2009's 25 Geekiest 25th Anniversaries

1984: A go-go year for geekdom
From the Mac's legendary Super Bowl debut to less flamboyant births of Cisco, Dell, RIM and the future founder of Facebook, 1984 provided a bounty of technological achievement and geeky infamy. There was the divestiture of AT&T, the advent of genetic fingerprinting, quantum cryptography, the book that popularized "cyberspace," and, let's not forget that Bernie Goetz was a hardcore geek before going medieval on that New York subway. NASA even crashed a jetliner ... on purpose. The media will revisit all of them one by one over the next 12 months, but here they are today, neatly alphabetized. 
AT&T asplodes

In 1974, Uncle Sam decided AT&T was a monopoly that needed demolition. Ten years later, it was demolished. Recalls AT&T: "The U.S. woke up on Jan.1, 1984 to discover that its telephones worked just as they had the day before. But AT&T started the day a new company. Of the $149.5 billion in assets it had the day before, it retained $34 billion. Of its 1,009,000 employees it retained 373,000. Gone even was the famous Bell logo and name, given under the agreement to the regional telephone companies, excepting only the name's use in Bell Labs."

P.S.: AT&T (formerly SBC) includes four of the seven RBOCs, proving that old goes-around, comes-around thing still holds.

Making the world safe for BETAMAX

Here's what you may have forgotten about the landmark Supreme Court case known formally as Sony Corp. of America v. Universal City Studios, Inc.; informally as "The Betamax case:" The decision was all set to go Universal's way -- and against "fair use time-shifting" -- until Justice John Paul Stevens pulled two votes out of his, um, the fire (Brennan and O'Connor), thus ensuring to this very day the dominant market position of Betamax.

P.S.: What? You don't have one?

A bouncing baby CISCO

Like many career-oriented married couples, Len Bosack and Sandy Lerner decided their lives were somehow incomplete without the joys, responsibilities and unconditional love that can only be realized through the founding of a router company. Ah, but they grow so fast: Cisco Systems would become the world's richest company (market cap: $500 billion, March 2003) before falling back to Earth.

P.S.: Cisco shut down for four days during the holidays to save money.

CRACKBERRY in motion

Research in Motion, which sounds like it should be the name of a geek boy band, was founded in 1984 in the Canadian city of Waterloo, which sounds like it should be an ABBA song. What RIM did for the next 15 years is anybody's guess, but in 1999 the company introduced the first Blackberry (two-way pager edition). What has followed has been a decade of patent lawsuits, sporadic network outages, ruined relationships and the introduction of "crackberry" into the lexicon. Ta-da.

P.S.: More than 19 million are addicted.

CRASHING a jetliner for science

It was all in the name of research, of course, primarily figuring out how to best control fuel fires in the aftermath of a survivable jetliner crash. But don't try to tell me that on Dec. 1, 1984, Fitzhugh (Fitz) Fulton didn't enjoy his job of remote-control pilot as NASA conducted its Controlled Impact Demonstration crash of a Boeing 720 in Edwards, Calif.

P.S.: MythBusters plus high explosives equals mighty fine geek TV

Neuromancer popularizes 'CYBERSPACE'

William Gibson's science-fiction classic won all kinds of awards and is also notable for bringing the word "cyberspace" into the general lexicon. From the book: "Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts . . . A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding . . ."

P.S.: That sounds like the Internet, all right.

Dude, you're gonna be DELL

University of Texas student Michael Dell had the nutty idea of selling IBM PC-compatible computers manufactured from stock components directly to customers, much like his classmates might peddle pot out of their dorm rooms. His fledgling company, called PC's Limited, would become Dell Computer Corporation and hire that smarmy Ben Curtis kid to do those obnoxious "Dude" commercials.

P.S.: Dell is a regular on Fortune's Top 20 most admired companies, while Curtis has settled into obscurity.

DISCMAN gives CDs a leg up

In November, 1984, two years after mass production of CDs commenced, Sony released the first portable CD player, the D-50, a.k.a., Discman. It was about the size of four CD cases; in other words, smaller than a bag of groceries but significantly bigger than an iPod.

P.S.: Think record player.

The ABCs of DNA fingerprinting

At 9 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 15, 1984, British researcher Sir Alec Jeffreys -- before he had his second cup of coffee -- stared at a batch of X-ray film and recognized in its images a virtually foolproof method for putting bad guys behind bars and getting deadbeat dads to pony up. By day's end he was calling this technique DNA fingerprinting.

P.S.: Hollywood writers celebrate Sir Alec Jeffreys Day every Sept. 15.

Your ELEPHONE's ringing

Best known as a confectioner nonpareil, Willy Wonka's "last major invention was the Elephone, a telephone that works in an elevator." The Elephone was invented in, that's right, 1984. I know these things to be historical facts because it says so in "Wikiality, The Truthiness Encyclopedia."

P.S.: Elevator cell-phone use leads to more homicides than road-rage and adultery combined.

The future of FACEBOOK is born

He's still only 25. Seems as though Facebook has been around forever. Mark Zuckerberg was born on May 14, 1984 to Karen and Edward Zuckerberg of Boca Raton, Fla. When, where and to whom Facebook was born has been the subject of protracted and since-settled legal battles, but Mark Zuckerberg remains the guy in charge. Did I mention he's still only 25.

P.S.: Those of us who can barely remember 25 find this difficult to forgive.

If you forgot why it's called FLASH MEMORY …

Fujio Masuoka, a Toshiba researcher, invented flash memory and revealed what he had done at the IEEE 1984 International Electron Devices Meeting. Why flash? "The name was suggested by Masuoka's colleague, Shoji Ariizumi, because the erasure process of the memory contents reminded him of a flash of a camera," says Wikipedia.

