Class Legends


Let's talk about something other than distance learning and COVID-19.

You know you've been doing something a long time when you've got legends.

Over on my alumni mailing list JonAlf shared a web site showing off what his current students were doing in their computer graphics class. Somewhere in the thread, Con replied:

Someone should put up a video of the fabulous and fantastically famous hand animation called FINGER.MDL. It dates from a little before my time, but stories elevated it to legendary status.

Indeed it had reached legendary status. Other projects over the years including Larry's anatomically correct robot had also risen to infamy.

A little later in the thread the project's author Josh chimed in and shared his original source code. He still had it from May 1995. I'm not entirely surprised - I had a copy of the code as well. The trouble is it was written in Turbo-C on a DOS machine. Good luck compiling it on a modern system. Fortunately, Josh was able to build and run the project using an emulator. Check out the marginally NSFW video at the end of the post.

So, what's the legend? Well, in addition to being a pretty terrific project - particularly when you remember the horsepower it was running on and that it was written by a student who was concurrently finishing APCS, there's a story.

It starts in one of my APCS classes. Students were working on final projects. Tom was working on Tetris - an impressive project for APCS done in Turbo Pascal. Tom wanted to add music to the project and had a clever way of doing it. Back then you could get basic sounds by turning on and off the speaker at certain frequencies. Tom had two arrays, one with frequencies and one with durations.

Something like:


Then for the game loop

#+begin_src python

  note = notes[current_note]
  duration = durations[current_note]
  play(note) # starts the note playing until you change or stop it
  while game_not_over:
      duration = duration - 1
      if duration <= 0:
          current_note = (current_note+1)%length(notes)
          note = notes[current_note]
          duration = durations[current_note]
          play(note) # starts the note playing until you change or stop it
      # the rest of the game loop
  stop_playing() # stop the speaker



Still, he had to figure out all the frequencies and durations for "Korobeiniki," the tetris song. The class was more than happy to help.

Everyone's working to help figure this out for Tom. It's all pretty cool when in walks Jinx Perullo - Stuy's new principal along with the President of the New York City Board of Education. The President's jaw drops as she hears a cacophony of Tetris music and screen after screen of Tetris being played!!!!!

Jinx makes an abrupt about face and drags the dignitary out of the room.

Fast forward a week or so. We're in the graphics class at the end of the day - it was held during an non-existent after school period so that the students could attend. Josh's working on his graphics program at a computer by the door.

Jinx walked in again. This time with the school's chancelor to be greeted by:

Once again, a quick about face.

For some reason Jinx never brought important people to my classes again.

Those were indeed the good old days.