Story Title: Obsolete Microcomputers

Story Type: Fiction


This Short Story is Chapter Eight of "Early Microcomputer Experiences"

Date Written: July 9, 2019

Written By: Joel T. Kant

Copyright (c) July 9, 2019


As had happened at the the end of last summer, my parents and siblings dropped me off at Cornfield University on a Sunday in the last week of August. Tomorrow was Monday, which was Registration Day. After I put some of my belongings away but had not yet set up my Vic-20 computer system, I decided to go find Josh Cistern and Albert Rose. I was in a different dorm building then they were. I filled my yellow nylon backpack with cassette tapes of the various programs that I had worked on that summer. I wondered if Josh would like that my brother Tim and I had added joystick control to type-in games that had not used the joystick originally. I figured he might want copies, which would partially pay him back for the programs he supplied me with at the start of the summer.

At the room I had known well on the fourth floor of Wilgus Hall, Albert was moving boxes, his collection of many briefcases, his large TV, and other things on his side of the room. On the other side of the room was a young man that I had never met before. He had only one modest suitcase.

Albert said, "Hello, Joel. This is my new roommate Mark Ronson."

Mark had short hair, almost a military cut, which was unusual as most of the guys I knew at that time had long hair. He had the look of a Freshman, eager and nervous.

I held out my hand and told him my name.

I then asked, "What do you plan to study?"

Mark answered, "Mechanical Engineering."

I warned him about how he was likely to get the look-to-the-right-look-to-the-left speech in his first engineering class with Dr. McCullen.

I had held off out of politeness to talk to Mark, but I had to know, "Where's Josh? Did he transfer rooms?"

Albert told Mark, "Joel's referring to my previous roommate, Josh Cistern. I talked to Josh last week. He's transferred up to Bill-of-Rights University. His Dad's a professor there, after all. He's going to live at home and commute in with his Dad."

I asked, "Is Josh still in EE?"

Albert replied, "Sure. He passed everything last semester, although he got some C's. Transferring will reset his GPA for a completely fresh start, which could be good or bad. Hey, you know how I was worried after dropping Calculus although that left me with only the minimum full credit load of thirteen?"

I nodded.

Albert smiled and said, "For what I had left, one B and the rest were A's! The W for withdrawing from Calculus does not affect my overall GPA, so I'm on the Dean's List!"

I replied, "That's terrific. I made it too. I brought a bunch of Vic-20 programs on cassette that I was going to show you and Josh. Without Josh, there's no Vic-20 in this room. Is Tom Anderson or Robert Knot back yet? They've both got Vic-20's."

Albert said, "Robert's living in the frat house this year, not the dorms. I don't know about Tom. However, I bought a new computer with money I earned this summer unloading trucks. It's far more powerful than a Vic-20! I haven't gotten it unpacked yet."

Albert pointed to a box that was the same size as the box that my Vic-20 came in. This box was dark blue and had emblazoned on it the words, "Commodore 64."

Albert could tell I was fascinated, so he opened the box. From the exterior plastic case, it looked almost exactly like a Vic-20 only in dark gray rather than tan plastic. Since externally the only obvious difference was a color change of the plastic, I did not have much to get excited about. He declined to set the computer up until after putting his twin bed up on four-inch-by-four-inch posts. His side of the room was so full of stereo equipment, boxes, his twenty-inch television. and so forth that there barely looked room to move. There was certainly not enough room to sleep on that bed stacked with objects. I knew from how he and Josh had the room last year that the bed was up about five or six feet from the floor when done, leaving room underneath for the TV and stereo speakers.

On the other side of the room, Mark barely seemed to have enough for a weekend trip away from home, much less a full school year.

I did not see the big wooden beams anywhere so asked about that.

Albert said, "Simon William is coming by later in his pickup. We'll go get the beams and hardware from the frat house. Josh and I stored them there for the summer. Mark, we can raise up your bed if you like. I have Josh Cistern's wood beams in storage along with mine. Josh said that he doesn't want to haul them the eighty miles up to Irate City, especially since he doesn't have a car."

Mark asked for more elaboration with what Albert planned to do. The explanation was four-by-four posts on two corners, threaded steel rods that put pressure between floor and ceiling, and strong steel chains. I had seen it work satisfactorily last year for Josh and Albert, but Mark seemed dubious about the arrangement.

