September 08, 2011

Back to the digital future

In this blast from the past, John Dvorak goes back twenty-five years and discovers how resistant to change smart people can be (smart enough to run an Ivy League school), digging up this quote by Harvard University president Derek Bok:

Harvard is not [emphasis added] committed to digitizing its library system or establishing a computer network between students and professors.

BYU had completely digitized its card catalog system by 1985. When I started graduate school the next year, an IBM XT loaded with the ERIC index on CD-ROM showed up in the second floor reference section (I can still visualize where it was).

Talk about a breath of fresh air! The BC (before computer) system required pawing though two dozen telephone book-sized indexes (plus the quarterly supplements) year by year for every topic you wanted to research, again and again and again.

And then searching the stacks and praying that the journal was there (if the library even had it), hadn't been lost, misshelved, damaged, or checked out (permanently) by a professor. Enough of this nostalgia for the moldy smell of paper.

That was also when I bought my first PC, a used Kaypro II (2.5 MHz Z80, 64KB RAM). It cost me about a grand. Twenty years later, I paid the same amount (adjusted for inflation) for an IBM ThinkPad (1.7 GHz Pentium-M, 1GB RAM).

By the way, let's also can the hand-wringing over format obsolescence. I still have every file originally saved to those single-sided, 5.25 inch floppies. All of the papers physically typed on real paper and stored away in the BC years? Long gone.

In another sign of those ancient times, I was actually allowed to board airplanes with that Kaypro as a carry on! It had a practically bullet-proof aluminum case and weighed thirty pounds! Back then, though, any portable computer was exotic.

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