Paul McAleer

When I Was Young

Paul McAleer

Hey, everybody. An old man’s talking!

My total computing history is boring, so I’ll skip to the good stuff. Back when I was 11 I got addicted, hard, to Loadstar. I was a total computer geek and loved programming my C64 (BASIC 2.0 all the way baby.) I eventually got up the courage to submit a program to LS. And I am pretty sure it was “Ultimate Lotto,” a program which was (sadly) just a random number picker. But I was 11! Come on.

I got a rejection notice from Fender Tucker, the Managing Editor. But I didn’t stop there, really. I submitted more programs - one time I submitted three at once. And I worked with my sister on a program called “Fashion Consultant,” which promised to pick a clothing outfit for you based on your wardrobe. It was not great.

But instead of the rejection form letter, I got this epic 3-page letter from Fender with that rejection. And it was just incredible. He took the time to sit down and write to this kid and tell me how while my previous programs weren’t amazing, my effort and tenacity was to be applauded. And he even suggested I could be Managing Editor of LS one day, which was absolutely my dream job when I was a kid. I signed up to be a beta tester for Loadstar and loved debugging this stuff… and getting advanced previews of issues. I’m sure my weekly call-ins to the LS office with my bug reports were the stuff of workplace stories.

I kept at it. And I first got published in LS through backdoors, essentially: I created fonts and wrote software reviews. These didn’t pay much by programming standards ($25-$50 a pop) but I really enjoyed doing it. The money was just extra. I just wanted to get my stuff out there and see my name in print.

I even put some music together with the Jeff Jones tool “Songsmith” for the 64.

Once I upgraded to a C128, though, things clicked. Loadstar 128 was a less-frequently published sister publication to Loadstar and due to the relative size of the 128 platform versus the 64, there were fewer programmers and programs. I saw an in and went for it. 80 columns of glory, folks, 80 columns. I reworked a Fender Tucker program called “Doctor Crypto”, which was a little message decoding game. I wrote “Budgetmeister”, a simple money flow program. And a whole bunch of others whose names I’ve forgotten. It was glorious and great.

As I migrated off the Commodore platform and to the PC, I still programmed a bit. I had a shareware success in RAMGauge, a resource and memory monitor for Windows 3.1. But programming wasn’t as fun and wasn’t holding my interest. It just wasn’t as exciting.

I mention all this because of Cory Doctorow’s scathing anti-iPad screed and John Gruber’s response which focused on kids who program and how the iPad is still a reasonable platform for them. In short I side with Gruber here. Kids go through phases, sure, but when they get interested in something they stick with it and let it develop and grow. I see an analogy here: I didn’t have to write apps for Loadstar; I wanted to. I respected everything they did, and that was the avenue I wanted to use.

These arguments about not having choices with an iPad are weak sauce. Write an HTML5 app, if you want. It’ll work on an iPad and an iPhone and everywhere else that matters. If you don’t want to be restricted by the App Store’s distribution limits, then use the available alternatives.

And insofar as getting kids interested in technology because they can’t type 10 PRINT “HELLO WORLD” or open it up, well, look at the thing. It’s a 1.5 pound device which enables access to a nearly-unimaginable amount of information. It is a cutting-edge industrial design. It enhances a still-new interface paradigm. That’s exciting stuff, and there’ll always be kids interested in making that technology… even if they can’t open it and look at the motherboard.