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New Hampshire Unveils a Historical Highway Marker For The BASIC Programming Language

“It took 10 months to get it done, but the Granite State is now officially a Geeky State,” writes Concord Monitor science reporter David Brooks.

“The latest New Hampshire Historical Highway Marker, celebrating the creation of the BASIC computer language at Dartmouth in 1964, has officially been installed. Everybody who has ever typed a GOTO command can feel proud…”

Last August, I wrote in this column that the 255 official historical markers placed alongside state roads told us enough about covered bridges and birthplaces of famous people but not enough about geekiness. Since anybody can submit a suggestion for a new sign, I thought I’d give it a shot.

The creation of BASIC, the first programing language designed to let newbies dip their intellectual toes into the cutting-edge world of software, seemed the obvious candidate. Beginner’s All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code has probably has done more to introduce more people to computer programming than anything ever created. That includes me: The only functioning programs I’ve ever created were in vanilla BASIC, and I still recall the great satisfaction of typing 100 END…

But BASIC wasn’t just a toy for classrooms. It proved robust enough to survive for decades, helping launch Microsoft along the way, and there are descendants still in use today. In short, it’s way more important than any covered bridge.
The campaign for the marker was supported by Thomas Kurtz, the retired Dartmouth math professor who’d created BASIC along with the late John Kemeny. “Our original idea was to mention both BASIC and the Dartmouth Time-Sharing System, an early system by which far-flung computers could share resources. They were created hand-in-hand as part of Kemeny’s idea of putting computing in the hands of the unwashed masses.

“However, the N.H. Division of Historical Resources, which has decades of experience creating these markers, said it would be too hard to cram both concepts into the limited verbiage of a sign.”

The highway marker calls BASIC “the first user-friendly computer programming languages… BASIC made computer programming accessible to college students and, with the later popularity of personal computers, to users everywhere. It became the standard way that people all over the world learned to program computers, and variants of BASIC are still in use today.”

In the original submission, an anonymous Slashdot reader notes that last month, Manchester New Hampshire also unveiled a statue of Ralph Baer, whose team built the first home video game sold as Magnavox Odyssey, sitting on a park bench. “The Granite State isn’t shy about its geek side.”

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