Lost Journal: Victory Goes to the Science Fair-minded

Journal entry, April 26, 1982 (age 12): Science Fair

Pierre and Marie Curie.  Watson and Crick.  And now, Murphy and Mollen.  As we await the results of the 1982 St. Patrick’s Middle School Science Fair, my friend, Mark Murphy, and I are confident of our chances.

We last teamed up two years ago, for a 5th grade science fair in which ours was just one of four separate volcano simulations.  Our topic was not original, our papier-mâché mountain was nothing special, and our display photos were no better than the others.  But we came in first place because of our acquisition of a secret weapon.  One of Murph’s aunts was able to supply us with a chemical powder that, when lit with a match, produces a safe but frightening display of sparks and smoke.  The baking soda, vinegar and red food coloring used by our hapless competitors could not compare with the sturm und drang of our all-out pyrotechnic display.

The following year, we got cocky and decided to break up our scientific partnership in favor of solo projects.  Murph’s electricity display failed to light up the scoreboard, and I fared even worse.  All three judges pointed out that my chosen topic, “Fish,” was too broad to cover with two sheets of poster board and some magic marker.  At the time, Murph snidely remarked that I might have had better luck with a narrower topic, like “Science.”

But the glory of 1980 called on us to leave our differences behind and reunite for the hope of 1982.  With the Rocky III theme song urging us on, we trained the eyes of our tiger on a new secret weapon.  Once again, we had a technological advantage few, if any, of our classmates had.  Tucked away in my second-story bedroom on West End Avenue is the most powerful computer on the consumer market:  the Apple II Plus.  We knew that any classmate using the cassette tape drive of the TRS-80, or the 5 KB of RAM in the Commodore VIC-20 would find themselves hopelessly outgunned.  My Apple has an external, 5 ¼-inch floppy disk drive and 64 (that’s right, I said 64) KB of RAM, not to mention a color monitor.

So Murph and I have spent the last six weeks preparing our project.  We wrote our own software program to tell people their horoscopes.  The screen lists the 12 signs of the zodiac (and their date ranges), and asks the user to enter the number (1-12) that corresponds to their sign.  The horoscopes themselves were written by us.  (For example, one of them reads, “Tall, dark stranger will walk into your life…unfortunately, it’s Bigfoot.”  Luckily, it’s not a comedy fair.)

To doubly impress the judges, we’ve used my daisy-wheel printer to output the nine pages of BASIC programming language that produced this software marvel.  If they’re not impressed with the barrage of “REM” and “PRINT” statements, then the exotic “IF X THEN GOTO Y” commands will go in our favor.  Even if all the judges are Gemini, we’ll still have a 50 percent chance of winning!

Tim Mollen
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