The Best of Creative Computing Volume 2 (published 1977)

Page 84 << PREVIOUS >> NEXT Jump to page:
Go to contents Go to thumbnails
This book is also available for the Kindle

Computer Fair (1976 National Computer Conference, computer dating program, Votrax speech synthesis, computer prediction model for the spread of fire)
by Wes Thomas

graphic of page


Wes Thomas

Hello - Scott.

"Who's that?"

It's - me.

"Me who?"

I - am - a - Wang - 2200 - computer - interface - to - a - Votrax - audio -

I - want - to - show - you - how - I - can - help - kids - learn

"I'm scared. Will it hurt?"

Do - not - be - afraid. - Let's - first - play - a - game.

"Oh, goody, I love games."

I - am - thinking - of - a - number -from one -to - one - hundred. - Try - to -
guess - the - number - and - I - will - tell - you - if - your - guess - is -
low - or - high. - You have - only - six - guesses - until - you - lose. - What
- is - your - guess, - please.

"Ah, one hundred and two."

You - are - not - thinking. - Your - guess - is - very - high. - Try - again

Scott is a dummy. But so what? He was the star of the show. I had wandered in
from the exhibits at the New York Coliseum–part of the 1976 National Computer
Conference–attracted by a sign that said COMPYOUTER FAIR. And here I was in
the middle of the top 58 entries out of 350 submitted by students in the U.S.,
Canada, and U.S. schools in Europe. And I was talking to Michael Taylor, a 9th
grade Lexington, Mass, student-ventriloquist-programmer who had created a
"talking computer." 

"The program was written in BASIC on the Wang 2200 computer interfaced with the
Votrax speech synthesizer," Mike was explaining. "To make the Votrax talk, I
used hex codes, which the Votrax understands as the different phonemes (sounds).
It puts the phonemes together to form words, so the vocabulary is really

"One of the best things it could be used for is education, because it's a
teacher that will never give up and its very persistent. It's also good for
hospitals. Let's say, for example, someone is sick on the road. The doctor can
call the computer at a hospital. The computer will give the person's history,
and what medicine should not be given to him, and what should be …"  

I thanked Mike and slipped out of the crowd pressing around me and headed toward
a bank of teletype terminals. Seated behind one was Donald Abrams of New York
City. He looked like he was 

'Wes Thomas is editor of Communications Tomorrow, an occasional publication of
the World Future Society; an interviewer for WBAI-FM in New York; a contributor
to a variety of other interesting publications; and also toils regularly for 
Reeves Teletape Corp. 

[image] Michael Taylor, a 9th grader from Lexington, MA poses with his
ventriloquist dummy next to his project, a voice synthesis unit connected to a
Wang 2200.

about 8 years old, but turned out to be 13. I asked him what he was doing. "This
is the Questionnaire Independent Dating System," he came back with, sounding
vaguely like the Votrax. I guess he had been hearing it all day. "It is a dating
system that does not rely on any one single questionnaire, but can be suited to
fit any questionnaire that could be written. It gives you two matches: a general
match, which gives each person his or her best match; and an audience match,
which matches up every male with one female, and vice versa so there are no
conflicts." He paused briefly to allow me to catch up to his thinking. "It also
prepares a response summary, which helps you to improve the values of each
question by telling you what percentage of the responders to each question
matched. Obviously, the lower the percentage of matching, the better the
question and therefore it should have the higher priority, since it is in that
question that individual differences tend to show up best."

I shook my head in agreement. Obviously. Just what the world needs–a 13 year
old combination Ann Landers–computer programmer! Rather than admit I didn't
have the foggiest idea of what he was saying, I quickly changed the subject.
What else had he been doing with computers? "I've been working in six 

[image] A CBS-TV crew videotaped Mike Taylor for a spot on the 6 pm news.

languages. I intend to modify the system at the school that I go to to make it a
bit more like a higher-level computer." What system? "Our IBM 1130. I intend to
modify the Disk Monitor System." Sorry I asked. 

Or the Grand Prize winner, Walter Freitag, Jr., of Dresher, Pennsylvania, age
15, who developed a computer prediction model for the spread of fire. Walter is
a self-taught programmer (no computer classes are offered in his school). His
father, a chemist, told him his project was impossible, but Walter did it
anyway, using the Univac1108 computer where his father works. The model, written
in BASIC, uses a series of three dimensional matrices to represent the spread of
fire in a structure which includes the temperature at which the material
ignites, time to "burn out," etc.

Walter believes the model can be developed to be useful for fighting fires and
planning new buildings. Walter, who was a previous winner of 5 other science
fairs, won an Altair 8800. He thought he might use it to further develop his
model, or possibly lend to his school, or both. 

[image] William Blum, a hs senior from Huntington, NY demonstrates his digitally
controlled electronic music synthesizer to Daniel McCracken, noted author and a
Computer Fair judge. 

I turned to Andrew Shooman, age 11, absorbed in modifying his own computer or
something. A giant drawing over the terminal read "Computer Astronomy Almanac."
What was that? "It consists of two programs–a planet program and a moon
program." He sounded like Votrax, too. What was this, casting for "The Bionic
Boy?" "The planet program gives the position of the planets for any day in

Page 84 << PREVIOUS >> NEXT Jump to page:
Go to contents Go to thumbnails
This book is also available for the Kindle