1979

Someone asked on the CE boards for everyone to list the things they remember about the year they graduated. I graduated from Concord High School, in Concord, New Hampshire, in 1979, and here’s my essay about the year.

I graduated in 1979. Saturday Night Live was still funny. My mom was into disco. When your parents disco, it is no longer cool. That was about the end of it then. The Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant was nearing completion, but the Clamshell Alliance, that opposed it, had the fun rallies, which I would attend on the lawn of the state capital.

In 1979, I already knew how to program a computer; the PDP/8e that Digital Equipment had given to the school. Tandy TRS-80s were already being bought to modernize the computer lab; but us old guard didn’t trust nothin’ if it didn’t chunk-a-chunk out of an ASR-33 teletype.

Get nerdier than that. I dare ya.

In 1979, I was two years from getting married.

So like, I don’t remember 1979 too well. Here’s some random stuff.

Betelgeuse explodes; not the star, but the unfortunately-named French tanker. If the star exploded at the exact same time, we wouldn’t know it for 425 years; yet even un-exploded, it is one of the brightest stars in the sky, the left shoulder of the constellation Orion. Roy Batty saw C-Beams glitter off the shoulders of Orion, in the Blade Runner script penned in 1979. Ridley Scott would release Blade Runner in 1982, but in 1979, he released Alien, which I saw with my sister, Hillary. 1979 also saw the resurrection not of Ripley, but of the Star Trek franchise, with the release of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

In 1979, the Village People anticipated Brokeback Mountain and Willie Nelson by writing songs about gay construction workers, sailors, Indian chiefs, and Young Men’s Christian Associations. Unfortunately, YMCA didn’t appreciate the connection in those unenlightened times, and sued them over the song. Later that year, thousands of gay utility men, sailors, policemen, Indian chiefs and others marched on Washington, demanding the end of discrimination based on sexual preference.

America’s friend in the Middle East, the Shah of Iran, was forced to flee the Islamic Revolution to Egypt; the Sandinistas took over Nicaragua; the USSR invaded Afghanistan; and the Pol Pot regime fell in Cambodia, making it a bad year for dictators, but a good year for the Ayatollah Khomeini, who returned to Iran. A year of drama about the fate of the Shah followed, culminating in the taking of American hostages. Their vicious treatment echoed the death of punk superstar Sid Vicious, who left the Sex Pistols for a death of notoriety and hit movies. Other pistols in the news included Brenda Ann Spencer’s, who used hers to kill two teachers and wound eight students in a horrible massacre in San Diego, California.

No relation. And no pictures, folks.

Patty Hearst showed that choosy women choose AK-47s, and that political friends are friends indeed, when President Carter set her free for her part in the bank heist done by the Symbionese Liberation Army. Unlike their fellow revolutionaries in Iran and Cambodia, the Symbionese were not liberated by their army, possibly because they don’t exist.

The light from Betelgeuse shone brightly on Skylab as it fell to Earth and scattered itself over the Australian outback. You could buy Skylab Protectors to protect yourself from superhot burning space debris, spray-on Skylab repellant; all sorts of things. In possibly related news, Pluto the wannabe-planet moved closer to the sun than Neptune, provoking a crisis in outer planetary relations. Too late to save the situation was Pioneer 11, speeding past Saturn, but not fast enough. Perhaps New Horizons can help when it arrives at Pluto in 2015.

Nobody was in Skylab when it fell, but that was unfortunately not true for the passengers of an Air New Zealand DC-10, which crashed into Mount Erebus, killing all on board. It was a very bad year for DC-10s in general; so bad that for a project in Aviation class, a friend and I built a flight simulator. He built the cockpit from balsa wood, half the electronics in the local Radio Shack and his Heathkit H-8 computer. I wrote the software, and I put a DC-10 mode in it that would make the plane crash at the end of the runway.

Ironically, if you could keep it in the air, it flew the best of all the flight models I had programmed in, based on figures laboriously calculated on the school’s ancient PDP/8e. The other groups in Aviation class made balsa gliders. We made an actual flight simulator, in 1979. We got in paper for that, and an ‘A’ in the course. 1979 was the year I peaked as a programmer; all downhill from there. The years since have been wasted in looking back and wondering how I could have done the things I did. Algernon-like, I can’t even understand code and algorithms I developed then.

Luckily, my programming efforts and progressive senility weren’t big news in 1979. Visicalc became the program that took the microcomputer out of the home and into the office, and Usenet gave dozens of academic researchers the world over something to do besides working on their theses, presaging the World Wide Web, which extended the same privilege to the entire world, who now had something to do at work besides work.

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Tipa

Web developer for a Connecticut-based insurance company that's over 200 years old! Also a bicycler, a blogger, a kayaker, and a hunter of bridges.