Untroductuon to UT, 1970s-style

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Flashback to the earliest days of desktop computing, when the high school where this pilot fish is a student gets its first-ever computer: a Sol-20.

"One of the math teachers, Jack McCabe, had worked long and hard convincing the school to purchase it," says fish.

"Since the school didn't really know what to do with it, it was kept on a cart in Mr. McCabe's classroom, along with the little portable black-and-white television that acted as the monitor, and the cassette tape recorder that was for data and program storage."

Every day after school, a group of future techies gather in the classroom to learn programing -- which, for the Sol-20, involves a very primitive form of Basic. And because there's only one keyboard, computer time is first-come-first-served.

One day a student named Fred wants to type in a huge game program from a computer magazine. He gets to the computer first, and begins typing.

As others arrive, there's nothing to do, so they quickly become bored and begin what turns into a lively discussion of Peter Sellers movies.

"Fred, who fancied himself a touch typist, kept his eyes on the magazine but kept his ears on our conversation," fish says.

"After a very long time, Fred finished typing. We all gathered around the tiny TV to see the fruits of his labor. He typed RUN, hit the Return key...and immediately got a syntax error."

Scrolling to the offending line, Fred discovers he typed PRUNT instead of PRINT. It's easily fixed, and he runs the program again.

That generates another syntax error on the very next line -- and it's another PRUNT command.

Turns out Fred has consistently typed PRUNT in place of PRINT all the way through the gigantic program. And because it's a text-based game, there are lots of PRUNT statements.

And because it really is a primitive version of Basic, there's no capability to automatically search for and replace those mistyped commands -- much less a way to redefine PRUNT to do what PRINT does. Fred has to go through the entire program line by line to correct his spelling.

"While we laughed at him, of course," says fish. "We didn't learn much that day, although Fred may have learned to pay more attention to what he was typing.

"I don't know what everyone else eventually did with their computer skills, but I became a software developer. Thank you, Mr. McCabe."

Sharky would be thankful for your true tale of IT life. Send it to me at sharky@computerworld.com, and you'll snag a snazzy Shark shirt if I use it. Comment on today's tale at Sharky's Google+ community, and read thousands of great old tales in the Sharkives.

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