Autoblography Part 15: NERDS!

By Shamus Posted Tuesday Sep 20, 2011

Filed under: Personal 141 comments

I am now done with elementary school. Time for Junior High.

Because a great many readers may not be familiar with the American school system, allow me to sum up: Children begin school at age five, in Kindergarten. After that are grades one through six. This stage is referred to as “elementary school”. After that are grades seven and eight, which are “junior high”, followed by grades nine through twelve, which is “high school”. There are usually many small elementary schools that all lead into a common high school.


When Mom takes me shopping for the new school year, I get “normal” clothes. No more polyester pants, no more green socks. It’s at this point that I finally realize why I insisted on wearing those things. I suddenly see that I didn’t want to acquiesce to the bullies and dress like everyone else. Now I’m going to be going to larger school with an all-new group of kids, so… I guess I’ve made my point? Sure, it was stupid and stubborn and nobody understood or cared, but it still feels like some sort of victory for me. Somehow.

I get a paper route over the summer, and use the money to buy a computer. This is 1984, long before the home computer market settled down around the Microsoft vs. Apple field of battle. There are a lot of different manufacturers, each with their own proprietary hardware and software. Right now the choice for home users is between Commodore, Amiga, Texas Instruments, Apple, Tandy, and probably a half dozen other players I’ve long since forgotten. Most of these machines retail for hundreds of dollars, and it would take me a year of constant saving to get that kind of cash together. However, I find a machine from Tandy called the MC-10 that is available for about fifty bucks. It’s a display model of a line they’re discontinuing. The hardware is lacking, the keyboard is criminally small even for the hands of a child, its built-in support for the BASIC programming language is clunky, and it is without a doubt the runt of the litter when it comes to home computers. But it’s affordable, and that’s what matters.


I get it home and hook it up to the little black-and-white television in my bedroom. It’s perched on my nightstand, and I kneel on the floor to use it. I spend a good bit of the summer with the texture of the carpet imprinted into my legs from sitting there for so long. More importantly: I’m off and running. I spent my childhood dreaming about this and trying to figure out how to make this happen. Now that the day has come, I throw myself into becoming a programmer.

The only time I stop programming is when I visit David. Our friendship grows, and having him as a friend makes the new school less frightening. We have no classes in common (and in our six-year run of grades seven through twelve, we will never share a single class) but having him around is still crucial. He fills much the same role for me that my younger brother Patrick has always performed: David meets people and makes friends, and then eases me into the group. I’m still years behind the other kids socially, although now I have the self-control to keep quiet and observe without making a fool of myself. Still, I’d never meet anyone if I didn’t have David brokering friends for me.

On the weekends we play two-man baseball. It’s a sport, but we don’t really play in a competitive manner. We each draw up our own roster of imaginary players, and assign them various strengths and weaknesses. We devise stories for them. “This one is a washed-up all-star,” and, “This guy always chokes on important plays.” We give them amusing names and write down all of their stats before we set foot outside. Our goal is not not win or lose, but to simply enact the game according to the cast we’ve created. We don’t know it, but we’ve basically invented some sort of multi-avatar stats-based sports LARPing. (Actually, the “we” here is misplaced. The game was entirely David’s invention.)

“WHY DON’T YOU GUYS JUST GO OUT AND PLAY?” exclaims David’s older sister in exasperation. She’s been listening to us with increasing levels of irritation and bewilderment for almost half an hour now. She’s sitting at the kitchen table with us trying to do her homework, and our incomprehensible game has finally driven her over the edge.

David and I look at each other and laugh. There is simply no way to really explain this game to her.

On the left is Patrick, the embodiment of the photo-bomb, made flesh and set loose upon the world to confuse and frustrate photographers for all time.  That’s me on the right.
On the left is Patrick, the embodiment of the photo-bomb, made flesh and set loose upon the world to confuse and frustrate photographers for all time. That’s me on the right.

There is a block of un-allotted time at the start and end of the school day where kids have nothing to do but wait for school to start or their bus to arrive. Most kids hang out in the schoolyard or in the cafeteria. It’s loud and rough, and this is where a lot of the fights and bullying take place. David lets me in on a secret: You can also spend this time in the library. Almost nobody knows about this. The place is empty, quiet, and filled with books. If not for David I’d have spent every morning sitting alone in the zoo, but instead I spend them working my way through Asimov and Bradbury.

We have a lot of projects going, most of which were instigated or run by David. We play a stock market game. Every morning David brings in the market listings for a couple of dozen fictitious (and humorous) companies. Tech companies. Manufacturing. Finance. He also occasionally writes up news stories to go with the listings. Smart players are the ones who watch the news, read between the lines, and then invest wisely. Once you get enough money, it’s possible to buy a controlling interest in one of the smaller companies, allowing you to make decisions about how it behaves. Players do this and rename or alter the trajectory of the enterprises under their control. In this way, we all participate in this game that blends investing with storytelling. David is above corruption, but not beyond the reach of group pressure, so the market performs ludicrously well.

The other thing we have going is Video Magazine. (There was once a real magazine called “Video”, but we didn’t know that when we named our effort.) It’s a monthly magazine that we produce by hand, on loose-leaf paper, for whoever will sit still and read the thing. Affordable word processors and inkjet printers are decades away, so we publish in pen. By a fortunate coincidence, each member of our four-man staff happens to own (or have access to) a different brand of personal computer. Each month we write a program that demonstrates some idea or trick, and write a little article about it. We each choose the program and subject matter on our own, and we turn in our code and prose to David near the end of the month. He writes the entire thing out in pen, doing the editing and layout all by himself. If we want to publish more than one print, he has to make the subsequent copies by hand. (Sometimes he splurges and uses a photocopier.)

There are concerns from all of my teachers that I am not doing my homework. My grades are bad. I am threatened with detention if I don’t begin doing my assignments. It’s unfortunate, but between programming, discovering computer architecture, writing my columns, reading sci-fi classics, and maintaining an imaginary portfolio and company, I just don’t have time to do my homework.

