When I went to high school, things started disappearing.
I wrote essays in Word, saved them on floppy disks to print at school. Text would get deleted or garbled. Sometimes a file wouldn’t load at all, so I would re-type it from memory.
Textbooks, worth hundreds of dollars, would vanish from my locker. I’d take someone else’s book from the lost and found, scratch my name in the cover.
The dotcom bubble burst.
This is a story that begins with some code I wrote and ends with a rejection.
First, the code. In high school, I wrote a little Mac OS X application that would encode text as binary. It had a window and textboxes and buttons and everything. You could type in “hello”, and it would output something like “0110100001100101011011000110110001101111”. You could also convert back from binary to the original text.
In hindsight, the implementation was pretty terrible.
Starcraft was the first game I played online. My friend and I would dial each other over a 56K modem. I remember wondering why he kept ending his chat messages with “:” and “)”.
We liked to mine minerals and build armies, but I don’t remember attacking, winning, or losing. The network connection never lasted long enough.
One day I wandered into a battle.net lobby. Everyone was typing furiously into chat before the game started.
In the early 2000s, I joined a community of hobbyist Mac game developers at a site called idevgames.com. Mainstream gaming was happening on Windows, but the Macintosh had developed its own quirky indie scene. The forums were filled with screenshots of the small, weird games people were making.
The site had been created by Carlos, an American expat living in Japan. One year, he started an indie game competition that received dozens of entries.
I have used the same laptop case for over sixteen years. My second summer with it, I had decided I either needed to write a novel or stop saying I wanted to write a novel. So every day I carried the laptop, snug in its case, to the Santa Clara library. The library had recently moved to a new building in central park. It was two stories tall. The desks on the second floor had electrical outlets.
One weekend, my dad needed to learn CORBA for work. My mother drove the family to the Barnes & Noble on Stevens Creek Blvd. Three hours later, when we returned to pick him up, my dad had bought, and mostly read, Client/Server Programming with Java and CORBA. The cover showed two cartoon aliens drinking coffee at a diner.
That book found its home in our living room bookcase alongside many other programming books.
The original iMac came in only one flavor, but it still had a name: Bondi Blue. If you touched the CRT monitor, you could feel static electricity; a magnet would bend the colors. The mouse was round and had a single button.
I had a desk I’d convinced my parents to buy for me in the first grade. The iMac filled it, pushing the keyboard just barely past the edge.
The summer before my last year in high school, I started an internship at a semiconductor company. My grandmother worked there as an executive assistant and had gotten me the job. This was fortunate, as I had no other qualifications.
The previous summer I typed shipping orders into a computer terminal and delivered printouts to sales associates. I practiced writing their names in big, flowing cursive. I drank Styrofoam cups of coffee.
Tamagotchi was released in the US in 1997. It was a pink, egg-shaped device with a 32x16 pixel display and three buttons. The display showed a tiny digital pet. The buttons provided the pet with food, recreation, and medicine. If you neglected the pet for too long, it would get sick. This was designed to teach Japanese children responsibility. Everyone in my elementary school was desperate to own one.
Tamagotchi had a website, and the landing page featured a cartoon drawing of a Tamagotchi.
A friend had lent me The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and it was making me miserable.
My mother took us to the pool at our grandparents’ condo in Sunnyvale. We were one of the few families that used the pool. It felt secluded, surrounded by honeysuckle bushes; we had discovered a previous summer that we could suck the nectar out of the flowers. On other days, I would have smelt chlorine, felt the hot concrete under my feet steaming with pool water.