troy dalmasso

I'm Troy Dalmasso.

I was born just ten days before the Unix epoch, that moment that marks the beginning of time for any Unix based system. In a manner of speaking, Unix and I came up together, which maybe explains my affinity.

Computers have been part of the fabric of my life for as long as I remember. I was only five or six when microchips found their way into the consumer market and I can still recall that night when my pop, who worked as a defense contractor, came home showing off his new TI branded, programmable calculator. It was small enough to fit in his shirt pocket, which is pretty much where it stayed ever after. Though he, and his calculator, are but distant memories now I still own, as a family heirloom, his slide rule in its fancy leather case. A technological icon that slipped into obsolescence that night.

I have vivid memories of when we dug from the trash used punch cards and endless stacks of large, perforated, dot-matrix paper. The neighbor kid and I drew pinhead-sized army tanks, which we called "army ants", while we waited for his father to finish work in a computer lab deep in the heart of Johnson Space Center. It was here in this room, amid the soft, low, hum and strange lights, that I first fell under the spell of computers. I'd stare up at those racks and racks of mainframes and just dream of a day that I might understand what they were doing.

Here at NASA, my mom also worked proof-reading classified technical documents. And though I had a large tribe of kids, the human variety, living on my block to play with I often rode with my mom to work on lazy Summer days and walked around by myself for the whole of eight hours, dreaming. Super computers. Saturn V rockets. Vacuum suits. Moon rocks. Mercury. Gemini. Apollo. The Shuttle. This was my playground. I had subscribed to the little NASA newspaper so many times, which often shipped with 8x10 prints of epic photos, that they eventually sent me a hand-written letter to tell me they were cutting me off. But thanks for the "enthusiasm".

Fitting, then, that my first program I'd write, age eleven, written in BASIC, was a stream of blocky, green, ASCII characters animated to show a rocket lifting off. That was on a Commodore PET in my 6th grade classroom. The years that followed were filled with countless trips into the imaginary, AI driven, world of Dungeon where on a friend's Apple IIC I got to "talk" to a machine.

By my high school years, some friends and I had learned from a BBS how to hack into the AT&T phone system and get paid services for free (what can I say, I was a mischievous teen-ager). And what good is a long distance phone call to a pimply high school kid? Well, there were those lewd recordings to hear on Hustler's 976 line. And those from the 976 at High Society Magazine. But after working without a hitch for months our hormone-charged foray into hacking ended abruptly that one day I came home from school and my irate mom was waving a $300 phone bill.

The jig was up.

But I wasn't in as much trouble as my buddy down the street, he and his brother managed a bill that was more than twice that. I think they were grounded for life.

By the end of my teens, after moving out on my own and finding a job waiting tables, my very first priority was a computer. Which, I'm happy to say, was a Mac Plus with a 5 MB external drive. I had no furniture, or kitchenware, or even a television, but I had a computer. And, there in the pre-web 80s, I was on the internet with my 2400 baud modem, feeling, oh, so high tech.