Alt-248 is the first thing that I discovered on my own on the IBM PC. At least, the first thing I discovered that I still use today.

I was messing around one day with the keypad one day after I discovered that the bell was Ctrl-G. It was shortly after my parents bought me my first PC. An Epson Apex 80. 10 MHz of 8088 goodness, 640 KB of RAM, and dual 5.25″ 360K floppies. Some days I get nostalgic for B:. It was 1989. I was 12. Four color CGA was fine.

I was absolutely distraught that BASIC wasn’t included. The first productive thing I did with that PC was fire up the bundled copy of PFS: First Choice and write a letter to Epson requesting a copy. A week later a package arrived for me, a momentous happening for a 12 year old. Inside was two disks of BASIC and a hand-photocopied, three ring bound GW-BASIC manual. I had won the lottery.

I indexed my baseball cards with the database. I wrote papers for school. I wrote a program in BASIC to predict my father’s work schedule (the odd looping schedule of a firefighter). I printed a million signs with Print Shop. I played “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?” several million times, too. In my first act of piracy I copied LOGO from school and programmed in that. I wrote a self-modifying program in LOGO, having it flip to the back side or whatever the code area was called and move to record the iteration of the loop it was on in a variable. Turtle power.

I wanted to play SimCity, but it required a mouse. So I saved up and bought a mouse. $100, from Egghead Software. It was a bus mouse, too, and a good choice, because I would later need my serial port for a modem. I got SimCity for my birthday. That kept me busy for months.

Somewhere in there I discovered Ctrl-G. Wow, a whole new world when the Ctrl key is down. Maybe Alt does something, too… I had known about the bell since my earliest forays into annoying WHILE loops, but this was all new.

Most of what I did on that PC wasn’t directly relevant to my everyday life now. The papers I wrote are still saved somewhere, my baseball card database, sadly, is probably still accurate. Microsoft Windows, though, honors Alt- number combinations for ASCII characters. Damn you, Character Map! I know your secrets!

And I still smile every time I get to type Alt-248.