Remembering Jack Tramiel

by Jeff V. on April 13, 2012

Jack Tramiel, the creator of Commodore computers, has passed away at 83 years of age.

It’s safe to say that if it weren’t for him, you probably wouldn’t be reading this, and I certainly wouldn’t be writing this on a Mac in a nerdy text editor with line numbers in a proportional font that reminds me, accidentally but happily, of the old command prompt on my Commodore 64.

That was my first computer. It changed my life forever.

I remember asking for it for Christmas one year. My dad side-eyed me. I looked at him like, “What?” He said I better not want to play games on it. Oh no, I said, waving my hand as dismissively as a preteen about to lie can, no way. I’m gonna learn programming, I told him. This thing called BASIC. Machine operations. Word processing. You know, things like that. Stuff that will afford me nice ties someday.

In a stroke of luck I didn’t realize until much later, my dad got it for me. .5 seconds after morning Christmas festivities were done, I was in my room setting it up. Two hours after that, I was typing in my first BASIC program, which was 950 lines of commas, parenthesis and equal signs I didn’t even begin to understand. My dad asked me what I was doing. I said programming. He looked at my cyan-and-blue screen of code and smiled. His son was on his way to being a computer scientist. Maybe an engineer!

Of course, the code I was typing in was a game that featured a green, sprite-graphic, somewhat-hairy worm being chased by a crude brown missile around an even cruder maze, but my dad didn’t need to know that. It took me hours to type that code in, and I did it with a focus I wish I could get back today. I had dozens of syntax errors upon compile, but I didn’t care: I went and fixed every unclosed parenthetical declaration my new computer found so I could see the incredibly lame game all that code made.

From there, it was love everlasting.

I eventually got dual 1541 disk drives. By then, I had nothing but games: Bruce Lee, Karateka, Skyfox, Wizardry, A Bard’s Tale, you name it. I learned about BBS systems (D-Dial, anyone?), modems, parallel communications, tape drives and the temperamental nuances of 5.25″ floppies.

It’s safe to say that at that point in my life, my course was irreversibly altered: I was infatuated with computers, and nothing short of the end of humanity was going to change that.

I went from that C64 to my first Mac, to Atari ST, to Amiga, back to a Mac II, then to a Mac SE/30, then to a host of IBM clones because that’s where the games were. I built my own rigs, just like Michael Dell but without the vision or money: parts I ordered showed up via mail in cardboard boxes and got assembled into rigs I built from the ground up. I handed IRQ conflicts, dipswitches, thermal paste, and ZIF sockets like a pro.

My entire life trajectory had been tracing the path of the heydey of the computer revolution, but I had no idea about the significance of that until I was much older.

It all started with the Commodore 64. If my dad saw that I would, in fact, become a gaming geek literally two hours after I unwrapped that C64 on Christmas morning, who knows what would have happened. I probably wouldn’t be sitting here writing words on a MacBook Air and publishing them to an open-source CMS.

Thanks, Jack. For guiding me on to this happy path that, through no planning or design of my own, has allowed me to foster a skillset and ultimately a career that may have otherwise been unlikely.

They say every long journey begins with a single step. Jack and his amazing, halcyonic machine got me out of the gate beautifully.

LOAD “THANKSFOREVERYTHING”,8

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