2008's 25 Geekiest 25th Anniversaries

From AT&T's pseudo-birth to Woz's "US Festival," with TCP-IP, 1-2-3, Word, "WarGames" and even the first real cell phone included: 1983 was a rich year in tech. A few of the notable moments have already received press attention, but below you'll find all 25 neatly alphabetized. (Slideshow fans should scoot over here to see the same list with pretty pictures.)

And, once you're done, check out the 2007 version:

1. AT&T is born ... kinda-sorta

Well, the company known today as AT&T was indeed founded in 1983 ... as Southwestern Bell Corp., headquartered in St. Louis. Later SBC. A move to San Antonio. Yada-yada-yada. And, in 2005, SBC euthanizes the quivering mess that was the original AT&T, born 128 years earlier as Bell Telephone Co. No fools, SBC, they kept the name.

P.S. Also launched in '83 was today's AT&T logo, that circle thingie nicknamed Death Star.

2. Chillin' on "The Day After"

We've always known that wartime technology will be the death of us, and so it was that "The Day After," an ABC TV movie, would come to be known as the script for the final chapter. And, sure enough, the survivors of this U.S./Soviet throw-down have it worse than those who got incinerated. Nuclear winter, anyone?

P.S. Out on DVD, 2004.

3. Compaq Portable, in name only

Suppose it depends on what you mean by portable. At a not-so-svelte, 28 pounds, the Compaq Portable, while laying claim to being the first IBM-compatible carry-about, wasn't exactly ready to be slipped into a manila folder. Heavy price tag, too: $3,590.

P.S. Compaq sold 53,000 of them in year one, a sign of laptops to come.

4. Dahon folds a bike into briefcase

Maybe not a briefcase, but the first of what will be 3 million Dahon folding bicycles rolls off an assembly line in Taiwan. Brainchild of U.S. physicist David Hon -- see the name thing going on there? -- the Dahon folder was conceived as a planet-saving response to the oil crisis of the 1970s.

P.S. Going to clown camp? You can buy a Dahon folder with 12-inch wheels.

5. DNS spares us

Imagine a 'Net where impossible-to-remember IP addresses reigned instead of roll-off-the-tongue domain names. (No GoDaddy girls, for one thing.) Even 25 years ago, with only a few hundred machines connected, that was unappealing enough to produce the Domain Name System.

P.S. Someone needs to ask Paul Mockapetris whether, "Hi, I invented DNS," ever worked as a pick-up line.

6. FBI nabs hubby-wife spy duo

James Harper, freelance electrical engineer, was married to Ruby Schuler, secretary to the president of ballistic-missiles contractor Systems Control. She swiped docs that he passed to the Polish government. They got caught after he got cold feet and tried to negotiate his way out.

P.S. She died that summer; he's serving life.

7. FCC OKs first cell phone

Sept. 21, the Federal Communications Commission gives its blessing to the Motorola DynaTac 8000x ... and 10 minutes later some jerk is yapping on the thing in a movie theater.

P.S. Weighed almost 2 pounds and fetched $4,000. Want one?

8. Galileo's ray of hope

Some 350 years after the man's demise, a papal-appointed Roman Catholic Church commission concludes that the Italian astronomer and physicist didn't deserve all the grief he got back in the day for seeing correctly what revolves around what.

P.S. It would be another decade until Pope John Paul II got around to formally accepting the finding.

9. GNU's Not Unix, oh no

Richard Stallman writes on net.unix-wizards: "Starting this Thanksgiving I am going to write a complete Unix-compatible software system called GNU (for Gnu's Not Unix), and give it away free to everyone who can use it. Contributions of time, money, programs and equipment are greatly needed."

P.S. You can read that initial announcement, including Stallman's clarification on what he meant by free, here.

10. Lawmakers adopt Orphan Drug Act

When Congress passed The Orphan Drug Act the idea was to use tax breaks and long-term market exclusivity to encourage pharmaceutical companies to find treatments for maladies that strike too few people to otherwise be worth the investment. It worked.

P.S. Urban legend has it that this legislation was first called The Red-Headed Step-Child Act.

11. Lisa beats Mac to Steve's car keys

Sporting such novelties as a GUI and mouse, costing a prohibitive 10 grand, and destined to be short-lived (R.I.P., 1985), Apple's PC for business may be most memorable for having prodded Steve Jobs off its development team and over to the one producing MacIntosh.

P.S. Lisa Jobs, daughter of you-know-who, was born in '78. Naming coincidence? Not likely.

