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New Hampshire installs historical marker to honor the creation of BASIC (concordmonitor.com)
245 points by Tomte 29 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 76 comments

Went to high school there in the 1980's when DEC was riding high, and had offices in Nashua, and probably other places in NH. They donated VAX 11/7xx machines to both our middle and high schools, and it was a boon to my eventual career.

Took Fortran, Pascal, and C classes before college thanks to them. There was even a "DEC Store" at the Mall where you could play this ASCII star trek game. A little odd...as I don't know what mall dwellers were in the market for 5 figure servers. Even the lowly DecStation was at least $10k.

They were VERY involved in the community. Thanks DEC!

Where did you go to high school? I went to Nashua High in the 1980's, and I don't remember any DEC machines at school. I used an Apple II in elementary school, but I don't remember using school computers much during high school.

My father worked for DEC when I was young, and I remember going in with him and playing something like terminal invaders while he did some work on the weekends. Most of my work with computers before college was at home, and I really appreciate my parents for investing in home computers at that point in time.

Manchester. There were VAXes both at Memorial and the middle school across the grass, Southside.

Lucky you! I was in Salem, where DEC had some facilities (and in fact, I'm typing this from a building that used to be theirs), and the high school had 3 Apple ][+. They did get a Rainbow from DEC the year after I graduated. I know Pinkerton in Derry had a PDP of some variety.

I grew up in Westminster, MA where DEC had a facility. I'm disappointed we didn't have donated DEC systems in our school. My dad worked there so I had access to a lot of DEC stuff but it would have been cool to learn it in school.

Hmm. I wonder what the criteria was. I assumed they had donated machines to most of the local schools. Seems they did not.

Having lived in NH.. there is some computing going on there.

But NH and Nashua in particularly mostly contributes by providing cheaper cost of living & a right wing atmosphere for people to have a long and painful commute into Massachusetts where the real jobs are.

It's honestly so bad with the massive # of people that if you're north of Boston like I am we practically need congestion tolls in town on out of state people commuting through. The highways are gridlocked almost the whole way down in the morning & north on the way home at night for 3-4 hours every day as hundreds of thousands of people commute into Massachusetts to work tech jobs. Then we got Waze and now they get off the highway and clog up all the town centers & residential neighborhoods. Sometimes I have trouble getting out of my own driveway, and the local police told me at one point they did a study and 50,000 NH cars come through our town at rush hour, and the town only has 13,000 residents including children.

I've never understood why they haven't been able to do a better job luring companies over the border.

Dyn (acquired by Oracle), PillPack, Dean Kamen, an Army research lab, and others are all located in Manchester. Considering two of those companies had Billion-dollar exits it seems they are doing something right in NH.

I thought PillPack was HQ'd in Somerville when acquired?

Could be - but they definitely had a location in Manchester as well. I believe they've since moved their HQ to Salt Lake City but still maintain a presence in the city, per their careers site: https://www.pillpack.com/careers/manchester

I work at a unicorn in NH. I hope I never have to work anywhere else. I love it here and I don't understand the "right wing" comment.

I have to agree. My brother-in-law, a retired tech guy, and two geek friends just opened a brewery in Nashua (you know it’s owned by geeks with beer names like State Machine and Double Helix). Anyway, definitely not right-wingers and their customers don’t seem to be either.

My experience is that the state is very libertarian (See the state motto "live free or die" and the Free State Project). It's not so much "right-wing" as it is "not left-wing".

If you like NH as it is (or close to it) you should be rooting for the commute to stay terrible or get worse. NH can only be NH and not MA-lite as long as it's impossible for all but the most dedicated to live in NH and work in the Boston area.

I lived & worked in Nashua, there are/were several big tech employers. I worked for a smaller company.

IIRC Oracle has/had a big office, BAE, Progress software.

But for sure, all my NH friends who lived north of Nashua all thought Nashua was a bad place and didn't really deserve to be considered part of NH.

The commute will always be horrible because most NH will shoot down a rail line or anything else to fix it that actually works. There's been work for years to try and get a train line that currently exists from Boston to Lowell extended to Nashua. Trains are socialist though so that'll never happen.

Rt. 3 in MA between Nashua and Rt. 95 in MA was expanded from 2 to 3-4 lanes per side while I lived in Nashua. It helped for a year or two but otherwise was a futile waste of money. I don't think any road project can work. The only solutions that I think could work is a big train line or companies moving out of MA into NH.

