Back to the Future is another movie that I have a lot of fond memories of. Who wouldn't love a mad scientist, a time traveling Delorean, and a skateboarding Alex P Keaton?


2015 is Back to the Future's 30th anniversary. Marty McFly started off in 1985 and time travelled back 30 years to 1955. In the second movie, he went 30 years the other way, from 1985 to 2015. I've been seeing a lot of articles looking at the predictions made in Back to the Future II, such as hoverboards, self-lacing tennis shoes, and flying cars.

While this is funny, there's something else that I can't stop thinking about. When I saw B2tF in 1985 the scenes from 1955 looks soooo ancient to my 13 year old self. Tiny little TV screens. Old fashioned cars. Weird, stuffy looking clothes. 

It was pretty obvious to me that a lot had changed in 30 years, from 17 years before I was born and the 13 years I'd been alive.

On the other hand, from my perspective, it seems that very little has changed in the 30 years since my 13th birthday.


Or has it?

big phone

AuthorTodd Zarwell

Seeing Star Wars was one of the seminal moments of my childhood. My mom saw it when it came out in 1977 and immediately decided to see it again - with me, her 5 year old son. She was a little worried that I'd be scared of some of the creatures, particularly the riffraff in the Mos Eisley cantina. Needless to say, that wasn't an issue, and I spent the rest of that day acting out the movie with light sabers made with crayons and cardboard. 

I'm now 43, and gave three little boys of my own. I thought it was time the older two, ages 6 and 4, see Star Wars. I've been telling them stories about the movies for years, but I've been a little cautious about when to watch it. I had the same concerns about it being to scary.

Secretly, I was also a little worried about how they'd react to it. For kids growing up with fantastically rendered Pixar movies, would 1977 special effects seem lame? Would they respond to the story? I tried to set my expectations low. If they didn't like it I couldn't let it detract from me childhood memories.

So, how did it go? 

See for yourself: 


I'd say it was a success. 

AuthorTodd Zarwell

Recently I was fondly reminiscing about watching Saturday morning cartoons. I'd wake up at the crack of dawn, go downstairs, and watch me some Bugs Bunny. I even remember waking up once and my shows weren't on, only to find out I was awake before cartoons even came on.

Watching cartoons was a pretty simple process, even for a 5 year old. It went something like this:

TV watching in 1977

TV watching in 1977

So, I was thinking, why don't my kids do this? They certainly get up early enough on Saturdays, so that's not the problem. Well, for one, there's nothing special about Saturday mornings. There are cartoons available all the time, whether they're on cable, the DVR, the DVD player, etc..

However, I think the biggest obstacle is the modern TV watching workflow. It goes something like this:

TV watching in 2012

TV watching in 2012

Now, if history is any indicator, my kids are going to be more tech-savvy than my wife and I. However, they're only four and two years old (and a one month old, if we're counting everyone) right now, and this is a little much for them.  

So, what do they do on Saturday morning? Well, it goes something like this:

Entertaining kids in 2012: the iPad

Entertaining kids in 2012: the iPad

AuthorTodd Zarwell

I thought I'd do my a book report - after all, I've had nearly 20 years to read for pleasure without draconian literature professors forcing me to write about it!

I'd been hearing about this book in some of the various podcasts I listen to, and, always in search of a good read, I checked it out.

To save you from reading the jacket cover (or the Amazon page - it's the internet age, after all), I'll give you the rundown: The year is 2044, and the world is in the midst of an energy and financial crisis (a little too close for comfort?)  Everybody escapes real life by immersing themselves in a virtual reality world called Oasis.  

Oasis was created by a man who grew up in the 1980's, and, on his deathbed, announced that he had hidden a series of puzzles inside his creation. The person who solves the puzzle will be rich and will win the right to control Oasis.  The protagonist is a teenager who takes the lead in solving the puzzles.  Of course there's an evil corporation trying to win the prize too, as well as an attractive albeit mysterious love interest.  Actually, everybody has a little mysteriousness going on because they all know each other as avatars within their virtual world.

The intersting part is the Oasis creator's clues revolve around the culture of his youth, especially the geek culture of that era.  As a consequence the youth of 2044 become obsessed with the latter half of the twentieth century and spend inordinate amounts of time "studying" Pac Man, Schoolhouse Rock, and John Hughe's movies.

Some parts of this book really struck a chord for me.  The inventor of the Oasis was born in 1972 (as was I), so it seemed like it was tailor-made for a 39 year old nerd who came of age in the 1980's.  He mentions receiving a Atari 2600 in 1979 (as did I).  There are even references to storing data on analog tapes, Dodge Omnis, and paying 93¢ a gallon for gas (freaky coincidences, or has the author been stalking me?).

