My first interaction with computers was in second grade.
I had been selected by some of my teachers for the “MG” program, or Mentally Gifted (I’m sure my mom had something to do with my choosing; my sister had also been selected the year before).
As part of this group, every other Tuesday me and 15 or so other second and third graders were bused to a different elementary school for the day. We’d spend the day in a classroom with a women named Mrs. Landers, whose job, I guess, was to enrich our mental gifts.
I don’t remember whole lot about MG, except for —
- Mrs. Landers’ classroom had a computer.
- For the remainder of my school years, I never took, voluntarily or involuntary, another advanced class.
This Apple II (maybe?), with the plain black screen and green font, was the first computer I ever used. We would play a game called Oregon Trail and some other detective/investigation game (was it Carmen Sandiego?) as a group. Other than the computer, the MG room had a small aquarium housing mealworms.
In middle and high school, we had computer class every year in the school computer labs. The lab rooms were full of Apple computers that didn’t seem much different from the MG models, but everyone had their own to use.
We still didn’t have autonomy to do anything creative with the computers; everything was predetermined and controlled by our teachers, who had us doing useless, uniform activities out of textbooks to achieve passing grades. We did things like writing dummy code for a 3-question Q&A, or making the computer count down from 10 to 0 when the user pressed Enter.
My family got our first PC, a desktop Hewlett Packard Pavilion, when I was in the 7th grade. I knew, from the first time I used that HP, that computers would play a big role in my future.
I used the computer more than everyone else put together. My parents would have to kick me off of the computer when they needed to use it.
My parents got an extra phone line in the house to connect to the dial-up internet that was the way to get online at the time. I cashed in on who-knows-how-many AOL “20 Hours Free!!” CDs that came in the Sunday newspapers (don’t act like you don’t remember). AOL chat rooms and AIM were the forefathers of social media (when catfishing was really real: profile photos didn’t yet exist). DOOM became my go-to first-player video game.
While I had a PC at home, all the computers in my high school’s computer lab were Macs. The buttons were in different places from the PC, and the intuitive movements weren’t the same. I had a classmate friend, though, who had a Mac at home and knew the school Macs as well as I knew the PC.
This classmate, we’ll call him Alex, knew how to make the Mac talk, something I don’t know if a PC was even capable of. He showed me and some other students how we could write some text and have the Mac speak it back to us in various voice tones. He showed us how to create and change the text for each Mac’s screen saver. And he showed me how we could insert a music CD into the Mac, have Mac rip the music off the CD, and play the music randomly, out loud, at certain time increments.
This was trouble.
At the time I had been listening to The LOX We Are The Streets album, an album that very much earned its Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics label.
Our computer class teacher was none too pleased to have “Fuck You” (first song on the LOX album) interrupting his lab lectures. But there was nothing he could do about it, other than remove the music when it played off of random Macs. Alex had shown multiple people how to “hack” the Macs; the teacher couldn’t trace the music to anyone in particular.
A few years ago, I was talking to an entrepreneur who had spent some time in prison for money laundering. I asked him how he’d gotten caught.
“Somebody told on me, man.” He said this as if I should have assumed that to be the case without needing to ask.
“The cops, they don’t have to work no more these days,” the entrepreneur continued. “With social media and everything else, all the cops gotta do is wait for people to tell.”
Somebody in computer class told. My name got mentioned, along with Alex’s.
While inconvenienced by the call to the Vice Principal’s office, I wasn’t too worried.
There were no surveillance cameras in the computer lab. It was basically the word of a snitch (or snitches, plural) against mine — and Alex’s. I planned to deny any involvement to the bitter end; I was still in denial while serving my subsequent one-day suspension from school.
The administration had put Alex and I in separate rooms once the accusations had been made, so Alex and I never got to corroborate a story. The Vice Principal, frustrated with my insistent denials, tried to convince me that Alex had folded and given me up, telling on himself and me as the guilty parties.
I didn’t budge.
I never got around to asking Alex (who’d been suspended too) if he’d folded under the heat of interrogation; he kept a certain distance from me after the incident.
I think Alex snitched on me — and himself.
- If you’re doing something wrong, the fewer people who know about it, the better.
- Only partner in crime with people whom you’re sure won’t crack under the pressure (80% of the time, you’ll still be wrong).
- I didn’t do it.
My early lesson in computer hacking eventually paid off. I’ll tell you about some ways it did in my book Work On Your Game: Using The Pro Athlete Mindset To Dominate In Sports, Business and Life, coming February 22. Preorder it now and enjoy the free bonuses.