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WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE
What's wrong with this cereal box?
Below is the back of a cereal box purchased in September 2002. It is Food Club Corn Puffs cereal, made by Topco Associates, a maker of generic foods.
It contains a great deal of misinformation. Sure, kids don't get their entire education from cereal boxes, but they do read them. My seven-year-old was happy to believe this dreck. He happily read these "facts" to me. Don't worry, I set him straight.
I also found a link to this cereal box on the Computer Museum of America's web site, who said it was under the Springfield brand. They only complained about the misnomer on Lady Lovelace. I see a great number of problems on this box. The text from the box is in quoted in bold, and my commentary below.
"COMPUTERS THROUGH THE AGES"
Ages? From 1830 to 2002 is "ages"? And what kind of imaginary circuit board is that?
"Next time you're waiting for the Internet to load up, think about these fun facts from the earlier days of computers."
Huh? The Internet "loads up"? I won't quibble about the odd cords coming off the back of the computer, including the lack of a power cord from the monitor.
"In the 1830s, English inventor Charles Babbage built one of the first programmable computers. Augusta Aga Byron, the Lady of Lovelace, was one of the first programmers."
It's Ada, not Aga. I won't haggle about whether the Difference Engine was one of the first programmable computers or whether that should go to his unbuilt Analytical Engine, or whether Babbage understood that it was programmable or had written a program or two himself. Augusta's reputation in history is somewhat secure although still debated. That's a lousy drawing of a Difference Engine, too.
"Before there were transistors, computers used vacuum tubes to relay data. The first large scale electronic computer, built in 1945, had 17,468 of these tubes. It was as big as a small house and it weighed 30 tons. Yet it had far less capacity than a typical desktop computer of today!"
Huh? "Relay data"? What does that mean? A wire can "relay data" in the sense of "relay" meaning "carry."
The Difference Engine existed before transistors, and it wasn't even electronic. I think they're talking about ENIAC. It had 1,500 relays, too.
And what's wrong with the picture? That's not a computer vacuum tube or even a radio tube, that's a light bulb with a single filament between two wires. For some reason, the base was drawn with at least three contacts on the bottom, three contacts that look more like the nubs on a light bulb than the pins on a vacuum tube.
And what's with the 18 reel-to-reel tape drives on the sides of the house? Those weren't part of ENIAC.
And a chimney? For a fire inside, or for ventilation?
"Rumor has it that a Swiss company developed LED technology but did not see any uses. They presented their information at a trade event to fill time after a presentation ran short. Several representatives from computing companies were on hand & they did have a few ideas. The results were LED calculators, watches, clocks, displays, signs & laptop computers."
"Rumor has it"? Are these facts or rumors we're learning over a bowl of corn puffs? I'm a computer trivia buff and I've never heard this story. If someone can point me to which company and event they're talking about, please do and I'll amend this page.
Maybe they meant to say LCD, not LED. If you Google, you'll find credit for the first LCDs on a site about the history of Swiss watches, saying "1972: The world’s first LCD (liquid-crystal) display, Ebauches SA."
So why would a company develop something if they hadn't seen any uses for it? Why present it at a trade show, even to kill time? This isn't a good impression of research and development (or marketing) to be feeding kids while they chew.
"Computing companies"? Are those companies that do computing, or those that build computers?
And I don't think it's a short hop from having an LED light source to having an LED calculator. Calculators existed with different numeric displays before LEDs, such as Nixie tubes. Clocks? They were digital before LEDs, too. Watches - perhaps the first digital used LEDs, but how long after LEDs were invented did they become numeric displays, and then watches? Displays and signs? Much later, when LEDs got cheap. Laptop computers? What on Earth do they have to do with LEDs? Flat panels, even plasma displays, are not LEDs. Are they talking about the LEDs on the the caps lock and num lock keys?
And look at the thought balloon over the head of the presumably Japanese trade show visitor on the left. Is that supposed to be a yen symbol? I'll refrain from making any jokes about whether Texans can understand or build computers. :-)
"Until a few years ago, floppy disks were encased in cardboard rather than plastic, so they were really floppy."
I've never seen a floppy encased in cardboard. The paper fibers would scratch the recording surface. I do remember flexible plastic floppies that were stored in paper or Tyvek open-topped envelopes. Even these flexible plastic 8" and 5 1/4" floppies I know were lined with nice, soft plastic fiber sheets.
Note that the 3 1/2" floppy has the diagonal corner notch drawn on the lower right, when in fact it should be on the left.
Why is the hard-shell 3 1/2" floppy telling the flexible plastic floppy to relax? Wouldn't it make more sense for the hang-loose floppy to tell the uptight, rigid floppy to relax? Or are they suggesting that the wiggling floppy is nervous?
Of course, the term "floppy" originally referred to the oxide-covered flexible disk inside the carrier, not the stiffness of the shell.
Who drew and wrote this stuff?
Bob Shannon points out that he has a very old Dicom 7 1/2" (not 8") dual floppy drive made by Memorex, and the floppies for it were indeed made of an plastic-impregnated cardboard composite material.
If you find something else wrong with this box, or would like to comment on what you see here, please write to me at . Perhaps I should expand this web page to include other poor portrayals of computers in print, fiction, television or the movies.
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