Happy 11th Birthday Jack!

Today our son Jack celebrates his 11th birthday.  It is amazing how the time has flown by.

We’re celebrating – as we often do now that we live in Florida – with a couple days at Disney World.  He loves it here, and so here we are.

Jack is nearly a perfect blend of my wife and I.  From her, he gets a lot of his looks, wit, personality and his penchant for being a clown.  From me, he gets his body shape and size as well as a bit of athleticism and a love of all things computerized.

Nerd in Training

I’ve been teaching Jack a lot about computers since he was young.  He’s been able to use a laptop since he was 2.  Of course back then he tended to wreck them because he thought popping the keys off my old pc notebooks was great fun.
Now as he’s gotten older I’ve exposed him to more about how computers work.  A little programming here and there.  So far I’ve not shown him anything intense – we’ve stuck to things like Scratch and JavaScript.  He seems to like it, but he definitely hasn’t had a burning itch to build anything.

I’ve thought a lot about how Jack views computers and programming compared to how I did as a kid.  When I was a kid – by the time I was 8 – I was writing code and building all sorts of things.  I had, and still have, an Applesoft BASIC programming guide that I read cover to cover many many times.  I used it to build all sorts of neat little programs and games.  By the time I was 12 I had dozens of disks with all sorts of programs on them – not only things that I invented myself – but lots of programs I typed in from the magazines of the 80s.  Remember COMPUTE magazine?  It used to be half code that you could use to type in and create programs or games.

I believe its entirely a sign of the times to see how my son looks at computers vs how I did at his age.  When I was 11 (in 1987) computers were vastly different.  They were quite unreliable and so you had to be good at troubleshooting just to get them to work.  In addition programs were harder to come by – you had to phsysically get and copy discs from someone, or find what you need in a store – and hope that when you get it home the discs worked – because they didn’t work quite often. In many cases the programs you wanted or needed just didn’t exist so you had to write it yourself.

Today, my son has grown up in an environment where everything just works.  Not only that, but if you need an app you just go to an app store and get it.  There is no waiting,  no copying discs, no shopping around, no tweaking autoexec.bat or config.sys files.  It all just works.

So in a sense – he doesn’t need to get good at programming and system configuration to do what he wants – at least not in the same way that I did.  Where as I had to spend hours building custom boot disks to get my games to work, he just clicks a button and it works every time.   So he has been able to focus his computing on more interesting things – what he likes to call “hacking”.

Hacker in Training

Jack “hacks” by adding things to games or finding ways to get items in games.  He has “hacked” Club Penguin and MineCraft for the most part.

In Club Penguin there are lots of sites that tell you how to execute JavaScript via the console to do things in the game.  It is not really hacking in the sense that you are cheating.  He uses JavaScript to become friends with the special Disney characters in the game.  Normally the Disney character has to be logged in, but using JavaScript you can become friends with any character as long as you know their ID number.  He loves this kind of thing because now he is friends with lots of the special Disney penguin characters.  Plus it has helped him learn JavaScript a little bit.  He has gained some understanding of functions, parameters and how to do things in the browser consoles.

In Minecraft he’s played a lot with mods.  This has taught him somethings about system configurations, JARs, ZIPs, application data and some of the other murkier topics of how apps work.  Minecraft mods can be surprisingly difficult to get to work sometimes and he has learned a lot about how to get things to work.

Growing up a Nerd in 2014

I’ve learned a lot from Jack as he’s grown up.

I have always wanted to teach him about computers.  At first I tried to give him the same experiences I had when I was a kid – but he didn’t get into it.  It took me a while, but I’ve realized over the years, he’s learning a lot of the same concepts I did as a kid – but in a more relevant way to the way the world works today.  He’s learning the skills to use and adapt today’s apps and computers to the desires he has.  I think its great, and I look forward to encouraging and watching what he does in the future.

I am sure the next 11 years will be just as great!  Happy Birthday Jack!


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