Go To: The Story of the Math Majors, Bridge Players, Engineers, Chess Wizards, Maverick Scientists, and Iconoclasts, the Programmers Who Created the Software Revolution

By Steve Lohr | Go to book overview
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8
Computing for the Masses:
The Long Road to "Gooey"
and the Macintosh

ANDY HERTZFELD LEARNED AN EMBARRASSING LESSON* about the inflexible, literal-minded nature of computers in high school. He wrote a program for matching partners for the junior prom, but it matched one girl with a third of the boys in the class. To the teenage programmer, it seemed obvious that one girl could not go out with 30, 50 or 100 boys at a time. Yet the dating faux pas was not obvious to the computer, unschooled in human ways - which is to say unprogrammed to eliminate multiple matches.

The "prom bug" setback did nothing to cool Hertzfeld's enthusiasm for computing. A year earlier, he had enrolled in a programming course at Harriton High School in suburban Philadelphia, and he was smitten. He did his programming, mostly in BASIC, by remote control, from a Teletype terminal linked remotely to a machine he never saw, a big time-sharing mainframe system. In 1970, time-sharing was the only way high school students could gain access to a computer if their school was sufficiently affluent to purchase precious time on some faraway, multimillion-dollar machine. The school paid for computer time by the minute, and soon Hertzfeld was single-handedly racking up bills at an alarming rate. "I was banned from using the machine," he recalled. He wormed his way back on with pledges of contrition and restraint,

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