At this rate, I’ll never learn anything in school.


From The Archives:

141 thoughts on “Autoblography Part 15: NERDS!

  1. nawyria says:

    And thus began the beginning of the beginning of Shamus: the Geek, the man who would one day amuse thousands with his techy witticisms and observations.

    For some reason this post ended up between part 12 and part 13, both on your blog’s time continuum and that of my RSS reader. You might want to move it to the end of the line ^^.

  2. Scott Richmond says:

    Pretty sure I just played games flat-stick at this age. EQ2. Nuff Said.

  3. TehShrike says:

    Where is this David fellow now?

    1. Shamus says:

      Alas that he moved out west. Has a wife and a daughter. I only get to see him about once every couple of years. :(

  4. Kdansky says:

    Being ten years younger than you are, I had the luxury of starting my programming career on a Windows 95 machine. I did have a brief run-in with BASIC on DOS 3 and Pascal on DOS 5, but was too young to really get the gist.

    I wrote a huge mod (thousands of lines of code, including stuff like path-finding and cooperating AI) for Clonk together with two friends who did the graphics. I wish I had clearer memory of all that, as it was such an interesting time.

  5. Ah Jr. High…the beginning of my ‘Dark Age’. :P My sister noted to me that it was going to kick my ass. She was a bitch of the highest caliber, but she was also right, and the ass kicking lasted until high school graduation. Unfortunately, my environment did not allow for a lot of outlets and I was too terrified at the time to take any opportunities that would have headed my way.

  6. MichaelG says:

    Your own computer at that age! So spoiled…

    I started on a typewriter-style terminal connected to a mainframe, running a bizarre programming language called APL (A Programming Language!)

    On the plus side, the whole thing was so strange back in 1971 that no one in school wanted anything to do with it (including the teachers.) I had the terminal all to myself. They even let me use it during the summer.

    On the minus side, there were no graphics and the terminal was at school, limiting the amount of time I could put in. So I wrote all my code on paper first, with lots of cross-outs and lines everywhere.

    APL was actually a good choice for coding on paper, since it has an operator symbol instead of names for builtin routines (you needed a special keyboard to program in APL.) It was very dense stuff.


    1. Shamus says:

      I usually try to stay aloof from the language flame wars, but wow. That language looks horrible.

      Still, c++ must look like child’s play after cutting your teeth on that.

      1. Mephane says:

        You should really try out Befunge, if you haven’t already. So much fun to be had there.

        1. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

          Befunge actually seems like it would be fun! I like designing mazes and architecture, and this seems more like a puzzle than a program.

        2. Simon Buchan says:

          Wow, someone out brainfucked Brainfuck? I’m impressed!

          My impression of APL was that it was actually really good at the few things it was really designed for. I believe some elements of it’s design were used in the very beautiful and powerful ML family of languages. Anything that made Haskell better can’t be that bad!

      2. MichaelG says:

        Shamus, it’s worse than you think. That language is conceptually very strange. Ken Iverson, the designer, had no respect for anything that had gone before. He wanted a language which just combined streams of arrays with various operators.

        Statements are all executed from right to left, so 2*3+4 is 2*(3+4), which caused many math mistakes in school for me! Variables mostly hold arrays. So that last line of code means this:

        S assign +/ ^\ ‘ ‘ != transpose N

        N is a string (array of characters.) “A Test”
        transpose N reverses the array: “tseT A”
        ‘ ‘ != creates a new array: 1 1 1 1 0 1
        ^\ applies AND over the array: 1 1 1 1 0 0
        +/ sums the array: 4

        and we have the length of the last word.

        Now imagine writing a program to play the card game Gin Rummy, which I did…..

        1. X2-Eliah says:

          RIGHT TO LEFT?!


          Um. Sorry. But.. WOW that is horrible. And.. the symbols used aren’t even logical (“!= is for making an array.. WHYYYYYYYYY… and should it be then read as not equal to “, or as =!“, or equals to very special “ ?)

          1. krellen says:

            In Pascal, != is read as “gets” and is used for initialising variables.

            1. X2-Eliah says:

              Hmkay. Still, pretty daft inconsistency, to have the same notation for ‘gets’ and ‘is not equal to’ across rather similar languages.

            2. Rick C says:

              Actually, Pascal uses := (colon-equals) for assignment.

              1. krellen says:

                Well, it has been nearly twenty years since I used Pascal.

                1. Sumanai says:

                  And I bet you’ve just been waiting for an excuse to get back to it.

                  1. krellen says:

                    It’s really the only programming language I know that I don’t get headaches thinking about.

          2. Sean Coner says:

            I think the sequence “‘ ‘ != transpose N” is actually comparing each element of N (reversed) to a space, and is returning an array of results, the same size as N. If you check the actual line of code (it’s an image) it really is a “not equals” sign.

            1. MichaelG says:

              Yes, that’s right. If you think of the language as creating all these intermediate arrays, it looks horribly inefficient. If you think of a line of code as building a filter over the source array, it’s not as bad. Transpose doesn’t mean “create a reversed array”, but “traverse the array in reverse order.”

              And it’s worth pointing out that the source could be a two dimensional array and this exact same line of code would produce a one-dimensional array of last-word lengths of each of the input lines.

              It’s a hard way to think about programming, but it is a very concise language.

    2. Mom says:

      Looks like Wingdings

    3. SolkaTruesilver says:

      Your own computer at that age! So spoiled…

      I know you might be saying that in jest, but having a child work his ass off to have the money to buy himself something is the polar opposite of “spoiled”.

      Like, it’s philosophically impossible to be further away from that definition.

      1. MichaelG says:

        I saved up to buy an Apple II when I was in grad school, so I appreciate the effort. I was just teasing him about having his very own computer.

        When I was a kid reading my Asimov and Bradbury, wanting your own computer was like wanting your own spaceship.

    4. Kayle says:

      Its direct ancestor was used as a notation for vector and matrix manipulations several years before the first APL implementation was started.