After listening to all this, Mark responded, "No, thank you. I'll leave my bed as it is."

I left them to get on with the rest of my own unpacking. I had just gotten my Vic-20 computer system set up when Tom Anderson and Bruce Brown showed up at my dorm room. We talked about Josh Cistern not being back. Then, all three of us took turns playing computer games. I gave Tom a copy of "Gold Mine" on cassette disk, which was a type-in from July's issue of "Compute!" magazine. I thought it had a great game concept. I also had the Pong and Breakout games my brother Tim had worked on this summer, and various type-in games that did not originally use a joystick that Tim and I had modified so they did use it.

Tom was happy to take copies of the games on cassettes.

I added, "I converted a bunch of FORTRAN programs from Computer Programming for Engineers to BASIC and got them working on my Vic-20."

Bruce asked, "Did you get the least-squares fit program converted? I want an LSF program."

"Sure did," I said.

Bruce said, "Can I get a copy? I didn't bring any cassettes."

I got out a cassette and made him a copy, although I wasn't too sure what he was going to do with it since unlike Tom and me, he didn't own a microcomputer. Since I bought cassettes at three for a dollar, I told him he could just keep it, no charge.

Tom said to me sadly, "Nothing against you or your system or these games, Joel. It's just not the same playing videogames without Josh here. I got some great new games on cartridge that I was eager to show him. I should have brought them to your room, but didn't think of it. One is Avengers, so basically a clone of Space Invaders. Another is Donkey Kong, almost as good as the coin-op arcade version. I also got a text adventure game on cartridge by Scott Adams called Pirate Adventure. I played Pirate Adventure through to completion this summer."

I said, "I thought you didn't have any memory expansion on your Vic-20. That would make a text adventure quite short."

Tom explained, "I said the game is on a cartridge. Thus, it has a 16 kilobyte ROM in it. Theoretically, we should be able to copy it and play it on your system since you have that massive memory expansion."

I replied, "I don't think it is that easy. I think where game cartridges go in address space may be a different location than where added memory for BASIC goes in."

Tom suggested, "I'll be Josh could figure out a way to do it."

I admitted, "He probably could. Although Josh is gone, his former roommate Albert may have some great computer games. He's got a new computer called a Commodore 64 that he claims is far more powerful than a Vic-20."

Tom remarked, "Let's go see it!"

I replied, "It wasn't set up when I was there, just in a box. Albert's raising his bed like last year. He could probably use some help with that. If you go there, Albert's new roommate is Mark. He's a Freshman going into Mechanical Engineering."

Bruce laughed and said, "Did you warn Mark about the look left and right speech?"

"I did," I assured them.

Although neither Tom nor Bruce looked that thrilled with the idea of labor to help raise the bed, they headed off to Albert and Mark's room. I didn't go along. I had more unpacking to do as I wanted to be ready since the next day was Registration Day.

During Registration Day, I signed up for my first true electrical engineering course, EE 224: Electric Circuits taught by Dr. Silver. Dr. Silver had been newly hired this school year for the Electrical Engineering faculty. For the other classes, I got what I expected, such as having Physics II with Dr. Domain. Last semester, Bruce did some programming work for Dr. Domain.

For EE 224: Electric Circuits on Tuesday, the very day after Registration Day, Dr. Silver announced his name and the course. He was younger than most professors, maybe even younger than Dr. Domain in the Physics Department. However, while Dr. Domain was tall and not what I would call slender, Dr. Silver was slightly shorter than I was and very slender. Most of the students were taller and certainly weighed more than Dr. Silver.

Dr. Silver held out a manila folder like an offering plate at church then said, "Turn your homework in."

Complaints shot around the room, "Homework on the first day?... How were we supposed to know about that?...You can't do that!...That's not allowed!"

Released in 1973, there was a movie called "Paper Chase" about a law student who attended Harvard, but did not have his homework ready for the first day of class for fictional Professor Kingsfield. In that movie, all the students other than him seemed to know from past history that this was required, so had it ready. That got the protagonist off to a very bad start. It was sometimes shown on TV, which is where I had seen it. That was fiction, though.

