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A 2-post collection

One input, two different results

Written by Michael Earls
 michael  development  programming  teaching  Gaming  Memories  writing

As if to give life to itself, two separate careers started as a simple "choose your own adventure" game on early 1980's home computers.

The setting

In the early 80's, myself and my best friend Joshua had home computers. Unfortunately, they were not the same model. He had the popular Apple II with the disk drives and I had the Coleco Adam with dual high speed tape drives.

Apple II

Apple II

Coleco ADAM Home Computer

Coleco ADAM Home Computer

However, despite being different hardware, they both shared the same version of the BASIC interpreter that allowed us to write code on one computer and manually transfer it to the other.

Natural role discovery

It quickly became evident that I enjoyed writing computer programs, but I wasn't that good at coming up with ideas for games. Joshua has an enormous imagination and is a natural writer. He easily found plenty of source material in his head to write stories that we turned into games. Games were not the only product of his imagination that I would emulate. He taught me how to just "let go" and not fuss over the technical details of writing comics and developed a simple "egg based" approach to character drawing. He would start with an oval and then fill in the details for each individual character. They each had enough detail to tell them apart, but not so much that drawing them got in the way of his story. Honestly, I was very jealous of his talents and worked hard to (unsuccessfully) emulate his process.

The game development process

We worked together on our games with him writing the stories and me expanding the computer code (he was also a good BASIC developer for the "choose your own adventure" style games that we created).

He would type the game into his computer, play it through, and then print it out on his printer. The next day, he would come over to my house with his printouts and I would manually type the program into my computer while he read the lines out. Doing it this way, I got to preview the results of decisions and how they led to either a nasty death or a victory. It was fun to play the game through because it was a matter of which decisions resulted in which outcomes.

I became more and more interested in how to expand on the simple GOTO statements and learned about subroutines (GOSUB statements that returned to where you left off) to provide more advanced logic. Eventually, I learned that you can POKE binary data to memory locations and take advantage of built-in capabilities of the computer. I also learned what an array was and how to take advantage of it to store related information for easy retrieval.

As I learned new programming tricks, I would share them with Joshua and they would show up in subsequent versions of his games.

It was a great partnership that grew into even more fun as we got older.

I have a big imagination and I am naturally creative. However, my creativity and imagination are very static and technical. I use my creativity to recognize and take advantage of technical abstractions and my imagination helps me envision ways to connect the abstract ideas with a concrete implementation (usually in the form of computer code). I occasionally stretch my wings with graphic design or music composition, but my gifts, talents, and experience are mostly related to computer software design and programming.

This has been developing in me since those early days when Joshua and I would partner to create all sorts of computer creations. He was always the idea factory and I would find a way to make it happen with his help. We had a lot of overlap because he had a good grasp of computer programming and I had a somewhat workable grasp of storytelling.

In addition to learning how to program, my parents bought me the MODEM add-on for the ADAM computer. It plugged into the peripheral bus and the telephone wire came out of the top of the unit and plugged into the wall. I used it to log into the local Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) in Atlanta and met people from all over the city.



It was the beginnings of the online systems (AOL - originally QuantumLink for C-64 users, Compuserve, EarthLink, etc.) These online systems were in place when the well-connected techie nerds began to offer consumer access to the budding Internet, which had previously only been accessible from colleges and government agencies. I was very much into the early days of the Internet and knew it was how I was going to make a living from a very early age. I can't imagine doing anything else.

I once built a speech digitizer for my Commodore 64 computer using the schematics from a home computer magazine. Once I finished it and tested that it worked, I didn't know what to do with it. Joshua was quick to find an application and we had a big laugh at the resulting confusion it generated.

As time went on and he moved away, I lost touch with Joshua. I recently learned that he has been very busy as a college educator and frequently teaches many of the topics that we grew up exploring together. He has published multiple novels and leads a group about academia on the web.

We are still the same people we were back then, but now we get to be adults about it and follow our passion to share our discoveries with the world.

He recently wrote a great article titled Would You Rather Read or Play a Novel? that inspired me to create this post. His article reminded me of the joy I get out of playing modern video games like "Elder Scrolls: Skyrim", where you wander around in an enormous open world, meeting people, doing side jobs, dungeon crawling, casting spells, and even crafting your own armor, weapons, and spells. Within this world are numerous book shelves. Most of the books on the shelves can be opened and read in-game. They contain small bits and pieces of the game lore that give you an insight into the environment you are playing in.

Elder Scrolls: Skyrim

Elder Scrolls: Skyrim

It's just a more advanced version of the very first games that we wrote back in the 80's, fleshed out to take advantage of modern graphics, sound, and computing power.

Even though we both started out as computer programmers and authors, one of us became a college professor and author and the other of us became a professional programmer and technology hobbyist.