    5. Erik says:

      OMG! Another coder whose first language was APL! We are rare creatures, indeed.

      In my case, my mother was doing some heavy statistical analysis for her PhD using APL, using a teletype at home much of the time. I kept looking over her shoulder and wanting to know more, so she set up a subaccount for me on her account, gave me the APL book, and told me to knock myself out. I learned the language and eventually ended up writing a craps game in it.

      Eventually I discovered the Star Trek game on the mainframe, which cut down on my programming time considerably, then started learning other languages like Basic and Fortran. (C had barely been invented at that time, and was not yet well-known.) But APL’s concept of writing standalone functions in a workspace that called each other left me with a natural feel for component-based architectures, which I’ve built into a career.

  7. Aelyn says:

    Similar stories here. I mowed grass all summer, saved every penny and opted for the Commodore 64. I had to beg my parents to pitch in some money to make it happen (and catch it on sale), but happen it did. That was a joyous day, approached in brightness only by Christmas later that year when we got the $400 floppy drive to go with it.

  8. DaveMc says:

    So it sounds like David was the DM of your stock market game … Did he play that role for the sports LARP, too?

  9. BlckDv says:

    Just as some extra info for your clarification, there are several variations on the grade structure. Two other common ones (I know there are more) are Kindergarden-5th Grade (Elementary) 6th-8th (Middle School) 9th-12th (High School) or K-6th (Elementary) 7th-9th (Junior High) 10th-12th (High School or Senior High School). I’ve found that among a social group who grew up in different cities, talking about the 6th-9th grade window can get very confusing.

    1. DanMan says:

      Yes, very much so. Aparently, I’m the odd one since we had k-5; 6-8; 9-12 (I went to private school) and all the public schools in the area went k-6; 7-8; 9-12.

      I am pretty sure this is why we weren’t allowed to be on “middle school” sports teams until 7th grade even though we were in “middle school” in 6th grade.

      I understand why those groupings exist in schools where there are a lot of little “elementary schools” that feed into one or two big “high schools”, but it made no sense to break it up in any way for a private school that didn’t change k-12.

      1. ccesarano says:

        I moved from a school system that was K-5, 6-8, 9-12 to a school that was K-6, 7-8, 9-12. It was a bit strange, but since I was 8th grade by time I moved it didn’t really matter much.

        1. theLameBrain says:

          I went to a school where elementary went k-6, then high school went 7-12. No Junior High at all.

          It was a small town, apparently there just were not enough kids to justify a third building.

    2. CTrees says:

      I went through a lot of different school systems, but the one I finished in had Elementary: K-4, Middle: 5-8, High: 9-12. Junior high was designated as grades 9 and 10, but was not separated from the rest of the high school while I was there, but I understand they are slightly removed, now (this state is… ranked low on education, so they keep trying different things without addressing the fundamental problems).

      1. swenson says:

        Mine was somewhat similar to that–K-4 was elementary, 5-8 was middle school, and 9-12 was high school. But “middle” and “junior high” was pretty much synonymous, so we really called 5-8 junior high instead of 9-10.

        Interestingly enough, when I was in elementary school, only K-3 was there originally, with 4-8 all being in one school. I went to a very small country school, though, with only one each of elementary, middle, and high schools, so the building each grade was in was really just determined by where they could fit everyone.

      2. James says:

        The School system i went through is well simple

        Age -5 : Pre School (this is only for like 2 years and isnt anything serious)

        Age 5-11 : Primary School : this is i guess like your elementary school. we’re their for 6 years, and do the basics English Maths Science and PE. god i hate PE. also School Plays :)

        Age 11-16/17 : Secondary School : this arguably is the single most important stage of schooling for most people, this is where you get Qualifications that employers will look at maby if your lucky. at around 14-15 you pick “Options” this is where you pick 2-4 subjects other then the main 4 English Sciences Maths and PE, to do, before then you did all of them some on a rotating period by years so DT one year Food Tech the next. IMO giving a 14-15 yo this much reponsability is the stupidest thing in the known universe, most kids don’t know what they want to do, and such might spend the next several years after school re-educating to learn new skills to do what they want, but help kids get jobs isn’t what schools about is it?

        after that is the optional stuff.
        6th Form : 16/17-18/19 : these are usually attached to a secondary school and where you get grades used for University admission and showing off. you can do any number of subjects from Advanced Mathematics to Travel and Tourism.

        Collage : 16/17 – Depends on Course : This is like 6th Form only longer and often more specilised, te courses can range from English for non-native speakers, to Advanced courses in Media Studies.

        University : 18-Depends on Course : these are well known you get degrees, so you can get the best jobs, or so you can get a masters and a doctorate, some places require uni degrees like medicine, oh and ot costs a fortune for the privilege of learning, i dont know about american uni’s but in the UK, Tuition Fees currently sit at an adverage of £6,000 per year ($9-10k at current exchange rate?) and top out at ~£9300 per year, this DOES NOT include accommodation food or supplies.

        1. McNutcase says:

          American universities are stonkingly more expensive. On the other hand, most of them REALISE that they’re stonkingly expensive and at least try to make it possible to hold down a job while you study, unlike British ones.

          1. Cuthalion says:

            My uni is a upper/mid tier private one in the US. Tuition is about $22,000 per year. This does not include room and board. Standard degrees are 4 years. Some professions (medical, psychology, often teaching) require extra degrees afterward.

            On the other hand, expensive US schools tend to offer a ton of financial aid. If you have good grades like I did, you could end up at this school for more like $2,000 a year, including room and board. (Although, you’d have to borrow about $10,000 per year as well.) Public colleges and universities are usually much cheaper, but the top-tier private universities are actually significantly more expensive.

        2. RTBones says:

          American universities, by and large, are hugely expensive. If there is an upside, its that most universities offer a wide range of financial aid – some is from state/local governments. Some of it is federal aid. There are a wide variety of loan packages available. It is, however, not terribly unusual for students to graduate with close to $100K in debt (assuming they paid for school mostly with loans, and not scholarships or help from family) if they are pursuing one of the classic professions (physician, lawyer, engineer).