Although Cornfield University offered degrees in many types of engineering going back many decades, and mining engineering going back over a hundred years, the EE program started as a four-year program in 1980. This was 1982, so no graduates in EE existed yet. I was taking EE 224: Electric Circuits the very first time it was taught in the history of Cornfield University. So, although I did not have the homework done this first day either, I wasn't too worried about it as I took this more as Dr. Silver showing who is in charge in an aggressive way. I wondered if he had gotten the idea from "The Paper Chase" movie.

Maybe a fifth of the class had at least made an attempt at the homework done, so put it in the folder. Dr. Silver asked those who had done it how they knew to do it.

A student explained, "I was coming to the main engineering office to get an overload form signed. The notification of the homework due today for EE-224 was on the bulletin board there. I was surprised, but gave wrote down what it said and gave it a try."

It emerged that for the few that did do it, that is where they had all learned of the requirement from that bulletin board.

Dr. Silver declared, "All of you should check the bulletin board outside the engineering office every day."

This led to claims that the students would do that now that they knew. Just don't count this homework for credit! It was promised that delay it a day or two, and we'd all get it done. Yet, Dr. Silver would not budge on this homework being due right now.

Dr. Silver then added, "There was another way you could have known of the homework due today. I sent out an e-mail about the homework on the PDP-11 mainframe."

Since I hung out with Albert Rose and that crowd, we did far more e-mail than most of my EE peers. Yet, it had not occurred to me to go check e-mail before the first day of class had even happened! I wasn't even sure if last years login and password would still work.

Dr. Silver gave an impassioned speech how all of us should check our e-mail daily, as well as examine the bulletin board at the engineering office daily. He followed that by briefly going over his syllabus and grading scheme. Then, he launched into a lecture about electric current of one amp being one Coulomb of charge crossing a cross-sectional area in one second. In turn, the definition of a Coulomb of charge was 6.242 times ten raised to the 18.

I think most of us expected a gentle start to the class with Ohm's Law, which most of us would already know from high school from a physics class or something of that nature. Dr. Silver did tell us Ohm's Law, but when he got to Volts, he mentioned that this comes from the core metric units of kilograms times square meters divided by the quantity Coulombs time seconds squared.

Dr. Silver wrote fast on the board, and students like me struggled to keep with him. He also handed out more homework, our first lab, and instructions for a FORTRAN program we were to write on the PDP-11 mainframe. He specified that it was to be on the PDP, not using punchcards on the IBM mainframe.

After class, many of my fellow students including Tom Anderson and Bruce Brown seemed in shock.

Tom complained, "It's a three-day weekend coming up with Labor Day. I'm going back home. I can't get all this done by next Tuesday."

I replied, "I think this is a message that we are expected to stay here and work over the three-day weekend. I think Dr. Silver wants to prove he's top-dog professor."

Bruce asked me, "Do you think Dr. Silver really means it with the homework due today counting for credit?"

I replied, "I don't expect him to budge on it or the large amount of work due by next Tuesday. However, I'm not terribly worried about missing the homework for today as about eighty percent of the class missed it along with me, including you two. I think later homework sets will count more points."

Tom complained, "What was going on with going immediately at warp speed on the first day? I heard Dr. Domain's Physics II was super-hard, but that will be easy compared to this!"

Bruce suggested, "I heard far more students signed up for the new electrical engineering program then can be handled, especially for this class. Remember, this is the first time EE 224 has ever run. Maybe Dr. Silver was ordered to weed out students fast. If that's so, then it will do no good to complain about it being unfair. We just have to work our butts off not to be in the group that gets weeded out."

Bruce said, "Like Tom, I was planning to go home for the long weekend. I've changed my mind. Once I get back to my room, I'm going to phone my parents to let them know I am staying here. You might want to do the same thing, Tom."

Tom defiantly remarked, "No, I'm taking the weekend off. Yet, let's go get started on this FORTRAN program right now!"

Bruce said, "Sure, let's go now before the students from Dr. McCullen's course take over all the terminals."

I complained, "I wonder why we can't use the IBM mainframe with punchcards. I hate typing on the slow-as-a-snail PDP mainframe. Using my new Vic-20 system to code all summer has me spoiled! The Vic-20 is how typing on a computer should work!"

