Monday, November 05, 2007

Jim Butterfield

Jim Butterfield sits at a help desk at the Toronto Computes computer show Feb 7, 2003

I was talking to Rick Dolishny of TAZA (Toronto Animation/Amiga Zeotrope Association) on facebook today. We were reminiscing about the old computer days. The conversation was based on his profile photo being of him with a cake that resembled an old PET computer. Eventually the conversation brought up Jim Butterfield a name synonymous with the Commodore 64 and PET computers. Rick did a search on him.

I'm sad to say we found out Jim had died of cancer on June 29th of this year. The last time I saw him was four years ago at a computer convention (see photo above). Kind of like a comfortable fixture, Jim was sitting there in the usual spot at the help desk, assisting people with computer related questions and problems. I'm kicking myself now for not having the courage to go up to him to thank him for all the help and inspiration he gave to me, my computer life and career.

Way back when I was just starting to learn to program the PET computer I had a friend, Carl Reid. He was about the same age as me but was a programming genius. Where as most people were trying to wrap their heads around the BASIC programming language (The Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code, gawd I'm old) at the time, Carl was programming in 6502 machine code.

One weekend while over at Carl's house hacking around on the computer Carl got stumped . He was programming a word processor for "kids" (kids that were younger than us). He decided to phone Jim to ask for help. It was 3am in the morning! Not only did Jim pick up but he answered Carl's questions. From that point on I always had an admiration for the fellow late night programmer.

Another weird instance of geekdom was when Carl and I had figured out how to attach a joystick to the back of the PET computer splicing the joystick's wire and using alligator clips. It was a pretty new thing in those days. Then we thought there wouldn't be any games since the joystick on a PET was pretty unheard of. To our surprise, some StarFighter game (I can't remember the actual name) written by Jim Butterfield worked with the joystick. It was uncanny. How did he even have code that knew about this device? It was hooked on by alligator clips!

As the PET and Toronto Pet Users Group (TPUG) heydays started to fizzle out so did our contact with Jim. I'd see him every now and then at an Amiga convention and then at the odd Toronto Computes show at the help desk and then not at all. I always wondered what happened to him.

Thanks Jim for all your help, rest in peace.

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