The Tron effect

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In 1982, I attended computer camp.

I know, this sounds like a "One time, at band camp. . ." story, but it's not. This was computer camp. It took place at the little-known Eastern Oregon State College, and it was the first year EOSC offered computer camp.

Growing up in Thorne Bay, Alaska, I realized I was odd. In sixth grade, the school district sent out an Apple ][. While others played Star Wars or Space Invaders, I studied Applesoft Basic. While others learned how to master Aztec, I delved into the mysteries of the Sweet16 assembler. When my mom told me her college was offering a whole month of computer studies for high school geeks like me, I couldn't wait.

That summer, I worked for my mom's boyfriend. He worked construction, and because he was about sixty years old, it felt strange calling him my mom's boyfriend, but that's what he was. That summer, I helped drywall, roof, and plumb new houses. About midsummer, I got my payday, and I applied and paid for computer camp.

That summer, I learned I was not alone.

The first day, we learned none of us were alone. We came from Walla-Walla Washington, and Pendleton Oregon, and Boise Idaho, and Thorne Bay Alaska. All of us thought we were the only geeks in the world. We didn't even know we were geeks. We just knew we loved and understood computers. We just knew that we were different from others around us, the football players, the basketball players, the stoners, the preppies (though they weren't known as preppies then).

There was Jack Frost, who couldn't order pizza because nobody would believe his name. There was Goatroper, who fell in love with Jackson Browne's "Redneck Friend." There were two beautiful female geeks, and I don't remember their names. I just remember I tackled one, and we rolled down a small hill, and that was about the first female geek contact I ever had. And I remembered they were all geeks, like me, and I would never be alone again.

We had programming competitions, in which all of us eventually won books or software. We were all introduced to the Commodore PET 2001, and the TRS-80, and the Apple ][, and the Compucolor II. Mostly, though, we were all introduced to each other.

We spent the evenings playing Truth Or Dare on the campus lawn. We talked in bad British accents, trying to imitate Monty Python. We all learned that we were the same, as different as we were, from the completely different worlds from which we came.

We spent the days learning computers. We spent our breaks waiting for Tron commercials.

We all, each and every one of us, loved the Tron trailers. We couldn't wait for the movie. We made plans for the movie. We planned, and schemed, and vowed that we would all see it together. We would break curfew, and go the the movie as a geek gang, and see the movie the night it opened.

And so we did.

I didn't tell my mom I wouldn't be home until after midnight. After camp let out for the night, we marched downtown, speaking in our bad British accents, reciting our Monty Python schticks, and waited for the movie to start. When the movie began, we cheered the hero, and loved the digitizing bit, and didn't even cringe during the bad dialog. This was all Computer Revolution, baby, and when it came right down to it, there was nothing any of us would rather do than make movies like Tron.

After, we made our way to the local donut shop, which opened at midnight. We ate donuts as they came off the conveyor belt, and recited lines from the movie, and reveled in each other's company, because we were united as geeks. We realized we had experienced the Ultimate Geek Movie together, and that united us in brotherhood.

And after that, we went our separate ways, and to this day, I do not know what happened to Jack Frost, or Goatroper, or those two wonderful female geeks. I just know that I am a better person for the experience, for the discovery of a kind of unity.

My world today is shaped by the sudden knowledge that I am not alone. My meager contributions to free software comes because of my feeling of belonging. I belong not just to Jack Frost, and not just to Goatroper, and not even just to geeks. I belong to the whole world. And the whole world belongs to me.

We all have these moments that define who we are to become. I was defined the moment I understood I was not alone. I believe free software defines who we are, those of us who are not alone. I know we define what free software is. And to that end, my contribution is merely this:

We are all in this together. We either rise together, or we fall together.

And I intend to rise.



thlinux's picture
Submitted by thlinux on

This is an awesome story. I'm a bit of a late geek bloomer. I had been working on computers for about 10 years before I found I wasn't alone. In 2003 I started working in software support for a small software company. I had owned a small PC shop in a small rural Georgia community, but I really didn't have any geek customers. Mostly older moms and dads who needed stuff installed or viruses removed. The software company was filled with geeks like me. They knew all the code words: forty-two, African or European, and Han shot first. I was finally where I belong. Thanks for sharing your story.

Alexandre Rafalovitch's picture

Except it was in Russia. We learned Pascal and Modula, Assembler and MSX Basic. I was on a project that calculated Sun's multi-year cycles. Friend of mine was learning AI-techniques to play Go.

We also had overseas visitors and the most amazing ones were from Netherlands. They did not speak Russian, but they did speak pretty much any other language we could think of (English, French, Spanish, German).

I remember one night, when they got surrounded by about 20 russian geeks throwing questions at them in all the broken foreign languages in parallel. And the guys answered it back in the language they were asked.

