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14 Oct 2021 ~ 2 min read

BASIC Foreshadowing

Under the hood of a Texas Instruments TI-99/4A

I have to thank my Mom and Dad for introducing me to the world of technology.

Sure, I did get some exposure to computers at grade school, but it was when my Mom and Dad brought home the Texas Instruments TI-99/4A in 1983 that I learned what computers could be.

The strange thing is that I originally saw the 99/4A as a gaming system like the ATARI 2600. It could do games, often better games, than the ATARI. But it was the peak under the 16-bit hood that revealed to me a new secret language called BASIC (Beginners’ All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code). With a few lines of BASIC, I could make the screen change color or print a line of text five times in a row.

It was the start of a big idea — the idea that it is “not the thing that matters, but the thing that gets you to the thing” that does.

Soon, I found tutorial books on BASIC in the library for programming games on the 99/4A. It wasn’t until one brutal 4-hour day of typing in over 2,000 lines of code that I finally understood the power of software. With a working version of the Killer Caterpillar game now on the screen, I knew I was hooked. Not by the game itself (I lost interest in the game within an hour) but with the potential that the game represented: a way to communicate with a machine by turning words into actions.

The game was only the thing.

With a completed game now in memory (because I couldn’t save it at the time), I started to tinker with the design. First by changing the colors of the caterpillar’s segments, then by reshaping the boundaries to expand the maze, and finally by messing with the caterpillar’s speed itself (making it stupid fast!). I didn’t know that customizing that game would foreshadow my future.

Changing it, tweaking it, crashing it and then bringing it back to life, only to rinse and repeat, was my first adventure into a whole new world. I had no idea at the time that hacking one simple computer game would turn out to be the real thing I love to do.

Thank you, Mom and Dad.

Headshot of Kyle Bondo

Hi, I'm Kyle. I'm a UX Designer, Software Engineer and Podcaster based in Fort Worth, Texas. You can listen to me on War Yankee, see some of my work on GitHub, or read more about me on my website.