James Lileks maintains one of my favorite high-kitsch entertainment time-sinks, namely The Institute of Official Cheer. Lileks has scanned all sorts of advertisements, comics, and cookbooks (sp. The Gallery of Regrettable Food) from the 30, 40s, 50s and 60s, and then has commented on them. Some of his text makes me smile. Some makes me laugh aloud, spraying my computer monitor in a Jackson Pollock-like motif using masticated food or coffee as the medium.
A science and technology related addition to the Institute is Compu-Promo. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:
The “Computer” photo file in the newspaper archives ends as you might expect: a microprocessor next to a dime. Go back a few photos; the chip stands next to a quarter. If you rifle the photos in reverse you see computers change from small inscrutable things to giant wonderful machines the size of industrial refrigeration units. Wardrobes with reels of tapes; steel desks with typewriters built into the top. Blinking lights of indeterminate purpose. Back in the old days, the time of IBM and Uniblab, a picture of a computer required a wide-angle lens. And a woman in a thigh-high skirt.
The whole Compu-Promo piece sent me into a fit of nostalgic reverie.
I wistfully recall accompanying my brother to the advanced research labs of the comp sci department where he babysat an old reel-to-reel IBM (or Univac, can’t recall) in the evenings. This was part of his assistantship as a physics grad student. The computer was in a high tech temperature-controlled room which was Tres Moderne in design, or so it was for the 60’s and early 1970s. I felt like I was on the bridge of the USS Enterprise – the starship of the original series, that is
The photo of the guy holding the punch cards in Compu-Promo reminds me of my first year of grad school when I had to fit all my data to multiparametric non-linear equations using punch cards. I then walked to another building on campus to pick up the print-out. This was not so much fun in the depths of a Wisconsin winter nor did it allow for immediate gratification. Damn, but I am an antique!
The bad – or at least squirmworthy – part of the Lileks compu-techno-nostalgia fest is the use of women models to “sell” the product. I’m still old enough to remember babes in lab coats hawking chemicals in Chemistry and Engineering News. The lookers sporting the beehive coiffures and miniskirts hanging out with the archaic computer nerds in those old photos reminds me of the Hot Chicks with Douchebags site.
The old mainframes in the Lileks offering reminds me of this little scene from “Much Apu About Nothing” of The Simpsons:
At the Springfield Heights Institute of Technology, Apu
learns from Professor John Frink.
From The Simpsons, 7th season, 23rd episode.
[in the late ’70s]
[Frink stands in front of a huge mainframe]
Frink: Well, sure, the Frinkiac-7 looks impressive [to student] Don’t
touch it! [back to class] But I predict that within 100 years
computers will be twice as powerful, 10,000 times larger, and
so expensive that only the five richest kings in Europe will
Apu: Could it be used for dating?
Frink: Well, technically, yes, but the computer matches would be so
perfect as to eliminate the thrill of romantic conquest. Ha-ho-
ha-hey-hoo. Nostradamus he ain’t
From The Simpsons Archive.