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Notable moments in geek history from 1985

Geekend blogger Wally Bahny highlights why 1985 was a very good year for geek history. Tell us what milestone from that year should be added to this list.

Network World recently released its list of the 25 geekiest 25th anniversaries. The following items are my 12 favorites from that list.

  1. Back to the Future One of the greatest action/sci-fi franchises of all time, Back to the Future was launched and set (to start with) in 1985. Back to the Future was the highest grossing film of the year and won numerous awards. While it's still five years away, we have yet to see any evidence of the flying cars that will be available by October 21, 2015. You know I'm waiting for mine. Also, who can't find a use for a Mr. Fusion?
  2. Apple LaserWriter The first ever laser printer for Macintosh computers, the LaserWriter ran at 8 ppm and printed at a resolution of 300 dpi. This printer cost $6,995 back then; are there any laser printers that cost that much now? I haven't seen many over $699.50. A printer of this quality would cost about $69.95 today -- if you could get one that bad.
  3. Amiga 1000 With servers nowadays capable of supporting 256 GB of RAM (and desktops not too far behind), the Commodore Amiga 1000's 256 KB is almost laughable. However, with a price tag of $1,595, the Amiga was a fairly inexpensive computer at the time. Also, as a veritable media powerhouse (at the time), the Amiga was very popular for video editing and production. It could support as many as 16.8 million colors with a more expensive chipset.
  4. Blockbuster Video Catching on to the booming VHS market, Texas start-up Blockbuster Video has covered the United States and several other countries in the ensuing years, making video rentals easily accessible for nearly everyone. The doors first opened on October 26th, and the first late fee was collected two days later.
  5. Buckminsterfullerene C60 Better known as Buckyballs, and named after famous architect Buckminster Fuller, Buckminsterfullerine is a spherical arrangement of 60 carbon atoms. These atoms are arranged in such a way that they directly match the layout of a common soccer ball (pentagons surrounded by hexagons).
  6. New Coke The New Coke sounds great! Well, it wasn't. Within two days of its April 23rd release, 80% of Americans noticed the change. Many of the most vocal who weren't happy were in the southeast, where Coke is traditionally created and bottled and is considered a part of the region's identity. By July, Coca-Cola had returned to the Coke Classic formula.
  7. Cray-2 The Cray-2 supercomputer was one of the first supercomputers to use 100% integrated circuits (ICs), packed tightly onto circuit boards, which were then stacked until they were about three inches thick. Since the ICs were so tight, Cray also had to submerse the cards in Fluorinert, an inert fluorocarbon liquid. The Cray-2 was the top supercomputer -- capable of 1.9 GFLOPS -- for five years until it was bumped off by the ETA-10G in 1990. To compare, a modern ATI Radeon R800 GPU runs at over 3000 GFLOPS.
  8. Discovery Channel One of nearly every geek's favorite TV channels, the Discovery Channel was launched as a joint venture between BBC and American television investors. What geek would be complete without MythBusters, Storm Chasers, or any of the channel's other high-quality shows?
  9. Dot-com 1985 also marks the very first dot-com registrations. Beginning with Symbolics.com (which is now a personal blog about business, domain names, and life in general and very proud of its status as "first"), several more dot-com domain names were registered that year. Just think: It was more than a year before the dot-com boom officially started.
  10. The Jetsons returns Every kid (or kid-at-heart) in the 80s remembers The Jetsons -- it is one of my favorite cartoons of all time. The show's new production run started in 1985 and yielded about 50 of the show's 75 total episodes (the other 25 or so were created in the 1960s). For anyone not familiar with The Jetsons, the show is set in the unspecified future, where humans own robot housemaids, drive flying cars, and live in houses on stilts in the sky. We might even see a live-action The Jetsons sometime in the future.
  11. Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) While not the first well-accepted game console, the NES literally blew the forerunner, Atari 2600, out of the water when it came out in 1985. With 8-bit graphics and shipping with the all-time favorite Super Mario Brothers, the NES became the best-selling console game system of its time. The NES held nearly the entire market until the early 1990s when Sega Genesis and then the Super Ninendo eclipsed its popularity.
  12. Microsoft Windows 1.0 Windows 1.0 was a 16-bit operating environment that was capable of multi-tasking in a graphical user interface. Without Windows 1.01, released in 1985 after a two-year wait (Microsoft never did wring the kinks out of its development cycles), we wouldn't have such gems as Windows 3.1 (released later that decade), Windows 95, Windows XP, and now Windows 7.