Was it a good book?  Well, to be honest, the writing of the book reminds me of the style I see in fiction aimed at juniors.  Perhaps it's because the main character is a teenager, but it seemed a little strange because the book is obviously going to be most enjoyed by people in their late 30's.

However, it's hard not to enjoy all the references to things I loved in the 80's , some of which I haven't thought about in quite a while:

TV Shows: Family Ties, The Greatest American Hero, Airwolf, A Team, The Greatest American Hero, Misfits of Science (does anyone besides me remember that one!?), Buck Rogers, Silver Spoons

Video Games: Pitfall, Zaxxon, Galaga, Q Bert

Movies: War Games, Real Genius, Better Off Dead, Evil Dead, Vision Quest, Explorers

However, the author doesn't go into much detail about most of these. In fact, it's almost as if he made a list of all the things he loved and wrote a book around it.  In some ways it feels a little like I was being manipulated, as if the author thought the mere mention of these subjects would stimulate some nostalgic pleasure center in my brain.

But, of course it did.

AuthorTodd Zarwell

I was listening to the This Week in Tech podcast this past week when panel member Brian Brushwood mentioned a magazine that fueled his interest in technology as a child: Enter Magazine.  Although I don't officially work in a technology profession or surround myself with technology people, I've never heard anyone mention this magazine before and I was beginning to think I was the only one that ever subscribed to it (which might explain why it only lasted for 17 issues).

Issue # 1 Oct 1983

The mere mention of Enter magazine brought back a flood of fond memories. I'm not sure where my mom heard about the existence of this magazine, but she must have thought it would appeal to me because it arrived in our mailbox one day.  I was hooked, and could barely wait until I received my new edition each month.  

I have fond memories of taking the magazine to school and typing in BASIC programs, line for line, into the the classroom Apple IIE.  Once I the program worked I'd start modifying it and customizing it to do and say the things I wanted it to.  This was the perfect way to learn programming, perhaps the ONLY way: my small parochial school didn't have programming classes.  Furthermore, BASIC programsI don't recall ever encountering a book about programming during my childhood, and of course the Internet didn't exist, at least not outside big universities and the military.   The only way a kid in small town Wisconsin could learn to program was to see BASIC commands in a magazine and then spend countless hours experimenting with them to to learn how to unlock their full potential.

One day my mom got a letter from Children's Television Workshop that said Enter Magazine was no longer going to be published.  In it's place I would receive 3-2-1 Contact Magazine, which would have an "Enter" section.  Needless to say, I was dismayed - I'd seen 3-2-1 Contact at school - it was OK as every kid was fascinated with the red-eyed day-glo tree frogs that always seemed to be on the cover, but it wasn't going to compare to Enter.  I was devastated. 

So, when Brian Brushwood mentioned this publication I was filled with nostalgia.  I did a Google search and found almost nothing for "Enter Magazine" - very disappointing.  Enter on the iPadHowever, there was a short Wikipedia article. This article linked to a Web site called retromags, which seems to be a place where people can upload old magazines. To my surprise, there were images of all 17 issues of the Enter covers.  Even better, all the pages of every issue were downloadable.  With a little finagling I was able to download them onto my iPad.  I was thrilled at this accomplishment, despite the fact that it merely induced my wife to sadly shake her head.

While browsing the premier issue of Enter I'm reliving the excitement of my 11 year old self.  Some high points from this issue include:

  • Can Computers Go Crazy? The reality behind "WarGames" and "Superman III".  Includes an interview with Matthew Broderick.
  • Video Games: The Falls Biggest Hits.  Includes Atari versions of Ms. Pacman, BurgerTime, Qix, and Centipede.
  • Moving Maps. "You're driving along in a car, and you make a quick turn. Guess what?  YOu're lost.  Instead of pulling out a road map, though, you push a button.  A 6"x8" screen above the radio instantly shows a map .. but what's that triangle moving along the screen?  Your car!".  The article goes on to explain how this device pulls down information from a satellite and might be available in 5 years.  That would have been 1988 - I don't remember having GPS during the Reagan administration!
  • Buying the Right Computer.  Choices range from a $50 2k RAM Timex /Sinclair with only cassette tape storage [this was actually my first computer] to a $199 64k Commodore 64 to a $1265 64-512k IBM PS (who would need all that RAM?).
  • Progress Report: Video Discs.  Video discs look like silver record albums played on futuristic record players, but with a video disc player you get sound and video.

Ah, the memories!  Did anyone besides me subscribe to Enter?


AuthorTodd Zarwell