tommorris.org

Discussing software, the web, politics, sexuality and the unending supply of human stupidity.


history


Video of a 1974 debate on same-sex marriage. This is some archive gold.


Reddit’s badhistory reviews The Imitation Game. Sounds like a complete mess. An actual meaningful historical re-enactment movie of the life of Turing covering both the wartime events at Bletchley Park and the shameful persecution of Turing after the war would be fantastic—but this movie sounds like a pseudohistorical farce.


Say no to nostalgia

This post exists for a very simple reason: to tell you to stop romanticising the past and wishing that you could live in a magical bygone age.

The past was a shitty place. The present is a pretty shitty place, but it’s distinctly less shitty than the past. When you think about the past, you think about a Hollywoodified version of the past that is quite frankly a load of utter bullshit.

Yes, they dressed better in the past. Yes, they had manners and class and all sorts of other things that us modern savages have lost. But if you were to get a time machine and dial it back, here are a few things you’d miss.

  • The right to vote. Your nostalgic fantasy probably involves lady people not being able to vote, work, get an education, or, well, pretty much do anything other than be walking baby factories.
  • Medicine. The whole not dying thing is a pretty recent innovation. I’m quite glad that when I get sick, I can go to a hospital where they:
    • believe in the germ theory of disease rather than the demons-did-it theory
    • have the ability to prescribe high quality pain relief drugs
    • can reliably do anaesthesia, because being unconscious while someone slices me open is preferable
    • can actually prescribe medicines that work a lot more of the time.
  • And it’s not just if you get sick. Childbirth is a hell of a lot safer for both mother and child than it was in the past. If you want to go back to the past, you have to risk the fact that you or your mother are a lot more likely to die in childbirth.
  • Education. Not being the child of an aristocrat, winding the clock back means I wouldn’t have been able to go to university. I quite like being educated.
  • Anti-discrimination laws. When it comes to choosing between a society where gay people are tortured—sorry, “cured”—by the state and one where they aren’t, I tend to find that it isn’t a particularly difficult choice. Same for other minority groups: perhaps I’m some ultra-lefty socialist loon, but I’m quite a big fan of living in a society where you aren’t allowed to discriminate against people on the basis of things like sex, age, race or sexuality.
  • Technology. At risk of being a wide-eyed techno-optimist loon: I carry around a device in my pocket that gives me speedy access to the largest collection of information ever amassed, from anywhere in the country. That’s quite cool. I’d miss that. And it’s not just computers. Air conditioning is quite useful. Air travel: it’s quite nice to be able to get to America in 7 hours rather than two weeks.
  • Poverty. You think that the divide between the rich and the rest of us is bad now? Wind back 100 years and if you have survived childbirth and the many terrible childhood illnesses that killed so many, and managed to scrape yourself out of complete ignorance, and not been unfortunate enough to fall into a class of people who were routinely discriminated against, great, you’ll still be much poorer then than you are now.

The past sucked. But they did have nice costumes.


Trawling the archives with the ghost of dial-up past

I’ve just been chatting to someone about the sad departing of Ceefax and Teletext, and the various memories we have of these centralized, TV-based Internet forerunners. I had a look at the Wikipedia article on Ceefax, and it’s got sourcing problems. Having recently been given access to HighBeam, I had a quick check to find articles about Ceefax, preferably old ones.

And of course I got distracted looking at old articles about the Internet. So, here we go, some retro-nerd nostalgia for you to feast on.

WE’VE COME 100 MILES TO SEE WEBSITE; OAPs in Internet blunder.

A confused elderly couple travelled nearly 100 miles - to visit a WEBSITE.

The pensioners had seen an ad inviting them to visit the BBC site on the Internet and imagined it was a building.

So they got up early and drove all the way from their home in Portsmouth, Hampshire, to BBC Thames Valley Radio in Caversham, Berkshire.

source from 15 December 1998.

And here’s a few choice quotes from an anti-Internet rant by William Cook in The Spectator from 25 September 1999…

If there is one thing the Internet does not give you, it is a good time unless you happen to be an anorak or a pursuer of on-line porn. Nor does it provide much useful information, or at any rate information that could not more easily be gained from other sources. Do you remember when Ceefax and Teletext first appeared? Soon, said the techno-nerds, nobody will bother to read newspapers. And now similar claims are being made for the Net.

That’s funny. People won’t be reading newspapers? Ha! That’ll never… oh, wait.

We’re all told that we have to have it, but does anyone really use it all that much? Just as scouring Ceefax or Teletext felt a lot like trying to flick through the Yellow Pages wearing a pair of oven-gloves, the Internet is often so slow that by the time you’ve dispensed with all the useless sites and logged on to a halfway decent one, you could have walked to your local bookshop and bought a reliable reference book instead.

Bookshops? Are they those things they have attached to Costa Coffee?

I have learned some new things from the Net, but I would have learned far more in the same time at my public library with a librarian on hand to help me find the right books, recommend which titles were required reading and which ones weren’t worth the bother.

Again, libraries? Helpful librarians? It’s like reading old English.

Let’s delve back a bit further. 22 January 1996, maybe. Andrew North wrote this in The Independent:

I do find some of the vast array of Web travel and news services useful. But most of the time it is still easier to read the paper, browse through Teletext and Ceefax, or pick up the telephone. Listening to crackly real- time sound or watching short videos over the Web is exciting, but will not replace my radio or TV. Neither do I buy anything via the Web - I would rather go to the shops.

Disillusionment will set in if it does not start to fulfil more real needs and a lot of people will give up on it. So, too, will all those companies that have rushed to set up their own Web sites over the past two years. Cyberspace will become a ghost town.

To be fair, in the next paragraph, he qualifies it, but even so… spectacularly bad prediction!

This is a bit of a weird one. In a story from The Independent from 8 May 1994 by Andy Beckett I found this gem…

Associated Newspapers, publisher of the Mail and the Evening Standard, has been “secretly” developing a dictionary-sized portable computer, for commuters to use for receiving, filtering and storing summaries of the day’s news, for the past two years. It is expected to go on sale for £500 in December.

Wow. £500—that’s £500 of 1994 money, back when you could go into a sweet shop with 50p and come out with enough sugar to open a homeopathic practice–so you could carry around a dictionary-sized proto-Kindle in order to keep up on which celebrities have fat thighs. I wonder what happened to that.

The past sure is a weird place. I used to live there.


"I'll do anything, just don't call me a Marxist!"

Sigh. I was just catching up on the Today Programme for yesterday and they had an interview with the Tory MP Kwasi Kwarteng talking about the British Empire. He was saying that the British empire wasn’t centrally run and there was a lot of local discretion. John Humphries asked:

Except, presumably, that there was a guiding principle that the maximum economic power should go as far as it could.

His response?

I wouldn’t even subscribe to that, and that’s a Marxist view of the world where it’s purely driven by economics.

Humphries interrupts:

Hang on, I wasn’t—you accuse me of being a Marxist!

Kwarteng then points out:

Certain areas were completely uneconomical.

Being accused of being a Marxist: shock horror! There are Reds under the bed!

Does John Humphries understand the difference between “You are proposing a Marxist theory of history” and “You are a Marxist.” If I said “You won’t eat Camembert? You are being extremely conservative about your taste in cheese!”, I’m not suggesting that you are a member of the Conservative Party.

Double sigh at waking up to John Humphrey being so stupid. Guess I’ll have to listen to the music podcast instead because I can’t deal with this level of idiocy before 8am.