Bruce suggested, "Only the PDP mainframe does e-mail, and Dr. Silver seems to desperately want us to get in the habit of checking e-mail daily. We need to tell each other if an e-mail from him shows up, as I am sure he means it."

Tom complained, "Checking e-mail once a day is far too often! He's going to get pushback on that. Twice a week is more realistic."

I said, "Checking it daily would be fine if one could do it with a microcomputer and a modem so in the comfort on one's dorm room. Josh got good at that last semester. I don't own a modem. Do you, Tom?"

While Bruce Brown did not own his own microcomputer, Tom Anderson had a Vic-20 computer. However, unlike me, Tom did not have a printer nor a 16 kilobyte memory expansion. Last I knew, he did not have a modem either, but that might have changed over the summer.

Tom admitted, "No, but I might get one if Dr. Silver really means it about requiring us to do daily e-mail checks."

Bruce said, "I think he means it!"

At the Cornfield Computer Center, many but not all of the VT-100 dumb ASCII terminals were in use. Darnell Priest sat typing away at one terminal already.

I waved and said, "Hey, Darnell. Did you Computer Science guys get a programming assignment on day one like those of us in EE did?"

I had doubts this had happened as I didn't see Simon William, Albert Rose, or Gerald Jacobson here, and like Darnell, those three were in Computer Science, generally in the same classes.

Darnell replied, "I'm not working on an assignment, but I had some programming ideas this summer that I've been eager to try out."

I suggested, "Maybe Albert Rose's new Commodore 64 microcomputer will be powerful enough to do what you want."

Darnell laughed and said, "No microcomputer is that good. Still, I wonder what his new computer is like."

Bruce, Tom, and I got onto our respected terminals. We all started typing.

As I typed, I said in astonishment, "What gives?"

Tom asked, "What do you mean, Joel?"

I replied, "I can type full-speed! Watch! See, barely a delay!"

Bruce typed deliberately fast as he could and said, "Joel's right! This is vastly better than last year."

Tom remarked, "I heard Cornfield University was getting a new mainframe. Maybe over the summer, they did."

Overhearing our discussion, Darnell said, "It's still the same PDP-11/40 mainframe, but it's been majorly upgraded over the summer. The amount of RAM is four times greater. The hard disk is tripled in size, and the access speed is a third of that of the old hard drive. Even the lineprinters have been replaced with faster ones. All this makes a huge difference!"

Although in the afternoon when the load was normally terrible, this time it wasn't bad at all. With a responsive mainframe, and some back-and-forth suggestions, Tom, Bruce, and I had the required FORTRAN program for Dr. Silver completely done and printed by suppertime.

Bruce said, "That program wasn't so bad after all. I'm not sure now if I will stay on campus for the long weekend or not."

After supper at the cafeteria, Bruce, Tom, and I got into the homework. After a couple of hours of that with hardly making a dent in it and much of it seeming a complete mystery, Bruce reverted to his previous stance of staying here.

Bruce said, "Since I'm staying here for the weekend, I'm not too panicked right now as this isn't due until Tuesday. I'm fried for tonight. Let's go see if Albert has his new computer set up yet."

I looked at my watch. It was a little after eight pm. I agreed. Tom looked at our homework from Dr. Silver as if for a moment he was going to soldier on alone so enjoy the long weekend guilt-free, but then put down his pencil and papers to come along.

In Albert and Mark's dorm room, the contrast between the room halves was outrageous. Mark's half of the room was conventional. It had the dresser, the twin bed with bolster that could serve as a couch then pulled out at night for the bed, and desk. Above the desk were the fewest number of books I had seen for any college students. Maybe four required books, no more. Most of Mark's closet was empty, with a coat and a couple shirts hanging up.

Mark himself sat at his desk reading one of his four textbooks.

Albert already had guests. Simon William and Darnell Priest were there. Albert's bed was now suspended five or six feet up as it had been last semester. Under the bed was Albert's twenty-inch-diagonal measure television. Big stereo speakers sat to the left and right of the TV. Stacked about three feet up on Albert's dresser was his component stereo system. Albert used plastic crates and many briefcases to organize possessions in his closet. New from last year, Albert had a small shelf set up next to his desk. On the shelf was the new Commodore 64 computer and monitor. The new computer system was functional and turned on.

