Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Golf Balls and Terminals


At KSU in the early 80's, only grad students had access to the computer labs with actual terminals connected to the mainframe. Undergrads like me had to use the open labs with the card punches, card reader, and printer. After becoming a TA while just a sophomore, I got to know a lot of the grad student TAs. They shared with me a little known, little spoken about secret. There was a grad student lab room - only one - that was in an isolated, combo-locked basement room of one of the computer science buildings that had two terminals, and no one ever used it. And they told me the combo.

At my very first opportunity, I made for this new, secret lab. Excitedly I punched the buttons on the cypher lock and swung open the door to the dark, unoccupied lab. I flipped on the lights, and there they were - two glorious terminals. Sort of.

Technically what I was looking at in front of me were terminals, just not the monitor/CRT type. These were IBM Selectric golf-ball typewriters. These were teletype-style terminals, which were basically typewriters hooked up to a computer. No doubt my grad student friends probably thought they had played quite the prank on me. These terminals were slow, loud, and inconvenient - and I was in love with them! Compared to a card punch and card reader, this was interactive heaven! And I had them all to myself.

I soon discovered the joy of terminal use, even with terminals such as these - games! I played hours and hours of Colossal Caves Adventure (spoiler alert - XYZZY!) and Star Trek. Eventually I grew tired of them, and yearned to create my own games, based on my ideas and hard work. But those are stories for another time.

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