          There are, of course, exceptions – and state universities are typically less expensive than private ones. But you get the idea.

        3. uberfail says:

          In New Zealand it’s: -5 kindergarden, (concentrated baby sitting) Primary school starts at 5 for six years. (depending on when your brithday is you might get put forward or held back a year) Years 1-6. Then Intermediate years 7-8 then College, years 9-13. By year thrirteen you’ll be 17 or eighteen. You can drop out at 16 aprox yr 11 or twelve.
          After that University, if you want to. (it used to be free but now it’s not, there are interest free student loans though, if you don’t leave the country)

        4. Newbie says:

          Wrong… £3,350 is my current fee for university and is the highest it will be until next year. And it’s not expensive as we don’t pay until we are in a job earning more than £15,000 a year. (When it goes to £9,000 it will be that you have to earn about £21,000 I believe)

    3. Joe Cool says:

      Mine was a bit weirder, although simpler: K and 1st “elementary school”, 2nd-10th “home school”, 11th-12th “community college”.

    4. 4th Dimension says:

      I wonder, what was the need for all this difering schooling setups? Trying to console old style schoold with new ones at the turn of the century?!?

      In my country it’s relativly simple (at least when I went to school).

      You start school when you are 6 or 7 years old (whenever your parents decide).
      That first school is named Elementary School and it lasts 8 years/grades (allthough it’s often that you will, for the first four be in a smaller school before moving for grades 6-8 into a bigger one). This 8 year school is your basic by law required education. If your parents don’t send you they get into trouble.
      Then comes a 4 or 3 years Middle School (you might call it High School). This is the first place where you can choose what interests you, since different schools have different ‘directions’. Some are generalists and are called gimnasiums and are supposed to be the most difficult. Than there are ‘specialist’ schools (electric engineering, computer engineering, agriculture, maritime and many more) which focus on specific subjects. Theoreticaly after copleting a specialist school you should be able to work in such a field, tough this is rarely the case. This school is NOT required by law, but most jobs require for you to finish it in some form. Also those 3 years Middle schools are supposed to teach difrent ‘crafts’ (car repairmen, TV repairmen and so on) and with those you are not able to go to UNIVERSITY.
      After Middle school comes UNIVERSITY. UNI lasts 3-4 years offcially 3 years ones are considered High tehnical schooling (App.Bsc.) and four years ones are academical ones. basically unless there isn’t a 4 year one for what you want to learn you allways go for 4 years ones.

      ALL of theese schools are completly free (only one you might be required to pay is UNI if you fail the criteria (UNI acccepts only a set number non paying students), or fail one of courses but you can get into non paying group if you complete an entire year with no fails).

    5. Kayle says:

      One you missed: k-3 (elementary), 4-6 (intermediate), 7-8 (jr. high), then normal 9-12 high school. At the school I attended, intermediate and jr. high were in different parts of the same building, but only incidental contact between the two schools.

  10. Wolverine says:

    “If not for David I'd have spent every morning sitting alone in the zoo, but instead I spend them working my way through Asimov and Bradbury.”
    I’m assuming you would then move on to Clarke ;)

    1. decius says:

      Nope, Card would come before Clarke.

      1. Aldowyn says:

        why the heck would Card come before Clarke if he didn’t come before Asimov and Bradbury?

        I just want Heinlein (3rd of the Grand Masters) in there somewhere.

        1. Avatar says:

          Because of how the books are shelved in a library?

          1. Aldowyn says:

            … I feel stupid now.


    2. albval says:

      And then to Dick, perhaps?

  11. skeeto says:

    Each month we write a program that demonstrates some idea or trick, and write a little article about it.

    So you’re saying you’ve been blogging for almost 30 years now!

  12. MadTinkerer says:

    Being born in 1979, I missed out on the console market crash and most of the early personal computer wars. I was aware that computers like the Tandy and Commodore 64 and such existed thanks to ads in comic books, but I didn’t have my own until around 1987.

    Man, could that Apple II run Frogger. Rocky’s Boots was my introduction to circuit logic and simple programming. Sticky Bear and Reader Rabbit helped me with my English skills. We had a variant of Trek on the Apple II, but I didn’t get addicted to it until EGA Trek on the 286. But Frogger was definitely my favorite.

    (I did see TRON in theaters, but being 2 years old at the time, I didn’t remember it until I saw it again in 1985. I remember it taking forever for realtime graphics to catch up to the prerendered graphics in TRON. And now we have Unreal Engine 3 and such. Kids are SO SPOILED today.)

  13. Grag says:

    Maybe it is just the quality of the photo, but are you certain that your dad is not time-travelling Graham Stark? Just asking…

  14. X2-Eliah says:

    From that picture… looks like Shamus was really proud of being taller than Patrick.

    On computers – Eh. frankly my first computer was an early one running windows XP back in ’02 or so – I basically skipped a lot of the interesting early devices. Which, frankly, I fear has kind of limited my view on all this code stuff – there’s not really a sense of ‘homemade contraption’ to the code nowadays – basically my generation and later on , who are dealing with software, are a bit too far removed from the hardware side due to sheer magnitude of abstractions made.

    1. noahpocalypse says:

      I agree. My first computer was in ’06, give or take a few years. (More likely give.) My dad’s a programmer, and he says that he put a lot of software for learning languages (i.e. C#) on that machine, but I refused to do anything with it.

      (I didn’t know that until just this morning, when he saw a window open that was teaching linked lists in C++; he ranted a little bit, but was pleased.)

      1. Rayen says:

        you guys were lucky. the first time i got a computer of my own was in ’05 and it was a hand-me-down with a bunch of crap and windows ME on it. my friends constantly made fun of me for this until i got a mac book some years later.

        1. TSED says:

          … Talk about a downgrade.

          1. Simon Buchan says:

            Even as a staunch apple-hater – Nah, he still made good on that trade.

