Happy 35th Birthday, Apple ][

I'm a geek. I've always been a geek. It took me a really long time to find a place where I felt like I fit into the world. The Apple ][ was instrumental in helping me find my place and my way. On this, the Apple ]['s 35th birthday, I'd like to share some parts of my early path and thank Steve Wozniak (my teenage hero) and Bill Fernandez (someone I've gotten to know over the last 15 or so years) and some of the other early Apple folks for creating a culture and a world where I fit in.

Not fitting

Growing up, I never fit in. I was weird. I loved electronics and building and creating things with circuits.

My peers mocked me.

My teachers told me I was wasting my time with my ET-3400: "It can't even do what a calculator can do, why are you wasting your time with it?"

My school bus driver referred to me as "the kid with laser beams coming out of his head."

And it only got worse when I got to high school.

I didn't know what I couldn't do

In the summer of 1978, I decided I wanted an Apple ][ computer. So, I went to the local Apple retailer run by Marty Marshall and boldly told him that I could write any program in the world for the Apple ][.

Marty hooked me up with Dick Bouchard who ran communications with Rhode Island Civil Defense (the local FEMA group). Dick had an Apple ][ and needed some programming for it. Dick didn't have budget, but he gave me the chance to prove myself.

I spent half the summer in the basement of the Rhode Island state house playing space wars and other games on Dick's Apple ][. Finally, in late July, Dick came to me and said, "so, when do I get the programs?" So, I started coding in AppleSoft basic and 6502 assembly language and about 2 weeks later, I had the first versions of the programs Dick was looking for.

Sophomore Year

I spent Sophomore year in high school working with Dick and writing code for FEMA.

One day, I was taking a floppy disk drive from Marty's store (where I worked on weekends) to Dick. A kid on the bus asked me what I had in the box. I said the first seemingly socially acceptable thing that came into my had, "a brick of pot, but don't tell anyone." I didn't get beaten up for carting computer gear around. Lucky me.

Dick worked some budget magic and my volunteer gig turned into a FEMA contract that paid me enough to buy an Apple ][ computer for myself (this is when an Apple ][ cost $2,400 and a new Ford Pinto cost $3,500.)

I also got to go to Washington DC, meet the deputy director of FEMA and tour the Langley Virginia FEMA communications center. The big project that FEMA was working on was a distributed, packet-based communications network that was redundant (because packets could be routed dynamically) and highly reliable. I was impressed. I also got a peek at the Internet in 1978.

Finding a place

Writing software for the Apple ][ and going to ham radio conferences that were morphing into computer conferences gave me a place. I got to hang out with the kind of people that accepted a laser-beam headed geek like me.

Yes, I tried to escape technology by getting liberal arts degree and then going to law school. But the joy of creating software still makes me so incredibly happy. I lose myself in the code and come out the other side with nifty stuff that make users happy.

But it all started with the Apple ][ (I did program other computers before the Apple ][, but it was the Apple that really allowed me to express myself.)

So, on the Apple ]['s 35th birthday, I'm happy and grateful to the core folks who made the machine and the community and the excitement and the energy and the way of life possible.

Thank you guys for giving this geek a happy path and a great way to express myself.