I think the main point of this post is to communicate that it is important to follow your desires and work hard to pursue the things you are passionate about, turning them into a career.

In short, I like to say, "To get a great job, find something you love doing and convince someone to pay you to do it for them."

That time I owned the VW Bus

Written by Michael Earls
 michael  VW  VW Bus  Memories  jail  Six Flags

When I was in my late teens, I bought a Volkswagen Bus for about $300. The floor was rusted out, so the previous owner had installed a wooden floor. The back was full of spare parts and it had a four seat bench that looked like it came from the waiting room of some government agency. The long shift lever had a rubber Golf ball as the handle.

VW Bus

One day, as I approached a stop sign, the brakes completely failed. When I put my foot on the pedal, it sank to the floor and the bus kept moving. Knowing how manual transmissions work, I immediately downshifted through the gears until I was in first gear (that is extremely hard on the transmission). Since I couldn't stop completely, I slowly rolled through the stop sign.

When I finally got the bus stopped, I inspected each wheel to see which one was the culprit. One of the wheels had brake fluid all over it, so I knew that was the one. I took the brake drum off and removed the brake cylinder.

VW Rear Brake Cylinder

VW Rear Brake Cylinder

Fluid was leaking from one side of the cylinder, so I removed the rubber seal and took the plunger arm out. The gasket was broken. I had this inspired voice in my head that reminded me that I had seen this exact part among all of the spare parts in the back, so I went digging around until I found it. I took that gasket and put it in the brake cylinder and reassembled the whole thing. There was even a huge bottle of brake fluid in the back already that had come with the van when I bought it. So, I refilled the master cylinder reservoir, bled the lines, and continued on with my day. However, my repair meant that the brakes would leak just a little bit of fluid each time I used them, so I had to add fluid every now and then or I'd lose my brakes altogether. I began using the downshifting method as a way to preserve brake fluid because I could exhaust the entire master cylinder reservoir on a long trip if I wasn't careful.

To this day, I think it was great luck that all of this happened. To think that I had the tools to do the work, had the parts I needed already in the van, and the brake fluid just makes me shake my head with wonder. My life has been a stream of blessings, one after another (to help counterbalance the curses I've been given, I suppose).

One of the problems with the van was that the transmission couldn't go into the highest gear, so I could only go about 45 miles per hour in it. That meant I couldn't get on the Interstate. Traveling from Clayton County to Cobb or Gwinnett county using nothing but back roads is a very time consuming endeavor. But, I made it where I was going eventually and enjoyed the "trip".

The van had a huge "Sun Roof". The problem was that the weather seal was missing. So, When it rained, water would collect between the outer roof and the inner ceiling. When I came to a stop, the water would rush forward and splash into the cabin right behind the front seats. I had to make sure I didn't stop so fast that I got wet. It was a fitting problem to have considering that I worked at the Six Flags amusement park at the time and it was like one of those rides that gets you wet.

One of my friends on Facebook shared this story with me about the van:

"Remember the time we were late to work because it had a flat tire? And Roscoe (and his trusty assistant [I forgot his name]) couldn't get the lug nuts off? So he had to chisel each one off using a power drill? I remember his assistant took a wrench and turned. It didn't move. He tried two other methods on other lug nuts....they didn't work either. He said; "uh oh." Turned and yelled "ROSCOE! We gotta problem." Roscoe was working on another car and when he got to a stopping point came over....he tried the same things and same result. But Roscoe had a secret weapon: he had a longish wrench and then he also had about a 6 foot pole to to add torque and power to the mix. One of those greek guys is quoted as saying "If I had a lever long enough I could move a mountain." A mountain maybe but not one of those lug nuts. The bus itself moved when Roscoe put his shoulder into it but the lug nut wouldn't budge. I think we were supposed to be at work that day at 4pm and we showed up around 8......after Roscoe chiseled each lug nut off (about a 20 minute process for each one) and then he had to borrow one lug nut from the other wheels to mount the tire....I remember walking up those merch (we worked in the merchandising department at Six Flags) stairs, into the hallway of judgement, standing before someone who asked; "why are you two late?!?!?" We fish in our pockets for the twisted and shredded metal shards of what remained of those damnable lug nuts and tossed them onto the desk.....they just looked disgusted and waved us to stop slacking and get to work.... good times! (Found out later one Mr Earls had the same tire flatten a day or two earlier and had it fixed....but standing there chatting with the tire changer using a power drill to screw the lug nuts back on.....maybe he got a little distracted? Important safety tip; sometimes it's better to let the workers do their job....alone?"

Six Flags

Another friend reminded me of a trip to Six Flags that we took when he came to visit me. I had to drive all the back roads. However, since I had no confidence in my brakes (they leaked fluid since I had "fixed" them), I used the downshift method to stop the whole way there. It took us three hours to get there from the South side of Atlanta.

