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Early nerd memories ;)

I don’t remember being a nerd before 5th grade.

In 5th grade though, I had a teacher that would change my life forever, and set me on my path to nerdiness. His name was Kent Daniels, and he was my 5th grade math teacher. Now, Kent was no ordinary teacher. His class had a kumbaya-like setup, with a circle of big, cushy, used sofas where kids would sit down and talk. Furthermore, he was able to somehow amass a bunch of old Macs, probably 1 for every kid. (In 1992, this was a big deal)

He assigned us a project on probability, where we rolled 2 die, added them up, and repeated. We kept track of the totals and how often we rolled them. Of course, over time, the totals would converge into particular percentages, which indicated their probabilities. For example, there’s a 1/36 chance to roll a 2, 2/36 chance to roll a 3, and so on and so forth.

Even though he had all the kids roll the dice a 100 times or so, he also challenged us to write a computer program to do it. Kent said that he had a Mac Plus in the back room that we could use to run it for a couple weeks, and simulate rolling 2 die a couple million times. This was a tall order for a bunch of 10 and 11 year olds.

Of course, my friend Kelsey Woods (who already knew a little BASIC) and I decided we wanted to do it. Even though I knew nothing about computers, he started teaching me what he knew about BASIC, and I started learning on my own. I still remember the exhilaration of watching a screen full of random numbers when we figured out how to seed the generator.

Weeks after the original assignment, we had a beautiful little program in BASIC that generated the numbers, calculated the totals, and even drew little graphs with *s :)

In a bit of fanfare, we loaded the program onto Kent’s Mac Plus in front of the entire class. We started the program, and left it. Everyone clapped.

Minutes later, smoke started emerging from the computer. Kent looked over, grabbed the power cord, and pulled it out of the electrical socket. He quipped, "I don’t think the computer liked your program." Haha.

I never figured out what happened to the computer, and why it started to smoke. Years later, I heard that Kent had left the Seattle Public School district after a dispute with the administration. It made me sad to hear that. I haven’t heard from him, or my friend Kelsey in years, but I’ll always remember them and the smoking Mac Plus.

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