Simon and Darnell were peering over Albert's shoulders as he typed on it.

When Mark saw the arrival of Bruce, Tom, and myself, he gathered up his book and said, "I'm heading to the library to read. See you guys later."

Simon looked at his watch and said, "The library is only open for about another forty minutes."

At various other colleges, there were libraries open 24 hours a day, but the Cornfield University's library was open nine to nine on Monday through Thursday. It had much shorter hours on Friday and the weekend.

Mark said, "I'll just sit in the lobby to read, then. It's too crowded in here."

Mark then left. I gathered Mark had little interest in Albert's computer.

For us newcomers, Albert showed off his new possession. He had a dedicated fourteen-inch color CRT monitor, not a television used as a monitor. He explained that the Commodore 64 had a forty-column display, and that looked much better without going through an RF modulator so a TV could be used. He ran the signal to his big TV to demonstrate the difference. While the forty-columns was readable on the TV, it looked like over time it was just blurry enough to cause eyestrain. In contrast, the displayed image on the new display was colorful and razor sharp. He had an external disk drive. He loaded and showed a few demonstration programs.

Bruce and Tom wanted to see a demonstration of software. Albert had the same bouncing ball program similar to the Vic-20 manual running on his C-64, only with a smaller ball since a forty-column screen. That was not a game, just a demonstration. Albert seemed to have almost nothing for games.

Albert then said, "I do have the Tic-Tac-Toe game and the Trek game from the David Ahl book copied to my disk. I can show you those."

This ended up the original games where the screen scrolled for every move, and there was no color, sound, or animation.

Bruce asked, "Why don't you run the improved versions that Josh did for the Vic-20 with color and sound?"

Tom chimed in, "Josh's versions are much more fun than these!"

Albert replied, "The screen memory is in a different address space on a C-64. I'd have to modify the programs for that, as well as change it for forty columns before I could get those to work. Also, the sound is much, much better on the Commodore 64 than the Vic-20 due to wave shaping, but it is not directly compatible with sound on the Vic-20's SID. I'm still learning to use these features."

Simon suggested, "I have a bunch of BASIC games on my TRS-80 that use little for sound and graphics, but are fun anyway. I could bring a disk of those over."

Albert regretfully said, "The Commodore disks drives cannot read TRS-80 disks, or vice versa."

Tom wondered, "Albert, don't you have any commercial games yet?"

Albert said, "Tom, this machine only came out this month. This is the very cutting edge of technology! It'll take a while for games and other software to appear for it. For now, I can only run simple BASIC programs that use no special features or else code in the special features myself. The capabilities of the C-64 are remarkable, so the games and other software will come."

Tom asked, "How is the C-64 a better computer than the Vic-20?"

Albert said, "As the name suggests, it has sixty-four kilobytes of RAM. It has two joystick ports rather than one, so it can do two-player games."

I knew about that. The Pong game that my brother Tim had gotten working this summer had one player use the keyboard and the other the joystick. It would be better with two joysticks, but the Vic-20 only had one port.

Albert continued, "The sound chip called the SID-II lets you shape the sound waveforms to sound like real instruments. It has hardware sprites. Also, it will soon have the operating system CP/M."

Darnell objected, "CP/M is for either Intel or Zilog processors, not for Motorola chips like the 6502."

Albert said, "The Vic-20 has the 6502, but the Commodore 64 has a 6510, which is a variant. It allows the memory in the same address space to be switched between RAM and ROM. Look, here is some information on CP/M coming soon."

Sure enough, Albert showed us material claiming CP/M would be coming soon to the C-64.

Darnell read through the material, then said, "I still don't see how you can put CP/M on a Motorola processor."

Tom asked, "What's the big deal with CP/M? What is it?"

Darnell said, "It's an operating system for microcomputers that used to be popular with small businesses."

Albert inserted, "CP/M still has some popularity. It has a good collection of business software like word processors, spreadsheets, and databases."

Bruce put in, "I thought that CP/M was considered for the IBM PC, but rejected."

Albert confirmed this.

