Conferences,  Culture and Society

Computer Folklore

Saturday I attended the Con José panel on “Computer Folklore: Tales from the Geekside,” featuring Eric Raymond, Chris Garcia, Tom Galloway, Brett Glass, and Corey Cole. Aside from a brief discussion of the first chain letter (an MIT student did it!) it wasn’t what I’d expected, though that’s OK. There are some good sources here, and even here. Computer folkore is, by the way, a genuine folkloric academic study, despite much of the humor involved.

The panel was well attended, and amusing, but I’d guess about a half hour was spent in geek nostalgia, in the form of “my hardware is older than yours.” The other version of this (and the two are often combined) is “my hardware is faster/more powerful/better than yours.” This gives me the perfect opportunity to post the ultimate riposte to both debates, gleaned from UseNet, and as far as I know first posted by Christopher Lishka in May 1993 to both rec.humor.funny and comp.sys.mac.???. Thanks Christopher, wherever you are.

Come on people: you are all missing the most obvious upgrade path to the most powerful and satisfying computer of all. The upgrade path goes:

  • Pocket calculator
  • Commodore Pet / Apple II / TRS 80 / Commodore 64 / Timex Sinclair (Choose any of the above)
  • IBM PC
  • Apple Macintosh
  • Fastest workstation of the time (HP, DEC, IBM, SGI: your choice)
  • Minicomputer (HP, DEC, IBM, SGI: your choice)
  • Mainframe (IBM, Cray, DEC: your choice)

And then you reach the pinnacle of modern computing facilities:


Yes, you just sit back and do all of your computing through lowly graduate students. Imagine the advantages:

  • Multi-processing, with as many processes as you have students. You can easily add more power by promising more desperate undergrads that they can indeed escape college through your guidance. Special student units can even handle several tasks *on*their*own*!
  • Full voice recognition interface. Never touch a keyboard or mouse again. Just mumble commands and they *willbe understood (or else!).
  • No hardware upgrades and no installation required. Every student comes complete with all hardware necessary. Never again fry a chip or $10,000 board by improper installation! Just sit that sniveling student at a desk, give it writing utensils (making sure to point out which is the dangerous end) and off it goes.
  • Low maintenance. Remember when that hard disk crashed in your Beta 9900, causing all of your work to go the great bit bucket in the sky? This won’t happen with grad. students. All that is required is that you give them a good *whack!upside the head when they are acting up, and they will run good as new.
  • Abuse module. Imagine yelling expletives at your computer. Doesn’t work too well, because your machine just sits there and ignores you. Through the grad. student abuse module you can put the fear of god in them, and get results to boot!
  • Built-in lifetime. Remember that awful feeling two years after you bought your GigaPlutz mainframe when the new faculty member on the block sneered at you because his FeelyWup workstation could compute rings around your dinosaur? This doesn’t happen with grad. students. When they start wearing and losing productivity, simply give them the PhD and boot them out onto the street to fend for themselves. Out of sight, out of mind!
  • Cheap fuel: students run on Coca Cola (or the high-octane equivalent — Jolt Cola) and typically consume hot spicy chinese dishes, cheap taco substitutes, or completely synthetic macaroni replacements. It is entirely unnecessary to plug the student into the wall socket (although this does get them going a little faster from time to time).
  • Expansion options. If your grad. students don’t seem to be performing too well, consider adding a handy system manager or software engineer upgrade. These guys are guaranteed to require even less than a student, and typically establish permanent residence in the computer room. You’ll never know they are around! (Which you certainly can’t say for an AXZ3000-69 150gigahertz space-heater sitting on your desk with its ten noisy fans….) [Note however that the engineering department still hasn’t worked out some of the idiosyncratic bugs in these expansion options, such as incessant muttering at nobody in particular, occasionaly screaming at your grad. students, and posting ridiculous messages on world-wide bulletin boards.]

So forget your Babbage Engines and abacuses (abaci?) and PortaBooks and DEK 666-3D’s and all that other silicon garbage. The wave of the future is in wetware, so invest in graduate students today! You’ll never go back!

And, just in case you’re looking, I do have some spare cycles before classes start again in October, and I have to teach.