Monday, January 23, 2012

Before the Flux Capacitor

In a post a few days back, AVI mentioned The WayBackMachine on the site.  This is great to play with as you punch in any known URL and the WayBackMachine will show you the archival records for the years that website has been operational (150 billion pages stored).  In most cases you can call up the date/version that you want to view (formatting and links may not work, but you can view content).  I worked for a small firm for about 9 years and looked up their very first site from 1996, some 6 years before I joined.  Interesting stuff - and seemed pretty primitive in comparison to the company’s site today.

Of course many forms of literature, movies and the like have mused on time travel.  One of my favorites from my kiddie days was the Peabody’s Improbable History segment on the 1960s Rocky and Bullwinkle Show cartoon series.  Mr. Peabody was a talking dog – round black specs, highbrow demeanor, and clearly intelligent and always accompanied by “his boy” Sherman – an impish kid also sporting round black specs (get it, a dog-and-his-boy?).  They used Peabody’s home-constructed WABAC machine to revisit historic events or figures (Christopher Columbus the Wright Brothers, etc.).  Each episode we hear Peabody instruct, “Sherman, set the WABAC machine to…” and off we’d go.

It’s interesting to me now that Peabody’s time machine wasn’t a Way-Back machine but a WABAC Machine (but pronounced “way-back” of course). The acronym apparently did not have any sensical meaning, but according to one of the show’s directors it was named because of the popular and futuristic sounding UNIVAC computer, the U.S.’s first commercial computer that came out 1951. High-tech names of that Cold-War era often ended in "AC", such as ENIAC, EDVAC, MANIAC, and JOHNNIAC, and it usually stood for “automatic computer.”

In Steven Spielberg’s first Back to the Future offering (1985), he throws homage to the 1960s cartoon classic that is easy to miss.  When Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly goes back to 1955 in the Delorean and crashes into a rural barn, the rural residents assume he’s a space alien, not an innocent time traveler, and try to blast him with a shotgun.  Marty escapes, of course, but the protectors of Civilization are Old Man Peabody and his son, Sherman Peabody.

1 comment:

Assistant Village Idiot said...

For some reason, I always thought those AC's were Analog Computer. Which they likely were, but I don't think the term was preferred then, as we didn't have digital to contrast with it.

Each episode of Peabody and Sherman ended with a horrible elaborate pun by the dog, such as Surely Sherman, you've heard of chicken catch-a-Tory?