When I moved out of my parents' house into an apartment with friends, I learned the reality of living on your own for the first time. The biggest challenge was that there wasn't enough money to pay for rent, food, and car insurance. So, I canceled my car insurance. That meant I could no longer drive the bus.

One day at work, I made an innocent offhand remark to an elderly lady that I was working with at one of the shops inside Six Flags on how I couldn't wait until payday so I could buy some food. She invited me to her house to have a spaghetti dinner that night with her husband. I accepted. Neither of my roommates was home that night, so I didn't have a ride to get there. Feeling too proud to ask her to come pick me up, I decided to drive my van. She didn't live very far from me, so I thought it would be OK (there was only one traffic light between my apartment and her house). After dinner, I drove home. The first thing I encountered was that her driveway was a very steep downhill decline. I had to use my brakes (which meant I was losing a lot of fluid). The entire way home, I was very nervous that my brakes might fail. As I approached the stop light, there was a police car in the left turn lane that i needed to be in. Fearing that I would rear-end the police car, I decided to get in the lane next to him. Once I was able to stop, I nervously glanced over at him and waved. Yes, I waved at a cop. From a VW Bus with a fried egg spray painted on the side. I was dressed up as nice as I knew how in a matching outfit that Laurie had put together for me and given me as a gift (her and her mother were very kind to me and bought me clothes during this time as I was extremely poor and didn't have the right kind of clothes to go on job interviews with).

I got pulled over for a faulty tail light. When he asked to see my license and insurance, I honestly told him that I didn't have insurance. He asked me to step out of the car, then frisked me, put me in handcuffs (really), and asked if he could search my van. I said, "yes" and he opened the sliding door only to be met with a nightmare mess (I never had anywhere to put all of those spare parts, so I left them in the back of the van). I had organized them a bit and put some of them in containers, but the back was a mess. He just took a quick glance and closed the door.

He radioed in my driver's license information and learned that I had no warrants or any priors. However, he called to have another officer pick me up. Apparently, having no insurance is a "go directly to Jail and do not pass Go" kind of thing.

When the other police officer got there, they put me in the back of the car and off to the jailhouse we went. On our trip there, the other officer apologized to me for having to take me to jail. He said to me, "You had some pretty bad luck tonight. That officer that pulled you over is a dick. He was off-duty when he pulled you over. He didn't have to call it in or get me involved. Unfortunately, he's already called it in and the Sheriff is waiting on your arrival."

Once we got to the jail, the officer handed me over to the sheriff and I was directed to the drunk tank until I could be "processed". The officer that brought me in submitted the paperwork, chatted a little bit, and on his way out, said to me, "Sorry about this. Good luck".


There were a few other people in the cell with me. It was very scary. They looked strung out, mean, and violent. After a few minutes, the Sheriff in charge instructed one of the other sheriffs to move me to a different cell. The new cell was empty. When he left the cell, he didn't close the door behind him. So, there I sat, in a jail cell with an open door. A police officer came in a few minutes later, and as soon as he saw me in the cell, he took it upon himself to yell at me, "Hey! What are you doing? Close that door! This is a jail, not a playground." The sheriff in charge told him, "Shut your trap. That isn't your concern".

The Sheriff let me use the free phone on his desk to make calls to my roommate to come pick me up. After a few failed attempts at trying to reach my roommate, I finally got him on the phone and asked him to come pick me up at the county jail.

The sheriff was using his power to release me on my own recognizance. From the description:

Sheriff Pretrial Release Programs

With budgetary constraints looming, many county sheriff departments use their discretionary authority to "O.R." custodial suspects even before their first court appearance. Some sheriff departments call this system "supervised pretrial release," whereas others call it "citing out a defendant," meaning the suspect has been given a citation with a notice to appear upon threat of warrant.

The sheriff told me, "If you don't show up for court, I will personally hunt you down and put you in jail myself". I replied, "yes sir, I understand", thanked him, and went outside to wait for my ride.

Related post

When I went to court, I represented myself (I felt that I was guilty, so I didn't need a lawyer, and was going to tell the judge the whole truth, being completely ignorant of the true nature of the judicial system). I guess my pure honesty worked, because the judge gave me some community service and had me write a paper on why car insurance is important. He also made me promise that I would not drive that van ever again (I told him the story of the faulty brakes as part of my case).

I had always wanted to own a VW Bus. I did and now I can strike it off of my bucket list. Incidentally, Laurie and I owned a VW Eurovan camper in the early 2000's and went camping in it a lot. It had a table in the back for eating and we would go to downtown Atlanta and get Nancy's pizza (before they had an eat-in restaurant), park in the Krispy Kreme parking lot on Ponce de Leon and eat our pizza. Then, we'd go inside and get some doughnuts and eat them in the van.

Before and after

Good times!