a life of coding

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Some Things Never Change

I just finished watching a half hour video on computer graphics. It covers the basics of 2D and 3D graphics and basic animation in a way that the average person can understand, but with enough detail to provide basic understanding.

The information itself isn't particularly blog-worthy; there are plenty of resources for learning about computer graphics. There are two reasons that this is interesting to me. First, television seems to have a dwindling amount of educational content. I remember watching 3-2-1 Contact, Mr. Wizard, and NOVA as a kid. The programs currently on PBS don't seem to show the same interest in science, substituting fantasy, social interaction, and ironically, reading. This may be related to my perception that they are also oriented to a younger audience, but I can't help but feel that kids should be learning these things instead of watching TV, not by watching it.

Second, this video is from a program called For All Practical Purposes and was filmed in the late '80s. The computer systems used are from Symbolics, a company that made their own hardware and operating system written entirely in lisp. This idea is similar to the current Squeak project, which is written in smalltalk instead of lisp. The video is old, the computers are old, the technology is old, and yet, it isn't particularly different from the basic concepts that I learned at Georgia Tech a few years ago. The biggest changes have been in the hardware that allows us to animate using physical simulation, and have realtime rendering.

Modern computing doesn't seem that different from 80's computing, except that everything is faster, larger, less efficient, prettier, more connected, and cheaper (much, MUCH cheaper). Just today I learned of a London startup that is writing games that would have run on a 1.2 MHZ Atari 2600 in Macromedia Flash - which uses most of my 1,200 MHZ CPU. But ultimately, its all the same. In my eyes, this makes a stronger case for the idea of Computer Science, because if you ever really learned how computers work, you might understand them forever.


  • Besides Mr. Wizard, Disney had educational movies for kids eons ago, like The Winged Scourge about malaria, and many others.
    But why bother teaching kids anything?

    So that they can grow up and invent a new media player so the rest of humanity, fat leeches that they are, can continue zoning out to the tune of their own personal soundtrack?

    I guess space colonies will never happen in our lifetimes. But is it too much to ask to have homes without rats, or cockroaches, or sugar ants or dust?

    And how about neighborhoods inhabited by people who enjoyed Tom Lehrer songs?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At 11/19/07 11:50 PM  

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