Monday, September 17, 2007

Battlezone, Beer, and FORTRAN

I've been thinking back to those days, 1979 or 1980, when my routine ran like this: I'd be out at the library of a weeknight, studying till ten or eleven in the evening, working on some proofs in Fourier analysis or algebraic topology or partial differential equations. Writing on pads of yellow legal paper, pushing the proof through on this front or that, hit a roadblock, puzzle over it sometimes for an hour or more and then suddenly the next step to take would dawn on me in a flash. Maybe work a while then, grading quizzes or homework for a calculus discussion section I was teaching.

Then, maybe 11 PM or so, I'd sling my backpack over my shoulder and head down State Street. Just off the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Head down to State Street Brats, duck in the door, pick up a copy of the Daily Cardinal or the Badger Herald if one was to be had. Get a beer, tap beer was a quarter back in those days. Retire to a booth in a semi-unlit corner.

Or I might also play a game of Battlezone, they had Battlezone at State Street Brats: two games for a quarter, this was one of the very first primitive video games, just then replacing the old mechanical pinball machines. Battlezone, crude 3D tanks appear in green wireframe outline on a monochrome monitor, sound of tank engines, crude 3D wireframe boulders here and there, crude 3D wireframe mountains in the distance. Maneuvering in a virtual world, I take aim and shoot at enemy tanks, blasting them before they can blast me.

Most of the tanks are broad and squat. Once in a while there's a thin, sleek 3D green wireframe tank, and those are quicker, deadlier. But deadliest of all are the guided missiles (3D green wireframe) that come buzzing toward you from over the mountains, buzzing with a noise like an old prop plane engine. You've got to shoot just right to hit those, or else the scene will be covered with crude green wireframe cracks running all over the screen, GAME OVER.

Or there was an Asteroids game, equally crude monochrome wireframe asteroids. I think this was back before PacMan or Centipede.

Afterwards it was back over a block or two to the fourth-floor apartment, up above the KK (Kollege Klub), which I shared with my brother. The little U-shaped efficiency apartment, over in one corner sat my old early 60's wood-cabinet stereo which played vinyl records which were, you know, all we had in those days, nobody had ever heard of CDs. It was a different world, a world of President Carter and "malaise" and the Ayatollah Khomeini, Newsweek written at a reading level several grade levels higher than it is today.

Next morning I'd teach that calculus discussion section, then over to the computer science building where I'd finish writing a program in FORTRAN, then type it up on punched cards at a keypunch machine. Or if I had a spare moment, I might read Athanasius or Justin Martyr, volumes checked out of the University library, which is how I eventually ended up where I am today; but that's another story.

I think back to that world of almost 30 years ago, and how different a world it was, and how different a person I was. Give me that long again, and I'll be 80, white-haired, and retired. It makes a person think.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

'how different a world it was'

indeed i wasn't even born back then i try to put myself back into that world and i'll tell you, i don't succeed.....:)

Monday, September 17, 2007 7:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

and i'll tell you, that *does* make me think :)

Monday, September 17, 2007 7:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

really enjoyed this post

Tuesday, October 02, 2007 7:56:00 PM  

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