Tales of a Cheeky Geekery

Not a lot of folks know this but I went to Cincinnati’s first ever computer-based school. Well, the school wasn’t computer-based but the curriculum was. Called CUP , it was an alternative educational program run out of Hughes High School during the mid-80’s. Being a wholly unique program for its time, it began the integration of computers into school life, something that I think a lot of people these days take for granted.

What made CUP unique? Students would learn about databases, word processing, even simple computer commands. All homework handed in was to be done on computers, nothing could ever done in handwriting or on typewriters. There were no chalkboards at CUP, because chalk dust could easily make a computer overheat. Also, the fluorescent lighting had special filters to reduce glares on the CRT monitors (ask your parents, kids). In addition to notebooks, folders, and pens — no pencils because erasers, too, could gunk up a computer back then — we also carried hard plastic disk boxes to protect our 5¼-inch or 3½-inch floppy disks.

Sadly, not a lot of attention was given to actual programming, per se, and most of the teaching staff spent more time figuring out how to implement their pedagogy into this burgeoning technology. However, the two years I spent at CUP exposed me to a lot of neat, new things (for its time) and pretty much set me on a technological trend in my life that still causes my older siblings to call me for computer advice or tech questions.

The cover of COMPUTE!'S Gazette from December 1984.

COMPUTE!’S Gazette, the cutting edge of Commodore computers! No, really.

Being at CUP was a really cool thing to be apart of. You had to be selected to go to there, which meant having some knowledge of or capacity with computers, if not a desire to learn. I fit that prerequisite, I think. I’d been monkeying around with computers and programming for a couple years, first on my old VIC-20, then on my beloved Commodore 64. Back then, computers weren’t as ubiquitous as they are now. To be into computers was to be instantly branded as a nerd or geek, the sort of person who would type in the 1000+ lines of code in the back of a COMPUTE!’s Gazette and try to figure out where you went wrong, since the programs rarely worked on first try.

Naturally, it’s all cool to be into computers these days, and many people are fine with using them having no idea of how they work. For me, however, programming is where it’s at. There nothing more fun than taking some lines of text and, say, turning them into a beautiful looking webpage. But I digress.

Being at CUP put me among people who, at the least, had one interest in common with me and probably wouldn’t be like the dolts at my junior high who branded me “Lumberjack” just because I wore a red flannel shirt to school one day.

CUP, indeed, was a unique school, but although the people in charge of the program got ‘it’, not everyone did. One particularly obstinate teacher who was at CUP once cause me doing something that I can’t remember and I probably felt was pretty arbitrary in terms of violation of principles. It probably had something to do with running a program I’d written on an Apple ][c (that’s what we had most of) during class when I should’ve been working on something else. She did the old punishment of having me write 100 hundred sentences, something like “I will not misbehave during class” or “I will not call the teacher a powerless figurehead”, and then have my parents sign it.

Remembering the mandate that CUP required all work be done on computers, I used this nifty little loophole to circumvent tedium and hand cramps. I whipped up a quick program on my old Commie that was similar to this:

5 cls
10 for x= 1 to 100
20 print x$;". I will not blah blah blah blah."
30 next x
40 end

I had also set it up so that the output straight to my printer so that it would create the following in lovely dot matrix print *.

1. I will not blah blah blah blah.
2. I will not blah blah blah blah.
3. I will not blah blah blah blah.
4. I will not blah blah blah blah.
5. I will not blah blah blah blah.
96. I will not blah blah blah blah.
97. I will not blah blah blah blah.
98. I will not blah blah blah blah.
99. I will not blah blah blah blah.
100. I will not blah blah blah blah.

I handed my dad the Z-fold printout (you kids with your laser and inkjet printers don’t know the first thing about spooling, do ya!) and asked him to sign it, which he did in a rather bemused manner. I then presented it to my teacher who, rather than the two or three page handwritten sentences, was given a three-page computer printout. Understanding that I would probably get some blow back on this, I had pretty much assumed that this would be taken to the next level (ie, a visit to the program administrator’s office).

Which it did.

It was over in about five minutes. She told the PA that I was being lazy and insolent. I explained that I was following the spirit of the program’s principles. Long story short: the PA chuckled at my chutzpah but reminded me that, in future, I should stick to following class rules, or “keep my nose clean” as my dad used to say. It was a small victory and I’m pretty sure I was the reason for a couple of post-school glasses of wine for my teacher.