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Sunday, 30 June 2013


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John Kemeny was also a junior participant in the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos, according to Richard Rhodes's Pulitzer Prize-winning history of 20th Century physics and politics, "The Making of the Atomic Bomb". Rhodes also notes that the Manhattan Project was staffed by an unusually high number of inexplicably brilliant Hungarians like Kemeny, von Neumann, Teller, Szilard, and Wigner.

I'm not sure how long I've been online. It was sometime in the early eighties for sure. I learned MS BASIC on a TRS-80 Color Computer over Thanksgiving weekend in 1980. Got my first modem shortly thereafter. For sure I was online around the time the IBM PC came out using an Atari 800. Wow I haven't thought about that for years. Jay Miner was such a genius.

I can say that personal computers have been a major driving force in my life since the day I touched a keyboard. The excitement of reaching each milestone from hobbyist to professional is something I look back on with great satisfaction.

Ah, the Dartmouth computing culture. Another interesting facet of computing at Dartmouth...blitzmail. Until just this year, Dartmouth used a system called blitzmail which was an internal email system. The tech world has caught up and surpassed Dartmouth in many ways, but students still refer to "blitzing" each other instead of "emailing". Wonder if this system exists elsewhere.

On a related note, the relatively new Kemeny Hall at Dartmouth is now home to the math department. (It's also located where Kiewit used to reside.)

Re: your props to Bruce Buchaanan '79, I wonder if other institutions are so obsessed with graduation years. At Dartmouth, everybody goes by their year. Since I graduated in 2000, I go by '00 and all the students get a kick out of me telling them I'm a zero.

Finally, Dartmouth also seems to put a lot of emphasis on photography, at least recently. Although the photography courses are severely lacking (in subject matter and number of classes, not in the quality of instruction) Dartmouth has brought in some amazing photographers recently. I got to see a talk by Ed Burtynsky and view his prints at the Hood recently, and just in the last half year I've had dinner with James Nachtwey, Steve McCurry and last week with Joel Sternfeld '65 who is on campus all summer as our Montgomery Fellow. (I'm also getting a lot of my books signed!)

In fact, I was sitting at the table with Joel, as well as the director of the Hood Museum, and wealthy alum who's on the board at the Met, as well as the two photography professors from the school. We were talking about when a piece is finished, what a limited edition is, and how both digital and printed images are archived. My wife, who is tired of me talking photography all the time, would surely have been bored at this table, but I was totally thrilled to have the opportunity to chat with people for whom this is not only an abstract discussion, but a subject of much importance.

FWIW Joel Sternfeld said his idea of a finished piece, is actually not an individual print, but as part of a book.

Takes me back. My parents worked at KU in the 60s. I remember playing as a kid with discarded mark sense cards in the computer lab. And I still have some reels of punched paper tape with data from their earlier work. I vaguely remember you could chat on some sort of intra-net. I do remember being quite amazed when faxes arrived in Oz though. How times change.

While not exactly online communication, my first readings of yours was from a subscription titled the "37th Frame". I now can't recall it that was downloaded or came in the mail. I do remember it was a lot of stuff!


This has nothing at all to do with the post. Except the clothes - the absolute moment I saw the photo (which was before I read anything), for some reason I don't understand, they made me instantly think of this particular youtube clip. And then, at the end, up pops the name Buchanan. Seems like I might be karma-ically cursed if I don't mention it. From one type of genius to another.


Take care.

[Poor Roy. Talk about karmically cursed. Exquisite guitarist, and one of the worst singers ever to stand on a stage, a fact he never even seemed conscious of. Coulda been a contender if he'd just had the awareness to audition some vocalists.

Just listen to his version of "Hey Joe" at your link--it's like a band put together by a madman, as if a superlatively talented guitarist had for some unfathomable reason consented to be in a band with the world's most inept, talentless vocalist. I always found the effect disconcerting in the extreme.

Although I guess William Hung was actually a worse singer. Although not by much. (For those of you who don't remember or never knew the name, Hung was an early "American Idol" contestant who was so entertainingly wretched and so endearingly sincere about it that the audience kept voting him onward....) --Mike]

I don't wish to belittle the contribution of BASIC to computing, but a quote from Edsger Dijkstra always comes to mind:

"It is practically impossible to teach good programming to students that have had a prior exposure to BASIC: as potential programmers they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration."

I think I can match your 37 years online. I was at Bell Labs in the early '70s where email usage was the norm.
Before that, I was a student at Dartmouth in the late '50s. I was privileged to have then Professor Kemeny for an honors probability class. Among his many marks of genius was his ability to make complicated subjects seem perfectly simple. He and his wife were also wonderful hosts to groups of students in their home.
Great memories of a great man.

Damn, I'm a piker compared to you. I got on AOL in 1992. My computer was made by Comtrade. It was a screamer for its day. Cheaper than Dell, but worked great. Big ol' metal tower. AOL was dial-up then, and I used to sit there in the evening and long for that pinging noise meaning I connected, instead of that infernal busy signal that I got most nights. What a long strange trip it's been. But fun, that's for sure.

You have me beat by a year, as I started using email in 1977, when I was an engineering student at Purdue. IIRC, my handle was "Papillon," although I'll be damned if I can recall today why I chose that...

On the Internet since 1985, registered my first domain name then and out if interest printed out a list of all registered domain names. Had to print it 2-up and double sided but it only required about 60 sheets of paper as I recall.

Dear Mike,

Well, that certainly beats me. When I was at Caltech (late sixties), we had a time-sharing system but no e-mail. E-mail didn't enter my life until the early 1980s, when it pretty much took it over entirely.

Not so incidentally, the Caltech timesharing system was so buggy and crash prone that I had to give up on it in disgust and just did all my work by hand (back then, being a lightning calculator was still a useful skill). One good thing to come out of it was I made the public vow, “Never use a computer too big to throw out a window,” which I have held to almost perfectly ever since and which I passed on to Steve Wozniak, who used it to good effect.

Also not so incidentally, IBM got into big trouble some years later when it was discovered that they had bribed college officials to install their crappy system.

The situation with Einstein and calculations is a very common one. I was going to say a lot more about that, but I just realized it might make a good topic for my Column 300, which is fast approaching. I think I'll hold off.

As for Dijkstra-- much as I was a huge fan of Algol and structured programming in my youth, when it came to BASIC the poor sap simply didn't have a f**kin' clue. Goddamn computer priesthood… they so totally did not get the point.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
=-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

I suppose it depends what "online" means. We had something similar to your xtalk between the terminals of the PDP-8/I (running TSS/8) at Carleton, so I could date back to then I suppose ('70 or '71 I believe). But there weren't as many terminals and they didn't connect students at as many different schools. We also used email heavily internally at Van Dusen Air in 1977-79.

I got access to ARPAnet email lists in 1981, and had Usenet access by not much later. Since those covered considerable parts of the developed world, I'm willing to call that "online".

John G. Kemeny looks like a 60 years old John Belushi.

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