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YouTube / NewTek

The Video Toaster 4000

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YouTube / NewTek

Did you know that actor Wil Wheaton helped develop a video editing system in the early 1990s? Read on for some deep nerd trivia.

If I told you there was a serious computer system named the Video Toaster 4000, you might think that was a joke. Unless, of course, you did any video editing in the 90s. Dear friends, the 90s were a special time for video -- camcorders were common, VCRs were common, but in order to edit that raw tape into a hip skating video with over-the-top 3D effects and purple-and-green checkerboard backgrounds, your options were limited. The Video Toaster 4000 was a Commodore Amiga-based system offering a huge library of special effects (many cheesy, some very tasteful, and all frankly amazing) for "only" five thousand bucks (compared, seriously, to hundreds of thousands for other setups). And my high school had one.

In the back room of my school's library Media Center, we had a TV studio. In the heart of the control room was the Toaster. I learned to use the system, and worked on my school's morning announcements TV show for years, often running the Toaster live during the show, switching between cameras, B-roll from a VCR, and running live credits typed into the character generator. After our first year on the air, certain transition effects were banned due to overuse (one involved a spaceship flying into frame and then a flash of light, transitioning to the next shot; another featured a woman in either a maid outfit or an overly minimal witch costume walking into the frame and tapping a magic wand to switch scenes). But, I'll admit it, occasionally a banned transition effect (3D CUBE WIPE!) would make its way into the morning news due to "operator error."

Here's a promotional video introducing the system, including brief appearances by actual Video Toaster owners Wil Wheaton, Penn Jillette, and Tony Hawk. In this video, you see most of the effects generated by the Toaster, and you may recognize them from 90s TV -- these things were in use in lots of TV studios. The Lightwave 3D software (part of the Toaster suite, later sold separately) was used for special effects on seaQuest and Babylon 5, among others. Okay, now check out the video -- and pay special attention to the segment at 1:52, introducing Wheaton as "Actor / Toaster Punk."

For more on Wheaton's involvement in the Toaster's development, read an interview with Geeks of Doom. Wheaton said, in part:

"When I worked for NewTek and worked on the Video Toaster 4000, I didn’t do any of the actual programing. I did a ton of product testing and quality control, and worked in the marketing department and then I was sort of one of their technology evangelists." ...

... "I’m really proud to have been part of the very beginning [of home video editing]. We were the tip of the spear in Personal Video Production — which is what we called it back in ’94. I think it was ’94 when were were doing that. Y’know, I think you can draw almost a straight line between iMovie and Final Cut to the Toaster."

And here's a demo of an earlier version, explaining a bit of the technical background:

And just a few more -- these are from a Toaster-produced demo video called Revolution; note that the start of the second video features the infamous "falling sheep" effect, which was also banned at my high school for being overly cheesy:

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This Just In
Want to Become a Billionaire? Study Engineering
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If you want to get rich—really, really rich—chances are, you should get yourself an engineering degree. As The Telegraph reports, a new analysis from the UK firm Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment finds that more of the top 100 richest people in the world (according to Forbes) studied engineering than any other major.

The survey found that 75 of the 100 richest people in the world got some kind of four-year degree (though others, like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, attended a university but dropped out before graduation). Out of those who graduated, 22 of those billionaires received engineering degrees, 16 received business degrees, and 11 received finance degrees.

However, the survey doesn't seem to distinguish between the wide range of studies that fall under the "engineering" umbrella. Building a bridge, after all, is a little different than electrical engineering or computing. Four of those 100 individuals studied computer science, but the company behind the survey cites Amazon's Jeff Bezos (who got a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and computer science from Princeton) and Google's Larry Page (who studied computer engineering at the University of Michigan and computer science at Stanford) as engineers, not computer scientists, so the list might be a little misleading on that front. (And we're pretty sure Bezos wouldn't be quite so rich if he had stuck just to electrical engineering.)

Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment is, obviously, a sales-focused company, so there's a sales-related angle to the survey. It found that for people who started out working at an organization they didn't found (as opposed to immediately starting their own company, a la Zuckerberg with Facebook), the most common first job was as a salesperson, followed by a stock trader. Investor George Soros was a traveling salesman for a toy and gift company, and Michael Dell sold newspaper subscriptions in high school before going on to found Dell. (Dell also worked as a maitre d’ in a Chinese restaurant.)

All these findings come with some caveats, naturally, so don't go out and change your major—or head back to college—just yet. Right now, Silicon Valley has created a high demand for engineers, and many of the world's richest people, including Bezos and Page, earned their money through the tech boom. It's plausible that in the future, a different kind of boom will make a different kind of background just as lucrative. 

But maybe don't hold your breath waiting for the kind of industry boom that makes creative writing the most valuable major of them all. You can be fairly certain that becoming an engineer will be lucrative for a while.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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Courtesy University of Manchester
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History
148 Lost Alan Turing Papers Discovered in Filing Cabinet
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Courtesy University of Manchester

You never know what you’re going to uncover when you finally get around to combing through that decades-old filing cabinet in the back room. Case in point: The University of Manchester recently unearthed 148 long-lost papers belonging to computer science legend Alan Turing, as ScienceAlert reports.

The forgotten papers mostly cover correspondence between Turing and others between 1949 and his death in 1954. The mathematician worked at the university from 1948 on. The documents include offers to lecture—to one in the U.S., he replied, “I would not like the journey, and I detest America”—a draft of a radio program he was working on about artificial intelligence, a letter from Chess magazine, and handwritten notes. Turing’s vital work during World War II was still classified at the time, and only one document in the file refers to his codebreaking efforts for the British government—a letter from the UK’s security agency GCHQ. The papers had been hidden away for at least three decades.

A typed letter to Alan Turing has a watermark that says 'Chess.'
Courtesy University of Manchester

Computer scientist Jim Miles found the file in May, but it has only now been sorted and catalogued by a university archivist. "I was astonished such a thing had remained hidden out of sight for so long," Miles said in a press statement. "No one who now works in the school or at the university knew they even existed." He says it’s still a mystery why they were filed away in the first place.

The rare discovery represents a literal treasure trove. In 2015, a 56-page handwritten manuscript from Turing’s time as a World War II codebreaker sold for more than $1 million.

[h/t ScienceAlert]

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