Tag Archives: history

Selective Service

A friend recently asked…

I was wondering if you had to register for the draft, or you’re in that “gap” group where Selective Service was doing next to nothing? At one time, some of us had to show younger co-workers what a draft card looked like and explain it! You’re younger than I am but maybe not THAT young.

I DID have to register.

I was designated 1S because I was still in high school. Vietnam was in full swing and I watched a number of my older friends leave to serve. (Some made it home whole, some not so whole, and some never made it back at all.) During my final year, 1973, the draft was still going strong. I had left home that spring and as school wound down I was watching that lottery stuff pretty carefully. I’d soon go from a safe 1S to a prime 1A target. Now, I was a skinny little shit, not especially keen on combat. Having already lost friends there, frankly, it scared me. There was this other, fairly new designation – Conscientious Objector, or 1AO – that one could apply for, and I tried for that. As a 1AO, if inducted, I’d serve but wouldn’t be assigned to active combat. There was a bit of paperwork, I collected letters from teachers, church… wherever I could… to substantiate my application. It didn’t work. I became a 1A. Then, in the lottery, my number: 26! It looked like I’d be going in. I waited for my letter. It never arrived and in August the whole thing shut down. The active draft was one of the first things to stop, it was such a political hot button. I’m fairly certain I got very, very drunk when the news hit.

I learned, as I filled in the gaps of this story, that the groundwork for an all-volunteer U.S. military began as early as the end of January, 1973, although it took a while for the shutdown of the draft to actually happen. It leads me to wonder how many young bodies inducted after Laird’s signature but before the last kid shipped out didn’t come home…

I’m pretty sure I still have my draft card somewhere but I can’t recall seeing it for a very long time. It’s probably in that file of papers I dutifully (and securely) care for when I relocate. Stuff goes into that store after which it seldom sees the light of day.

Funny thing. Registration was compulsory when my kid came of age. It was easy, not like it was when I registered and had to personally appear at an office downtown. The process may have actually started with something as simple as an extra checkbox on his DS11 when he upgraded to an ‘adult’ passport at 16. Shortly after he turned 18 he received a letter containing his registration information. There’s no active draft today but his registration card is, actually, a draft card, should the government choose to start drafting again.

[sigh] Over the decades, like many others, my views on military service have changed a great deal.

I haven’t thought about those experiences for a long time. That was a good question, thanks for asking.

BASIC at 50

BASIC is 50 years old!

BASIC was my first computer language. I already had it in my bag of tricks when I bought my first computer, an Apple ][. It cost about $1,400 new, a huge amount of money back then. With that I became the first person I knew that owned their own computer!

My friend Joe who, to this day, doesn’t dick around much with social networks, had been doing some CompSci work at college. He couldn’t understand why I’d spend so much on such a bitty box. What the hell could it possibly be good for? He came over to see the thing for himself.

Joe and pulled our first all-nighter programming Conway’s Life – in BASIC – into the box. I think the inspiration came from an article in Scientific American about cellular automata. (There may have been some burnt vegetable matter involved, as well.) By dawn we were watching patterns of dots crawl around on the screen. But hey, they were OUR dots, playing by OUR rules!

(Pam saw it! We go back *way* further than that. I doubt it made much of an impact on her; it would be a long time indeed before computers became generally useful enough for non-geeks to take seriously…)

Soon Joe had an Apple of his own.

We each found our way into lucrative careers in technology that have lasted to this very day. Our professional paths have intersected several times over the decades.

But I doubt either of us have programmed a single line of BASIC for a very, VERY long time. Lemme give it a shot.


Now go read this great article from Dartmouth, where BASIC got its start.

Steam Bike – 1896


“Satanic Risks?”

Oh, this is funny. I found myself in a backwater folder in my email client, searching for some long-forgotten credentials (came up dry, BTW) when I ran across some uuencoded messages. That’s right! When’s the last time you even thought about uuencode? Yeah, me too.

