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!

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Adorable Mascots

My daughter challenged me to write a blog post every day using a topic she chooses.

As you may know, I recently started a new job at Automattic. WordPress is woven through everything we do. So, among the many things that come with the perks of working at a large, established company, are getting swag (socks, stickers, etc.) with the WordPress mascot, Wapuu on them.

Wapuu has more than a passing resemblance to Pikachu but is always pictured holding something. By default it is a ball with the WordPress logo on it. But it can be quite a few other things as needed. And Wapuu changes their costume as needed as well.

These are from the WP World Messages App for iOS to be used as stickers in Messages chats.

I have Wapuu stickers on my laptop (Wapuu holding a rainbow ball with the WordPress logo on it and another where he is holding a green ball with the Jetpack logo on it and wearing an actual jet pack), Wapuu socks (I think I now own three different varieties), and a plush Wapuu I gave to my daughter (who invented a really cute voice for them.)

Mascots are interesting in that they can help build a community. In the case of Wapuu, it is the many WordCamps held around the world that have benefitted from Wapuu. Each one designs (or has designed) their own Wapuu for the occasion and people collect them.

In the case of Wapuu, it is the many WordCamps held around the world that have benefitted from Wapuu. Each one designs (or has designed) their own Wapuu for the occasion and people collect them.

This got me thinking about other mascots and their impact and why we love cuteness so much. In some cases, especially surrounding sports franchises, the mascots are mainly there for the children. But then you look at something like Pokemon, which is nothing but mascots and that was started for children but is beloved by people of all ages (I already know that I will be getting a Switch to play the new game when it comes out this fall.)

We just love cuteness. And collectible cuteness is even better. I lament that I am so late to Wapuu’s world. Think of all the pins and stickers I missed out on over the last 8 years since Wapuu’s official debut. Then again, I only have so much room on my bag for pins or laptop back for stickers.

As to why we love cuteness, who knows? I am sure more than a few dissertations have been written on this subject. If I had to guess without doing any research of any kind (I know, how American of me) I would say it probably has to do with a parenting instinct. We are programmed to react positively to cute things. But so what? Whether I am right or way off, it doesn’t matter. Wapuu and other adorable mascots are fantastic and I love them.

(I can get a limited number of Wapuu pins. If any of my local friends wants to swap for a pin, sticker, or other tchotchke from their place of work, let me know! So far, I have a BBEdit pin and one for AS220…)