Even these days, Nashua is fairly typical of old New England mill towns that have gentrified to some degree. This mostly translates into having maybe a couple dozen square blocks of nice restaurants and shops in a walkable downtown but things get pretty rundown and/or strip-mallish as soon as you get beyond that area.

I'm not sure how much a train would even help. In my experience, having worked with many such folks over the years, many of those commuting down from NH are headed to employers in tech and elsewhere scattered all over the greater Boston area.

I was born in Manchester and grew up in Epping. My dad was a policeman in Londonderry when there were about three officers on the force.

Southern New Hampshire (I'd say Manchester and south, but especially Nashua) has grown so much in the last 30 years...we jokingly call it "Northern Mass." Most of the "small towns" from my childhood are no longer small by any means.

The reason for this is the abundance of jobs in the Greater Boston Area, which attracts New Hampshirites looking for those types of opportunities (good luck finding a non-remote tech job if you live north of Concord). However, it also has a backflow effect, encouraging Massachusettsans to move to southern New Hampshire.

The political culture is wildly different between Mass and New Hampshire. A common complaint from the elders here is how all the "Massholes" are moving to New Hampshire and want to tax everything. I can see how this growth has polarized New Hampshire politics, but left much of the rest of the state intact. I suspect this growth is the primary reason we moved from a conservative state to a swing state back in the 1990s [1] despite what the Union Leader suggests.

I'm fortunate enough to not have to be stuck in that commute, but I know many who aren't as lucky. For them, a high-speed commuter rail into Boston is probably the best long term solution. Of course, making the commute easier would encourage more out of staters to relocate here, further changing New Hampshire's politics.

To many, the Live Free or Die attitude we have is what makes New Hampshire unique and wonderful. We're proud. We get it. We don't want to be babysat by the government.

I have mixed feelings about it all.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Politics_of_New_Hampshire#Elec...

There are things that are sad about how that growth affected southern NH.

I spent huge amounts of time bicycling & motorcycling through NH when I lived there.

Southwestern NH (everything pretty much west of Nashua) stayed pretty nice other than the stuff along Rt. 101, the big box nonsense expands further west along 101 every year and it expanded shockingly between 2000 (when I first moved there) to 2009 (when I left the 2nd time).

But Southeastern NH.. it feels like one continuous zoning disaster all the way from Nashua to Portsmouth... almost every main road just turned into a horrible procession of traffic and stop lights and big box stores and generic American chain businesses. It's happened lots of places in the US but it's really bad there.

> good luck finding a non-remote tech job if you live north of Concord

There is a modest amount of tech work in the Upper Valley.

That said, cost of living there isn't much lower then Boston metro.

As a former MA resident who lived on the NH border I sympathize with not wanting to be MA but NIMBY is never the answer. Things change.

It's not the development, it's the people that follow it. People aren't complaining that Nashua is turning into Lowell or Leominster, they're complaining that it's turning into Cambridge. I'm sure there's a couple old racists complain about black people or something like that but there's always a few of those people. Most people seem to take much bigger issue with the newcomers lack of respect for individual freedom and property rights more than skin color or social class. People are worried that their culture will be gentrified out of existence. They're worried that in time will no longer be socially acceptable, maybe even illegal to live the way they've live and mostly like living. It's not the "backwards hicks" that are worried about this. It's the white collar professionals who are enduring the terrible commute and double taxation because they like NH for the "do what you want on your own property and nobody cares" factor are who are worried about this.

> NH can only be NH and not MA-lite...

What is the difference between NH and MA-lite, dare I ask?

About 40 years.

There are some tech-related employers in Nashua but it's mostly fizzled in other small NH cities like Portsmouth. I think there may have actually been larger tech employers in NH a couple decades back when all the Rte 128 computer companies had a fair number of locations scattered around southern NH and Maine.

Honestly though I'm not sure the commute situation with southern NH is really all that different from people commuting from the further flung Massachusetts suburbs/exurbs into either the city or the closer-in Rte 128 ring where companies are more concentrated.

OSR is in Manchester. They're niche (Windows drivers, particularly in the filesystem stack), but well-known in that community.