That was true multitasking! :-)

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

We had a weekly club (well actually a number of them running on different days which kept me occupied for years much to the annoyance of my parents who had to ferry me there and back each night) and i learned lots. things that were a mystery to me became clear after a simple 10 second explination... them were the days

oh and...



Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

There is nothing better than the feeling of learning that you are not alone.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

It isn't the same experience as a shared movie in the 80s... but if you haven't picked up a copy already, read up on:
Tron 2.0
There's geeky magic in that game :)

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Sounds like you spent the 1980s in a similar fashion to me! I didn't actually attend a full-fledged computer camp though, rather, I took classes on TRS-80, Commodore PET, and of course Apple II. Taught myself BASIC, parents bought me an Atari 800 in Christmas 1981 and started typing in all sorts of graphics and sound programs. From there moved to the Macintosh in 1984 (Forth, PASCAL, etc.) and the rest is pretty much history.

Meanwhile, my friend is writing up a storyline/script for a film which pretty much sums up our childhood growing up in Silicon Valley in the 1980s (specifically, Sunnylvale, CA where I was raised). From dumpster diving in Verbatim's trash (we'd score 1000+ usable 5 1/4" floppies per dive) to riding our bicycles past Atari's old headquarters (in Sunnyvale), we did it all. We had no idea that computers would play such a vital role in our futures.


Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Oh, I remember those days... I was in a programming club near the University of Zulia, in Maracaibo, Venezuela. I thought I was the only one guy interested in computers back in that time, but I had the grateful experience to share with folks like H. Pérez, M. Helsiniev and P. Popotamec (whose father ran the programming club), they were such incredible enthusiasts. We had a Commodore 64 which we programmed for long hours after repeatedly watching Star Trek and Star Wars. I remember that once we connected the C64 to the Angel of the Amparo (a big light bulbs sculpture from the electrical company), and we generated fibonacci sequences for turning the lights on. Those guys grew up to work in places like MIT, Caltech and NASA. Now we are getting back together in Las Vegas next year. You should try to get back with your friends I am sure if they are geeks they will find you in Google, just like I found mine.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Only it was in 2000, it was Teen TechFest 2000. I was one of 100 students that went free to U. Washington and experienced this amazing phenomena of realizing you're not the only geek in the world. It was great.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

RJH here.

What a way to find an old friend. Saw the name and brough back memories of when we had crackers breaking into our system and they wanted to reset your password. Boy did they pick the wrong person.

In the late 70's I to started out with TRS80 and Apple II computer. Was in rural alaska and we only had one compuer at the school, the apple.

Hope your doing well.


Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Seems that I'm maybe older that you, but I remember BBS's and I'm sitting here on my SuSE 10.x box, wondering if I'm pissed off enough at Novell to change, or if I'm going to wait. I have my Beta Vista box beside me on the same KVM switch, now what do I do with that, I'm obviously going to do away with Vista, but do I go Fedora core, Ubunto, SuSe 10.2 Beta, some redhat cibe or what!!!

Been there, done that, where are my customers going to go ... gotta be there first!!!!

Man I still remember my TRS80 mod 1, my pet20, my coco, my Sinclair, my Z80 machines, and I feel for this story, and all the new geeks that can't say the where there !!! look you're here now with the internet, that us older guys remember as a 1200 Bps BBS or Compuserve .. Grab that torch from us and keep going!!!


Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I could only dream of such an experience, such an eye opening and cathartic movement of the heart. For the last six years I've been headlong in techie projects of nearly every nature, and I still find myself wondering if there are any other people out there who know how I feel, who enjoy every aspect of hardware software and beyond, as long as they get to toy with it.
Perhaps I don't program even at a novice level, in any language, nor do I work in a tech field of any sort, but man, I can feel the very excited, manic beating of your heart as you sat there and watched tron with your 'family'
To think I've lived an hour and a half's drive away from Eastern my entire life and never knew of such a beautiful tale!
Thanks for sharing that story, it made my day!

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

I can't begin to tell you how much this story touched my very soul (even though I just did - ;^)

How heartwarming and comprehensibly understandable a textual verbosity it is. I can relate to your experience on so many levels and I believe, much as your article expresses, that many other "geeks" can as well.

I was in junior high school when I memorized most of Monty Python’s albums with my friend. Most of the lines are indelibly etched upon my brain cells and still subject to recall.

When Tron came out in 1982, I was already married and heading toward my first divorce. Be that as it may, I was deeply entranced by my Commodore VIC20 learning Basic. I didn’t even have a tape recorder to save and store programs, having to rewrite my code ever time I wanted to use it.

