80s, 90s, Computers, School, Tech, Video Games — July 23, 2015 11:20 am

The Kid With Typed Homework

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My parents got bored with me pretty quickly.  Only a few months after I was born, there was a new family computer in the picture.  I’ve never really known a world without owning a computer.  In fact, one of my earliest memories is helping my dad install extra memory in our 286.

Today, millions of people are growing up with computers in the household.  Many of them carry a computer in their pocket in phone form!  But it wasn’t that long ago that having a computer was such a novelty that people would come over just to check it out.  Can you imagine going to a friend’s house today just to see their new laptop?  Being that it was such a rarity at the time, I was the first kid in my school with typed homework.

I didn’t really enjoy writing in cursive, so I discovered I could bypass that if I did the “extra work” to type up my essays.  It must have seemed so complicated to type and print homework at the time, but it cut my workload in half!  The most frustrating part was ripping the side perforations of my dot-matrix printer paper.

This is pretty much the reaction people had to our family computer in the early 90s.

Eventually, I started to push my luck and see how ridiculous I could make my homework appear and still get a fair grade on it.  Initially, I added some stock clip art from a DOS program.  That quickly changed to ant borders.  That carried through to high school when I just started blatantly filling half the page with random pictures of my early attempts at Photoshop.

My computer wow-factor skills didn’t just start and end with essay writing, though.  I also used my computer know-how to enter science fairs.

sfhomeworkThe Print Shop could make any book report seem legit.

Science and invention fairs were never my thing.  Despite how hard I tried early on to come up with good ideas, they were always actually pretty awful.  Some kid in my school got his idea purchased by a big corporation, so it didn’t seem dreams of golden swimming pools filled with cash were that far fetched.  One year I legitimately thought I was on to the next million dollar trend, but I basically had re-invented a pencil box.  After a few years of disappointment, I let the dream die a bit and just applied whatever hobby I was into at the time toward my project.

For a few years, I was really into re-working the graphics in old Nintendo games through ROM hacks.  Nowadays, there are so many tools to do this efficiently and effectively, but back in the mid-90s, my Friday nights were spent changing one block of screen-art at a time.  One mistake could glitch the text in an entire game.  I went ahead and submitted my Mario hack for the science fair.  My science board consisted of a few screen shots of the game and a floppy disk in a pen holder.

sm2hI glitched most games about this bad… on purpose?

When the fair was over, everyone else had received their grades but me.  A week or so went by before my teacher finally took me aside and said no one on staff could get my game to play on their computers.  There was the dilemma of grading a project that they couldn’t even review.  Instead of drawing it out indefinitely, we agreed that an A- seemed like a fair grade so we could all move forward with life.

Wow, an A-?  For submitting my bad ROM hack that no one could even play?  Yeah, I caught on to that trick pretty quickly.  I submitted ROMs for the next several science fairs and then re-cycled them once I changed schools.  No one knew enough about computers to load the games and we always worked out a side deal grade!  I was legitimately trying the first time, so it wasn’t my fault they couldn’t run the games.  I just ran with it.

And that’s how this computer wiz became an A- science fair student and A+ essay writer.

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