When I learned to program in the late 70s it was on a Wang 2200 computer. But I quickly was exposed to a number of Microsoft BASIC flavors: first hand on Apple 2 and TRS-80s, plus reading lots of code in BYTE Magazine and Personal Computing.

Wang BASIC was very different from those -- in some ways very limited, and in other ways very powerful. But it wasn't until I read the original Dartmouth BASIC report that I realize Wang had hewed more closely to Dartmouth BASIC than Microsoft.


For example, Dartmouth and Wang BASIC both have support for matrix operations:

  10 DIM A(5,5),B(5,5),C(5,5)
  30 MAT B=INV(A)
  40 MAT C=A*B
  60 DATA (25 numbers to fill up the array)
which would print a 5x5 array that was very close to the identity matrix.

As a New Hampshirite, I always knew there was granite in my blood. I wasn’t aware there was code, too!

Going to make the short drive to honor this, soon.

Imagine, if you can, a world where no one owned an electronic calculator and few people had ever seen a computer outside of photographs or TV. I found out that my high school's school district owned a computer at its administration building. It was 1967 or 1968.

I decided to write a program and see if someone at the school district would run it for me. I picked up a book on FORTRAN (I still own it) and tried writing my first program. It was a disaster.

After key punching the program on an IBM 026 keypunch machine (keypunch machines back then were mainly used for data entry, the parentheses, the equals sign, and the plus signs weren't even on the keyboard), I gave the deck of cards to a friend. He agreed to run it at the administration building, and the following week (one week turnaround time) I was informed that my program had syntax errors, :(

Because of BASIC, my next attempt went much better. I realized I didn't know what I was doing, but I was able to find a book on BASIC and studied it carefully one weekend. BASIC was so easy to understand that I learned from that book how programs work.

I didn't have BASIC available at the school district, but it had served its intended purpose--it explained programming to me--and armed with what that BASIC book had taught me, I went back to FORTRAN and successfully wrote my first program.

Last August, I wrote in this column that the 255 official historical markers

Who else noticed the 255 and thought it'd be related in some way? I don't know if it's intentional or a lucky coincidence, but I really like the fact that the BASIC marker is the 256th.

New Hampshire, for what it’s worth, also has a highway marker commemorating an alien abduction. Located on the southbound side of highway 3 through Franconia Notch, it reads.

Betty and Barney Hill Incident

On the night of September 19-20, 1961, Portsmouth, NH couple Betty and Barney Hill experienced a close encounter with an unidentified flying object and two hours of "lost" time while driving south on Rte 3 near LIncoln. They filed an official Air Force Project Blue Book report of a brightly-lit cigar-shaped craft the next day, but were not public with their story until it was leaked in the Boston Traveler in 1965. This was the first widely-reported UFO abduction report in the United States.

Ya can’t make this stuff up! Oh, wait …

> This was the first widely-reported UFO abduction report in the United States.

That's the key bit. UFO abduction mythos was an important part of later 20th century US culture, linked to the space race, the US's standing post-war, the Cold War, and popular media. It is interesting that it started there, even if you don't believe it for a second.

Similar to how England commemorates King Arthur even though nobody's sure if he even existed.

Go to the Irving Express right off the highway, and you can get the full experience.

Not a state historical marker but the NH town of New Boston has a plaque in the center of town honoring the anti-gravity research done nearby.

And that was pretty serious research at the time. The Gravity Research foundation was founded by Roger Babson (who also founded Babson College). At the time, the nature of gravity was not well understood. If it was a "wave" then it could be blocked, i.e Anti Gravity!

The New Boston historical society has a nice link, as does Wikipedia (which mentions Edison suggesting the idea to Babson):

http://www.newbostonhistoricalsociety.com/gravity.html https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravity_Research_Foundation

An annual essay contest lives on. Several Nobel lauriets have won that prize including well recognized names like Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose.

I started with BASIC, ca. 1981. I think that while VisiCalc is often hailed as the seminal "killer app," BASIC may deserve a close second place. Being able to turn on a computer and start entering a simple program, or create and share simple apps, was why a lot of people bought early microcomputers, including probably most scientists and hobbyists.

And yes, I'm mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration. ;-)

BASIC is great and all, but where's the historical marker for Lisp? ;-)

(edit: apparently it should be in Cambridge since John McCarthy had moved from Dartmouth to MIT by 1958.)

