981 - Tech Memories
Monday, May 25, 2009
Tom Merritt, Natali del Conte, Jason Howell
Jason Howell
Brian Cooley, Brian Tong

It's Memorial Day in the United States, and to celebrate the more literal definition of Memorial, we all share a personal tech-related story.

Brian Tong's story: He was working at an Apple Store and was asked to assist an Apple tech in fixing a customer's printer. They fixed the printer, but several print jobs had been queued and immediately began printing. The first page finished printing, and there were clearly-visible body shapes on the page. "The guy runs behind the counter, grabs the paper, and just crumples it up!" Tong says.

Brian Cooley's story: His story is of the Columbia space shuttle landing. He describes the awe-inspiring shots of the shuttle descending through Earth's atmosphere, touching down at the landing site, and proudly displaying the giant letters "United States" as a symbol of true accomplishment. "I love the stuff that we do when it really shows that we have this incredible ability to project ... engineering and smarts," Cooley says.

Tom Merritt's story: He runs a fantasy baseball league, and back in the day it was run on the Commodore 64. He write a TI-99 program to mathematically compare the stats and come up with a winner. In 1986, he got Microleague Baseball for the C64. "You could draft your own teams and play them against each other," Merritt says. He and others in his league set up games twice a day where they would play each other. However, the game needed to be played out completely, and there was no "quick play" option. He would set the games in motion and record the scores later on that night. Pretty soon, he says, people began to take manual control of their teams. People quickly began showing up at Merritt's house and playing out the games manually on his Commodore 64. His parents began to expect this. However, in 1988, when Microleague Baseball added a "quick play" option, people began dropping off the manual-play roster and letting "quick play" do its thing. Merritt remembers using cassette tapes to do play-by-plays and weekly roundups.

Jason Howell's story: He was a huge C64 fan -- so much that he once used his C64 and a calling card to make overseas calls to bulletin board systems. Once in seventh grade, his father came into the house with two men dressed in black and asked him if he knew anything about it. Howell denied the allegations. However, over the course of the next four hours, the Secret Service interrogated Howell at his dining room table with his parents sitting nearby. Other Secret Service members were also in Howell's room, combing through his digital records for evidence. "When it comes down to it, I was in the fifth grade with this [calling] all happened ... I don't quite know ... what I was doing." Howell explained that he was looking for new C64 video games. He also talked to other people around the world who gave him international calling card numbers so he could acquire international games. This set off the Secret Service because they'd traced illicit calling card usage to Howell, who had used one such number -- but not for anything malicious. "After the entire morning [of interrogation], I'm standing out on the front porch with my dad ... my dad puts his arm around me and he says, 'Well, son, did you learn your lesson?' And I turned to him and I said, 'Yes I did, Dad.' And he's like, 'Good, 'cuz I'm hungry, let's go to the sizzler.' ... A year later, the Feds called me back and gave me back my computer ... they ran out of space [in their storage unit] ... But I did learn my lesson."

Natali Del Conte's story: (taped) When she was in high school, her dad would make her do chores like reading the phone book. One of the things he made her do was learn Microsoft Office. Back then, Microsoft made floppy disks to teach people how to do certain Office tasks. At the end of the lessons, the diskette would administer a test to the user. The test would then be printed out for reference. "And I was like, 'What is this weird spreadsheet-type thing?' ... I used [Excel] before anyone was really using it." She said she turned in her math homework in Excel-formatted documents with tabs and tables, much to her teachers' confusion. "I spent a whole day installing something called WinFax Pro ... that was really hard to do!" She also says she used her high school graduation money to buy her first cell phone at Circuit City.

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