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A Short History of Computers In the Movies 165

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the smalltalk-in-the-movies dept.
Esther Schindler writes "The big screen has always tried to keep step with technology usually unsuccessfully. Peter Salus looks at how the film industry has treated computing. For a long time, the 'product placement' of big iron was limited to a few brands, primarily Burroughs. For instance: 'Batman: The Movie and Fantastic Voyage (both 1966) revert to the archaic Burroughs B205, though Fantastic Voyage also shows an IBM AN/FSQ-7 Combat Direction Central. At 250 tons for each installation (there were about two dozen) the AN/FSQ-7 was the largest computer ever built, with 60,000 vacuum tubes and a requirement of 3 megawatts of power to perform 75,000 ips for regional radar centers. The last IBM AN/FSQ-7, at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, was demolished in February 1984.' Fun reading, I think."
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A Short History of Computers In the Movies

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  • The article mentions how macs are often used for product placement, though it doesn't seem to cite any sources showing that Apple actually paid for such product placement. Not saying that they don't, a source would have been nice. But anyway, Apple computers often appear in TV/movies/commercials when there clearly isn't any product placement, because the iconic glowing apple logo is edited out.

    I cannot tell you how many times I have seen computers that were clearly macs have just a generic grey back be
    • by tlhIngan (30335)

      It could also be that Apple's computers tend to be very distinctive and thus, easily recognizable. It's something that's a part of Apple's designs - they don't tend to fade and become just another generic widget in the background.

      This is especially because Apple's made computers out of aluminum, which gives it a distinctive look all to itself. Having oddly-shaped PCs (think the iLamp and such) add to the distinctiveness.

      Heck, Thinkpads were fairly common as well - given the red nipple pointer. Of course, PC

    • I've read to the effect they provide Macs for free as production props/units. Given macs are in favor for Video/Design/Production work im sure many a compnay jumps at the chance to save up to a couple grand on laptops and desktops. Im sure another influence is they are much more photogenic than most PC laptops.

    • My guess is that the producers liked the design of the mac laptops, but didn't want to risk being sued by Apple or just didn't want their product associated with Apple etc.

      More like Apple wasn't ponying up any money for advertising. Anytime you see a product in a movie or TV show, with its label intact, the producers are getting paid for the product placement.

      One place I worked we made satcom terminals, back when they were $30k monstrosities (we had the lightest on the market and it was still 30-40 pounds). There was a product placement in the movie "Under Siege", and they got two free satcom terminals for it. I think one was for Steven Seagal personally.

    • by bloodhawk (813939)
      If you see a brand name or logo in a movie or TV you can be damn well certain they are paying for it. Product placement is not given away for free and the editors will take special care to edit out names and brands of items that haven't paid for product placement.
      • by anubi (640541)
        I wonder if IMSAI 8080 paid for placement in WarGames?

        They were not a big name by all means. I still have the IMSAI I put together from a kit sold out of San Leandro, California. I thought it was such a cool little machine.
        • I wonder if IMSAI 8080 paid for placement in WarGames?

          They were not a big name by all means. I still have the IMSAI I put together from a kit sold out of San Leandro, California. I thought it was such a cool little machine.

          "Cool little machine".

          I worked for a small engineering company once developing firmware for process controllers. The development machine was that exact same hardware, right down to the disks. Except it had no speech synthesizer.

          • by hawk (1151)

            It was a Votrax, wasn't it?

            I recall the 2d West Coast Computer Faire, at which I was impressed by the unit. It connected to a parallel port. They had it announcing, "My name is Vo-trax. I can say eneeeething."

            hawk

        • I wonder if IMSAI 8080 paid for placement in WarGames?

          From:

          http://www.imsai.net/movies/wargames.htm [imsai.net]

          We decided to go ahead and provide the requested equipment for nothing more than the promotional value and screen credits.

      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        If you see a brand name or logo in a movie or TV you can be damn well certain they are paying for it. Product placement is not given away for free and the editors will take special care to edit out names and brands of items that haven't paid for product placement.

        Actually, another reason is liability - a product placement often carries a pile of terms and conditions on how and when the product must be displayed, and how it must be shown. Some of these are understandable (e.g., a car sponsor may request that

        • by hawk (1151)

          >>The reality is that around 80% of people use
          >>non-Apple phones, which means that for any 5
          >>random phones seen on TV, only one should be
          >>an iPhone, yet we all know that it isn't the case.

          No. 80% may use non-apple, but programs try to be about *interesting* people, who are more inclined to iPhones . . . :)

          hawk, who doesn't always get stiffed on royalties when fictitious characters are based on him--but when they are, they sell crappy beer . . .

  • The Q-7 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 24, 2013 @01:19AM (#45772915)

    Am I the only one here who's programmed that beast? Assembly language; Fortran had just been invented. Might fit one into a current Walmart, might not. I recall during our training (LA) we heard of another computer in the city! Had to go talk to those guys across town.

    Still cranking out code, at 84.

    • Re:The Q-7 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by suso (153703) * on Tuesday December 24, 2013 @01:42AM (#45773003) Homepage Journal

      Am I the only one here who's programmed that beast? Assembly language; Fortran had just been invented. Might fit one into a current Walmart, might not. I recall during our training (LA) we heard of another computer in the city! Had to go talk to those guys across town.

      Still cranking out code, at 84.

      Whoever you are, Slashdot should interview you about your experiences.

      • Seconded (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Viol8 (599362) on Tuesday December 24, 2013 @06:41AM (#45774139)

        A lot of people in programming think its purely a young mans game. That may have been true in the 60s and 70s but its not any longer. That old guy (or gal) you see shuffling down the street may have once coded up some pretty neat algorithm that helped fly your plane or did your banking or controlled the fuel injection on your car in the 80s. It would be nice to have an article about retired coders, what they did and their opinions of the dev world now. And whether vi is better than emacs ;o) No, scrap that last idea...

        • by satuon (1822492)

          It has to do with the fact that only young people have had computers since childhood. In 40-50 years we'll live in a society where everyone regardless of age has had a computer all their life. Then an old man is going to be statistically as likely to be a programmer as a young man.

          • by Minwee (522556)

            Older people also know that the correct response to "It's crunch time so I'm gonna need you to go ahead and stay until eleven PM, and then go ahead and come in on Saturday and Sunday too, kay" is "Go stick your head in a pig"

            That's why you don't see as many of them working for the more, um, "notable" employers.

        • A lot of people in programming think its purely a young mans game. That may have been true in the 60s and 70s but its not any longer. That old guy (or gal) you see shuffling down the street may have once coded up some pretty neat algorithm that helped fly your plane or did your banking or controlled the fuel injection on your car in the 80s.

          The latter may be true, but it's neither insightful nor in any way related to your thesis statement.

          It would be nice to have an article about retired coders, wh

          • by Viol8 (599362)

            "They aren't coding in today's environment."

            Arn't they? I'm in my 40s and I'm still coding and this year I've worked with 2 other coders in their late 50s. And no, we weren't doing COBOL, we're were doing C++.

            • And I quote from your orignal post.

              "It would be nice to have an article about retired coders, what they did and their opinions of the dev world now."

      • by oodaloop (1229816)
        FFS no!. We do not need an interview with Anonymous Coward!
      • by forkazoo (138186)

        Slashdot's terrible at interviews. Hopefully somebody much more qualified would interview them, and then amonth later slashdot would post a link to it several times.

    • Re:The Q-7 (Score:4, Funny)

      by dbIII (701233) on Tuesday December 24, 2013 @05:23AM (#45773819)

      I recall during our training (LA) we heard of another computer in the city!

      Colossus: "There is another!"

    • Re:The Q-7 (Score:5, Interesting)

      by NetAlien (2855345) on Tuesday December 24, 2013 @05:24AM (#45773825)
      At 18 in 1964, I was just a young guy who programmed the IBM 407 Accounting machine [columbia.edu] that was also installed with the AN/FSQ-7 in the Canadian underground NORAD headquarters in North Bay, Ontario. The program complexity on those machines was measured by how much the boards weighed. Lots of wires terminated with pins containing tiny metal balls (like hitch pins) to keep the pins from being pushed out when the board was inserted into the 407 to run whatever program its wiring instructed. Diodes were sometimes needed to prevent back-flow (that machine's source of bugs). Spent over 7 years in the "hole" with the huge Q-7. Nostalgia!
      • by sunking2 (521698)
        One of my favorite vacations was going out to see my Uncle who was stationed at North Bay circa 1980. Love the way you could look out the little windows and see the entire building sitting on giant springs. I can remember seeing the computer room that was roughly 75% empty because they had recently upgraded all their systems with newer equipment. We had a blast using the light pen on his radar screen to id all the planes flying around, or something like that. Was a long time ago.
    • Still cranky and coding? :P

  • by LaughingRadish (2694765) on Tuesday December 24, 2013 @01:32AM (#45772975) Journal

    Here's something nice: http://starringthecomputer.com/ [starringthecomputer.com]. Various sightings of various computers in movies along with ratings of importance, realism, and visibility.

