"These are the elements of life/"

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Computer Chronicles and Chocolate Floppies

The greatest thing I discovered on the Internet in the last year, and quite possibly ever, occurred about six months ago when I discovered the classic PBS show The Computer Chronicles, and that almost 600 episodes from the show are online over at the Internet Archive. The show ran from ~1982 (the earliest archived show I've seen so far was from 1983) to 2002, when Stewart Cheifet, the host and producer, decided to take a break from this and his other show, Net Cafe. Plus, Leo Laporte's Screen Savers and Call for Help over on ZDTV / TechTV were possibly giving tough competition, but I don't see how, considering The Computer Chronicles was available to everyone on PBS, and was the gold standard for computer reporting.

This show is the absolute best! The hosts are charming; Stewart Cheifet, Gary Kildall (yes, the CP/M legend who founded Digital Research), Paul Schindler with the software review, Wendy Woods and others give the show a friendly and cozy ambiance despite actually being quite in-depth and even academic. Gary Kildall's gentleness and humility really shine through, as does his genius, and Paul Schindler's humor certainly makes me laugh.

The show is also very stylish, and gives you that good feeling inside that occurs when watching legendary PBS programs. One could say it's nostalgia, but I got that same feeling when watching Nova, Square One, Reading Rainbow, Newton's Apple, The Frugal Gourmet, and Nature back in the 80s, so I don't think that's quite it. It's just that it's very high-quality, and even epic. For example, both musical themes for the show, but especially the earlier one, are dramatic, and when the show starts with Stewart and Gary in the dark, only lit indirectly, the music booming, and then the lights come up, you know you're in for a treat!

The history contained in this show is priceless. Every time I watch an episode (which is at least one-per-day :) ) I am wowed by the incredible technology we already had in the 80s and 90s, and it makes me excited to try some of the devices or techniques they discuss, or sometimes I feel yearning for by-gone experiences and aspects of the computer culture, like the BBS community (yes, yes, I know, BBSes still exist through Telnet, but it's not like I can dial up some local number anymore). In fact, some of the software reviews and programmer interviews have led to me searching eBay and excitedly purchasing what I just witnessed on the show (especially regarding the 90s shows and CD-ROMs).

Except for a few early shows where the credits roll over an image of the darkened studio from a vantage point behind the video cameras (see? stylish!), the Computer Chronicles always ends with a news section, Random Access, and just like the rest of the show, these are always historically significant. It never fails that the news reader will mention some event that is still remembered today in computer lore!

My only beef with this show is: how could I have not known about it when I was young and it was on TV? Arg, grumble, harumph! I loved PBS and would watch it a lot; I can't believe I wouldn't eagerly look forward to this show every week. Maybe it wasn't carried in my market, but I doubt that. Goodness, I would've loved this show as a kid...thank heaven I discovered it now, though.

Well, while watching the 1985 Christmas guide, Wendy Woods pulled out a 5.25" chocolate floppy, and a year later, for 1986, she plugged a 3.5" floppy made by the same chocolatier (I'm pretty sure). Well, naturally this got me excitedly searching the net for chocolate computer devices, and while I couldn't find any floppies, I found something much, much better. Both 3.5" and EVEN 5.25" (yes!) chocolate/candy/soap molds! I purchased mine from Cybertrade's eBay store, though they have an amazon.com presence as well. They have a lot of new old-stock (or perhaps still in production) molds for computers and floppies and more. The coolest thing about these molds is that they're copyrighted 1984 and 1985...that's right, they're not merely retro and fad-like, they're truly vintage! I never new making chocolate would become one of my hobbies, but eating floppy chocolate has become my newest pastime.

Here is a great modern interview done with Stewart Cheifet in 2010 by the Retrobits Podcast:
Part One
Part Two


More AdLib music

In one of my past posts, I discuss AdLib Yamaha OPL FM-synthesized music, and in particular, the music from the game Alpha Waves aka Continuum. Well I found another nice selection of AdLib music here:


and behold, it has Frederic Mentzen's Continuum! These are mp3s, and I don't know if the audio files were made from actually recording a Sound Blaster or something, or if they're just emulated, but either way, it's a nice selection, plus if you go up to the parent directory, there are more types of computer music to choose from.