But modern AI largely started in New Hampshire at the Dartmouth Workshop in 1956.

As someone who moved from Boston to Nashua 10 years ago for startup in New Hampshire I find it interesting to see here. Looking forward to see all the Granite Staters come out of the woodwork.

But the title might be a bit miss-leading. I think this is just the first "in New Hampshire" not the first one , period.

Just to be clear, I believe this is the first highway marker in new Hampshire. There is a highway marker in Arlington Virginia, honoring ARPANET complete with a binary ASCII secret message, and I believe one for Grace hopper as well (could be wrong about the second)

They noted the following in the article, "There are other historical markers for computer-related topics...but this one appears to be the first specifically for the creation of a programming language."

"It is practically impossible to teach good programming to students that have had a prior exposure to BASIC: as potential programmers they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration." -- Edsger W. Dijkstra

I have come to believe recalling this comment has caused a negative impact to the world. As a beginners language it works well and many of the worlds great coders started on BASIC.

I don't blame Dijkstra for this. It is evidently a tongue-in-cheek expression of personal distaste. It is more an issue of the cult of personality that exists turning such quips into scripture.

"About the use of language: it is impossible to sharpen a pencil with a blunt axe. It is equally vain to try to do it with ten blunt axes instead." -- Edsger W. Dijkstra

Of course, all this is to be taken with a grain of salt :) I got started in QBASIC and, for all the damage it may have caused, I'm doing pretty OK today. I tried to grasp C back then but I wasn't able to yet. BASIC let me play along with the adults while I developed other necessary skills.

> I got started in QBASIC and, for all the damage it may have caused, I'm doing pretty OK today

Dijkstra wrote that quote about a very different flavor of BASIC: only line numbers, flow control was only possible with GOTO and a limited version of FOR/NEXT, IF was limited to a single line of code (which 99% was just a GOTO or GOSUB), subroutines were made using GOSUB/RETURN, etc, essentially it was a glorified assembler with an expression generator.

What he was championing instead (at the time) was structured programming in the style of Algol and QBASIC, with its subroutines, control structures, functions, lack of line numbers (well, they were optional for backwards compatibility with GW-BASIC, but i do not think it got much use) etc, is way closer to the style of programming used in Algol than to the style used in the BASIC that he was talking about.

I understand Dijkstra's anti-BASIC quote as a reference to his observation that the values underlying such a procedural/imperative language predispose a programmer to think exclusively operationally.


Another well-known Dijkstra epigram has it that "Progress is possible only if we train ourselves to think about programs without thinking of them as pieces of executable code." BASIC programs don't lend themselves to being treated as anything other than pieces of executable code.

There's a pretty good argument that picking BASIC (especially old BASIC with line numbers and lots of GOTOs) today for an intro programming class would fall into the not-good-idea category.

But the best alternative was probably FORTRAN (which is indeed what my programming class at university used) and that wasn't really intended for general purpose use or for teaching. Pascal might have worked as it was designed for the purpose although I'm not sure it ever became quite mainstream. C wouldn't have made much sense.

I wish we'd cut the Dijkstra worship way the heck back, especially in this case.

Kemeny and Kurtz were/are fantastic people who not only introduced a large generation to programming, but brought timesharing services to so many along with a supportive, embracing culture. Reading anything about the Dartmouth computing culture in the 60s makes this very clear.

Dijkstra on the other hand was a jerk, prone to making snarky nasty comments about so many things while being sweet to people's faces (e.g. the Backus letters). Beyond an algorithm or two and an OS that few remember or care about, snark is Dijkstra's legacy.

OTOH, I think it's a great disservice to imagine Dijkstra as merely the Mr. Blackwell or Karl Lagerfeld of CS.

"On the Cruelty of Really Teaching Computer Science" is a great and convincing read, and I wished more Deans of Science and Engineering at more US/Canadian universities had given it a close look...

Oh, how wonderful. I'd like to highlight how BASIC is still relevant, in a cute or retro kind of way in the form of Basic-256 & cheerful books, that might pass the nine year old test!



In related News Hampshire historical nerd news: There is a statue of Ralph Baer (developed first video game) in Manchester.


> Everybody who has ever typed a GOTO command can feel proud.

Oh gosh no.

On top of which, it's factually wrong. GOTO (also in caps) was used in COBOL for years before it showed up in BASIC.

Why's the sign on a road, though?