Darnell argued, "Only multi-tasking operating systems are worthwhile for serious work. That's why UNIX is so popular at in the Computer Science program at Bill-of-Rights University. They don't use CP/M or IBM's PC-DOS up there!"

Albert speculated, "The hardware of the Commodore 64 should support a multi-tasking operating system similar to UNIX."

Darnell remarked, "I won't believe that until I see it.

Simon commented, "It would be nice to have CP/M on an inexpensive microcomputer. It seems more popular for small businesses than TRS-80. If I had known that earlier, I might have went with a CP/M microcomputer instead of a TRS-80."

Tom said to Bruce, "Let's go play some of my new cartridge games on my Vic-20!"

Bruce nodded and started to leave.

I held out a hand, "Bruce, I thought of something. If you're thinking of using the LSF program I gave you on Dr. Domain's Commodore PET computer, it's actually fairly tricky to get a Vic-20 program on cassette to load properly on a PET. There's no problem the other way around."

Albert noticed what we were saying and remarked, "Joel's right. I have a magazine that has an article that shows how to do it."

Albert when to a milkcrate filled with computer magazines. These were all well-organized with the spines showing for fast access.

Albert pulled one out and said, "Here it is."

I noted that as Albert had flipped the pages to the desired pages, I had noticed hand-written notes on various pages along the way. I had often seen that done by students in textbooks, but never before to a computer magazine like this.

Bruce looked at it intently, then said, "This looks complicated. It might be easier to just re-type the LSF program into the PET. Can I borrow this to read it more closely?"

Albert replied, "Yes, but come let me know how it works out. The starting location during load-in from tape relocates automatically on my new Commodore 64, so it can load cassettes made from a Vic-20 or from a PET perfectly every time."

Simon asked before Tom and Bruce got out the door, "What new cartridge games do you have, Tom?"

Tom told him, so Simon was intrigued and went with them to check them out.

I stuck around, but soon Darnell and Albert were talking about details of computer operating systems far beyond my knowledge of the time. I eventually gave up, going to my own room to get some sleep.

When the long weekend arrived, I was surprised that both Bruce and Tom cancelled their trips home for the long weekend to stay on campus and work.

On Saturday up until suppertime, Bruce and Tom worked on EE 224 homework without me while I played hooky. I was not having a fun Saturday, though. I roamed the two supermarkets, the fast food restaurants, the gas stations, and so forth of Cornfield City filling out job applications. The only place that offered encouragement was a pizza restaurant, but that only lasted until they found out I did not own my own car so could not do deliveries. So far, trying to get a minimum-wage job at Cornfield University and Cornfield City was a bust. I wondered if I would have to sell my Vic-20 system sooner rather than later.

Bruce, Tom, and I did not study on Saturday night, though. This was the night of Robert Knot's D&D game. During the summer, Robert honed his D&D skills as DM. We all agreed that it was a great game.

Robert said, "Too bad Josh wasn't here. I had a scenario designed to showcase his character that I had to modify on the fly."

I joined Bruce and Tom on Sunday afternoon. I felt I redeemed myself by finding flaws in what the two of them had done and correcting them. By Monday afternoon, we had finished what was required to be turned in on Tuesday morning for Dr. Silver.

Tom complained, "That was crazy intense! There's no way I could have gotten this done if I had gone home this weekend."

Bruce suggested, "I think there are going to be a number of students tomorrow who don't have this anywhere close to done. They'll be begging for an extension. Given what we've seen of Dr. Silver so far, I don't think he'll give an extension. This'll whittle the class size down."

I remarked, "It's going to be brutal in his class tomorrow. I'll bet at least one student loses his temper and even swears at the teacher!"

Bruce wondered, "I wonder if Josh Cistern is having an easier or harder time in EE than we are down here."

Tom said, "I heard the Bill-of-Rights University EE program is incredibly hard, but despite that reputation, I doubt he has a professor up there quite like Dr. Silver!"

While I am generally not much of a prophet, I was dead-on-correct this time. Two students rather than one resorted to using profanity right into Dr. Silver's face, but he didn't budge an inch in his demands. Those two stormed out of the room. Later, I learned they both dropped the class that very day. It seemed about half the large class had clearly put in time and effort as did my group of Tom, Bruce, and myself, but the other half had accomplished little as they enjoyed the long weekend. We were in the triumphant group that had our work turned in.

