Happy Birthday, Andy Lester

47 years ago today my son Andy (Andrew Ronald Lester) was born.  We named him after my father, Andrew Lawrence Lester, and Marilyn Lester’s father, Ronald.  At the time we were living in Chicago and he was born at Michael Reese Hospital.  I was attending graduate school at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Library Science and Marilyn was working at the Municipal Reference Library for the City of Chicago.  We lived at 7443A S. Coles, just off of 75th street about 3 blocks from Lake Michigan.  At the time the neighborhood was racially and ethnically mixed. 75th street featured your choice of Chinese restaurants, Jewish delicatessens, and “Soul Food” restaurants. All were excellent. We would not want to live in that area these days, 47 years later. Within six months we’d moved to Bowling Green, Ohio, for a year and a half, before moving to Mankato, Minnesota.

As Marilyn and I both worked and/or went to school (usually both), Andy grew up with baby sitters, and later, daycare. We never felt bad about it, as he got good training and socialization that he wouldn’t have had if he’d been home alone with one parent or the other. Andy learned to read at age 3, and as we rode around town shopping or to and from daycare, he’d read signs like “S T O P says stop, daddy” or “that says pizza” or “if you spell S T O P it spells pots”.  It was always an adventure watching him learn and figure things out.

When Andy was five I was working on a major indexing and publishing job in the library’s computer room every evening.  Marilyn was in night classes or working evenings in the library. So, after getting him at daycare and a quick supper he and I would spend the evening by the computer. In addition to my major workstation there was an ASR-33 teletype terminal that had a keyboard and printed on a roll of yellow paper.  There was a football program on the computer that provided a simulated football game. Andy understood football and could choose a 1 for a short run, 2 for a long run, 3 for a short pass, 4 for a long pass, and so forth. You would type your choice and the computer would respond with “3 yard loss” or “47 yard gain for a first down at the 20” or whatever the randomly chosen answer was.  He enjoyed the game and would play it for quite a long time.

Andy also wanted to know how the computer worked, so I showed him basic commands in the BASIC language so that he could write a program to add two numbers and print an answer,  and how to use the HELP command within BASIC.  Soon he was writing programs to do more complicated math, print answers, and so forth. He also worked out how to “get answers to questions” from the computer, something like an extremely simple ELIZA program.  Most of them were of the “Magic 8 Ball” type of answers.

From there Andy went on to use computers wherever and whenever he could, writing programs, and for the most part, teaching himself what he needed to know, although he did take some classes at various points.  Today he is a full time programmer who has written books on various programming topics. He also speaks at conferences and is active in the profession.

I’m sure I’ll write more about Andy and my other “kids” (ages 35 to 47) as I get the inspiration and a chance. I’ll see what embarrassing stories I can come up with.

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