This particular message was dated 12 January 1998, sent from my personal email address to an address within the company I worked for at the time. It was funny then, it must still be funny now. The “don’t be evil” company hadn’t yet been invented; Larry and Sergey had already come up with the Google name but hadn’t yet received their first cash infusion or even formally formed their little company. (ref. Google history)

Satanic Risks?
“Lindsay F. Marshall”
Mon, 15 Dec 1997 11:33:31 +0000 (GMT)

In the *Letters* page of this month’s *Fortean Times* (FT106, January 1998)
there is a letter entitled Brotherly Communications, raising the privacy
risks of mandating GPS in every mobile phone — which it claims will be the
case in the USA in 1999. However, the letter then goes on to say the

> Much of the data concerning mobile phone paranoia (or the enhanced 911
> service) comes from the publications of Lucent — also known as Bell
> Laboratories — AT&T and Sandia National Laboratories.

> Lucent seems an odd sort of name — Luc(iferic) Ent(erprises) as people on
> a witch hunt might suggest — but when it comes to software they have a
> real-time operating system called Inferno, written in a language called
> Limbo, with a communications protocol called Styx. Reading the product
> literature is less like engineering and more like indoctrination. The head
> offices are at 666 5th Avenue in New York. The company motif is a fiery
> red circle that might represent a bull’s eye, the star Aldebaran in the
> constellation Taurus — also associated with the Egyptian god Set …

> Lucent has been doing a lot of recruiting recently — their headline
> product is something called Airloop(tm) which looks like a cellular phone
> microcell incorporating voice and data. It is controlled by a little box
> that I expect we’ll be seeing everywhere, called the BSD2000 (Lucent seem
> to have a millennial flavour in their product numbers).

Lucent is, of course, at http://www.lucent.com, and the *Fortean Times* is at

Mexican Coke

Mexican Coke US label add-on

Mexican Coke

A while back I ran into some Mexican Coca-Cola at the local Costco and just had to have some. You see, it’s made with real can sugar as opposed to the high fructose corn syrup crap they put in seemingly everything these days.

Why do they do that, anyway? Take a perfectly good ingredient and substitute junk for it. Cost, I guess.

Truth be told I only drank a couple out of the case. I’m not a big soda drinker. But the ones I had were just incredible, the taste immediately transporting me back to my childhood. The stuff even smells different.

Notice on the bottle, under the logo, the capacity is shown. On the other side of the bottle the logo is just plain, unlike bottles sold here. Also, the added label. Flat, stuck imperfectly to the rounded surface with adhesive, showing the ingredients and such, mandatory for all food products. Placement of those labels was inconsistent, which suggests that they may have been hand-applied some time after the fact.

In my experience it’s hard to get decent, sugar-laden soda today. A few brands pride themselves on it. Jones comes to mind. And a couple of times a year I have Old Doc’s Soda Shop ship me a few cases of Dublin Dr. Pepper. The independent Dublin Dr. Pepper plant continues to make the stuff the way it was made back in the beginning, while the other bottlers have ‘modernized’ and stopped using real sugar. If you can manage it, try a Dublin and a regular one side by side. The difference is unmistakable.

Phone Books


Page From History

In this day where consumer-class terabyte drives approach the fifty buck price point, this Corvus ad from April 1981 seemed worthy of sharing.

Five million bytes at the newly-lowered price of $3750. That’s thirty seven hundred and fifty dollars, not a typo.

Corvus Ad circa 1981
Ad from Corvus Systems circa 1981: a 5 MB hard disk for the newly reduced price of $3750.00. (click to enlarge)

Just last week I was in an email discussion with a friend and he lamented the “good old days.” I’m not so sure that the old days were all that good. Did you have four large burning a hole in your pocket for storage back in 1981? I sure didn’t.

A Year Ago Today

It’s all over the news. Today’s the one-year anniversary of the death of Michael Jackson.

I remember the day like it was yesterday. I was in Wildwood, NJ, enjoying some downtime with the family. Wildwood has a seriously long boardwalk, a couple of miles, and we like to walk it when we’re in town.

We were walking the boardwalk when the news hit. Before we reached the end you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone hawking t-shirts featuring the news.

Marketing. It’s an amazing beast.

And all you heard about for an unbelievably long time was Michael Jackson. Could have been a nuclear war and you wouldn’t have heard about that, the way everyone went on and on about the dead pop star. Shit, I think they’re still arguing about whatever’s left of his assets.

I take you back to January 1985. Volume 1, Number 1, Issue 1 of NutWorks, “The Inter-Net Virtual Magazine for Those Who Teeter on the Precipice of Insanity”.

