BASIC at 55

I recently found this post in my drafts and realized I had never published it. Five years later, here it is.

After I graduated Dartmouth College, I worked at the college for six years. Somewhere in that time, I was backing out of a parking space in downtown Hanover when I backed into a car I didn’t realize was right behind me. I got out and began apologizing. I saw an older man getting out of the car and I began looking for damage while continuing my litany of apologies. I could see no damage and the man was saying that everything was fine, no worries. Then I glanced at the license plate. It was a New Hampshire plate that read, simply, “BASIC” I looked at the man again and realized, in a moment of mortification, that I had just backed into John Kemeny’s car. Kemeny invented the programming language BASIC along with Thomas Kurtz (who I’d met as an undergraduate when he was part of a competition to design a futuristic technology, my roommate Serge and I invented something we dubbed, “The Internet” not knowing that The Internet  was an actual thing (we would within a year when Dartmouth connected to it)).

Kemeny assured me that everything was fine, gave me a genial smile, got back into his car and drove off. And that’s how I met John Kemeny.

BASIC turns 50 on May 1 [Like I said, this is a five year old post] and Dartmouth is planning a series of events to mark the occasion. BASIC was my own introduction to programming. I taught it to myself in high school on a friend’s Atari 400 and, later, my own Atari 800XL. My senior year of high school I wrote my own Mandelbrot Set generator. It took 24 hours to generate a single 384×192 picture (something my iPad can do in a fraction of a second today). As a freshman at Dartmouth College in 1986, I took my first Computer Science course using Real Basic, an update to BASIC. Soon afterwards I graduated to Pascal, 68000 assembly, and, ultimately, C. But it was BASIC that started it all. So, thank you Kemeny and Kurtz! And Happy Birthday BASIC!