It occurred to me that if I had gotten the summer job at the swimming pool back in my hometown and been expected to get a ride back to work through the weekend, I think I would have been in the half of the EE 224 class that had accomplished little, and was now angry.

The second week of classes, I was at the Math Science Learning Center. To start out our Sophomore year, the professors besides just Dr. Silver had laid on the work thick. Bruce Brown was already there. We had the same Physics II class. Despite not even yet having been in Dr. Domain's class last semester, Dr. Domain had hired Bruce for a few hours a week to write programs on his Commodore PET computer that would assist with labs.

I asked Bruce, "Are you working with Dr. Domain again this semester?"

Bruce said, "Seems a little awkward with him as both teacher and boss, but yes. However, when I talked to him, he seems more interested in putting programs on the PDP mainframe rather than putting more onto his Commodore PET."

I mentioned, "Albert said that his Commodore PET microcomputer is obsolete."

Bruce admitted, "It is, but I like it anyway. I couldn't get the tape with your LSF program to load on the PET, by the way. I'm going to ask Albert for some help."

I put in, "Albert claims his new Commodore 64 makes my Vic-20 system almost as obsolete as that PET. If I am going to sell it, I may need to do it right away before the Vic-20 values plummet."

Bruce looked shocked and said, "You showed me all those math programs you did this summer on your Vic-20. Videogames are fun and all, but that's some serious engineering stuff you have been doing."

I said, "I had no job this summer, so I might need the money from the sale."

Bruce said, "No job? I live in the Dells. There was lots of work there this summer. So much so that even employers who knew when Cornfield University starts at the last week of August would get hired."

The Dells is a major tourist destination with amusement parks, boat tours, and exotic natural rock formations.

I said, "I was told of these opportunities from the employment services, but my parents live about seventy miles north of the Dells. That's not commuting distance, especially for a minimum wage job. If I had rented housing, then that would eat almost all my pay."

Bruce remarked, "I see your point. It worked for me because I lived there. I'm doing well after my summer job, and now Dr. Domain has me working again this semester. He heard how much better the PDP works after the upgrades, and thinks that will be the better route to go then continuing with the PET, which even he now admits is obsolete. Therefore, I'm still coding for him for about four hours a week at minimum wage, just a different computer. The program we are working on next deals with crystal structure like cubic, face-centered cubic, and that sort of thing. He's pretty happy with my programming work. Although I like him, I did not follow at all what he had in lecture today about Gauss's Law. Did it make any sense to you?"

I looked around the room. Two tutors were working at this time. One tutor was Karen, but she was tutoring a Freshman in what appeared to be a Pre-Calculus class. The second tutor was Joe, but he was working with a different Freshman in what seemed a Calculus I course. I was waiting for Karen or Joe since stumped on a Calculus III program.

I let sit my math problem that had me stumped. I found an error in how Bruce had tried to use Gauss's Law. I showed him how to correct it. Bruce did so, and smiled.

Bruce told me, "Thanks! It makes sense now."

As this was going on, Doctor Richards walked in. I had Doctor Tough my first semester last year for Calculus I, then Doctor Richards for last semester for Calculus II. Doctor Richards looked at Karen and Joe doing their tutoring jobs, then at me.

Doctor Richards said to me, "Joel Kant, can I talk to you in my office for a moment."

Confused, I followed him down the hallway to his office.

He said, "You did very well in my class last semester. I talked to Doctor Tough about how you did in Calculus I the semester before, and he gave you a good report. It looked like you were an unpaid MSLC tutor when I walked in just now. How would you like to become a paid tutor, starting out at only four hours a week. It's only minimum wage."

I was thrilled and let it show as I answered, "That'd be great!"

He said, "I'll have Joe show you the ropes after we get some paperwork taken care of with the math secretary."

Between this new tutoring job that just fell into my lap from Dr. Richards and the two-hundred-dollar scholarship that I received at the end of the summer, I was now doing adequately well despite the summer of unemployment. I couldn't afford any dates or other extravagances, but I wasn't going to have to sell off my Vic-20 system to get cash to survive this semester, at least.


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