Boot It

You’re processing some words when your keyboard goes dead,
Ten pages in the buffer, should have gone to bed,
The system just crashed, but don’t lose your head,
Just BOOT IT, just BOOT IT.

Better think fast, better do what you can,
Read the manual or call your system man,
Don’t want to fall behind in the race with Japan,

Get the system manager to
Even though you’d rather shoot it.
Don’t be upset, it’s only some glitch.
All that you do is flip a little switch.
Get right down and restitute it.
Don’t get excited, all is not lost.
Just BOOT IT, boot it, boot it, boot it…

You gotta have your printout for the meeting at two,
The system says your jobs at the head of the queue,
Right then the thing dies but you know what to do,

You always get so worried when the system runs slow,
And when it finally crashes, man you feel so low,
But computers make mistakes (they’re only human you know)

Call the local guru to
Go ahead re-institute it.
If you’re not lucky, get the book off the shelf,
But if you are, it’ll do it itself.
Then go find the guy who screwed it!
Operating systems are built to bounce back,
Whether it’s a Cray or a Radio Shack.


So, okay, maybe it ain’t the best song parody you’ve ever seen. But NutWorks – and other virtual publications of the day – are certainly the early Internet ancestors that gave rise to the countless time-sucks you find on the Web today.

Like this blog. Now get back to work.

Photos Separated by Time

Being a bit of a history fan I’ve always thought that things like this were fun to see. There’s the inherent difficulty in doing them, though, that whole separation of time thing.

Opportunity recently presented itself!

My son is on the high school robotics team. 2010 was a pretty good year for FRC Team 25 (Raider Robotix) and the team was honored by the Board of Education at their public meeting last week. The BofE administration building is a repurposed school building – the very building where I attended kindergarten through 3rd grade.

Rick in 1963The first shot was taken in the spring of 1963, making me a 2nd grader. It had to be morning, before the start of the school day – the long shadows (I’m squinting into the sun) and everyone’s headed toward the entrance not visible around the corner. What do you think of the collared shirt? The corduroy pants? And how ’bout that sweater? Those really aren’t saggy mini-man-boobs; I was a skinny little twerp and nothing ever fit me right. Yeah, Mom really did make me dress that way. The white thing by my left hand could be a bandage on my thumb but I can’t recall.

Rick in 2010The second shot was taken May 19, 2010, some 47 years later. The stone/gravel covered playground (a serious no-no these days, so unsafe for the kiddies) is a parking lot, now some 4 inches higher to the building and contributing to run-off and local flooding. You can’t see the area in the earlier shot, but the steel stairs (as well as the door they lead to) are add-ons, as is the electrical conduits and lighting fixtures atop the building. See the lower roof visible on the right of the shot? The ability to kick one of those ubiquitous red inflatable balls onto the rooftop was a right of passage that would get you props from your peers back in 1963 – and a reprimand from an adult. I’ve been shaving the noggin for about 13 years now, and I’m wearing my customary Levi 501s, heavy silver rings and a wallet chained to my belt. That’s not my cracker box car behind me; the tail light of my Ford truck’s partly visible on the right.

faces 47 years apart

The third shot… self explanatory. I wanted to see the faces side by side. And now I understand the look on my face there as a youngster: I wasn’t squinting – I had a flash of future insight and read this post! The tiny voice calls across the ages, “Don’t do it!!!” Too late.


Remember when these were common?

Inventory Control Cards
Cards from the mid-60s

I found these finely preserved specimens as I went through some old documentation in my Dad’s house. They were with the warranty papers from a gas range installed as part of a kitchen remodel in the mid-60s.

The range had a pair of small vents over the pilot jets. The tiny chrome covers stood out from the enameled surface like perfect jewels, just begging to be touched, irresistible. As a kid I’d sometimes briefly touch one, just because, even though I knew better.

When I was clearing out Dad’s house I smiled as I briefly touched the no-longer-perfect metal. I still knew better and it was still hotter than hell and the result was quite predictable.

Not long after, I had the gas service to the property shut off.


As I age, I find that I’ve developed an appreciation for tech history. I was delighted this morning to run across a short piece by Dan Murphy, the creator of TECO, entitled The Beginnings of TECO.

