News of the Week: Computers, Cereal, and Comic Strips

Computer Expert Said the Internet Would Never Take Off

We all make mistakes. Some are big, some are incredibly trivial, but most of the mistakes we make are private, and not many other people find out about them.


Clifford Stoll made a few mistakes in 1995, and he’s still hearing about them. Stoll is a well-known astronomer and computer expert (he helped catch hackers in the 1980s, which he wrote about in the book The Cuckoo’s Egg) who made some predictions about the Internet 20 years ago in Newsweek that haven’t come true. Actually, to say they didn’t come true doesn’t really illustrate how wrong he was. Unfortunately the Web remembers a lot, and Newsweek has the article in its archives, and it’s getting renewed attention because the 20th anniversary of the piece just passed.

Now, predictions about technology and media and science are often wrong, but considering that Stoll’s expertise was specifically computers and he had been using a version of the Internet since the ’70s, these predictions show a particular lack of vision. Stoll said that computers will never replace print newspapers, we’ll never shop online (there won’t even be a secure way to send money over the Internet), and we’ll never read books on computers. To his credit, Stoll now realizes how wrong he was and probably laughs about it.

I think some of his predictions were based not on thinking things through but on his own personal fears about where technology might be taking us. Stoll has always had the opinion that people should come before technology, and I think we can all agree with that vision. And he was probably way ahead of his time. He got the details wrong but you see similar thoughts about the dangers of technology in general even today, by people like Nicholas Carr, Sherry Turkle, and Andrew Keen.

Ya Jerks, Ya Jerks, Ya Jerks!


I don’t condone 8-year-olds using salty language … but this is funny! A young boy called The Bloomington Herald-Times in Indiana to complain because they dropped his favorite comic strips (and probably some of his mom and dad’s favorites too). The boy ended up leaving a voicemail for the editor where he not only rattled off a list of all of the comic strips he and his parents wanted back in the paper, he also called the newspaper employees “jerks,” plus another word I’m not going to print here. But you can hear the voicemail he and his parents left at the paper’s site.

Okay, maybe it’s not great the kid said some of the things he said, but let’s commend him for supporting print newspapers!

Leonard Nimoy

The death of actor Leonard Nimoy actually happened over a week ago but I couldn’t let it go by without mentioning it here. There have been a lot of TV characters over the decades, of course. Some memorable, some not memorable at all. Star Trek’s Mr. Spock (and that’s Mr. Spock, not “Dr. Benjamin Spock” as People magazine called him) was iconic and influential, a character beloved no matter how old you are, and that love extended to the actor as well. This isn’t just another celebrity dying; this is a major part of pop culture going away. I have a theory that all pop culture is personal, and when something in pop culture you truly love dies a little part of you dies too.

Live long and prosper.

Bad Gerbils


I once owned a gerbil. His name was Dweezil, after Frank Zappa’s son. One day I went to greet him in his cage and he was all rolled up in a ball in the corner. I tried to wake him but he didn’t move at all, and he also seemed to be hard as a rock. Dweezil was dead, and I felt kind of bad about it. I took him out of his cage and buried him in the yard. But there’s a plot twist! Many years later I read that he probably wasn’t dead after all. Gerbils sometimes curl up in a ball like that and don’t move but will eventually. So basically I buried a live gerbil in the ground. I can imagine how he must have felt when he woke up, not in his comfy cage but instead in the cold ground. I guess I’m lucky he didn’t rise from his grave and seek revenge on me somehow.

This is just my long-winded way to tell you that gerbils, not rats, were probably responsible for the plague that killed millions in Europe during the Middle Ages.

Ice Traps Scientist on Maine Island

While we’re complaining that we have to shovel yet again, we should keep in mind that it could be a lot worse. For example, you could be trapped on an island. This is what is happening to Dr. Diane Corwan, a scientist at the Lobster Conservancy in Maine. The conservancy is on an island in the harbor, and while the harbor ice has mostly thawed the area around the island hasn’t. She’s been trapped there, running low on supplies, for over a month (there are no stores on the island and only a few vacation homes). She’s been working there for 16 winters and she says this winter is the worst she has experienced (before this the longest she had spent there was two weeks). Friends dropped supplies to Corwan from an airplane, including meat and fruit and dog treats for her companion, Sula. (I’m guessing that having her dog with her this whole time has helped immensely.)

What she needs is a big bag of ice melt. A really, really big bag of ice melt.

Tomorrow Is National Cereal Day


You probably had cereal for breakfast at some point this week. Or, if you’re Jerry Seinfeld, you had it for dinner. And yes, there’s a day to celebrate all things cereal and it’s tomorrow.

One of the best cereal sites is Mr. Breakfast. He has a really detailed history of cereal, including an alphabetical list, pictures of cereal boxes, and even video. He also has a list of 90 recipes for cereals you can make yourself. Cereal, I have to admit, is one food I’ve never ever thought of making myself. Unless you consider mixing two cereals in one bowl “cooking.”

For years I missed one of my favorite cereals, Quisp, until I found out you can still get it in some stores and online! Now if Pink Panther Flakes would come back I’d be all set.

Daylight Saving Time This Sunday


Don’t forget to set your clocks ahead one hour (spring ahead, fall back!) around 2 a.m. on Sunday. Here’s a story about DST by humorist Philip Gulley from our January/February 2014 issue.

Upcoming Anniversaries

Barbie launched (March 9, 1959)
Mattel will not only release 78 new Barbie dolls this year, now Barbie will be able to talk to you.

Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley published (March 11, 1818)
You can read the classic novel for free at Project Gutenberg.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gives first “fireside chat” (March 12, 1933)
Here’s a list of every fireside chat that Roosevelt gave.

Albert Einstein born (March 14, 1879)
The scientist explained his Theory of Relativity to The Saturday Evening Post in 1959.