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Jocelyn Paine

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Famous First Words

September 28, 2008


"Am I glad I got little Pierre the Erector Set. As soon as he is asleep I'll grab the funny tower he just made. I know the Exposition Committee won't use anything like this, but it will keep them quiet for a while."
Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, 1888

Thus — according to Harry Harrison's short story Famous First Words — the genesis of a Paris landmark, as recorded via Temporal Audio Psychogenetic detector by Ephraim Hakachinik, Professor of quantum physics and conversational Indo-European at Miskatonic University. Let's TAP the continuum once more:

"My head doth ache as though I suffereth an ague, and if I ever chance on the slippery-fingered soddish son of an ill-tempered whore who dropped that night-vessel in Fetter Lane, I will roundly thrash him to within an inch of his life, and perhaps a bit beyond. Since arrival in London I have learned the neatness of step and dexterity of motion needed to avoid the contents of the many vessels emptied into the street, but this is the first time there was need to dodge the container itself. Had I moved a trifle quicker this body of crockery in motion would have continued in motion. But my head doth ache. As soon as it is better I must think on this; there is the shade of an idea here."
Sir Isaac Newton, 1682

Harrison wrote this in 1965, when computers were no more than electronic abaci. Now, with 40 years more of history behind us, can anyone give me famous first words on such highlights as Turing Machines, APL, the Commodore Pet, the Cray, C++, the Millennium Bug, XP, or the Roomba robot vacuum cleaner?

As inspiration, here is a (genuine) report of the first connection established over the Internet; or, as it was back in 1969, the Arpanet:

We set up a telephone connection between us and the guys at SRI. We typed L and asked on the phone, "Do you see the L"? "Yes", came the reply. We typed O and asked "Do you see the O?". "Yes, we see the O". We typed G — and the system crashed.
Quoted in "Building Intranet Applications" by Lawrence Shafe.


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