I’m 31, which means I’m likely older than about half the people reading this blog, old enough to remember life before the Internet, and just barely old enough to remember life before Nintendos became ubiquitous in households around the country.
A couple families on our block had Ataris. We had a Commodore 64. For me that meant countless hours in the basement spent pouring over stats and simulating games on Micro League Baseball. My baseball nerdery runs deep. For my older brother Chris, it meant a whole world of other things that failed to impress me at the time but now seem pretty damn amazing in retrospect.
At school, Chris was a two-sport athlete and a very good one, but at home he was kind of a a prototype 80s nerd, right down to the mesh-backed hat and the glasses with the double bar between the frames — both of which have come back into fashion ironically now. With his friends he played some the same games I did, but while alone he passed more time programming for the Commodore 64, staring at the glowing blue monitor, mastering its rudimentary operating system, making his own games.
I remember he wrote a program that turned the computer keyboard into a piano, learned to play the beginning of “Hey Jude” on it, then moved on. I think he made a couple of lemonade-stand type games too. It never seemed special at the time because I was 7 and never had any other older brother, so I just assumed programming computers was something older brothers did. He taught me a few basic operations, but it never really took.
Chris loved the Commodore 64 enough that he made 64 his football number and part of his email address and AIM name and probably his ATM pin — the number was some odd part of his identity. And he parlayed his interest in computers and science into a degree from M.I.T. and eventually a robotics fellowship at Texas A&M that he never got to enter.
OK, that took a turn for the sad that I never intended. I brought it up because Jack Tramiel, a Holocaust survivor and the inventor of the Commodore 64, died on Sunday at age 84.
And while I guess guys like Chris suspected this would happen back in the late 80s, so many of us now work and bank and learn and meet friends and lovers everyday through computers. We take it for granted, but that all started with nerds plugging away at lines of code in basements somewhere.
So give it up for the geeks, I guess.