Writer, editor, professor, etc. For more information, see jaygabler.com.
In about 1989, when I was 13, our next-door neighbor sold me his TI-99/4A. First released in 1981, the TI-99/4A was one of the first successful home computers allowing users to do actually useful things like track finances and write and edit word-processing documents. The basic model just had a keyboard and a cartridge slot (you plugged it into your TV), and its processor was about 1/267 as fast as that of an iPhone 4. At God knows what expense—I’m estimating it would translate to about $5,000 today—Jerry had completely tricked his TI-99/4A out with peripherals including a floppy disc drive (without it, you could only record your programs on an audiocassette recorder), a speech synthesizer, and a printer. I think I paid him like $500 for the whole thing, payable in installments of babysitting money.
I remember vividly that our Duluth neighbors’ TI-99/4A, sometime in the mid-80s, had given me my first eerie opportunity to type letters and see them appear on a television screen. That was in the computer’s BASIC programming mode, which was what you got by default if you turned it on without a cartridge in the slot. Once I had a TI of my own, I took advantage of the opportunity to buy books, programs, and other peripherals at bargain-basement prices from Texas Instruments, which had discontinued production of the TI-99/4A in 1984 and was trying to dump its inventory of supplies. (The shipments were delivered—wait for it—C.O.D.) I remember a frustrating phone conversation with an operator in Lubbock who was trying to get me to find a pen; and I couldn’t understand why on earth she wanted me to find a pin. “A pin!” she cried in her thick Texas accent. “Not a pin, a pin! A pin!”
At the time my career ambition was to become a computer programmer like my uncle Jeff and aunt Jackie, so I taught myself BASIC, in part by checking old computer magazines out from the library and painstakingly copying hundreds of lines of code into my TI so that I could play simple games like Moon Landing. My crowning achievement as a programmer was this game for darts scorekeeping—it worked, and even included an opening animation of a dart flying across the screen and sticking to a dartboard.
My career aspirations as a programmer ended when I failed to land a position as a teen intern at Cray, the supercomputer manufacturer then based in a Twin Cities suburb. My mom took me out to the Cray headquarters, where I competed against dozens of other teens (mostly, but not exclusively, boys): we each had to write a program in our language of choice that would result in the display of an accurate list of all the prime numbers from one to 100. I wrote a program that tested each number, and I’m sure it would have worked, but I’ve always wondered if they would have given me the internship if I’d just written a one-line program, then walked cooly up to the scientists and handed them my sheet of paper while all the other kids gaped in astonishment that I’d finished the whole program in just two minutes.
10 PRINT “1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37, 41, 43, 47, 53, 59, 61, 67, 71, 73, 79, 83, 97”
When I decided to get rid of the TI-99/4A in the mid-90s, I wrote to the Computer Museum in Boston (since merged with Boston’s Museum of Science) asking whether they wanted it as a donation. They never wrote back.
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