    2. Mom says:

      “From that picture… looks like Shamus was really proud of being taller than Patrick.”

      heh heh- but not for long, not for long.

  15. Old_Geek says:

    I had the Commodore. Never thought of it as the “high end model”.

  16. ccesarano says:

    1984 eh? Eh, 1985 was a much better year. Back to the Future hit theaters, the NES came out in Japan, I was born…

    I’m slightly envious of your friendship with David. I had a close friend that lasted from second grade to 7th, but when I moved we began to drift apart. He went to a Catholic High School, which promptly made an Atheist out of him, and he got deep into the Goth and underground metal scene. Gradually our interests and personalities drifted apart, and even though we occasionally hang out, it’s not like old times. Superficially we can talk about movies and games and stuff, but our philosophies and values of life are so different that I know if we met as strangers today we would be nothing more than acquaintances, if that.

    Same can be said for the friends I made after I moved. I remember my first day at a new school, 8th Grade, was a bit intimidating since I didn’t know anybody. Waiting outside for my bus to come I pulled out my (old skool brick) GameBoy playing Pokemon Red. After a couple minutes two other kids walked up to me and asked me about it, and BAM! I made my best friends for the next few years. That wouldn’t even last all of high school, unfortunately. By College I felt like something was wrong with me that I couldn’t maintain friendships.

    HOWEVER! Not all is lost. One day around 9th or 10th Grade, one of those best friends and I decided to just not get dressed for gym and take the hit to our final score. We passed some of the time reciting the Dead Alewives D&D skit, and over-hearing another guy in a leather jacket and boots sits by us, a couple years older, and begins talking D&D. That is my friend Luke, and he is still one of my closest and best friends to this guy. In fact, he’s such a good friend that now I’m overcome with guilt that I’ve never been such a good friend to him back!

    …crap, this was supposed to somehow be relevant to your friend David, but it’s become my own little blog entry in your comments section again.

  17. Patrick the Fabulous Fashonista says:

    I can’t believe Mom somehow convinced Dave to wear a V-neck sweater.And I think it is noteworthy mentioning your destruction of Cecil. Not that bloodying the nose of someone named Cecil should be an act to define a childhood, but I think it is important that you weren’t just a nerd, you were a nerd who was not to be trifled with.

    1. Mom says:

      v-neck – Dave’s Mom and Dad bought him and me matching maroon velour v-neck sweaters. they were pretty.

      bloody nose
      Indeed, my only memory of Shamus’ first year of seventh grade was I was called to the school because he was FIGHTING! WHAT!? The vice principal in charge of fights explained there would be no tolerance for fighting and that both of the offenders would be given detention. No excuses. Then, when Shamus was not present, while I was apologizing profusely for his behavior and my obvious failure as a parent, he grinned and said, “never mind. The other kid started it, had it coming, and this just happens at this point. Shamus is not a problem.”
      I was kind of proud of him. Actually, I was very proud of him and bragged about it to Dave.

      1. Ruthie says:

        you had ” matching maroon velour v-neck sweaters”…. VELOUR? yuck. I’m glad I was much to small to be embarrassed by such things.

    2. Shamus says:

      Didn’t that happen at the end of 6th grade? (For you.)

      I wasn’t sure if I should cover that one. That was the first time I seriously tried to hurt somebody. I suppose it’s worth mentioning.

      1. X2-Eliah says:

        I must remark on the unsaid implication that it was the first, and not the only/last time, heh.

        Anyway.. hasn’t everyone who’s been bullied had a snapping point some time at school when a true fight is returned without holding back at all?

        1. Patrick the Fabulous Fashonista says:

          It was hardly the first time he tried to hurt someone. Maybe the first time it was someone other than his little brother….

          Shamus has been remiscent in mentioning the bi-weekly beatdowns he laid upon me. Whether it be because he wanted to watch M*A*S*H and I wanted to watch Voltron, the end result was Shamus going all Asthma-medicated-steroid-rage on me and kicking my ass until Step-father Dave threatened us both with an even worse beating. I have scars that prove these accusations.

          1. X2-Eliah says:

            I now have a mental image of Shamus being a mini-version of Bane back then.

          2. krellen says:

            That’s what you get for not wanting to watch M*A*S*H.

            1. Jarenth says:

              Versus Voltron? I don’t know man, both sides have strong arguments.

              1. krellen says:

                Against anything but M*A*S*H, maybe. But nothing stands up to Hawkeye Pierce.

                1. SolkaTruesilver says:

                  And Charles Emerson Winchester the 3rd

                  never forget him. Or Ferret Face

                2. Patrick the Fabulous Fashonista says:

                  The only show we both universally agreed on was Robotech. So freakin awesome it is in my opinion what all other Anime space operas are judged agaist to this day. I still think Rick Hunter could kick Luke Skywalkers whinning ass…

                  ..and Minmei was a B**ch….

                  1. ccesarano says:

                    I love you guys like 10x more now. Technically I was too young for Robotech, but my brother was old enough to watch it on TV. Later we’d rent VHS tapes of the first four or six episodes from the local library, which is also how I got to see a few Gen 1 Transformers episodes as a kid. But Robotech always held a special place in my heart, and when I hit middle school the Suncoast Video in our mall started stocking a few. We bought half the damned Macross series before the store closed down.

                    Now I have the Macross saga of Robotech on DVD AND the original Macross anime. It’s cheesy, and the animation doesn’t always live up to standards, but it’s still so good.

                3. Shamus says:

                  I haven’t watched an episode of MASH in almost 20 years, and I still quote the show reflexively.

                  1. MichaelG says:

                    I watched it all the time as a kid, but now I think Alan Alda is incredibly annoying.

      2. SolkaTruesilver says:

        So… will there be a paragraph about it soon, or you count this tattletelling from your family to be your outing? :-)

        Plus, I do think it’s something worthy to know. I doubt anybody think of you as a violent man (and no one will think differently because of a school brawl), but it’s nice to know you weren’t one to play eternal masochist victim.

      3. Ruthie says:

        yes. yes. yes you should cover that one.

