that you could type in to make your computer do something. I’ll never forget the time that I was typing in a four-page BASIC program and I ran out of memory… Dad always said he meant to get the upgrade to 16k, but he never did get around to the upgrade.

1980 was also the year I talked Dad into getting us an Atari 2600 so I could play Berzerk. At least I think I talked him into it. It’s entirely possible he wanted it just as much as I did because I distinctly remember waking up from a sound sleep late one night to find Dad hunched over the controller, guiding Pac-Man through his dot-filled maze in the dim glow of the tv screen.

In the same time period, we also had a TI-994a, which had some program cartridges you could slide in on the right side. We had a couple of game cartridges and one or two other programs that I never paid much attention to.  There was one music program cartridge that played a jaunty little tune when you locked it into place, and I loved that thing even though all I ever did with it was slide it in to hear the song.

Dad also had a knack for getting us into trial services. Between the years of 1983 and 1986, Knight-Ridder and AT&T piloted an interconnected videotex machine called Viewtron in homes in South Florida. Dad was fascinated and immediately signed us up. This consisted of a box that you plugged into your tv with a little wireless chiclet keyboard (a big deal back then!,) and it dialed into a set of servers. There was weather, shopping, a digital dictionary and encyclopedia, and an early “CB Chat” system. I remember using it to research reports and projects for school, but the part I loved the most was the chat system.  Viewtron was ahead of its time, with all kinds of services that we take for granted now, and it folded after just a few years.

Flash forward to 1984, and Dad once again signed us up for something new and exciting- our family was charter subscribers to the new Prodigy dial-up service. Some of my earliest uses of something like e-mail were done in the message boards on this service, and I made my first “Internet friends” during this era. Alas, I lost touch with all of them when we left Prodigy a few years later, but it was still an interesting time.

In 1986, I got the first computer that was just mine- a Commodore 128. I used it for word processing, to write reports, and I dialed into BBSes with it, but mostly I used it to play games, and I loved that it used the same type of joystick as the Atari 2600. To this day, I still prefer one stick and one button for my gaming- the newer game consoles have far too many sticks and buttons and I can’t ever remember which one of the eight or ten buttons does which action.

My brother had an Atari computer in his room, an Atari 800 I think, and each of us spent time running a BBS on our respective machines for a while.  A BBS is a Bulletin Board System, and these were popular when computers used separate modems to dial out on a telephone line.  Most BBS setups had message boards, some games which were called Doors for some reason, and a few other things.  Some allowed the sharing of files, and some were set up as multi-node, which meant you could have multiple people connected and those people could talk to each other- this was an expensive setup because each node required its own phone line.  Another early feature of BBS life was FIDOnet, an early form of long distance messaging where the FIDOnet nodes would call one another and messages would be sent from node to node to reach users across long distances.   I loved running a BBS in the early 1980s, partly because I loved that sense of community, and partly because I loved being able to jump in and chat with whoever happened to be on my computer at the time.

Here we are, more than three decades (and dozens of new computer systems) later, on what would have been Dad’s 81st birthday. He used to say that he wished he would have paid more attention and learned more technology when we had all those computers in the house all those years ago, but I think he did just fine. 

I started a new job about two months ago, doing some pretty neat stuff with a great technology company, and I can’t help but wonder if my life would have taken a very different path if Dad hadn’t encouraged my fascination with technology so much over the years.  

What was your first computer?

Singular Sensation

During the summer before my 10th grade year, my father and my brothers and I all climbed into dad’s 1986 Honda Accord, and hauled ourselves up the interstate highway into New York.  We stopped briefly to see dad’s cousin in Hyde Park, to visit dad’s cousin near the FDR Estate.  My flawed thirty-years-ago memory insists that dad’s cousin was a care-taker of the FDR estate, but I may not be remembering that correctly.

Ultimately, this trip took us into the city of New York.  We walked through central park more than once, due to mild lost-ness, and we also took in a show.  We took in this show:

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This was the original run of A Chorus Line, which started on July 25, 1975, and was still going strong in 1987 when my brothers and I saw it in 1987.  I’m pretty sure dad was behind the camera on this one, because he was definitely with us.

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A Chorus Line on Broadway ran until April 28, 1990.  When it ended its nearly fifteen year run, the Schubert theater had held more than 6,000 showings.  It held the honor of being the longest running show on Broadway, until Cats took the new record seven years later.  (Cats has since lost the title to the Phantom of the Opera.  There’s always something bigger.)

