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YouTube / Computer Chronicles

What Portable Computers Were Like in 1987

YouTube / Computer Chronicles
YouTube / Computer Chronicles

In this episode of Computer Chronicles, we get a look at portable computers from 1987. Our definition of portability has changed over the years, from 1975's IBM 5100 (what we used to call a "luggable" computer) all the way to today's ultrabooks, which are finally actually "notebook" sized -- and still have halfway decent battery life.

In 1987, having a portable computer of any kind was kind of amazing. "It's no more cumbersome than a case full of binders," says an announcer describing an HP portable carried by a businessman -- who also carried an outboard disk drive and printer (!) for "the inevitable hard copy" of reports. This cutting-edge device had a tiny monochrome LCD screen, a full-sized keyboard, and had its software burned into ROM. Wow. (It also had a modem to dial up the home office, which was genuinely impressive albeit clunky in the extreme.)

I know many of you are reading this article on laptops (I'm writing it on one), or phones, or tablets. Want to see what portable computing tech was like just 26 years ago? Tune in and freak out (and keep your eyes out for the "cellular telephone" at 5:30, with a battery pack the size of a car battery).

At 16:00 note how we did GPS in 1987. It involved a tripod-mounted receiver, a portable computer, and a lot of calculation. The units cost $40,000 each. At 19:45 we see the Dynamac, the first portable Mac, weighing in at 18 pounds (Apple would release their own two years later at "just" 16 pounds -- powered by a lead-acid battery).

What was your first portable computer? Mine was an IBM ThinkPad 701, best known for its "butterfly" keyboard that slid out when you opened the lid, giving you a full-sized keyboard on a subnotebook sized computer. It was a pretty slow machine, but it was super small and portable for its time!

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History
The Queen of Code: Remembering Grace Hopper
By Lynn Gilbert, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Grace Hopper was a computing pioneer. She coined the term "computer bug" after finding a moth stuck inside Harvard's Mark II computer in 1947 (which in turn led to the term "debug," meaning solving problems in computer code). She did the foundational work that led to the COBOL programming language, used in mission-critical computing systems for decades (including today). She worked in World War II using very early computers to help end the war. When she retired from the U.S. Navy at age 79, she was the oldest active-duty commissioned officer in the service. Hopper, who was born on this day in 1906, is a hero of computing and a brilliant role model, but not many people know her story.

In this short documentary from FiveThirtyEight, directed by Gillian Jacobs, we learned about Grace Hopper from several biographers, archival photographs, and footage of her speaking in her later years. If you've never heard of Grace Hopper, or you're even vaguely interested in the history of computing or women in computing, this is a must-watch:

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holidays
The Plugin That Keeps the Internet From Spoiling Santa Claus
iStock
iStock

During simpler times, the biggest threat to a child's belief in Santa was usually older siblings or big-mouthed classmates. Today, kids have access to an entire world wide web, full of potentially Santa-spoiling content. Luckily, there's a plugin that helps parents maintain their kids’ innocence through the holidays.

Created by the virtual private network provider Hide My Ass (HMA), the free software analyzes web activity for any information that might threaten to “bring a child’s belief in Santa crashing down.” In place of the problematic content, the plugin brings up an image of the jolly man himself. Typing the phrase “Santa is not real” into Google, for example, will instead take you to a web page showing nothing but a soft-focused St. Nick pointing into the camera and staring at you with judgmental eyes. The plugin is also designed to work for social media communications, internet ads, and articles like this one.


Hide My Ass

According to a survey of 2036 parents by HMA, one in eight children in the U.S. have their belief in Santa ruined online. Whether it's because of the internet or other related factors, the age that children stop believing in Santa is lower than ever.

The average age that current parents lost their faith in Santa Claus was 8.7 years old, and for today’s kids it’s 7.25 years. Concerned parents can download the plugin for Chrome here, though it may not be enough to hide every type of Santa spoiler: Of the parents who blamed the internet, 26 percent of them reported kids snooping over their shoulder as they shopped for gifts online.

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