      4. Patrick the Fabulous Fashonista says:

        end of 5th for me…so you would have been going into 7th. And this wasnt in school mom. This was over at the Eric H’s. He lured us there with promises of Cherokee red soda and Hot-dogs, only to have Cecil pick a fight witth him. Undoubtably trying to salvage some measure of masculinity from the beating I had given him weeks earlier after a little league game. It was funny…
        Cecil tries a wild hook. Shamus moves.
        Other kids are screaming for blood.
        Cecil swings and misses again.
        He tries to tackle him and falls over when Shamus merely moves aside.
        He steadies himself for another swing, at which point Shmaus calmly reaches out and punches him the nose, immediately blooding it. The screaming stops.

        Stunned silence prevails as Shamus walks away shaking his head in bored annoyance.

        2 minutes later he sits back at his desk coding.

        For those of you concerned, I didn’t get a soda or hot dog either.

        1. SolkaTruesilver says:

          For those of you concerned, I didn't get a soda or hot dog either.


          The humanity! The barbarians!!!

          1. Destrustor says:

            but at least there was BLOOD… the other kids must’ve been happy. little savages.

        2. drlemaster says:

          So it was a lot like the fight at the beginning of Karate Kid 2, with Shamus standing in for Mr. Miagi.

          1. Irridium says:

            That’s exactly what I was thinking.

        3. Halceon says:

          That bears a striking resemblence to some of the conflicts I’ve been in.

        4. Aldowyn says:

          that sounds so cliche… why was Shamus so good at fighting? Shamus?

          Or, the other possibility, they just REALLY SUCKED. Do you have any idea how many people have no idea how to throw a punch?

          1. JPH says:

            I think Shamus might be Spiderman.

    3. noahpocalypse says:

      When I saw this, I read back through the post, thinking I had missed something.


  18. swenson says:

    The discovery of the library and the fact that you could just go in there and have all the books you could possibly desire was the greatest discovery of my middle school career. In about sixth grade, I figured out that as long as you didn’t push your luck too often, you could usually get the librarians to let you get a book from the library instead of going outside to play in the freezing cold winter. (for some bizarre reason, fifth and sixth graders had to go outside every single day unless the windchill was below zero… seventh grade was the Mecca we all strove for, because from that point on you could just stay in if you wanted!)

    It was a glorious discovery. And then in high school, I found that if the high school library was open during lunch, you could go down and get books too… or just use the library computer lab. :D

    The end result was that I didn’t actually get much socializing in during lunch, especially not after I got to high school. I didn’t complain and still don’t. Ninth grade was when I discovered the Internet and my inherent nerdiness, for lack of a better way to describe it, and after that point I would do pretty much anything to have ten seconds with a computer.

    1. theLameBrain says:

      I had a similar experience with the library. They had these computers that nobody really used ’cause all they had on them was encarta… this was in like 1991 or so… but I discovered QBasic.

      I cannot count how many times the librarians caught me programming on their computers. At first they shooed me away. Next they tried locking it down, but I knew DOS and they only knew Windows 3.1 so that didn’t work. Finally they just gave up.

      We had an unspoken agreement that I could program as long as I left the computer running the Encarta program when I left and I didn’t cause any trouble.

    2. Destrustor says:

      My high school library ruined my social life in much the same way. they had INTERNET. and so many books. Damn I still dream about that shadowrun novel I didn’t get to finish before graduating… the failure haunts me still.

  19. Rayen says:

    what kind of oddways hole did i grow up in… everyone says the same thing;

    elementry k-6
    junior high 7-8
    high 9-12

    but i went;

    elementry* k-5
    middle* 6-8
    high 9-12

    *and these were in the same building altogether, just fifth grade marked some sort of right of passage and you were in middle school. Only school i ever saw that did that.

    and normally i’d say it was just the school but i know for fact that every public school in the FWISD was elementry k-5. Was this some arbitrary change between 1984 and 2001 or was my district just weird?

    1. My school did k-4, 5-8, 9-12, so it looks like there’s just a great deal of variation.

      Of course I attended private school, so even if there was one great standardization handed down from on high, they might have ignored it.

      It’d actually be kind of interesting to look into the different divisions and see what the history of the area has to do with it, if anything. My guess off the top of my head would be that the divisions might have to do with when kids were considered ready for heavier work (like you finish 6th grade and your schooling’s considered done and you go work on the family farm instead).

      1. burningdragoon says:

        That’s the same separation I had. It was also a private school, so maybe that’s a private school thing? I dunno. All in one building too. There was some junior-highness to 7 and 8 though. As in, there was sports for 7 and 8 together.

  20. SteveDJ says:

    I just wanted to be clear – I take it you had no way to SAVE your programming efforts on that little box? Meaning, you would put effort into making a new program every time, to do some little thing on the screen (or some calculations), be satisfied that it worked… and then just shut it off?

    Oh, that would be hard for me.

  21. Blake says:

    Oh my, Shamus, it seems Patrick and your mother have additional stories to add. You wouldn’t be holding out on us, would you? A path of violence and mayhem the world has never seen? Some hidden day, buried in Junior High, where you snapped and just decided the whole world needed to pay? Ok, probably not. Still, I like that headline “Nerdy kid in Green Socks hold Mayor Ransom”.

    Also, did David go on to do anything Nerd-related as a job. You’ve described him here as some kind of patron saint of the socially introverted. Designing, from scratch, numerous large-scale roleplaying games with consistent rules and unified group involvement? Surely he must have realized he had preternatural talent for design at that point?

    1. Shamus says:

      He no longer plays music, or roleplaying games, or writes. He’s otherwise a perfectly healthy guy, but medication has robbed him of his creativity. He works at a bank now.

      1. krellen says:

        That makes me incredibly sad.

        1. SolkaTruesilver says:

          “Medication robbed him of his creativity”

          Wow. That’s bad. That’s actually depressingly.. depressing. Why medication? Was he.. I don’t know, maybe he was bipolar, seeing how much drive he had back in Junior High?

