100 All-Time Computer Greats - Part 1 from issue 33

Mel Croucher’s historic encyclopaedia of the people and events that changed the world of computing. Cartoons by Robin Evans.


PREHISTORIC MAN (homo neanderthalis Alansugarum). Scholars and historians still insist that the world’s first astral computer was Stonehenge. This is not true. Recent analysis of Stone Age cave paintings reveal that long ago visitors from outer space landed on Salisbury Plain to attend the Midsummer Free Festival. Due to an error in the space-time continuum they arrived several thousand years too early, and their giant spacecraft was left parked at what is now known as Stonehenge. This was not a place of primitive worship, but a Druid’s car park, and the great stones that we see today are nothing more than a very big wheel clamp.

Men killing animal


KING TUTENKHAMEN. The ancient Egyptians attempted to build portable computers near Thebes, because of the abundance of silicon in the sand and to get one over on the Israelites. Hieroglyphics prove they worshipped the same computerised characters that we can recognise today, including cruddy little two-inch talistick-men supposed to represent real people. Tutenkhamen’s lap-tops were not a commercial success due to the fact that his Pyramids, as they were called, took 3,000 slaves and a herd of elephants to shift them.


NOAH. The first real computer programmer was the Lord God Almighty, who invented the binary system. One of His most promising pupils was an Israelite named Noah, whom He instructed to build a double-density data storage system called ‘The Ark’, and to fill its memory banks with binary animals, two by two. Due to some very poor research, Noah flooded the market. And these are the programs of Noah: and Noah begat a son whose dame was Pingpong, and Pingpong begat Invader, and Invader begat Pacman and Pacman begat Frogger, and Frogger begat Donkeykong, and Donkeykong begat Ninja and Ninja went forth and multiplied until the face of the Earth was covered with bleeding Ninjas and there was a wailing and gnashing of teeth. And lo, and even lower, these are the generations of Noah.

Noah and boat


PLATO. The height of the Greek civilisation was achieved with the invention of computerised take-away meals. The Plate-of-kebabs-man, better known as Plato, constructed a small wooden frame in which he fitted a series of metal skewers to hold the cubes of kebab meat, bits of onion and slices of green peppers. He devised an automatic stock control system and cash register, whereby the remaining kebabs were shunted from one end of their rods to the other in strict mathematical order. This machine became known as the ‘abacus’ because of its inventor’s disgusting habit of asking for a kiss with his mouth full.


ARCHIMEDES. Everyone remembers Archimedes for his famous screw. This consisted of flogging overpriced products named after his nuts. These ‘Acorns’ were adopted by the Bureaucratic Blather Council of Greece, or BBC, in favour of the cheaper more powerful Sinclariums. The name of Archimedes lives on today, but the great empire of the BBC was swept away by barbarians led by the goddess Maria Whittakallmeclothesoff.


CLAVIUS SINCLARIUM. After the Roman Empire conquered the world (excepting certain parts of Ludlow, where civilisation never happened), they had to think up a new way of counting all of their possessions. Up to this period of history they used an idiotic combination of letters like I,V,X,D,L and M to represent numbers, which was totally useless when it came to reading out the football results, and downright insulting when the Emperor Clirnacticus was described as having achieved the age of DIX. So they asked their wisest and shortest sage, Clavius Sinclariurn, to invent a more civilised system. Sinclarium hit on the idea of the digital computer, in other words he invented counting on your fingers. At a stroke, mathematics, philosophy and the glove industry was transformed throughout the known world (excepting Ludlow, etc) Sinclarium’s miniaturised gloves used the ‘decimal’ system, which was coded in a language known as ‘Basic’. Various combinations of fingers represented the following Basic codes: one extended thumb indicated ‘can I have a lift on your chariot mate’, one finger meant ‘I am doing something private to my nostrils, two fingers translated as ‘please go away’, three fingers stood for ‘bless you everyone, my name is the Pope’, four fingers was ‘thizmuch whiskyan jusalill dropof warrer’, and four fingers plus one thumb could mean either ‘how do you do’ or’lend us a quid’ or ’hi there, I’m Benito Mussolini and this is my salute.’ Sinclarium was made a Senator for his achievements, and he was never heard of again.

