History in Screenshots

One of the things I keep stumbling upon are amateur software histories told through series of screenshots. Here are a couple examples. The first is a slideshow from ZDNet—which strictly speaking isn’t an amateur publication at all, although as far as history is concerned I think it’s close enough—that provides a look back at Windows boot screens from 1.01 to Vista. The second is more clearly an amateur effort, which bills itself “A Visual Browser History, from Netscape 4 to Mozilla Firefox”. Presented by Andrew Turnbull, a student at West Virginia University, this second entry is undoubtedly the more ambitious of the two, providing extended commentary on more than fifty screenshots and rare looks at such forgotten Mozilla milestones as the release of Phoenix 0.1, the original Firefox.

Really Smooth Music

My good friend Rob was particularly disgusted by my Venerable Bede joke (sorry, Rob), so I’m going to try to make it up to him by posting one of his found history picks.

Video podcast Yacht Rock parodies the silky sounds of late-70s and early-80s pop acts like Steely Dan, Chicago, Hall and Oates, Toto, and Christopher Cross, in each episode reenacting the “secret history” of a different yacht rock classic. As host Hollywood Steve tells us from his “music nook”:

From 1976-1984 the radio airwaves were dominated by really smooth music, also known as Yacht Rock. These yacht rockers docked a remarkable fleet of number one hits, and every song has a story behind it. Let me tell you one.

Episode 1, for example, tells the story of how new Doobie Brothers member, Michael McDonald (with help from former Loggins and Messina front man Kenny Loggins) came to write “What a fool Believes,” transforming the Doobies’ earlier, guitar-rock sound into the yacht rock of their later years. Episode 2 documents the 1978 “back alley” song writing duel between Loggins and McDonald and yacht rock bad boys Hall and Oates. Episode 3 explains Loggins’ transition from the smooth sounds of yacht rock to the rockin’ beats of his Caddyshack and Top Gun years. Episode 6 is the most overtly “historical” of the bunch, featuring piercing insights from Ferris State University history professor, Dr. “Big Rapids” Gary Huey. Huey provides the Plymouth Plantation pre-history of yacht rock, complete with a doubly-anachronistic cameo by none other than Jethro Tull (appearing here as a kind of unholy hybrid of the 18th century agriculturalist and the 1970s hard rock flutist, Ian Anderson). From there it just gets weirder.

Have a good weekend, and in the immortal words of yacht rock producer, Koko Goldstein, “don’t loose the smooth.” Now I’m off to find me an ice cold Tab.

End of an Era

In 2012 the lights will go out in Toronto. Well, at least the incandescent lights. According to a new provincial directive, Ontario will ban Edison’s invention within five years, replacing more than 87 million incandescent blubs with compact flourescents, LEDs, and other, more energy efficient electric lights. Ontario follows Nunavut and Australia in banning the venerable bulb. Church historians can rest easy that there are no similar plans for the Venerable Bede! (Bad, I know.)

Via CrunchGear

John Bolton, John Stewart, Doris Kearns Goodwin

I was cleaning out my TiVo last night, and I caught this odd trio debating the makeup of Lincoln’s cabinet. The phone is an especially nice touch.

(Don’t blame me for the crappy video embed. My initial instinct was to pull this from YouTube. After several fruitless searches there, I finally remembered Viacom’s DMCA lawsuit and stumbled over to Comedy Central’s nearly unusable video pages. How many thousands of like-minded YouTube users have just given up and forgotten all about their Daily Show clip? Nice move, Viacom.)

Best and Worst

It has been a while since I posted something in the Tops of All Time series, but I noticed two recent articles in PC World that fit the bill. The first is a wistful look back at the 10 Worst PCs of All Time. The second lists the 50 Best Tech Products of All Time, “those amazing products that changed technology—and our lives—forever.” So what, according to PC World, is “The Beatles,” the “Citizen Cane”, the “Muhammad Ali” of tech products?

(Drum roll, please…)

Netscape 1.0, the browser that launched the dot.com era.

Red, Green, and Blue

I’m currently reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s superb Mars Trilogy, an imagined history of humankind’s colonization of Mars. The first in the series, Red Mars, was published in 1992. It was followed in 1994 by Green Mars and in 1996 by Blue Mars.

I have said here before that most science fiction takes the form of historical narrative, and the Mars Trilogy is no exception, chronicling the “terraforming” of Mars from the arrival of the first human colonists in 2026 to their fight for independence from Earth in the 22nd century in a story that roughly parallels the outlines of American history. But what is most interesting to me about the Mars Trilogy are the subtle adjustments Robinson made to that story line as he completed the books in serial. It’s clear that Robinson altered the course of his future history in response to the actual history that was so quickly unfolding around him during the course of the early-90s. Thus in 1992’s Red Mars, we find the “First Hundred” settlers chosen almost entirely from the ranks of American and Russian military scientists, with a few European and Japanese civilians thrown in for good will. But in 1994’s Green Mars—in a shift that clearly parallels the geo-political shifts of the early-90s and the rise of globalization in the mid-90s—we see American and Russian national influence on Mars greatly reduced and replaced by powerful corporate “transnats” which run everything from Martian mining operations to its police forces. This is just one example of how, in order to construct a plausible history of the future, Robinson had to respond “on-the-fly” to the momentous events playing out in his present.

Of course there are lots more; as always Robinson is a gold mine. If you’re a fan of science fiction and/or alternative history, and you haven’t read the Mars Trilogy yet, close your browser and get to the bookstore.