Paper PCs

For readers of a certain age, these paper PCs are tremendously nostalgic, reminders of great computing times past.

Let the nitpicking1 commence.2

[Via MetaFilter]

  1. It feels to me that the keyboards on most of these come off as far too bulky. The Atari 520ST looks very good – the slant in the floppy disks and the function keys really works for it – while the ZX Spectrum’s keyboard/system unit looks way too bulky compared to the TV set alongside it. It’s hard to remember now, but back in those days we didn’t have 95% of systems using a generic plug-in keyboard so the keyboard was a huge part of the machine’s image and look and feel. 
  2. For their next trick, let’s see ’em give us a Sinclair ZX81, plus add-on RAM pack – 16 whole Kilobytes of RAM! – plus a carton of milk, acting as external cooling. Oh Uncle Clive, between the ZX80, the ZX81 and the ZX Spectrum it’s amazing to think what a folk hero you were to a whole generation of youngsters who were never going to be able to afford a BBC Model B, let alone an Apple II or a TRS80. Do not get me started on the Sinclair QL: so near to being really impressive in theory, such a disappointment in practice. 

Halt and Catch Fire, finished

As promised I’ve finished watching Halt and Catch Fire now, and am happy to report that, as promised, it got better and better as our four main characters moved on from their first season efforts to make an IBM PC clone only better.

As Tom Armitage put it after he rewatched the show earlier this year:

It’s a funny show. It starts out… quite badly, wanting to tell one particular story, and the moment it starts swerving away from that, it becomes more interesting. That point isn’t the beginning of season 2, incidentally: it’s easy to hate on the messy first season, but rewatching it, it confirmed that it course-corrects fast and hard. Once Donna is brought up in the mix around S1E4 it starts showing hints of what it’ll be, and the last few episodes of season 1 – pretty much once Donna says “I’m coming with you,” and the gang drives to COMDEX, are it taking flight. The rewatch definitely confirmed you cannot pull the “Parks And Rec Manouevre” (“just start with S2”) with this show.

For my money, by far the biggest change in the show came a few episodes into season one, when Kerry Bishé’s Donna levelled up from being the supportive spouse of one of our lead characters1 to the tech-savvy heroine who came through and rebuilt Cameron’s backup after Joe had sabotaged it.2 A few episodes later Donna was much more involved in Gordon’s work, and by the time the team went to COMDEX we had a show firing on all cylinders. It was lovely to see how (as I’d hoped) by the end of the show Donna and Cameron were back in partnership.

Writing this up, I now realise that in a lot of ways Donna’s emergence as a main character is a sign of how much this show was at root good, old-fashioned competence porn. These four main characters, and also the people around them like Boz who stepped in to fight fires for them, were basically very capable in their fields and usually able to deliver on what they promised. The fun would come when they had to communicate with one another about the different directions their wider goals were leading them towards.

Especially from the second season, when the writers had learned to tone down the focus on Lee Pace’s Joe MacMillan and his mysterious backstory, this left us focussing on the partnership between our two female leads: the problems they faced when dealing with vulture capitalists who saw two young female founders and refused to take them seriously; the fact that they were so dependent upon suppliers for bandwidth and computing power and lacked the financial muscle to get what they needed when they needed it; their different perspectives on how to get there and how to run a company where nominally they wanted to be open and democratic and yet Cameron wanted to stick to her vision of the company and hold on tight to every damned thing being done the way she thought it should be.

Over the four seasons they bounced off one another and went off in different directions, only to be brought together towards the end: partly by the way the IT business had changed, partly by changes in how the characters reacted to those changes and settled into their new roles, and partly by the death of one of our central foursome whose departure provided the impetus for a really solid wrap-up of the show’s story. At the end, I loved the way the show gave us Donna and Cameron recognising how well they worked together and moving forward from there.3

Given that in the USA this was the show that inherited the timeslot of Mad Men I suppose it always had big shoes to fill. The subject matter (especially in season 1, following a story about Joe hijacking an old-fashioned company to move it into a new field) didn’t offer audiences the sort of hit that Mad Men had of easy nostalgia, and for whatever reason it probably never had a chance even if the critics did eventually come to recognise Halt and Catch Fire as part of the age of Quality TV. For my money, it was a journey well worth taking. If the writers want to bring us a series about the adventures of Cameron and Donna in their next venture, or even of the Return of Joe MacMillan from academia then I’d definitely be up for that.

  1. Early on we learned that she was working for Texas Instruments as middle management and had been working with Gordon on his earlier, failed attempt to design and build a machine of his own. This was the point where we came to understand just how focussed and level-headed and just plain hyper-competent she really was when it came to technology. Prior to this we saw very little of Donna in her workplace, and her role was mostly writing reports to keep her boss up to speed on how their part of TI was keeping up. After this, Donna was increasingly sucked in to the world of Cardiff, then the work at Mutant, then finally making her way in venture capitalism and we got to see how capable she was. 
  2. First season Joe’s urge to trick his colleagues into falling in with his plans earned him a huge amount of distrust for the next three seasons, and at times it looked as if Evil Joe had burnt those bridges. Again, by the end of season 4 everyone had moved past that. 
  3. I’d spent the last few episodes dreading that they were going to end the show with Cameron deciding to have children, so full marks for their avoidance of that pat ending to the story. 


Watching , I can’t help but notice that it’s unclear from the film’s storyline how far our protagonist’s lifestyle differs from that of a male social media influencer trying hard to keep their position near the top of the tree. In the near future the film depicts, are the menfolk participating in the influencer business under similar pressure to maintain a basic level of attractiveness to heterosexual followers and display a willingness to flash some flesh to keep followers on the hook?1 Or is it the case that the menfolk in that line of business are called something else, despite being every bit as superficial and vapid and mercenary as their female counterparts?2

Initially I didn’t even spot that our female lead in this short film was Gigi Edgley, who was great fun as Chiana in Farscape and who haven’t seen since then beyond a supporting role in one season3 of The Secret Life of Us. Looks as if she’s maintaining a steady career in Australian TV, which understandably is not something those of us in the UK are particularly aware of. Good to see she’s still going strong: understandable, perhaps, that I didn’t recognise her in this at first what with the lack of blue skin and the wig.

  1. I’m sure that Gigi Edgley, being a 42 year-old actress striving to keep a career going, is very conscious of the parallels with her chosen profession. 
  2. I don’t pay enough attention to the world of current-day social media influencers to have a good sense of how that works nowadays. (Well, I would think that, wouldn’t I?) 
  3. The third season, I think it was? A really good show that never got the audience it should have in the UK. Looking into it as I write this, I see that the UK’s Channel 4 was initially a co-funder of the production but that stopped after season 3, which presumably was part of the reason it disappeared from Channel 4’s schedules.