The other 13 geek anniversaries on the list

  • The release of Citizen's AM/FM watch
  • AOL
  • British Telecom starts phase out of its red telephone kiosks
  • Chess'N Math Association
  • Richard Stallman publishes his GNU Manifesto and founds the Free Software Foundation
  • TV show MacGyver debuts
  • MIT Media Lab is founded
  • Steve Jobs founds NeXT, Inc.
  • Sinclair-C5
  • Discovery of the wreck of the R.M.S. Titanic
  • Unabomber Ted Kaczynski sends four bombs throughout the year
  • Broderbund releases Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?
  • Scientific paper published describing the hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica

Missing from the list

One item that I think should have made the list but didn't is the release of another pinnacle movie in geekdom: The Goonies. The film depicted every kid's dream: finding a treasure map and chasing after the treasure. Starring some now-well known actors, including Sean Astin (Samwise from The Lord of the Rings) and Josh Brolin (title character from W.), the movie is just as much fun to watch now as it was when I was a kid. And, since these kids are just like many of us were at that age, it's not hard to imagine that they would have similar careers to you and me.

Geek anniversaries

What do you think of the list? Did Network World get it right, or did they leave off anything significant? Also, what's your favorite geek anniversary from 1985? Share your thoughts in the discussion.

28 comments
Tudro
Tudro

Nintendo game console

tammy.gould
tammy.gould

1983 - War Games - Starring Matthew Broderick was the first movie I saw that made geeks cool and not look so nerdy. I think that was the pivotal moment in geek history.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

In 1985, I was still earning my business degree from the University of Louisville. I was using a PCJr to write my reports and I was printing them out using an Epson dot matrix printer. Around this time I was heavily into strategy games: Empire, Command HQ, and Global Conquest. In 1986 or so, we bought a PC clone recommended by PC Magazine from a now non-existent company.

bhaven23
bhaven23

I'm still using an HP6MP laser that cost $1,000 new. That was the price 15 years ago. It still chugs them out. In 1986 I looked at a networked system that had 4 'puters and a daisy wheel printer: the set cost $8,000. Those were the days.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

Granted, I know this wingnut railed against the trappings of technology and what not, but I wouldn't put it on the list any more so than I would iPhone related muggings/shootings 25 years from now. A pimple on the @ss of humanity, plain and simple. On a lighter note, 1985 also gave us this gem: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fJNC3dgreaU

steven.c.kienle
steven.c.kienle

I dispute that New Coke should be on a geek list. It was only a major, and successful, marketing gimick. The only point of New Coke was to allow Coke to change from using sugar to high fructous corn syrup on "Coke Classic." Given it was only a marketing, money driven, move, I would never include it in a Geek list ever.

MikeG3b
MikeG3b

The Intel 386 processor was released in 1985. To my knowledge, it was the first 32-bit processor, provided real, protected, and virtual mode operation. Although memory was incredibly expensive back then, the 386 was capable of addressing 4 gigabytes of memory (in protected mode). The 386 truly pointed the way towards future processor developments.

Sepius
Sepius

Weird Science came out in 85. Its gotta be one of the geekiest films then... yeah? Mmmmmm Kelly LeBrock! Ooh ooh ... The Breakfast Club came out in 85 as well, does it count geeky? probably not, but still a great movie. My 18 year old daughter doesn't get The Breakfast Club, she thinks its a boring old movie.

felicia
felicia

Real geeks would surely have included the "Leisure Suit Larry" PC games by Sierra (I think) starting around '86.

kentontator
kentontator

I don't remember much, but its the year I came into the world so it has to be a good year :) all the things mentioned above were pretty cool to.

merrid
merrid

War Games yes, but Tron even more so.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I was maintaining and writing retrievals for our maintenance training management system, newly married, and even more newly a father. etu

gypkap
gypkap

In 1985 I started Computer Science grad school. A few years later, I was corresponding with Prof David Gelernter about a message passing scheme he invented, called Linda. In 1993, the year I graduated, Gelernter was injured by one of Theodore Kaczynski's bombs.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I was in Germany at the time. I did notice the comment posted as a description: [i]The Greatest Single Season Team in NFL History doing thier song the super bowl shuffle.[/i] As I recall, there has only been one team in the NFL that finished the regular season undefeated and went on to win the league championship...and it weren't daBears.

