Defunct books (or not)

July 23, 2007

I have been doing some clearing out and moving of books. It is a slow process because I have real difficulty in disposing of books and even the old and seemingly defunct books have their merit. I seem to have spent a lot of time reading books that would seem to have passed their best-before-date. Very few of them have been so useless or uninteresting to have made it to the fling pile.

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Instruction manuals for the Atari ST, and BBC Micro; programming manuals for 6502 machine code, BBC Basic, CP/M and may more besides hit the Op Shop pile. I hope somebody enjoys them. The instruction manuals for MS-DOS version 5 and Windows 3.1 reminded me of how far we have come and how much we now take for granted in terms of what computers are capable. 

Whole Internet Catalog

Of all the old computer books I have leafed through, the most interesting is The Whole Internet User’s Guide & Catalog by Ed Krol. I had a first edition which I must have chucked when I bought the second edition. The first edition (1992) was largely pre-Web. The second edition (1994) included details on how to use the Mosaic browser to read web pages so it must have seemed far more modern than the previous edition. I had forgotten about the pre-web Internet and the bulletin-board world that pre-dated even the Internet. I fondly remember the hours I spent (presumably at some great expense given that we had timed local telephone calls) using British Telecom’s Prestel service to play an online multi-user text adventure game called Shades.

Much of the guide is of little use now and full of words and phrases that mean nothing to the average Internet user – telnet, gopher, archie WAIS etc. However, there is still some interesting reading in the Whole Internet User Guide. Take this for example

“The threats to the Internet come from two sources:

  • Excessive use for unintended purposes
  • Political pressures

…. Chances are no one will prosecute a person who uses these connections for unintended purposes, but it is still discouraged by other means”

It is interesting to note that Krol did not foresee that that the ‘unintended purpose’ would include so much spam or malicious mail. In fact he lauds the ability to use “mailing lists” as a feature of the Internet. Perhaps there was no need to enlarge one’s penis or help get money out of Nigeria in 1994.

The Whole Internet User’s Guide & Catalog was presumably inspired by the Whole Earth Catalog, first published in the late 1960’s.  It was a useful resource for the hippy do-it-yourself builder and gardener. I had a copy of that too, but that seems to have gone the dumped books way some time ago. I can still picture the cover though.

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There were a few other non-computer books that I recently sifted as well. A UK Good Food Guide from 1976 provided a few moments of pleasurable memories but little more. Was a meal really that cheap?  The New Zealand edition of The Little Red Schoolbook was full of 1960’s progressive education ideas which are still worth consideration. My 1947 edition of the Penguin Guide to Cornwall is probably still useful except for the lack of road numbering and the assumption that you could afford to travel by train in the UK.

Hmm. Why would I want to throw any of these away?

Time recorded

July 6, 2007

When my first child was born, I had the good intention of recording her growth at regular intervals to produce a time-lapse record. As with many good intentions, it never happened. I may have begun the project but I don’t remember taking it very far. The idea of making the time to do it year after year was probably too hard to contemplate. You have to admire the dedication of those who have managed the task.

I haven’t been able to track down the film that I saw in the early 1970’s which inspired this idea, but there are several interesting videos around (though horrible music seems to be a feature!)

I particularly like JK’s effort which shows an intriguing change in his appearance over 8 years.

I also like this beard growth video

Interestingly though, I found Diego Golberg’s wonderful photo essay to be an even more interesting exercise. I found it quite moving to see his family develop as well as admiring the extraordinary dedication it must have taken to produce it. As is often the case, there is so much more power in the still image that allows you to look properly and consider what you are seeing.