Fifteen years ago, when it was all fields round here, Danny O’Brien and Dave Green – who were well-known in underground gaming/comedy/tech/confectionery circles – began to publish an email newsletter for and about the British tech community. It was a joy from the beginning – authentic, funny, playful, insightful… Geek storytelling that is probably already consulted as a primary source for the arrival of this whole network/digital/computer thing… NTK is on the newsstands again, in a clever time-shifted form. Sign up here.
I’m not a geek. I missed the boat. When I left school they’d just acquired a computer. It was a mysterious, chattering presence in a room in the maths department – a teletype connected to a mainframe somewhere – and I never met it.
But when I first encountered a computer – in a roomful of brand new Macs at the Polytechnic of Central London in 1985 – and set about learning about them, I beetled off to one of those Soho newsagents that still set my heart racing, with their rows and rows of exotic imported glossies, and looked in the computer section. The magazine I settled on and made my bible was called Byte.
Byte was recklessly terminated in 1998. I still miss it. It was a quite awesome monthly crash course in IT – a kind of undergraduate degree in magazine form. Long, gripping articles about chip design, network architecture, software and AI. I honestly owe more to Byte than to any other source of knowledge about computers.
Byte, which for most of its life was published by McGraw Hill, was no web pioneer. In fact, for a while, during all the really early frenzy (during which I helped publish a magazine that was all about the web), Byte was almost a holiday from the Internet – a place you could go to read about VLSI chips and ethernet while the rest of the world was going web crazy. When they decided to have a go, they did it in a very Byte way, though.
They put a man called Jon Udell on the case – he was a staff writer and he was given the job of building the magazine’s web presence and documenting the process month-by-month for readers. He brought the whole thing to life with a really forensic attitude to the emerging tools – and invented a bunch of new ones along the way. These days he works at Microsoft and he’s an influential geek with an interest in all sorts of developing areas – and his ‘interviews with innovators’ are published as part of the IT Conversations podcast.
But this one’s a bit different – a rather modest, one-hour conference speech about ‘the architecture of context’, in which he lays out his own, partial history of the net and remembers some of the lessons he learnt in the Byte days. Fascinating and inspiring.
Interviewed by the estimable Wendy Grossman in New Scientist, a geek who uses statistical methods and clever database code to skewer torturers and dictators.