I'm teaching my kids to code this weekend! - are you?
Thursday, January 12, 2012 8:16:30 PM
Just the other day I was flicking through a photo album mom had recently given me... you know the old fashion type with physical pages to turn and photos made of paper and I came across this image.
It's me hacking away on my Commodore 64 back home in the kitchen. The C64 is hooked up to a black and white TV and you can tell it's easter from the coloured feather decorations mom always put in the windows around that time of the year.
The picture was dated as well and I started counting backwards and realized I was six years old. And really, that was nothing exceptional back then. In the early 80's most kids had a home computer. I was perhaps introduced slightly earlier than some since dad was a programmer at IBM and bought a Sinclair ZX81 for me and my brothers when I was just four.
Back in the 80's you could buy these books which contained small BASIC games, about a page or two long each, nicely illustrated and explaining the bits and pieces that made up the game. I owe a lot to one of those books.It was a book in Swedish (I presume it was translated from an English original) full of space games and it was titled plainly "SPACE GAMES for VIC, PET, SPECTRUM, ZX81, BBC, TRS-80 and APPLE".
One of the best things about it (though I didn't think so at the time) was that the games were riddled with typos, which of course meant that you couldn't just copy the source listing, you had to try to understand what it did to make it run!
The book also did an excellent job with explaining all the instructions like LET, GOTO, GOSUB etc plainly and often posted little problems for you to solve like "How would you make the valley longer?".
I guess it's slightly ironic the second instruction EVERYONE learned back then is the now often despised GOTO. The first one was PRINT and that was all you needed to be entertained for hours
One of my favourites was "Death Valley" where you steered an asterisk which was supposed to symbolize your "Single seated speed dart" space ship down a narrow valley which was simply made up of capital i's. You can see a "screenshot" on the front of the book, except they've "touched it up" by making it in color...it was all monochrome!
I guess there's no surprise I ended up working for a long time in the games industry.
So.. what's the point of all this nostalgia? Well, I realized my daughter who is now 7 years old is a full year older than what I was in that picture coding in BASIC.
She being a girl (sorry guys it's just a fact that girls are more mature for their age) should be ready to start her path down computer science lane!
Perhaps we who grew up back then were fortunate in that games weren't as readily available as they are now? Would my daughter have the patience to copy a 40 line code listing to play an ASCII game, or would she throw it aside, go get her iPhone or Chromebook (yes I know I work at Opera, but I got it for free) and fire up one of the thousands facebook-, flash- or html5-games available for free? Who knows... but I'll damn well try this weekend!
Imagine the advantage for future math studies of grasping what a variable is at age 7...or an equation...or just knowing that ArcTan is something you use to figure out angles with. How could I deny my kids that head start.
I'm dusting off the C64, and as soon as they're available I'll be buying a Raspberry PI board each for the kids (and one or two for myself). And we're going to solder our Gert boards together and hook up a motor and some LEDs to it. I'm sure my kids have skills I didn't have when I was their age, like pinch-zooming and emailing, but I'll be damned if I don't give them the same opportunity to learn programming like my parents did!
You have kids? What are you waiting for!