Clavius Sinclarium


SAINT PAUL. Evidence of computerised junk mail has been dated from as early as 86 AD. Fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls have recently been translated as primitive attempts at direct-marketing mail drops, word processed using the Apostle System known as ‘Saint Paul’. A typical example reads, ‘DEAR CORINTHIANS of 42B Zealot Avenue, you have been specially selected to take part in our great new special offer of instant salvation, with a First Prize of an all expenses paid eternity in the fabulous holiday resort of Heaven. Don’t delay, CORINTHIANS, just send back the enclosed coupon, and one of our representatives will call round with a free introductory baptism. Or call FREEPRAY 0800 800, and hear a specially recorded platitude.’


ETHELRED THE UNREADY. With the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, hordes of vandals invaded the shores of Ancient Britain, looting, raping and pillaging, thereby inventing Club 18-30 holidays. Several British chieftains tried to combat the invaders by shutting the pubs early, and the celebrated King Arthur used an Ancient British Telecom Merlin system to ruin their communications, but it was Ethelred the Unready who finally defeated the enemy by announcing that all-format versions of Star Trek would be available by Christmas 987 AD. The vandals died laughing.


VLAD THE IMPALER. In the Balkans, much progress was made in computer design, especially in the area of integrated circuit design, ergonomic keyboards, logical positivism and axiomatic propositional calculus. All that was missing was a supply of nine and a half volts of direct current. VIad the Impaler organised an elaborate system of power generation using treadmills, powered by several thousand units of slave labour. Unfortunately VIad remembered that he was a vandal, and looted, raped and pillaged everyone in sight before anyone had time to plug in the power unit. The harnessing of electricity was thereby delayed for several centuries, and the Dark Ages began.


RICHARD THE LIONHEART. Meanwhile back in England, the peasants were revolting and software consisted of hair shirts. In the absence of the Falklands, privatisation of the Black Death or delivery of Star Trek by the year 1187, Richard the Lionheart decided to invent the Crusades. It seems that the sons of Allah had gotten way ahead in digital computers, and their salesmen had already monopolised the Holy Land, half of Spain and certain parts of Ludlow, so huge armies were raised, lowered and catapulted across the Channel towards Jerusalem. The first Crusade was a disaster, with the hapless Christians armed only with Sinclarium Basic, whereas the Arabs were equipped with the latest Machine Code versions of the abacus. This was due to the severe punishments doled out under Islamic law for the crimes of using Basic and looking up men’s skirts. The former resulted in the cutting off of one hand, the latter resulted in the plucking out of one eye. Never a culture to waste its resources, the Arabs had the most advanced computers in the world consisting of serial interfaces of severed hands and skewered eyes. Thus was the video digitiser invented.

Arab with abacus of eyes and hands


BLONDIN. Who has not marvelled at the faithful minstrel Blondin, wandering hither and thither, high and low or unable to score at all, in search of his master Richard the Lionheart? But how many people are aware that he made his fabled journey of loyalty all the way from Wapping to Constantinople on a bicycle. It was during this agonising trip (the pneumatic tyre and the bicycle saddle were not invented until the nineteenth century) that Blondin learned from the simple inhabitants of the Kingdom of Anorexia something that we all take for granted today. This revela tion was that the first ever computer used by mankind, womankind, and people like Bonnie Langford was the Moon! How obvious it seems in hindsight. But it was not until Blondin the cycling minstrel brought the news back to the Western world that we understood the vital importance of the Moon’s 29-day monthly phase; the reason that there is a rush for razor blades once a month when werewolves need to shave their palms, the careful timing of when your paycheques fail to equal the amount demanded by Access, and the irritability of fertile wornen. This phenomenon is now known as the Minstrel Cycle.


GALILLEO. The news of the Moon being the only working computer available in Christendom was rushed to the Vatican, and the Holy Father got his top scientists on the job. The Bishop of Ireland decreed that his flock must get to the moon in order to decode it, but they ran out of scaffolding. The King Of France harnessed several million frogs, together, but failed in his attempt to jump aboard the spacecraft. Thus it was left to a local boff in named Galilleo to bring the Moon to Earth. He managed this by inventing the telescope, and was able to copy out all of the coded program that was visible. The computer press raved about this incredible achievement, and from that day to this, everyone involved with computer programming has been officially recognised as a raving loony.


WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE. Britain can be rightly proud of William Shakespeare, who wrote most of his limericks using the first ever word processor. This was a mature male goat, of Spanish extraction, named Loco-script, which roughly translated means ‘my freelance writers are insane.’ Shakespeare would sit at his roughly-hewn escritoire, placing the goat’s hindquarters near his face, having first ensured that the goat had access to a great pile of dictionaries, manuscripts and newspapers of the day. Loco-script would then eat the words and process them via its Ram-pack. All Shakespeare had to do was to rear range the droppings into well known phrases, sayings, poems and plays. Many of these classics are recognised as the world’s greatest ever word-processed drama, and we tend to forget some of the original titles such as Two Gentlemen Of Angora, The Taming Of The Goat, Ram And Juliet, The Merry Nannies Of Windsor, and A Midsummer Night’s Butt.

William Shakespeare with goat


SIR ISAAC NEWTON. The famous physicist and mathematician Isaac Newton was sitting under a tree one Tuesday evening in 1697, waiting for gravity to be invented. Up until this time there was no such thing as gravity, and nobody took a blind bit of notice if piles of fruit suddenly floated off into space, or the family cat went for a walk on the ceiling. The story of an Apple computer falling on Newton’s head is well documented, but he found it totally useless because of the QWERTY keyboard. In 1697 people still thought the alphabet ran ABCDEF.


DR EDWARD JENNER. The great leap forward to digital computing took place in the Eighteenth Century, while Jenner was seeking a cure for smallpox. He was sitting under a cow doing Isaac Newton imitations and idly calculating on a primitive rubber glove when he ran out of fingers to count on. With a flash of genius, Jenner began counting on the cow’s udder. Thus was add-on memory invented.


THOMAS EDISON. Exactly one hundred years ago, in 1872, Thomas Alvar Edison was hailed as the Electric Lights Wizard. This annoyed Mrs Edison very much, especially when computer journalists came up and started flicking her about the chest, under the impression that she was the Electric Lights Witch. (this joke is the copyright of Robin Evans, but what the hell: he’s getting paid for the cartoons). Tuesday evening, after tea and compulsory prayers, Thomas called Mrs Edison into his laboratory to witness the first practical demonstration of his electrical modem. What a moment that must have been. Edison, nervous, sweating, chopped herring and last night’s cocaine all down his waistcoat, picking up that light bulb, connecting the red cable to the positive terminal of his accumulator the black cable to the negative terminal of his accumulator, throwing the little lever marked ‘lever’ and closing his eyes in anticipation. Then he raises the light bulb to his ear and says, ‘Hello?’

Edison with lamp phone


IGOR STRAVINSKY. At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, the great Russian composer Stravinsky wrote the first computer musical comedy. He called it The Firebird and by the 1980s Firebird had evolved from comedy to farce. As electronic synthesizers were somewhat primitive in 1913, Stravinsky used clockwork, driven by a series of right-handed springs. His famous Right Of Spring caused a sensation, not equalled since Richard Wagner wrote the Ring Cycle, which as we all know was a forerunner of the bike bell on the Sinclair C5.


ALBERT EINSTEIN. Probably the greatest thinker of modern times, Albert Einstein cracked the greatest computing problem ever with his simple equation E=MC2. (Editorial control is only half as effective as Mel Croucher’s lunchtime drinking.) Today, one of the world’s finest micros is named after him, although why anyone would want to call a computer ‘Albert’ beats me.


WALT DISNEY. In 1929, the first ever software house was founded by the American entrepeneur Walt Disney, when he created his ‘Mickey Mouse Outfit’. This underaged, ingenuous, squeaky little rodent was to become the model for all future successful software houses, the names Automata, CRL and Code Masters spring to mind, and we can be assured that the Mickey Mouse Outfit will never die.

Mickey Mouse


BENITO MUSSOLINI. One of the earliest Mickey Mouse Outfits was Mussolini's Fascist party, which took control of Italy. Mussolini, who was known as Duce, which is Italian for ‘what a sweetie’, wanted to get back to the great days of computing in the Roman Empire, and was a follower of the Sinclarium digital system. Due to a typographi cal error, he failed to invent the digital computer, but suc ceeded in perfecting the digital commuter by getting the trains to run on time.


SIR ALEXANDER FLEMING. Those were dark days in Britain. The General Strike, the Great Depression, looming War in Europe, the birth of Benny Hill, and the terrible smogs and flu epidemics that decimated our population. On the computing front, the only bright spot on the horizon was the discovery of a fungus growing on a slice of Hovis, by Sir Alexander Fleming, the Scottish principal accordion player with the Jimmi Shand Experience. Hedging his bets between Adolf Hitler’s Nazis and Joe Stalin’s Communists, he recorded Heil Joein l939 on the same day that he found a use for his new wonderdrug. While playing a gig at The Old Vic, Sir Alexander Fleming realised that if you shoved 20 grammes of his invention up your nose, it would cure influenza by killing the user with frustration. That is why he called it the VIC-20. Today menthol addicts can still pur chase the stuff in disgusting phallic containers, under the brand name ‘Vic’, conclusively proving that Sinolarium Basic and nose picking are still one of the same thing. You have been warned.


NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN. In 1938, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Neville Chamberlain, flew to Munich to sign a peace treaty with the German strategy games wholesaler Adolf Hitler. Chamberlain was a bit of an old stick-in-the mud, and he refused to use a modern calculator to work out the deal, preferring to rely on his abacus. The treaty was a disaster, mainly because his abacus was made out of two short planks, several crossed wires and a load of balls.


WILLIAM RANDOLPH HEARST. It is not generally known that it was the American newspaper tycoon William Ran dolph Hearst who first came up with the idea of leisure software. In 1939 he opened the first Playboy Club for retired Naval Officers. Much interfacing took place, and the most famous Playboy Bunny became notorious as the Commodore Pet.

Playboy Bunny


PEARL HARBOUR. During the 1940s heyday of Hollywood, all American leading ladies were played by robots in blonde wigs, in memory of the computing pioneer Blon din. This is why they always smiled but never took their clothes off. In 1942 the Japanese infiltrated the American robot cinema industry by creating their own leading lady, Pearl Harbour, who went down a bomb. Lulling the world in a false sense of security by losing World War II, the Japanese successfully invaded the planet (except certain parts of Ludlow), and today miniature Third Generation spy robots are in every household, going by the name of Bar bie, Cindy and My Little Pony.

Well folks, it is Christmas after all, and Julian only gave me a week’s notice to try and entertain you. The men and women who developed computing have all been half way round the bend, somewhere between creative genius and the toilet bowl. I should know, as Computing Great Numbers TWENTY-SIX to ONE HUNDRED will prove that I invented entertainment software single handed. Until then, I will leave you with Number Twenty-five, the Inventor of the Digital Computer. Your only problem is that it reads like fiction. Happy Christmas everyone, and a peaceful New Year.


ALAN TURING. The digital computer was invented in 1949, by an Englishman named Alan Turing, who was working at Manchester University. Turing was a genius. In 1944 he cracked the Nazi’s Enigma Code, which led to the Allied victory over Hitler’s forces, and for that alone he should have become a hero. This was not to be. In Peter Wright’s notorious Spy Catcher, Turing’s career is spot lighted, with emphasis on his friendship with anti-fascists, and homosexuals like Sir Anthony Blunt, as well as his work with Alistair Watson, who was head of one of the most secret and vital sections of the entire NATO defence set up. But he has been scrubbed from the history books for being a ‘convicted homosexual’. Evidence of his ‘crime’ was found when the British Secret Police burgled his home, and Turing was carted off for a ‘cure’ with hormone treatment. After a year or so, his spirit had been broken and he had begun to grow breasts. Alan Turing committed suicide in 1954, he was 42 years old.

This feature was typed in/OCRed by Iain

100 All-Time Computer Greats - Part 2