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, 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!


My daughter challenged me to write a blog post every day using a topic she chooses. This was supposed to be Tuesday’s but I kinda fell asleep while writing it so it is now Wednesday’s. Hey, life happens. And I had a rehearsal. For a play. You know how it is.

I think I will start this post with a drop cap, an absurdly large letter because it’s fun and I can. Thanks Gutenberg! Yes, I am stalling on writing tonight’s entry. You caught me. Why am I stalling? Because I haven’t really seen all that many westerns. It was never a genre I got into or knew all that well. I mean, I know all of the tropes: Stagecoach, the duel at high noon (or at dawn), the saloon fight with the easy-to-break tables, chair, bottles, the barkeep who has wisdom and is unconventional, the poker game, the gallows, the jail break, the British Sheriff played by John Cleese… wait a minute, I am describing Silverado. But Silverado is the perfect western because they put every trope into it! And that cast! Kevin Kline, Linda Hunt, Danny Glover, Scott Glenn, Kevin Kostner (in his first not-a-dead-body movie role), Brian Dennehy, Rosanna Arquette, Jeff Goldblum, and, of course, John Cleese. And it was written by Lawrence Kasdan who helped write the good Star Wars movies (Empire Strikes Back anyone?)

I’ve seen a small handful of westerns over the years. These include, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Silverado, Unforgiven, Dances with Wolves (sorta counts), The Great Train Robbery, and Back to the Future III (that counts, right?) Oh and Blazing Saddles if you count that. But when you add in all of the TV shows that were either westerns themselves (Wild Wild West and How the West Was Won especially) or that had episodes set in the Wild West (too many to count), then I’ve had a reasonable grounding in the genre.

I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen but also know there is a lot I have missed. Marci has decided we are taking a weekend day and doing a marathon. Going to watch some spaghetti westerns, some classic westerns, and I insisted on adding Silverado because I really want to see it again. I’d also like to find movies that have pre-Star Trek Shatner, Kelley, and/or Nimoy in them because that would be fun.

While the genre is one I enjoy, I find that I enjoy even more the idea of the sci-fi approach. Shows like, Firefly, Star Trek TOS (at times), and such that take the idea of the lawless frontiers into which civilization is slowly expanding and place it in space instead of the American west.

And, hey, what kid didn’t go through a phase of wanting a cowboy hat, two (cap) six-shooters, boots, and a piece of straw in their mouth?

But, lest we forget, here is the greatest western of all time: