Links We Like: The UNIVAC Computer, MP3 Player Designs, & The Typography of Blade Runner


This week’s Links We Like recount the history of the first commercial US computer company, analyze twenty years of portable MP3 players, and examine the typography of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.

Last week’s post encouraged NTC’s Howie to share a link to The Museum of Jurassic Technology. Thanks, Howie! As always, make sure to share with us the links you’re reading. Have a great weekend! (⌐■_■)

The History of the First US Computer Company

In 1946, the entire US computer industry was one company: the Electronic Control Company. Started when J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly were dismissed from the University of Pennsylvania over a patent dispute, the two took a $25,000 banknote (over $300,000 in today’s money) and created ECC. Two years later, the company changed its name to Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation (EMCC) and found its first client in the US Census Bureau.

The Bureau, tasked with tabulating the population of the US every ten years, was drawn the the computational abilities of the EMCC’s UNIVAC computer; and, they would use it to calculate a portion of the 1950 population census and all of the 1954 economic census.

While it might not sound terribly glamourous, the relationship between EMCC and the Census Bureau is the origin of the US computer industry. It’s just one of the many stories covered in the WGBH Tevivision series Inventing the Future. Made in the 1990s, this five part documentary series recounts the early moments of the modern computer industry.

It’s well worth the time to watch! And let me know if you can find this series available for purchase — my google-fu must be weak, since I can’t find it available anywhere.

Analyze the Era of the MP3 Player

Bang & Olufsen BeoSound2 circa 199X

Bang & Olufsen BeoSound2
circa 2001

Way back in 1998, the news was full of panicked stories about the impending Y2K crisis and kids –you know who you are– were burned CD-Rs full of MP3s downloaded from Napster. At least, that was until the portable MP3 players hit the market. Rather than lug CDs around, it was easy to transport a small electronic brick with hundreds of digitized songs on it.

The site Anything But iPod –which curiously does include iPod content– surveys the years when portable MP3 players were the hot ticket item, 1998-2008. Well over fifty different devices are recounted and arranged in chronological order. Each player has a blurb citing its basic features, cost, and the one or two things that made it stand out in the market.

Bang & Olufsen’s BeoSound2 still looks great with its unique design and I’d all but forgotten about the Intel Pocket Concert. It makes sense the list would stop in 2008, since the iPhone came out in 2007 and began to integrate many of the features available in portable MP3 players into its design.

Examining Sci/Fi Typography & So Much More


Blimp with Shimago-Domínguez Corporation Ad from Blade Runner

Typeset in the Future focuses on typography –the style and appearance of printed characters– in sci/fi movies. It provides a fascinating way to consider science fiction movies. Rather than obsess on plot points and action sequences, the articles investigate the smallest details of movies, the ones that are easily missed.

Earlier posts on the site cover Moon, Alien, and 2001, but the most recent is devoted to Blade Runner. The 1982 Ridley Scott film is must watch science fiction. If you’ve not seen it, watch it this weekend!

Weaving its way through the film’s scenes, the article always returns to sprinkle in a typographical observations. It’s enthusiastic and unafraid to pull in unexpected references to make a point. Embedding a Ricky Martin video –yes that Ricky Martin– to demonstrate Mayan Revival architecture is amusing and memorable.

Other hidden gems in the sprawling post are there for the careful readers. The virtual reality recreation of Rick Deckard’s apartment and a full analysis of the ESPER scene are most memorable. Now I know what was going on in that confusing part of the movie.

This site is a great reason to revisit the classics, and to watch the new ones with an active eye towards details.

Have a great weekend, make sure to share any interesting links you find with us in the forums. And while you’re commenting, don’t forget to mention your favorite sci-fi films of all time.

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