ASCII by Jason Scott

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3279 Memories —

What the heck, let’s go into the 3279 terminal a little more.

As mentioned previously, this was a terminal that my dad would plunk me in front of to give me something to do when he had projects at work to finish. As I am quickly nearing the age that he was when this was going on, I understand quite perfectly what the situation was.

This terminal and the system behind it (which I never got to see) was absolutely amazing. At a time when the home computers you might encounter would have an OK collection of colors and a little bit of storage, this thing was blazingly fast (connected to a mainframe, after all) in crisp color (a top-quality monitor) and had what seemed like infinite space and stuff to do.

When you’re 11, one of these terminals dominates you. The keyboard was designed for data entry, and was the classic heavy-and-clicking keys that are relatively difficult to find anymore (although there is a small niche market that continues to sell that style of keyboard). It had buttons, status lights, and the layout of control was completely crazy. Luckily, whatever terminal I was sat down at had tons of little hint sheets taped to the table, so I could always refer to them when I got truly lost.

And lost I got, because instead of just wandering aimlessly at a prompt, Dad knew the secret menu. I feel kind of weird even telling you the secret menu’s access name; it might still be in use for all I know. It was passed along between those in the know; likely my dad was given it in confidence, but violated this trust for my benefit. It was a foreign word for “games”. Typing this would put you into a browsable menu (using arrow keys) that opened up hundreds of amazing little programs, all done in spare time (cough) by the hackers in the IBM system.

There were tons of written documents, like best take-out food around the Research Center, or reviews of movies. There were “standard” games ported to this IBM system, like Adventure (and an expanded version of Adventure with even more puzzles). And there were basically video games. This in itself was mind-blowing to me. I recall a slot machine that had spinning wheels, and ducks and spiders as some of the items. If a spider and duck were in the same set of wheels, the duck would actually extend its neck and eat the spider, getting you points. This may or may not sound as miraculous as it was for 1981 and an 11 year old.

At the time, of course, I was blissfully unaware of any machine time I was sucking up, that the machine doing all this work was in some heavily protected and environmentally controlled room far away, and that the reason the thing would pause when I hit the “send” key was because it really was “sending” the information somewhere. I just loved this huge fuckin’ computer.

It has been many, many years after Dad moved away from that Research Center that I have ever had my computers at home or work show such elegance, power and skill behind them. And I do miss them, very much.

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