    • by Bomarc (306716)
      You posted it before I did. Though the article cited above was okay, good for a commentary. The website "Starring the computer" has a much better lay-out, and more comprehensive information, including better images (screen caps) for many of the computers displayed.
      • You posted it before I did. Though the article cited above was okay, good for a commentary. The website "Starring the computer" has a much better lay-out, and more comprehensive information, including better images (screen caps) for many of the computers displayed.

        Ah you both beat me :}

        Reading the summery I jumped the gun and Googled the IBM AN/FSQ-7 there's a site, that I quote:
        "Starring the Computer is a website dedicated to the use of computers in film and television"

        And the IBM AN/FSQ-7 http://starringthecomputer.com/computer.html?c=73 [starringthecomputer.com] it's been around.

  • by FairAndUnbalanced (959108) on Tuesday December 24, 2013 @01:43AM (#45773007)
    I think there's a ton of CDC [wikipedia.org] equipment in Collosus: The Forbin Project. It has a fairly standard "computer takes over the world" plot line but is a bit of fun as well.

    Note the movie trivia entry at this IMDB link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0064177/trivia [imdb.com]

    "When the executives at Control Data Corporation found out that Universal was planning a major movie featuring a computer, they saw their chance for some public exposure, and they agreed to supply, free of charge, $4.8 million worth of computer equipment and the technicians to oversee its use. Each piece of equipment carried the CDC name in a prominent location. Since they were using real computers - not just big boxes with a lot of flashing lights - the sound stage underwent extensive modifications: seven gas heaters and five specially-constructed dehumidifiers kept any dampness away from the computers, a climate control system maintained the air around the computers at an even temperature, and the equipment was covered up at all times except when actually on camera. Brink's guards were always present on the set, even at night. The studio technicians were not allowed to smoke or drink coffee anywhere near the computers."
    • by cusco (717999)

      The studio technicians were not allowed to smoke or drink coffee anywhere near the computers.

      I'm surprised the Union didn't go on strike over that, especially during that time. Cigarettes and coffee were pretty much the only things they were allowed to consume while working.

      When I started working at AAA's corporate office here in Washington they were still FedEx-ing boxes of 9-track tapes around the country to do data transfers in 1998. I made it a goal to get rid of the failing 9-track tape machine, a

  • The 1985 UK TV series https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edge_of_Darkness [wikipedia.org] showed an interesting use of networked computers in the "Breakthrough" episode.
    The usual modem expert at home plot to connect, break codes and download sequence often used in movies/tv was replaced by a more interesting terminal sequence.
    A building with newly installed rows of networked computers was used to search files in a short time during a break in.
    Another good use was https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Telefon_(film) [wikipedia.org] made in 1977 show
  • Where was WarGames, Weird Science, TRON, Electric Dreams, etc.? Who gives a crap about a Vaio showing up in The Pink Panther 2. (Oh, and that's Steve Martin. Who's Steve Allen?)

    • I think you missed the point of the article. The point of the article is that software quality matters on the SmartBear blog, where you can find resources for Mobile, Agile, and Cloud. While you're there, check out their line of development and web monitoring products. They also have webinars!
    • by dwillden (521345)
      In fact the article simply jumps from 1980 to mention OS/2 in 1995 and then again to 1999 with no explanation, skipping generations of computers in the movies.
      • by Mr Z (6791)
        I did see a mention of a Commodore 64 and an Amiga in there... but still, yeah, the 80s "didn't happen" for computers. It was mostly Burroughs and other big iron, a quick nod to the 80s, and suddenly it's all Vaios and Macs. WTF?
  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday December 24, 2013 @02:18AM (#45773139) Homepage

    Some of the the AN/FSQ-7 consoles keep showing up in movies because they're available for rental at Woody's Props [woodysprops.com] in LA.

    Those aren't even the control panels for the computer. Those are just the modems and serial ports. Here are the much larger AN/FSQ-7 maintenance control panels. [williamson-labs.com]

    Those are just the control panels. Here's the CPU [old-computers.com], with all the racks of tubes. Full-sized 12AX7 tubes (still used in some guitar amps), not even minature tubes.

    • by freeze128 (544774)
      Seeing those pictures reminds me of the Moonbase Alpha Command Center in Space 1999. I don't know if all those blinky lights were an actual computer, or just light boxes, but I do remember that they looked very modular and serviceable.
      • Computer says, no!

        My favourite part is how they type a question into a terminal and get the answer on a printed piece of paper the size of a shopping docket :D

        • by lord_mike (567148)

          They hardly ever were able to get an answer anyways. The computer was almost always busy--not a very robust multitasking operating system.

  • Reservoir Dogs had an Atari ST and Terminator2 had a Atari Lynx... LOL Big fan of the old Atari hardware here...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 24, 2013 @02:45AM (#45773241)

    Everyone remembers the Minis, but the true geeks remember Benny Hill playing one of the cinema's first computer hackers.

  • The SAGE computer (AN/USQ-7) was truly mind blowing in scope. IBM produced a very cool movie of the system in operation in 1956 (along with some great cold war propaganda) that is a wonderful time capsule to boot. It shows a scale model of the building that housed the system to allow pointing out where all the pieces were located. My father spent some time as an operator of the huge display scopes at the McChord AFB installation.

    Movie here: https://archive.org/details/0772_On_Guard_The_Story_of_SAGE_18_48_ [archive.org]

    • by systemeng (998953)
      The computer history museum in Mountain View, California has panels from the AN/USQ7 as well as the large lucite scale model of the building.
  • by BlackHawk-666 (560896) <ivan.hawkes@gmail.com> on Tuesday December 24, 2013 @03:43AM (#45773423) Homepage

    Check out these old buggers, and the ads featuring Tom Baker, the legendary 4th Doctor Who.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSRC0S7pls8 [youtube.com]

    • by mjwalshe (1680392)
      Primes are descend from the ITS system and have serious hacker credentials

      I recall working on Pr1mes back in the 80's at one point at BT we had 17 750's (the largest non black installation in the country) and i had level 6 (root) on all of them plus level 7 (bendy root ) on the billing systems (13 and 02) which used map reduce back then!
  • by blahbooboo (839709) on Tuesday December 24, 2013 @03:58AM (#45773481)

    For kids of the 1980s this movie was first exposure towards the medium. Additionally it heralded the dawn of the hacker and government misunderstanding of the hacker capabilities -- specifically some of the problems Kevin Mitnick faced. Really surprised it wasn't mentioned.

    • Exactly. It looked so exotic at the time, but these days watching Matthew Broderick cradle that phone receiver in the IMSAI "acoustic coupler" while Ally Sheedy looks cute over his shoulder seems so...sweet...
      • by lord_mike (567148)

        It was the ultimate fantasy of nerds who lived in the 80's: Girls who were interested in computers... and even more interested in guys who were interested in computers? Heaven! That idea alone should have broken any suspension of disbelief right there, since back in the 80's, such a dream situation was just that... a nice dream and nothing more. :-(

      • I love my acoustic coupler!!!

  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), while perhaps not perfect, is disturbingly above-average for a Hollywood movie [blogspot.cz] in this respect.
    • by mjwalshe (1680392)
      The books are a bit of a disaster (through I believe the English translations not much cop) and I never brought the portrayal of Lisbeth Salander as a hacker some of the tech that Stieg Larsson claimed was so cutting edge or may be Sweden is that far behind - El reg has done a good takedown.
      • Are you referring to the books in general, or to the computer aspect? I got the impression that Larsson's career is nicely reflected in what he got right and what he got wrong. Filmmakers have staff for that, but alas, as is the case with books in general, he was the single author, and emphatically not a techie.
        • by mjwalshe (1680392)
          Id have to look up verity stobbs analysis but at one point Lisbeth says this mac (naming a particular MB) was the hottest thing in graphics when in fact that particular MB was a dog and well know as such.
  • No Gibson, with a 3D GUI that can even be displayed remotely over laptops? I am disappointed.
  • Scene 1: A mechanic working in an auto plant listens to the chief engineer describing the new model car that is going to be manufactured. Stands up and says the engine design is not suitable for the market it was intended. Chief engineer sneers at him, "You lowly mechanic, you have the temerity to challenge me? Grease monkey! Go find a CV boot to clean or something!". All the assembled people laugh and the mechanic walks out head hanging in shame.

    Scene 2: Walks to his work spot, his side kick (always the c

  • War Games featured an IMSAI 8080 with 8" floppies. Why they chose that computer is unknown, since no one really was using those machines by the time of filming.

    They mentioned the Commodore PET in the article, but neglected its greatest cameo appearance [imgur.com] in Captain Kirk's quarters in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

    Most movies do an awful job of portraying computers realistically. Take, for example, the attempt to force a C:> prompt on an Apple Macintosh in the movie Office Space. The one movie that reall

    • by hawk (1151)

      Many years ago, long before 9/11 and the TSA, I was flying with my mac powerbook 180. I had difficulty with a security official whose instructions were to make every computer show a c: prompt . . .

      hawk

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