12. Lotus 1-2-3 spreads its wings

Not the first spreadsheet, but for a good run after its introduction on Jan. 26, Lotus 1-2-3 was the green eye-shade of modern apps. Five years later, Excel begins to outsell ... well, you know that story.

P.S. It's said that 1-2-3 was the first app advertised on TV.

13. Modern plant biotech blooms

It was at a January meeting of genetic experts in Miami -- you know how those things can get out of hand -- that three research teams independently reported having used Agrobacterium tumefaciens to transfer new genes into plant cells. And thus was born modern agricultural biotechnology.

P.S. The U.S. plants more biotech crops than any country. No. 2? Gold star if you guessed Argentina.

14. 'Nation at Risk' slapped upside the head

Concern that a poorly educated workforce was getting its butt kicked by foreign competition prompts President Reagan to ask the National Commission on Excellence in Education to blue-ribbon the problem. Good thing they nipped that in the bud.

P.S. The 18-member panel included the late Bart Giamatti, then Yale pres, later the baseball commish who banned Pete Rose.

15. Nintendo invades Japan

Japanese kids got all the cool junk first back in the early '80s, so no surprise that the Nintendo Entertainment System was numbing young minds there for two years before making its U.S. debut in '85.

P.S. Nintendo would receive credit for reviving a moribund gaming industry here.

16. Osborne Computer flat-lines

First to market with a portable computer that came with bundled software -- and an enticing $1,795 price tag -- Osborne fell victim to a combination of rising competition and inability to deliver on marketing promises. The bankruptcy alarm sounded Sept. 13.

P.S. Mikrolog Ltd of Finland still markets custom-built Osborne PC's and servers.

17. PC World boots up

A magazine about personal computers? On the newsstand right alongside Time, Newsweek, and, depending on where you live, Playboy? Must have seemed silly to many in 1983. Circulation 25 years later: 745,525.

P.S. Yes, PC World is an IDG corporate cousin of Network World.

18. Pioneer 10 boldly goes

That's Neptune in the rear-view mirror, meaning that on June 13, Pioneer 10 became the first manmade bucket of bolts to bolt the solar system (although reading up on this reveals some dispute about definitions.)

P.S. The last gasp from Pioneer 10 was heard in 2003.

19. Sally Ride's historic one

It was aboard Challenger, June 18. Ride, remember, was the first American woman in space, not the first woman, having been beaten to that honor by a pair of Russians. Nevertheless, there are elementary schools named after her in The Woodlands, Tex., and Germantown, Md.

P.S. Yours truly had the pleasure of interviewing Ride way back in 1999.

20. Star Wars, Return of the Boondoggle

You need be of a certain age to recall the guffaws that greeted President Reagan's March 23 announcement of an anti-missile shield, officially called the Strategic Defense Initiative and forever derided as "Star Wars." There will be tears for generations to come over the wasted hundreds of billions.

P.S. Today it's called National Missile Defense; still a boondoggle.

21. TCP-IP rules

This was the year's first historical moment of geekiness, as the ARPANET went full-bore TCP-IP on Jan. 1. It was in all the papers.

P.S. The first 2-net test of TCP-IP was between Stanford and University College London in '75.

22. "The Right Stuff," all right

Inspirational story of the Mercury 7 astronauts. The book was better, but the movie wasn't bad. Won four Oscars. Tagline: "America was looking for a hero who had what it takes to become a legend. America found seven of them."

P.S. At 193 minutes, it darn well had better have been entertaining.

23. "War Games" invades cinemas

From IMDB: "A young man finds a back door into a military central computer in which reality is confused with game-playing, possibly starting World War III."... Oopsie.

P.S. NORAD set was supposedly Hollywood's most expensive to that time: $1 million

24. Word is the word

Stone tablets to Microsoft Word: Sometimes it seems as though there was nothing in between. On Oct. 25, Microsoft released the first version of its word processor, initially called Multi-Tool Word, soon thereafter, Microsoft Office Word.

P.S. Clippy didn't rear his annoying little head until 1997.

25. Woz's "US Festival" wows 'em

Friends told Steve Wozniak that one was enough after he lost his shirt on the '82 event, but Woz would have none of that talk. The '83 fest featured The Clash, Van Halen, INXS, Ozzy, Bowie, and on Saturday, a Who's Who of country stars.

P.S. Most were no doubt there for the "US Technology Expo," which featured talks by Ray Bradbury ... and Bianca Jagger?

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