A Personal Distinction

A question a customer asked me a few days ago reminded me that I have a point of personal distinction, albeit a very small one:  I was the very first student banned from the Knox County, Missouri High School computer lab.

It was in my senior year, 1982-83, when the school first decided to have a computer class at all.  The class would be open to seniors only, at least in that first year, and would be a semester class.  I signed up for it and was placed in the second semester; I filled in that slot in the first semester with an art class of some sort.

The lab had two whole computers… a Radio Shack Model 4 (I think) and an Apple //e.  A friend told me that, were you to ask the teacher who was the head of the business department (not the actual teacher of the computer class), you could go into the lab during study hall and play with them.  It happened that I had 7th hour study hall, a time when there was no class in the room, and only one other student (a friend of mine) was interested in going to the lab, so there were enough computers to go around.

This was during the first semester, by the way; I hadn’t yet started the class, nor would I.  I was approached by the teacher as Christmas break was closing in, and told that, as there were a lot of students who still wanted to add the class, and I obviously knew a lot about computers, they would let me “test out” of the class to make my seat available for someone else.  I passed, got the half-credit, and took another art class to finish out the year.  So I was never actually in the computer class at all.

Anyway… another friend had an Apple ][+, and he had the technical manual for it, which he loaned to me.  I still have it, actually, which probably says something… never mind.  Studying that book, I learned a lot about the architecture of Apple II computers.  In particular I learned about using the built-in ROM monitor to enter code in assembly language.

I should mention at this point that neither computer had a disc drive of any sort.  There was a cassette tape player for the Apple, but I never had occasion to use it.  So if you turned either computer off and on again, any and all work you had done was gone forever.

On the Apple II computers, the standard AppleSoft BASIC prompt was a single square bracket ], and you couldn’t change it.  There was no “set PROMPT=” or PS1= or anything like that… it was a fixed feature of the ROM.  But actually, you could change it, if you did it in assembly language and hooked the input routine just right.  Once I found that out, I couldn’t resist, I had to do it just to see it work.

So I hand-coded the assembly language code on notebook paper, went into the classroom before classes began, and typed it into the ROM monitor; I used the unused 256 byte memory page at $0300 to contain it, so it would not be in the way of any BASIC code that might be entered during the day.  When I came back into the room during study hall, the last hour of the day, I found my altered prompt still in effect.  They had used the computer all day long with the modified prompt and apparently never noticed it.  Again, if they had turned it off and back on at any point during the day, my changes would have disappeared as if they had never been at all.

What did I change the prompt to?  My initials, followed by a carriage return and a square bracket.  Just about as clever as you’d expect from a high school student.  I was proud of it, and thought it was rather funny (really, it was just dumb), and I told the business teacher (the woman I had to get approval from to access the computers).  She was about as impressed as you’d think, but didn’t seem concerned, at least as far as I could tell.

A full week later she came to me and told me the administration had ordered me banned from the lab for “hacking.”


So as I say, I am officially the first person ever banned from the computer lab at Knox County High School.  I really feel the ban was about as stupid as my “hack” was… I got no hearing, never had the opportunity to point out to the administration (whoever it was who had banned me, I don’t even know if it was the principal or superintendent or who) that what I did neither affected the class nor had any lasting effect at all.

But it’s still a point of distinction for me.  For one brief moment I was an “outlaw.”


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