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Computers in 1985: It was a very good year

In some ways, 1985 was a really pivotal year for computing. The industry was changing fast, but in 1985, many relics from the past were still present even as we had an eye for the future. Here’s a look back at computers in 1985 and what made that year so interesting.

I think 1985 was interesting in and of itself, but it also made the succeeding years a lot more interesting. A surprising amount of the technology that first appeared in 1985 still has an impact today.

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Nostalgia can make you younger

This month’s Social Engineer podcast featured psychology professor Dr. Ellen Langer, whose specialty is mindfulness. Dr. Langer brought up a lot of important things, including the idea of work-life integration rather than the more difficult work-life balance, but another┬áthing she briefly touched on really resonated with me. She brought up a study, originally done in the late 1970s, where a group of 80-somethings were immersed in 1959 for a week. At the end of the week, they didn’t act like 80-somethings anymore. It seems nostalgia can make you younger.

That got me thinking about the power of nostalgia.

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Happy birthday, Rubik’s Cube!

Rubik’s Cube turned 40 this week. In a reflection of how much faster the world moves today than it used to, I remember Rubik’s Cube from the early 1980s, when it was a big, national craze. I had no idea at the time that it was invented in 1974 and took six years to reach the U.S. market. I asked for one for Christmas in 1981, and so did everyone else I knew. We all got one. And none of us could solve it. Granted, some of that may have been because we were in grade school, and the early years at that. My best friend’s older sister, who was in sixth grade or so, had a book, and she could solve it with the book’s help.

It was even the subject of a short-lived Saturday morning cartoon. I only watched it once or twice. It turns out it’s not easy to make engaging stories about a six-sided puzzle. There were tons of cheap knockoffs out there too, but unlike the knockoffs of today which are generally regarded as better, the 1980s knockoffs were generally worse. After a year or three, the craze died down. We moved in 1983, and I don’t remember anyone in our new town talking about Rubik’s Cube. Mine ended up in a drawer. I’ve looked for it a few times over the years, but never found it.Read More »Happy birthday, Rubik’s Cube!

Creative play with boys

On Saturday morning, my wife went out for a few hours to run errands and left me home with the boys. And when she came home, I was on the living room floor building a garage out of Mega Bloks (an oversized Lego knockoff for toddlers) with them. My oldest is really, really into Cars right now (the Pixar movie, not the New Wave band), and that improvised Mega Blok garage was just about the greatest thing ever–well, maybe just all day, which in a 3-year-old’s mind, might as well be forever.

“I never would have thought to do that with boys,” my wife said.

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I’m going to see The Police tonight

The reunited Police are playing St. Louis tonight. I’ll be there with my wife, sister, and brother in law.It should be fun. It might not even be much of a stretch to call it a once-in-a-lifetime experience. They haven’t toured since 1984, when I was 9.

People talk about the band reworking some of the songs, so they don’t necessarily sound exactly like they did 25 years ago. But that’s to be expected. The Cure has always reworked its songs, if only because its lineup has changed so much over the years. Even when The Police got back together in 1986 they were tinkering with the sound of their old songs. Exhibit A would be Don’t Stand So Close to Me. In an interview published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch this morning, Stewart Copeland says they still can’t get that song to sound how they want. I’m guessing Sting wants to play it slower than the original and Copeland wants to play it faster, but that’s just a guess.

I’m looking forward to it. It never sounded like this was going to turn into a full-blown, lasting reunion. When they toured last, in 1984, I was too young to care and certainly too young to go. Given the volatility of the three personalities involved, it’s unlikely they could stay together much longer than one tour even if they wanted to.

The funny thing is seeing The Police referred to as a Classic Rock outfit in print. New Wave initially was a reaction against arena rock (which became what people traditionally call "classic rock") and disco. But their rock-reggae sound was hard to classify when it was new, so I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that it’s hard to classify now.

Hey, I almost forgot: New David Crowder

Somehow I missed this. The new David Crowder Band release is Sept. 16. And the band’s site is streaming a track a day until the album’s release.
Today’s track, “Revolutionary Love” is what it sounds like–it owes a lot to a certain Beatles song. In the tradition of the songs like “You Alone” and “Our Love is Loud” that gave the band its reputation, the song’s pretty heavy, and it also mixes in synthesizers and other sounds that are all too infrequently heard in alternative music these days. Elements of pop, punk, New Wave, and even hip-hop. The lyrics don’t sound terribly profound at first, but there’s more depth to them than first appears.

Now I wonder if they’ll catch flak for not mentioning God. Because I don’t think He ever gets mentioned, although with words like “Never changing” it’s pretty obvious he’s not talking about his wife or any other human being. And so do, I think, the opening words of the first verse: “Desperation leads us here.” Assuming anyone catches those.

If I don’t quit talking soon, you’ll run out of time to go listen.