          1. Shamus says:

            Sorry to drop that bomb and then sneak off, but I don’t feel right talking about him behind his back.

            I will say, yes, it’s heartbreaking.

            1. Patrick the Dull and Irritable says:

              RESCUE 911 4-3V3R BIOTCHES!!! REUNION TOUR 2013!!!

            2. SolkaTruesilver says:

              Don’t feel sorry for being a decent person. Our innapropriate (at time) curiosity is easy to hold when we have multiple degrees of separation (one of those degree being the internet) with the discussed persons.

              Definetly not the same for you.

    2. Patrick the Fabulous Fashonista says:

      You have no idea……

  22. Factoid says:

    Shamus, have you checked out the book Ready Player One? I think it’s absolutely up your alley.

    It’s basically about a contest devised by a pop-culture obsessed geek who grew up in the 80s who went on to become the world’s richest man by programming the Oasis, a kind of virtual reality MMO that most of the world now uses for everything. He dies and leaves behind an elaborate easter-egg hunt of nerd puzzles for someone to solve and inherit his entire fortune.

    Things like TRS-80s, Atari 2600 and coin-op arcade machines feature prominently in the game’s plot. It’s awesome. I just finished it last night and thought it would be up your alley, and probably anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis.

  23. Joe Cool says:

    David meets people and makes friends, and then eases me into the group.

    In college, this was the function of my roommate, and now my wife holds this purpose. I think I met maybe one person independently on my own in college, and now I don’t think I have a single friend that I didn’t make through my wife. I would be hopelessly forever alone if not for her.

    1. Raygereio says:

      Yeah, introverted people (myself included) tend to need at least one extraverted friend in order to function socially.

      1. toasty says:

        Its true. Its one of the reasons I want my sister to attend my school. So I can follow her around and not worry about sitting in my room playing video games by myself like I did for most of last week. >_>

    2. ccesarano says:

      I’ve been needing this in my adult life, but it hasn’t really been working out that way. I’ve instead been trying to get out there and meet people on my own.

      Which is seriously hard to do.

  24. noahpocalypse says:

    Extremely off-topic, but don’t forget to comment more on Shamus’s religion thing! (#11 I think.) We are really really close to 1000! He’ll make a new die, post the finale to Project Frontier and release it as a completely free game, start the Assassin’s Creed Let’s Play (giving out two episodes a day) and create a tutorial for every programming language and every extension! We’ll leave the recession, jocks will leave every nerd alone forever, and Half-Life Episode 3 will come out for free and it won’t require Steam or have any sort of DRM!*

    *None of this guaranteed. Except for maybe the die thing. Probably.

  25. Meredith says:

    There are too many comment threads to reply to, so I’ll condense it all here:

    My school district was K-5, 6-8, 9-12, but I was aware of others that did k-6, etc. I think it’s a regional thing, but I’m not sure. It always seemed strange to me that they’d have a whole school for just two years.

    I have fond memories of the elementary school computer lab. Once a week we got to go use them, mostly to play Oregon Trail, and that was my favourite day. I have no idea what kind of computers they were except that they were Apples (this was the mid-to-late 80s, any ideas?).

    It would be another ten years till we got one at home and that seemed perfectly normal to me. Kids these days are so spoiled. :p

  26. Zombie Pete says:

    Dude, it was 1984 and you hadn’t started playing D&D yet? Turn in your nerd card at once! Did the fact that you were in the depths of the Jack Chick Era have anything to do with it?

    1. Shamus says:

      I sort of ran a one-session game for Patrick at about this time, and another kid ran a one-session game for me in 9th grade, but I didn’t play a REAL D&D game until 2006. That game led to the creation of this very blog.

      1. superkp says:


        I was playing D&D before you? YOUR FIRST SYSTEM WAS 3.5??

        Consider the constants of my universe changed.

        Edit: I suppose older versions were out there. I just assume that you used what was currently in production.

        1. RTBones says:

          +1 to waitwaitwait

          I suppose it is an assumption that, given “real D&D” for Shamus started in 2006, he’d use 3.5. I always imagined, however, that Shamus started with an earlier edition, if for no other reason than his age.

          Not that any of this matters one whit. It is just another fascinating tidbit of history.

          For the record – which edition DID you start playing “real” D&D with, Shamus?

          1. Shamus says:

            Yeah. 3.5. And in my first real game, I was the DM. It’s in my blood.

            1. Irridium says:

              You should blog about it.

              Oh yeah…

              1. SolkaTruesilver says:

                No kidding.

                The man started a blog because of his VERY FIRST GAME. And now the blog has a following that can be considered a target demographic for marketers.

                I need to start reading about that game. Shamus completely geekmasculated me. I feel inadequate in Overall Geekdom. He is the Alpha Geek.

                1. Destrustor says:

                  His very first game and it seems excellent. Reading it, I would have paid to play in it.
                  Damn, Shamus is a paragon of DMing and he doesn’t have the time or a group to do it?? BLASPHEMY!!!

                  1. JPH says:

                    But if he’s the paragon of DMing, then who’s the renegade?

                    1. SolkaTruesilver says:


            2. ccesarano says:

              I find it odd to have started before you as well, but honestly, 3.5 was a good system for it. There’s a lot of customization, yet the system is honestly pretty easy to pick up and play (as a player, at least. Not quite sure about as a DM).

              Unfortunately I don’t have so much time for it now, so I’ve fallen into board games instead. Still, I’ll always wish I had more opportunities to play/run Iron Kingdoms and RIFTS games.

            3. Low-Level DM says:

              Hooray for self-taught, inexperienced DMs! I did the same thing, though probably in a slightly different way. I stumbled across the 3.5 books back in 2007 (7th grade for me, and my first encounter with tabletop games), and bought them up after saving for a few months and performing spectacularly at an Orchestra concert which happened to be right next to my birthday. Then I read them, taught myself to play and all the DM-stuff, then conned my friends into playing with me. Still running a game to this day, although halfway across the continent and with a different set of friends, now. I also own a lot more systems now, too…

              1. blue_painted says:

                “Self-taught” … you mean there’s another way?