You see, TECO was the editor for which Richard Stallman created a macro package called Emacs (for Editor MACroS). A flavor of Emacs is usually the first program I launch and the last to quit. It’s been that way since the mid eighties, which is around when it became very useful to me to be able to edit text on a variety of different platforms. For Emacs has been ported to just about every computing platform there is. As a matter of fact, I’m writing this piece in an Emacs buffer right now! (Before you ask, the implementation I use these days is from Lugaru Software, LTD. Theirs is a commercial product, but go visit them for a fully capable free trial.)

But I digress – go read The Beginnings of TECO for a fascinating glimpse into the past, when things were more… well, interesting… in some ways than they are today.

[…] TECO was nothing if not terse. Fairly complex loops and other command sequences could be written in TECO, and mostly looked like line noise. TECO was one of the first languages to spawn the practice of handing someone a one-line string of near gibberish and asking with a grin, “tell me what it does.”

Added 27-April-2010:

Here’s a TECO program that calculates pi.

QI< \+2*10+(QQ*QI)UA B L K QI*2-1UJ QA/QJUQ
QA-(QQ*QJ)-2\ 10@I// -1%I >
QQ/10UT QH+QT+48UW QW-58"E 48UW %V ' QV"N QV^T ' QWUV QQ-(QT*10)UH >
QV^T @^A/

Now, that there’s some seriously terse stuff!

40 Years of the Internet

It seems like only yesterday that Joe and me would while away the wee hours on the printer-terminals in the basement at Hill Center, ‘playing’ on the ARPANET after shooting pool and drinking beers… That was actually in the ’70s. The ‘net has come quite a way from those days, hasn’t it?


Here’s what the ARPANET looked like in 1982. [link died: http://thadlabs.com/FILES/ARPANET_Sept_1982.pdf]

Kinda different today. Say, I’m a little curious. Does anyone remember the pain of using bangist-style email addresses in the ancient, pre-DNS days? Stuff that looked like this:


Yeah, that’s actually an email address. It used to reach me, in fact – well, from some networks, anyway. Getting it all to work together used to be really, really hard work!

Old Documents: Historical or Junk?

I was clearing out some space downstairs. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a bit of a pack rat. I was in the ‘machine room’ – the space that’s set aside for servers, media, office supplies and so on. Officially I was there to do some work on a server, work that couldn’t be done remotely, involving periods of busy interrupted by periods of not busy. There was nothing better than fill those not busy periods with some cleanup.

I couldn’t believe some of the stuff that I was finding. Some materials were from machines that haven’t been around in any form for decades! That’s about twenty minutes less than forever, in terms of technology. Much went into the shredder, and much more went into the recycling!

But there were some things that might make you smile if you’re a dinosaur like me. Or maybe they’re interesting to a historian. I haven’t got the foggiest, but they seemed too good to throw away. And honestly, these are just the tip of the iceberg; sometimes I feel like I live in a museum.

First up is a third edition copy of Getting the Most Out of the Internet, which was what Earthlink handed out to new subscribers. The think that caught my eye when I saw it was that it was authored by Sky Dayton himself.

Getting the Most Out of the Internet
Getting the Most Out of the Internet

Fascinating. But the next one is even better. There was a printed newsletter called Inside the Internet. I’m not sure when they started and stopped publishing the self-proclaimed ‘rocket science for the rest of us’. Nobody does things like this anymore, it’s far easier to simply publish on the Web. But this is January 1995 we’re talking about, and things were way different back then.

Inside the Internet
Inside the Internet

Notice the holes for storing issues in your binder – they’re stock, I didn’t put them there! There are articles about Gopher and Veronica. And a bit about TIA – remember that beast? With it you could run SLIP over your shell account, enabling you to run things like a graphical browser. I think I used it back around 1993 or so to run the some of the first non-console Internet apps seen within sacred walls of D&B, where I worked at the time. It goes without saying that this long predated D&B’s online presence, which was initally created by my friend Tom Thornbury. In fact, there wasn’t much commercial presence on the Internet back in those days at all, believe it or not! Finally, did you notice the price? $5.95 for a few pages? Hardly buys much more than a gallon of gas these days.

I hoped you liked that little trip down memory lane. Did you smile?