That is the single main state route into Hanover. So that sign is highly visible actually.

I would be more appropriate on campus but the building that housed the computers no longer exists. The library where the terminals were is still there (its historic and gorgeous) but a plaque in the basement isn't really visible.

It's stated in the article.

> "...state historical markers are reserved for state highways, and all of the roads in and out of Dartmouth are city streets."

That doesn't answer the question. That just says historical markers are reserved for state highways. I'm asking 'why are they reserved for state highways, or any highway at all?' Why put a historical sign on a road of all places?

It's like they stuck the sign on an elephant, and I'm asking why, and your answer is 'because it's an elephant sign'. Yeah I get that... but why is it an elephant sign?

The best I can piece together, as a layperson reading state statutes, is because the NH Division of Historical Records[1] was assigned a duty and a budget to preserve and disseminate information on NH history [2]. The NH Historical Marker program is a joint effort with the NH Department of Transportation, and it is the responsibility of the DOT to erect and maintain the signs after approval from the Division of Historical Records [3]. The DOT has authority to erect these signs on class I-III roads which are state owned and maintained [4].

There appears to be a separate statute governing the installation of markers along class IV and V roads which are maintained by cities and towns [5].






We do the same in Germany. It's so you get interesting buildings and other things pointed out when driving through an area you don't know well.

There are many interesting places between A and B. You know about A, because you're living there. You know about B, because it's your destination. Typically, you've never thought much about the in-between.

There are all sorts of historical markers on various things and in various places all over the US. (Though I'm not aware of any at Dartmouth College regarding the computer-related events that occurred there.) These particular markers are ones put up on NH state highways where they're fairly visible even to people not actively looking for them.

If I recall, there is a plaque in the lobby of Kemeny Hall at Dartmouth about Kemeny's role in creating Basic.

New Hampshire has these green historic signs all over the place - they are particularly thick in the seacoast region, for historic buildings or places where events of any kind of significance took place. For example, in downtown Exeter, there is one by the town hall commemorating a speech that Abraham Lincoln gave during his presidential campaign, also noting that his son went to Phillips Exeter, and across the street there is another marking that Exeter was once the capital of New Hampshire, and then a couple hundred yards away there is another marking where a tavern still stands that George Washington once ate dinner.

Later in life, Lincoln's son, Robert Todd Lincoln, built a large house called Hildene in southern Vermont that was occupied by descendants into the 1970's. It is maintained as a museum. It's pretty interesting and worth a trip, if you're into that sort of thing. Even my two teenagers found it interesting ;)


There's also a plaque in Dartmouth Hall about the Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence, considered the founding event of AI research.

Most of these, in most states, are either beside roads or on buildings. I suppose it allows marking things that aren't buildings (or associated with one building). It also allows making far more visible, due to our car culture.

We don’t have a lot of people up here. My guess is to maximize visibility. I’d like to see some kind of monument or park at some point. (Pref with WiFi!)

Maybe a ruggedized computer running BASIC, with its main memory and peripheral state mirrored to the internet. I wonder whose land is next to it.

Hit me up if that sounds cool, because it sure sounds cool to me, and I don't think it would be that difficult to put together.

:- )

Because it's a state highway sign.

But why... why do they make their historical signs also highway signs? In the UK we put them on the relevant building, not out on the road.

They're not all highway signs, but if you put them on most buildings in NH, nobody would ever see them. I live in the biggest "city" (which has local, rather than state mandated historical plaques all over it, FWIIW), and it's only 100,000 people.

Blue plaques aren't all that visible from the road when driving, however. To be honest some are hard to spot even on foot from street level.

I guess with the US being a more car-based culture the highway signs made more sense?

Yes. Far more people see them by a road. Also, you can use them for things with no associated building. "In a field near here, Civil War Battle blah blah blah was fought", etc.

Feel old yet?

too bad there is not date on placement on it, since it says Basic is still being used. I imagine it will be possible that time in the future this won't be true anymore and withot a date it will be hard to tell.

There are historical markers in New England that are 100+ years old themselves. I don't think there's a meta-marker yet.

There actually is a small "2019" at the bottom of it.

waves from his desk in Concord, NH

can someone post google maps coordinates for this?

Url changed from https://www.theverge.com/2019/6/16/18680941/new-hampshire-ba..., which points to this.

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