When I was in late primary school (or maybe early high school, I’m not really sure, at this old age my mind is starting to go) I asked my parents to enroll me in a holiday program which involved playing with Lego and electronics.
This was back in the mid-90’s so having access to a fully decked out Lego kit and PC connector wasn’t exactly the norm (wait, am I saying it now is :P) so having the opportunity to spend a whole lot of time just playing with it seemed like the most awesome idea in the world.
So off I trotted to my holiday program where I was joined by a number of other kids my age and an instructor who gave us great piles of Lego, some command boards and showed us the basics of connecting it on the computer. We had some basic scenarios which we were to work through that involved making a merry-go-round that would stop after a period of time (and some others) but there was an more exciting prize on the horizon, if we finished early we got to have free time to do what we wanted.
Now I’d always been someone who had to know how it worked. My dad would bring old telephones home from work and give me a screw driver and let me go to town with tinkering (and more than one electrical shock). I successfully destroyed more than one old radio that I found on council pickup day by trying to figure out where all the wires were going. So when the promise of doing what I wanted with these strange combination of statements on a computer and a pile of Lego it was ON.
After completing the basic tasks I set about changing the parameters. What if I change this number? Oh look it gets a lot faster, and if I combine it with a change to the looping statement I can make it go round one way a few times then reverse itself. We dubbed our creation the merry-go-round of death (c’mon, we were like 10 :P)!
The power was intoxicating…
But then the thrill started to die down, there’s only so much I can do with this merry-go-round, so I started looking for the next big thing.
Outside the window of the community centre was an intersection, an intersection with traffic lights. So I sat there watching them and I knew what I had to do, I had to replicate them in Lego.
I broke down my current creation, put together a basic Lego intersection and opened up a new command editor and got cracking. Before I knew it I had lights going on and off, all perfectly in sync with the lights outside our window. I marveled in the control I had over my own little intersection.
When the day was done we got to print out our little programs (on a dot matrix printer mind you!) which I proudly showed my parents, who gave me the blank stare that these days I’m all to use to seeing :P.
And this concludes my trip down memory lane to back where I fell in love with the power over computers programming has given me.