Resurrected Entertainment

Digital Retro

December 13, 2008

I just finished reading the book Digital Retro: The Evolution and Design of the Personal Computer, written by Gordon Laing (ISBN-10: 078214330X). Each machine in the book gets a four page spread, showing different angles of the various pieces making up the computer. I must admit that I did not find the images particularly engaging for the most part. They were excellent photographs, no doubt about it, but I don’t think showing the back/sides/top of a monitor and keyboard is the best way to go about creating a visual history that will resonate with your intended audience. I would have been more engaged to read about the various quirks, pour over screenshots of popular software titles and the operating systems of choice, working code from the most popular programming languages for the platform, and even get a close look at the internals (for the inquisitive types who weren’t afraid to void their warranties).

Pictures of the units themselves abound, but most are of poor quality, so a well lit photograph goes a long way to documenting what these computers looked like. However, once you have taken a photo of the front and back, there really isn’t much left of the exterior that is interesting (not including the few machines which actually took advantage of the third dimension and had features on the sides of the unit). With all of the pictures, it left little room for text, and the text contained little more than a summary one could pull off a Wikipedia page. To be fair, the summaries are concise and some columns are filled with interesting tidbits. My favorite is on the last page within the section which documents the NeXT Cube. The page is almost completely filled by the monitor for the system, but there is an excellent piece of information which describes how Steve Jobs acquired the Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) division of Lucasfilm. Basically, George Lucas was in a bind after an expensive divorce and need to raise about $30 million dollars in capital. After a few failed attempts from other buyers, Lucas eventually accepted Steve’s low-ball figure of $10 million. Needless to say, ILM eventually payed back huge dividends since they eventually released the enormously successful film Toy Story, which grossed over $362 million worldwide. ILM produced a number of large films and when you top all of that off with a lucrative IPO, Mr. Jobs is sitting on a mountain of money which probably has its own zip code. 

I find the book to be a excellent coffee table reference and the columns do make for a quick and easy reference, but I would have enjoyed the book a lot more if it went the extra mile and showed me things most books never touch upon.

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