July 1st, 2013

And so it began

I turned the knob to channel 4 and flicked the switch to ON. A blue screen faded in as the old Zenith TV warmed up.

**** COMMODORE 64 BASIC V2 **** 64K RAM SYSTEM 38911 BASIC BYTES FREE
READY.

A white block blinked below.

I picked up the book. It was spiral bound with a colorful cardboard cover decorated with graphs and a photo of the machine. It looked a bit cheesy even to my 10-year-old self, but I was curious and itching to learn what it had to offer.

I leafed through the pages. PRINT, GOTO, BASIC. It was Greek to me, but there was a section in black and white that looked like a screenshot. I carefully typed the contents, substituting my name for the text between the quotes.

10 PRINT "LARRY"
20 GOTO 10
RUN

I pressed RETURN eagerly. The screen filled with my name as the machine executed the first computer program I ever wrote.

LARRY
LARRY
LARRY
LARRY
LARRY
LARRY
LARRY
LARRY
LARRY
LARRY
LARRY
LARRY
LARRY
LARRY
LARRY
LARRY
LARRY
LARRY
LARRY
LARRY
LARRY
LARRY
LARRY
LARRY
LARRY

All I had really done was instruct the computer to print LARRY in an infinite loop, but I felt empowered. It was as if I could instruct this little machine to work miracles and it would instantly oblige; in capital letters, of course.

That book had opened the door to a new world. I pressed the RUN/STOP key.

BREAK IN 10
READY.

A white block blinked below. And so it began.


Using a computer used to mean writing code, and a casual user could become a hobbyist programmer in an afternoon with no additional equipment or materials.

As computing became more common place, the commands we used to type were replaced with clickable icons. Computing was now accessible to everyone, but the workings of the machine were hidden by layer upon layer of abstraction. This transformation was amazing and beautiful, but it came at a cost: The machine was transformed from a playground that encouraged tinkering to an appliance that forbade it.

Eventually, computers began to ship with no development environment and no casual path for a user to transition to a hobbyist.

The renaissance

JavaScript is everywhere. Nearly every device we own is capable of running human-readable JavaScript code. Hit command+option+i right now and you'll drop to the console. Type this and hit enter:

alert('Hello world!');

You just wrote your first computer program.

Things are different now. You won't have to leaf through the dusty pages of an old spiral bound user's guide. Thousands of tutorials and resources are available for free, and you have the most powerful knowledge search system mankind has ever created beneath your fingertips, ready to find them.

Your journey begins here.