Yet Again Still More Quick Snippets

Published on Sunday, August 19, 2012 in , , , , ,

Luc Viatour's plasma lamp pictureIn August's snippets, I'm going to take you back in time, and perhaps see the origins of my geeky side.

I'm actually surprised to find out how much of my past is available online, so putting this post together has been fun. The links to videos, books, and magazines in this post all include complete or near-complete archives of each publication, so you can explore them in detail for yourself.

• Back in the late '70s, my father's work had a Commodore PET 2001 computer that could be checked out by employees on the weekends. I didn't see it often, but when I did, playing and learning to program it would consume my weekends. For Christmas '82, my parents saw I had enough interest that they gave me a Commodore 64. Even before that first computer, I got interested in reading early computer magazines, especially Creative Computing. When the Best of Creative Computing books (Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3) came out later, I grabbed them quickly.

• After getting my Commodore 64, I stuck largely to magazines that focused on it, mostly COMPUTE! and COMPUTE!'s Gazette. Depending on your particular interests, though, there were an amazing selection of computer magazines available at the time.

• Creative Computing, which started publishing in 1974, had many article that sound quaint today. They included topics imagining what effect computers would have when they were adopted widespread in homes, schools, and offices. They dared to dream that there would be conventions focused solely on computers, tablet computers, and even TV shows about computers! If you were a computer geek in the 1980s, there was one weekly TV shows about computers that you never missed: Computer Chronicles. Amazingly, this show ran from 1983 to 2002 (from before the first Macintosh to after 9/11), and featured reviews, investigative reports, and even minor weekly news updates. It wasn't uncommon to hold off on some new technology until you could find out more about it on Computer Chronicles, because their reviews were so reliable.

• As I moved into the 1990s, I noticed that my interests in computers, magic, math, and memory were starting to come together. One of the first places this became apparent for me was while perusing OMNI magazine, especially their Games column. For example, the November 1981 issue featured Arthur Benjamin's approach to calendar calculation. No, 1981 isn't close to the 1990s, but I didn't see my first issue of OMNI until late in 1989 at my local public library.

One interesting and recurring topic concerned young Michael Weber's discovery of how to easily get items into and out of the locked bank deposit bags in common use at the time. The October 1989 column was the first time the technique was publicly exposed, including the fact that the IRS had already begun to change their bags after seeing Michael's technique. The following month, there was an update, including Michael's technique for getting into and out of plastic bags sealed with glue. Even more than half a year later, there were still companies who weren't convinced that these techniques were legitimate, yet repeatedly refused to witness a demonstration.

Interestingly, from 1988 to 1994, COMPUTE! was bought and published by OMNI magazine. OMNI's own publication run ended in the winter of 1995.

• For the longest time, I remembered seeing a multi-part documentary about the history of computers, but I couldn't remember the name. It was only about 2 months ago when I happened to run across it on YouTube, and discovered it was called The Machine That Changed The World. There were five episodes, all of which are online:

Giant Brains
Inventing the Future
The Paperback Computer
The Thinking Machine
The World at Your Fingertips

As it happens, this documentary is another good example of seeing my interests come together. In the Thinking Machine episode, starting at about the 27:30 mark, there's a savant demonstrating an ability to recall calendar dates. This performance long impressed me, and I was thrilled to see it again, since I hadn't seen it for 20 years!

This documentary came out around the same time my trained memory got me accused of cheating in college.

Yes, there were a host of other resources and documentaries that inspired me that weren't directly related to computers. My Iteration, Feedback, and Change series of posts cover many of my more recent influences.

Because computers have been such an important part of my life for so long, I thought it would be fun to share these resources with you. I hope you enjoyed hearing about them, and even better, have fun exploring them!

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