Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Silicon Jungle, 1985

During one of my periodic trawls through the Gutenberg website, I spotted a recent upload for The Silicon Jungle, which was published in 1985, and which is about when I first started mucking around with computers! I did a quick scan through the book and had to marvel at how arcane the world of computers was, way back when the technology was just beginning to find its feet so to speak.

Rothman’s computer of choice at the time was a Kaypro II, which he considered to be the perfect computer for his needs. I can see why—it had a very impressive—wait for it—64K of RAM. Yes, dear reader, that really is 64,000 kilobytes of RAM (Random Access Memory). Incredibly, the file size of the book cover seen here is a very modest (by today’s standards), 99,000 kilobytes.

Reading through books like The Silicon Jungle, I am reminded of the much quoted statement that was once attributed to Thomas J. Watson, the chairman and CEO of IBM from 1911—1956, which went something like: ‘I think there is a world market for maybe five computers’.

Modern research suggests that it is highly doubtful that Watson ever made this statement, but be that as it may, many other authors and experts have made their own assertions about computers and the software and hardware that is needed to run them, and Rothman was one of them. To choose just one example of many, try reading his thoughts on the humble computer mouse without laughing out loud, thirty-two years after he wrote them.

“If you’re a trained, high-volume production typist,” asked Seymour Rubinstein, the WordStar* developer, “what are you going to do with a mouse except feed it cheese?” Score one for Rubinstein. He says mice are great—if you have three hands. Doing graphics? A mouse, maybe. But damned if I’m going to take my hands off the keyboard to push the cursor from one spot on the screen to the next. It’s simply too much wasted motion. I instead just press the cursor keys right above the main keyboard. Or I use WordStar’s cursor-moving commands. And even if I hadn’t learned touch typing a quarter century ago, I’d still wonder if a mouse for word processing wasn’t the Silicon Valley version of The Emperor’s New Clothes. Next time you’re in California, maybe you’ll see Apple execs naked in the streets as well as their hot tubs. Well, maybe not. The mouse could be a great marketing tool for sales reps peddling Macs or Apple IIc’s to people hoping to do word processing. But experienced typists? Many would probably groan over all the excursions that the mouse forced them to take from the main keyboard.

By the way, my first computer was a state-of-the-art Commodore 128D. So take that, Mr. Rothman. My system had double the memory of your flashy Kaypro II. Sadly (or should that be, happily?), it wasn’t long before Rothman’s Kaypro II, and my Commodore 128D were superseded by much more powerful computers with virtually unlimited amounts of RAM and hard drive storage. If you don’t believe me, look at the advert here for a 10MB hard disk—a bargain at just $3,398.00. At that price, I bet people were snapping them up!

*Note: WordStar was one of the most popular early word processing programs. Of course, it was soon to be relegated to the dustbin of software history with the rise and rise of Microsoft Windows and the new graphics-based word processing software which included MS Word, WordPerfect, Lotus Word Pro—and those pesky mice that somehow found their way into the hands of every computer user.

53,000 Free Books and Counting
I know I have mentioned the Gutenberg website before, but it won’t hurt to mention it again. The site is a clearing house for almost fifty-four-thousand books, all of which are in the public domain, and all of which can be either read online, or downloaded for free to eReaders such as Kindle’s, iPads and other portable devices that can use the ePub format. If you are a keen reader, and you have never checked out the site, you are surely missing out on a great treasury of amazing literature.

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