P.S.: Industrial espionage has never been easier.

'Who you gonna call? GHOSTBUSTERS!'

A staple on "funniest movies ever" lists, "Ghostbusters" opened June 8, 1984 to great reviews and boffo box office:
Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd): "You know, it just occurred to me that we really haven't had a successful test of this equipment."
Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis): "I blame myself."
Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray): "So do I."
Stantz: "Well, no sense in worrying about it now."
Venkman: "Why worry? Each one of us is carrying an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on his back."

P.S.: Far too many people believe it was a documentary.

Bernie GOETZ: Geek with a gun

Some saw a hero, others a trigger-happy racist. Whatever your position on that score, there's no debating that Berhard ("Subway Vigilante") Goetz was a geek -- electrical/nuclear engineering degree from NYU; livelihood then as (reportedly) now repairing electronics -- when he shot four young black men on a New York City subway car Dec. 22, 1984.

P.S.: Registration on vigilante-electronics.com, once (supposedly) belonging to Goetz, sits expired as I type.

2600 The HACKER QUARTERLY debuts

A friend calls it "the hacker's Home & Garden." How genteel. And the name? The 2600 reportedly refers to the fact that a 2600 Hertz tone -- such as that created by a toy whistle tucked into boxes of Cap'n Crunch cereal -- could gain one access to telephone network systems, at least back in 1984.

P.S.: Publishes first Friday of January, April, July and October.

Say hi to HASSIUM

Just don't touch. A synthetic element (No. 108) discovered by German scientists in 1984, it is apparently nasty stuff. From a geeky Web site: "Hassium is of research interest only due to its instability. As few atoms of this unstable element have ever been synthesized, it has no commercial use. Hassium is highly radioactive, and it would pose a radiation hazard if enough were assembled in one place."

P.S.: On every TSA no-fly list.

K250: 'Isn't she lovely'

What? You thought that song was about a baby? That was just Stevie expressing his man love for Ray Kurzweil and the Kurzweil K250, which Mr. Wonder had personally asked for two years prior. The K250, unveiled at the 1984 Summer NAMM trade show, is said to be the first electronic synthesizer capable of playing acoustic grand piano well enough to pass the Ella Fitzgerald test.

P.S.: Still in wide use despite being discontinued in 1990.

'Hello, I'm a MAC'

Two days after its now iconic introductory TV commercial, dubbed "1984," aired during Super Bowl XVIII, Apple's Macintosh went on sale to the public. It was mere weeks before the first reports of fanboy beatings.

P.S.: In movies and on television, Macs are seen more often than cigarettes.

MATHCOUNTS kicks spelling-bee ass

Here's why: Being fabulous at geometry and algebra may help you excel in high school, college and maybe even grownup life. Being able to spell "guerdon," "hyssop," "basenji," and "hyphaeresis," won't even win you a bar bet. The first national MATHCOUNTS competition was held in 1984.

P.S.: I cower in fear at having to help my kids with math homework.

NTU: 'Where learning virtually happens'

Get it? Virtually happens? Let's be honest: Everyone made fun of "virtual" universities back then, even those who had no clue as to what the virtual part meant. National Technological University (NTU) was the first to be accredited as a "virtual" university for beaming courses via satellite to the likes of IBM, HP and Motorola.

P.S.: NTU is part of Walden University.

Voila! BB84 QUANTUM CRYPTOGRAPHY protocol

The name is easy enough to understand: Charles Bennett and Gilles Brassard developed the first quantum cryptography protocol in 1984. So how does it work? Well, there's Alice and there's Bob . . . and, well, space limitations and modesty prevent me from outlining the details here. (And by modesty I mean a complete lack of understanding.)

P.S.: Alice and Bob are said to be communicating better now that they've been in counseling.

'Looks like a ROBOTICIDE, captain'

On Saturday, July 21, at Diecast, Corp. in Jackson, Mich., 34-year-old diecast operator Harry Allen was discovered by a co-worker pinned between a factory pole and the back of an industrial robot. He had been crushed to death. It was the first time a fatality had been attributed to a robot accident in the United States.

P.S.: Roboticide rates continue to decline as factory jobs are shipped overseas.

Out for a SPACE WALK

At some point, Bruce McCandless must have been tempted to tell NASA ground control, "Look, Ma, no hands." In early February, 1984, McCandless became the first human to fly in space with neither a craft nor lifeline attached to same, as he wandered nearly a football field away from the space shuttle Challenger using a gas-powered jet-pack, or Manned Maneuvering Unit.

P.S.: We're still waiting to use jet-packs to get to work.

'THE TERMINATOR': Now that's network trouble

Sarah Connor: "Why me? Why's it want me?"
Kyle Reese: "There was a nuclear war. A few years from now, all this, this whole place, everything, it's gone. Just gone. There were survivors. Here, there. Nobody even knew who started it. It was the machines, Sarah."
Connor: "I don't understand."
Reese: "Defense network computers. New... powerful... hooked into everything, trusted to run it all. They say it got smart, a new order of intelligence. Then it saw all people as a threat, not just the ones on the other side. Decided our fate in a microsecond: extermination."

P.S.: You, too, can download an "I'll be back" ringtone.

TRANSFORMERS grow up, too

That's right, Hasbro's robots in disguise -- Autobots and Decepticons, alike -- have been more than meets the eye since 1984. Toys, television, feature films, these guys have done it all . . . and don't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon.

P.S.: I can't get the theme song out of my head.

Did we miss any?
If so, let us know. And please share your thoughts on your favorites among the 25.