Years passed and after my first divorce, back living with my parents, I dove headfirst into the wonderfulness that was the Amiga 1000. It was for advanced over the average, everyday, ordinary PC that I thought I was the cat’s ass! What a fantastic machine it was.

I eventually graduated to the Amiga 2000 and went on to the Amiga 4000 with a Video Toaster and Video Flyer. Whoooo – those were heady days for me. By that time, I had already remarried and, after the death of Commodore, I purchased, although regretfully, my first IBM-compatible PC. That computer was left behind in the second divorce, but I got myself one of them there new-fangled Packard-Bell PC’s. About a year and several upgrades had passed when it finally passed its last bit and went on to the great processor in the sky.

By then I had had it with PC makers and so-called white-box vendors and started building my own. After building two powerful machines which have long outlived anything made in a factory, I have just finished building a new 64-bit workstation; Windows 2003 file server, Linux web server, and a software development workstation. I also get married for the third (and FINAL) time.

Along the way, I developed a voracious appetite for robotics, particularly the autonomous humanoid variety. I built and furnished an engineering lab to get my fix of all things robotic and electronic - however, I can’t seem to get my fill…

Over the course of 29 years, the few friends I did have faded into the background although I still communicate with a couple of them far and between. I never really again found that camaraderie that you so eloquently spoke of. It has become a very isolated existence for me, here on the threshold of my third (and FINAL) divorce.

Taking online courses to finally earn my Bachelor of Science degree in Information Technology at 48 years of age, I can look back with bittersweet fondness upon the years that brought me to this point in my universe of geekdom.
And I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

Thank you for writing your story and sharing it with the rest of us life-long computer “geeks." It was well worth waiting for.


Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

In 1982, a fellow geek friend of mine convinced me to see Tron on opening day in Philadelphia. We were both about 15 years old and totally addicted to computers. I lived in the 'burbs and so we never told my parents just WHERE we were going (Chestnut St., center city Philadelphia), and HOW we would get there (trolley). It was a long ride into the big city and we were a bit nervous. The trolley dropped us off just a few blocks from the theater and on the way, we happened upon a large arcade that was featuring the Midway Tron arcade game! Intrigued, we went in and played a few games and so missed the first 5 minutes of the movie.

We sat, stunned, through the whole thing and stayed to watch it again. When I finally got home, I convinced my dad to take us to see it one more time at the drive-in that night. Yep. Three viewings of Tron on the first day! It was that movie that convinced me to get into programming and 3D design. Even though only 15 minutes of the movie had actual computer graphics, it was just the thought of the future opening up right in front of us that was so exciting.

I knew before I saw Tron that I enjoyed playing with computers, but Tron convinced me that I needed to work with them also. If you have a career you enjoy, there was probably a moment in your life where you were SURE that was what you wanted to be involved with. 1982 was an exciting time to live in - computers were primative, but finally becoming useful for regular users. Moore's Law was becoming more and more evident in everything from consumer electronics to music, and that technology was shaping society in very real, measurable ways. Although, most of our peers still didn't understand what we saw in computers and why we were so interested in them. Us geeks felt like pioneers back then, I guess. We knew it was only a matter of time before everyone was using a computer even though to most people (including my own parents), it was the most alien of activities.

I later got involved in communications and networking (always had a thing for that mystical I/O tower concept) - and that's what I do now. My buddy got his computer engineering degree and works designing VOIP solutions. Both of us have never forgotten that day and the feeling that we were right in pursuing our dreams.

BTW, if you haven't gotten the 25th anniversary edition of Tron on DVD - DO SO! Not only does it have the original 'Pac-Man' version of the film (cleaned up, of course), but it also has a second DVD with all sorts of incredible info on the making/designing of the movie. It is unreal how this movie came to be and how it was finally executed.

Anthony Taylor's picture

When I wrote this, I had only intended to put down in words an important memory I've carried with me my entire adult life. I hadn't expected many to read it, honestly. I certainly didn't expect these comments.

Thank you. All of you. You have all illustrated beyond my little story exactly how we are not alone.

Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on

Great Story. I wish I'd known about these computer camps. As a kid (and as an adult), I've been engrossed with computers, programming, web design, and hardware modding. Unfortunately, my parents thought that I should be more well rounded and they sent me off to these wretched "regular" summer camps with the typical (much hated) outdoor physical activities. I think these computer camps are a great place to send "geeky" kids. I don't believe in well rounded individuals. You can't make somebody good at everything, a jack of all trades. Jack was only known for being able to do everything. But he was never known for being really good at doing one thing. :)

hacker not cracker

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Anthony Taylor's picture


Tony Taylor was born, causing his mother great discomfort, and has lived his life ever since. He expects to die some day. Until that day, he hopes to continue writing, and living out his childhood dream of being a geek.