MaryWeilage
MaryWeilage

I thought this was a really strange item to include in the list. Mary

Jeffykins
Jeffykins

I have a working Amiga 1000 (with external hard drive, even) and a working LaserWriter. In '85 I was in charge of a project to produce drafting diagrams on a LaserWriter. Way fun, Postscript was. Still is, actually. I even figured out how to use the LaserWriter as an attached co-processor to help with computations, since it had more RAM and a faster CPU than the desktop Unix machines we were using. Actually, LaserWriter was not really "bad": slow and only 300 dpi, but the dumb thing is exceptionally reliable (working one, duh), and the output looks much better than you'd think: 300 dpi laser looks more like a 600 dpi bubble jet. True, every word.

nelsonhoover
nelsonhoover

Frankly don't remember anything since I didn't see the light of day till later in the year.

jck
jck

You were born. I got my driver's license :^0

Sepius
Sepius

How about The Last Starfighter as well. Maybe more for the younger geeks in the making at the time.

NotSoChiGuy
NotSoChiGuy

His Holy Eminence, Da Coach, will surely strike thee down with lightning bolts from his mustache. ;) Seriously, though, superlative statements like the one the guy posted on YouTube are ridiculous. You just can't reasonably compare eras in sports like football or baseball no more than you can compare a Commodore 64 to a Lenovo T400. The '85 Bears would have mopped the floor with the '72 Dolphins. Of this I have no doubt. However, I'm equally sure that the 90's Cowboys or the 00's Pats would have beaten the '85 Bears just as handily. P.S. If the Bears in the late 80's actually had a good coach (Walsh, Parcells, Belicheat, etc) instead of Ditka, they win a couple more SBs. The '86 defense was actually much better in terms of stats. People here hate when I discuss it, but it's true. Ditka underperformed mightily as coach.

tracy.walters
tracy.walters

I finished my second tour in the Navy and became a civilian.

tdrane
tdrane

I was five years into doing drug interdiction boardings in the Gulf of Mexico. (USCG)

mjstelly
mjstelly

That's what I remember of 1985. It was not a banner year for me. It would be another 5 years before I "officially" entered the IT industry with my first computer -- an Amstrad (don't ask) -- I got from my mom who "just couldn't figure that thing out". Of course, my fingers have been hermetically sealed to a keyboard ever since. See, I'm from the era when there were no such thing as computers in schools (or anywhere else in public spaces for that matter). Yea, I'd just as soon forget the '80's altogether.

Kostaghus
Kostaghus

I already had mine 5 years earlier... Incidentally... My first Spectrum clone was a self-made project (I worked for 2 years on it) and was finished by 1987... I purchased my very first actual PC (second hand) in 1992 - an 8088 machine with a monochrome Hercules monitor, a 10MB HDD and 2x1,2MB 5" floppy drives. Don't remember the make... Was replaced by a heftier AMD 586/133, with 4MB RAM, 1MB Cirus video, 850 MB HDD, 24X Teac CDROM and EISA ESS soundcard, 3Com EISA network card, Samsung VGA color monitor 3 years later. Ran Win 3.1 like a dream...

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

You got your driver's license. I was promoted to E-6. :D To celebrate, I bought my first brand new car...15 years after I got my license. $5895 for a VW Jetta GLI. Loved that DM3.40/$1 exchange rate! B-)

Forum Surfer
Forum Surfer

The technological craze and boom of the latter half of the 80's no doubt inspired my career path. In retrospect, I'd have more money in my bank account if I had been at that impressionable age during the drug crazed 70's which would have led me to be a pharmacist! :)

jck
jck

If I'd have been more like Woz, I could have foregone college in lieu of pursuing technical jobs...and gone to Kuwait in the 1990s and made $200k+ a year tax-free and come back 2 years later with almost $500k in the bank and...at this point...have been retired. Dumb me thinking a college degree couldn't wait. Oh well.

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