                1. Well, there’s seeing a friend do it first and picking up tips and THEN running your own game

  27. Paul Spooner says:

    …so the market performs ludicrously well.

    I was really hoping you’d say “…so the market is ludicrously lucrative.” Where is the terrific alliteration? I suppose dismaying disillusionment is the price we pay for excitement and expectations.
    Also, those projects sound like a grand old time!

  28. Dante says:

    You make me feel bad Shamus because all I did at that age was play video games.

    Edit: Well, play video games, study everything thing I could, and read sci-fi novels.

  29. Exetera says:

    Just curious, did you ever get into messing with your computer’s hardware? That era of computer was quite easy to modify, with some basic knowledge of digital circuits. (I’m not old enough to have worked with that kind of computer firsthand, but I have built circuits using similar techniques in school.)

    1. Shamus says:

      I wanted to, but I didn’t know how to go about learning to do that. They might have been easy to mod, but not so easy you could pop open the case and intuit what was possible. :) I think the hardware mod community was made up of guys about 15 years older than I was, and who already had some sort of electrical engineering background or knowledge.

      1. DGM says:

        Also, those guys could probably afford to break something trying it. Sounds like you couldn’t, at least at the time. This is why I’ve never assembled my own machine from scratch or messed with things like overclocking, even though I’m comfortable opening up a PC and adding/replacing most parts. Too much money to risk.

  30. RTBones says:

    Several things come to mind…

    1) Your Auotblography has been a fascinating read. Thank you so very much for allowing us a glimpse into That Which Is Shamus. There are parts of this I am certain could not have been easy to set down in words (even these years later), let alone be displayed for public consumption.

    2) Do you still own your Tandy?

    3) Is there a release schedule for SW:AC2 yet?

    4) There is no 4th thing.

    5) … IS RIGHT OUT!

  31. Jakale says:

    Little Shamus writes a book, shares it(sort of anyway). Little Shamus takes on personal programming projects, shares thoughts on those. It’s like a little historical prequel, granted, not completely mirroring the future. Now we just need to wait for you to tell us about playing video games with friends and everyone commenting as you do so while recording the discourse on cassette to share later.

  32. Eärlindor says:

    Haha, all that stuff you did sounds fun. I had a friend like David who eased me into society, I didn’t meet him until I was 12. We did all kinds of things based on whatever mood or phase we were going through. Make movies with Legos, build a working trebuchet, construct a tank (and other weapons) out of cardboard, set toy soldiers on fire, photography, archery, etc. Good times.

    Anyway, yeah, no idea where I’d be today if it wasn’t for him.

  33. Dwip says:


    – I did K-8 and then 9-12. You people with your fancy middle schools and whatnot. Crazy.

    – Re: clothes, no victories like the ones we do just for ourselves.

    – Libraries. Oi. I’m a librarian and all now, so I guess it’s to be expected, but I spent a ton of time in the library as a kid. Of course, this was also in Oregon, so for half the year your choice for recess was either

    A) Play under the super crowded overhang with the entire rest of the school and hope you didn’t get too wet, cold, and miserable;

    B) Go to the library and snag one of the Apple IIs, which featured Oregon Trail and Logo. Oregon Trail is probably the glue that binds together my entire generation.

    In high school, it was either Sim City 2000 (which was more fun during class, honestly, when you didn’t have to compete for a computer) or reading the New York Times. I used to hate Thursdays because that was staff meeting day and we had to hang out in the hall like everyone else.

    – No friends like your early friends. At 30, I still see my friends from K-12 all the time. Most of my college friends fell off the radar after graduation. One of the worst things about the five years I just spent back east was that I never saw any of my friends, and that was terrible.

    It helps that we are all united in our common love of D&D, which started when I found my brothers’ old 1st edition AD&D Player’s Handbook. It in some way hurts me that you were not properly initiated into the cult of THAC0, weapon speeds, and the crazy XP chart at the right time.

  34. Spike says:

    Is it just me, or in almost every picture that you’ve shown with you and Patrick in it, he’s always somewhere on the left?

    1. Exetera says:

      Well, I guess that makes sense. Shamus is, after all, always right.

      1. noahpocalypse says:

        +1 internetz

      2. Low-Level DM says:


        I take my hat off, sir. My digital one, that is. I don’t actually have a hat. It’s in my hat closet.

        That door is locked. But if you open the spellbook… *Pause* REZROV…

        Anyone who nails that reference is awesome, and has experienced my favorite computer game of all time.

  35. squishydish says:

    For me, K was at my church. Public school after that.
    Elementary 1-4
    Middle 5-6
    Junior High 7-9
    High School 10-12.
    Right, high school did not include 9th grade. We started 10th grade as sophomores, and moved on naturally from there, but 9th-graders were simply 9th-graders, not freshmen.

    There was a computer in the math classroom. I’m not sure whether you had to belong to the math club to use it, but there was a lot of competition. No one I knew had one at home.

    I think I started D&D in junior high and played through my first year after grad school, adding other RPGs along the way. Since then, my erratic work schedule means I can’t commit to campaigns, only pickup games at conventions, etc. Alas.

  36. Neil Roy says:

    “At this rate, I'll never learn anything in school.”, I don’t credit school for any of my learning, well, unless you count the basics of reading, writing, adding and subtracting… but I learned much more when I skipped school and spent my days at the public library. I never had a computer, so I used to program on paper, then enter them at computer displays in stores. Until I bought a used Commodore 64 and a tape drive.

    I really wish I had thought about spending my recesses in school in the library…

  37. Leah says:

    So, you never told your Mom about your homework?

  38. Charlette says:

    I’ve never made a game, but I’d like to make a game, because sometimes you get to write, and then color it in if you like to, and my sister and I are working on a game that we do like. It’s like a this farm game, that has houses, and you get to pick your person, and you can invite friends. It’s really fun!

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