Thursday, July 23, 2009

Truth: Computer Class

My dad was always a little bit ahead of his time.  For example, he immediately recognized the importance that computers would play in our daily lives and went out and bought the first TRS-80 he could get his hands on and he taught himself how to program it.  As time went on he would consistently upgrade.  We had a Commodore 64 and several IBM clones after that.  He made sure that I knew how to work whatever computer we had and he encouraged me to spend time on it and learn as much as I could so that I would be prepared for the future.

My dad wasn’t content to just teach me how to use computers; he wanted to teach as many kids as possible.  He decided to talk to my teacher, Sister D.  It was no surprise that he managed to talk her into letting him teach my sixth grade class computer programming for a couple hours a week.

When my dad came in to teach the lesson, he gave each of us a floppy disk with our name on it - including Sister D.  The class loved this.  Sister D would be learning right along with us.  We were instructed to save our programs to the disk with our name on it and my dad would check the disks each week to see how we were doing.

Most of the kids in the class caught on quickly but it was clear from the beginning that Sister D was struggling.  Each week her frustration would show a little more and we would quietly snicker and hope she didn’t notice.  At recess we would laugh at how easy it was for us and how hard it was for Sister D.  A few kids joked about playing some kind of prank on her with the computer but they didn’t know how.

I did.

The next day during my designated computer time, I quickly finished my assignment for the week and decided to take a look at the programs Sister D had saved on her disk.  I noticed that she had already started the assignment for that week and I opened up her program.  It was only half finished and I could already see that there were several problems.  She would definitely be doing more work on that program.  Thinking back to that recess, I suddenly knew the perfect prank to play on Sister D.  I began typing furiously and I stretched my meager programming skills to the limit.  Once I had finished, I saved my new updates to her programs and put her disk back where I found it.  I returned to my desk, anxious for the next time Sister D went to the computer.

Early the next morning, Sister D gave us all a lengthy math assignment and went back to the computer to work on her programming assignment for the week.  I watched closely and tried to keep from exploding with laughter.  I turned back to my assignment but I couldn’t concentrate.  Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long.

“What is wrong with this thing?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“It’s asking me for a password for all of my programs.  What is a password and how do I know what to type in?”

The whole class looked at me.  I did my best I-don’t-know-what’s-going-on-either face and said, “A password is a secret word that you use to protect your files.  What did you set yours to?”  The entire class was squirming with excitement and laughter but no one dare let out a peep.  Thankfully, Sister D was still staring at the computer screen.

“I didn’t set mine to anything.  Who did this?!”

She was getting angry.  The excitement and laughter quickly turned to fear.  No one liked when Sister D got angry.  Crazy and irrational things started happening when Sister D got angry.  I jumped out of my seat and ran over to the computer.

“Let me take a look.  Maybe I can figure out what is wrong.”

I opened up a few of her programs and pretended to be surprised when it asked for a password.  I took my time “discovering” the problem and deleting the code I had written.  When I was all done, I pulled up her programs and showed her that they were all working fine.  She looked at me carefully.

“How does something like this happen,” she asked.

“I’m not sure.  Maybe your disk is bad,” I tried.

“Did anyone else have this problem,” she asked the class.  Everyone shook their heads.

“Maybe you can ask my dad when he comes in tomorrow,” I said, hoping that she didn’t want to admit to another adult that she didn’t understand something. 

“Get back to your assignment,” she said.

I went back to my desk and finished my assignment and spent the rest of the day walking on eggshells with the rest of the class.  The next day my dad came in and taught his lesson and Sister D never asked him about the passwords.  Later that night at dinner my dad informed me that he would no longer be teaching programming to my class because Sister D thought that the students were wasting too much time on the computer.  I didn’t have the heart to tell him the real reason.

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