On the last day that A Chorus Line was running on Broadway, another much smaller production was doing its second to last day: Santaluces Community High School, in Lantana, Florida.

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In this production, a certain seventeen-year-old future blogger was cast in the role of Gregory Gardner.  Wikipedia hilariously describes the role as, “a sassy Jewish gay man who divulges his first experience with a woman.”

When I was a senior in high school, I didn’t know anything about gay people, so I had no idea that playing a gay person on a high school stage in 1990 was a big deal until years later.  What I did know was that I’m a mediocre tap dancer at best, and that I looked damn good in gold lamé.

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I’ve been able to keep track of a few of the cast and crew members over the years, mostly through the evil web of Facebook.  A precious few of the folks in this photograph have been excellent friends to me for the entirety of the twenty-six years since the show (and high school) ended for me.  If you know where to look, my good friend, fellow blogger, and Huffington Post overnight editor Jade Walker is in the cast photo below.

As for me, I’m in the front row, fifth from the left.  And I still think I look good in gold lamé.

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What was the first musical you saw on stage?  If you were in drama in school, what was the first show in which you took the stage?

Editor’s Note:  I’m attempting to blog every day in November with CheerPeppers.  I don’t expect to succeed because life be crazy, but any blogging in excess of my previous post-free month is a win, right?

Memories are a tricky thing.

I was searching my computer for a specific photo because I thought a story about that photo would make a good blog post.  I couldn’t find the photo that I was looking for, but I did find this one, and it’s amazing.

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Yesiree bob, what we have here is a vintage Olan Mills studio shot of the Glassman Boys.  My older brothers Scott and Jonathan, and me in the most ridiculous shirt the 1970s could possibly throw up around my neck.  There’s another one with the three of us and our parents, but not my sister-  I assume this is when Michelle was off at college.

Here’s the thing about this photo that is the most interesting to me:  I don’t remember it.  I don’t even remember going to this photo session a little tiny bit.     I didn’t even know I had this file on my computer until just a few minutes before I started writing this post.

I know that I was about ten years old here, because I was wearing the same horrible Art Deco shirt in my 1982 elementary school class photo.  (Seriously, it looks like Andy Warhol and Piet Mondrian got drunk together and threw up on a canvas!)

Guess who didn't fully understand the "cowboys and indians" theme they wanted for class photos that year?
Guess who didn’t fully understand the “dress up as cowboys and indians” theme they wanted for class photos that year?   Yup, that would be me!

I do remember another studio photograph that was taken with my siblings, including my sister-  that one is indelibly burned into my brain for two reasons-  the first is that I actually had a copy of that one all these years, whereas the sibling picture up above is actually new to me.  The second reason the other one is far more memorable is that my sister drove us to and from the studio, and on the way home a neighborhood girl chased a ball into the street in front of our car.  The girl survived, but I remember her having a nearly full body cast for a while after.  Michelle was traumatized, naturally, because running over a person is scary and stressful. (Or so I imagine.)

My memory of the times before high school is fragmented at best.  I’m not really sure why that is.  Some people have really detailed memories of their childhood, but the only things I remember clearly tend to have to do with times that I was either very embarrassed, very angry, or with very dear friends.    Memory is weird that way.

Speaking of memory, I have no idea what my original idea was for the primary thread of this post, so I’ll wrap up with another childhood memory.  This one is more funny than traumatic.

In the late 1970s, my brothers had a giant Habitrail with a bunch of gerbils in it.  For the uninitiated, Habitrail is this system of tubes and spires that allows you to take any standard sized fish tank and make it a playground kingdom for gerbils.    It’s changed over the years, but do a Google Image search and you can get a basic idea of what a Habitrail looks like.

I don’t remember what all of the Gerbil’s names were, but I know that one of them was named Chip.  I know this, because at a few minutes before 8pm one night, one brother says to the other, “Let’s go watch CHiPs.”  The Larry Wilcox/Erik Estrada show premiered when I was about five years old, and I didn’t watch nearly as much television back then.  For one thing, there were only about a dozen channels between the VHF and UHF dials, and we didn’t have cable television yet because it was still the 1970s.

“Let’s go watch CHiPs,” said my brother, and I pointed to the Habitrail and responded in the only way that made any sense to my tiny brain at the time:

“But why are you going in there?  Chip’s right here!”

What’s the earliest thing you remember?

Editor’s Note:  I’m attempting to blog every day in November with CheerPeppers.  I don’t expect to succeed because life be crazy, but any blogging in excess of my previous post-free month is a win, right?