More Wikipedia adventures

The Wikipedia marked its 100,000th article this past week. It celebrated by getting Slashdotted. And when I checked this morning, its count stood at 101,999.
I visited this evening to try to find some information about Studebaker. In typical Internet fashion, I didn’t find what I was looking for. And then, somehow, I found myself researching for and writing Wikipedia articles about AMC, its Rambler nameplate, and its successor, Eagle.

How’d I end up going from Studebaker to the maker of the Jeep and the Rambler? Well, that brings up the useless trivia question of the day: What four U.S. automakers intended to merge in 1954 to form American Motors Corp.?* And the bonus question: Which of those two companies fell through?**

So now I’ve written about baseball players and New Wave bands (both too numerous to mention), computers and CPUs (I made a number of revisions to some of the articles pertaining to the 8-bit computers of my youth), tycoons (Mark Hanna and a hastily written biography of Cornelius Vanderbilt, who interestingly, despite founding a university, himself dropped out of school at age 11), my dad’s occupation and his religion, and now, cars.

* Nash, Hudson, Studebaker, and Packard.
** Studebaker and Packard, who merged with each other. Packard would supply engines and transmissions to AMC for a time, but the combined company ceased building Packards in 1958. The combined company merged with a number of other companies and ceased making automobiles in 1966.

Wrapping up a week…

Someone at Google has a sense of humor. See (or should I say 533?) for yourself.
Dan Bowman sent me the link. My response?

+#4+ !$ $0 k3wl! +#4nk$!

Desktop video. I still can’t get my Pinnacle DV500’s composite inputs to work right. The rest of the card seems to function just fine. As a workaround, I tried connecting a DVD-ROM drive and ripping the source video digitally, straight off the DVD. I was able to get decoded .VOB files to the drive, but the utilities to convert them into usable AVI files (Premiere won’t work with VOBs) all had an annoying tendency to crash. At one point I suspected I had a binary compiled for Intel systems, and obviously my AMD CPU won’t like those SSE instructions. So I copied a single 1-gig VOB file over to a P3-based laptop. The utility got a little further, but it still crashed.

And yes, incidentally, I did secure permission from the copyright holders to use their video. As for the legality of what I did in the DMCA era, one of the utilities looked at the DVD and said it was unprotected. It’d be hard to prosecute me for circumventing copy protection when none existed in the first place.

I was going to say we’ve come a long way since Amigas and Video Toasters, but I’m not going to say that. Amigas and Video Toasters actually worked.

Tribute. How’d I forget this? The Silent Beatle died Thursday. Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you already knew that.

The radio station I listen to most often, which can’t decide whether it wants to be a retro station, a New Wave station, a hair band station, or an Adult Alternative station, stepped way outside its format and did a nice Beatles tribute Friday at lunch, playing an hour’s worth of tunes, ending with “The Long and Winding Road,” which seemed eerily appropriate.

I remember when the Beatles boxed set came out a few years ago. I was still in college, and my next-door neighbor, Chip, got it the first day. He and I watched the corresponding TV special, and I remember someone walking in and saying he didn’t know any Beatles songs. I told him he was crazy. The Beatles are so pervasive, I said, that they’re not even just part of our culture anymore. They’re part of our DNA.

So Chip reached over and turned on his CD player and flipped through a few selections. A look of recognition came over his face to most of them. Yeah, he knew some Beatles songs. He’d just never recognized them as Beatles songs. Even young whippersnappers like us knew them and loved them.

The Beatles were history years before I was born, and for that matter, by the time I was born in 1974, even their record label, Apple Records, was in shambles. I have no recollection of the day John Lennon was murdered. The earliest Beatles memory I had growing up was hearing George Harrison’s “I’ve Got My Mind Set on You” on the radio and seeing the video on TV, in 1986. It was a good tune. Not as good as the best stuff he wrote, and it’s largely forgotten today, but what other songs from 1986 do people remember today? Bon Jovi? Puh-lease. It was such a bad year for music that The Police were able to remake their 1981 hit, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” and score a minor hit with it. Compared to the other choices we had that year, George Harrison scratching his nails down a blackboard for three minutes would have been cooler, just because it was George Harrison.

And he and the rest of his bandmates knew that. That was cool, because it freed them to experiment. So they had that stack of bubblegum pop hits in the early 60s that everyone remembers today, but in addition to that, they had their psychedelic period and by 1968 they had dabbled in everything else imaginable. Heavy metal? They did some of that. Industrial rock? They even did some of that. When it came to rock’n’roll, The Beatles tried everything. Everything that’s happened since has just been further exploration of territory they already covered.

George Harrison’s last few years weren’t pleasant ones, due to his battles with cancer and with deranged fans. I hope he’s happier now. I can’t imagine him doing anything else but sitting somewhere, making music with John Lennon, waiting for Paul and Ringo to show up.