LSD and the birth of the PC


19 Responses to “LSD and the birth of the PC”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I read that book several years ago. It is a great book on the history of the personal computer. The counterculture stuff really doesn’t figure into the entire story until almost 3/4 of the way through the book. It was a good geek read.

    • cannibalpeas says:

      Yeah, he did a great job of avoiding salivating drug anecdotes and really focused on how a great number of people were influenced by the open-mindedness of that generation. I actually found his stories about Doug Engelbart’s visionary ideas most inspiring and frustrating at the same time. The difficulty these guys had in either communicating their complex visions or letting go of them enough to see real implementation is parallel to the type of dogma and calcification of thought that erupted from all facets of the counterculture. Markoff does an excellent job of seeing the full spectrum of thought generated in that era as more than just a by-product of drugs or revolutionary ideology. I highly recommend this read.

  2. kmoser says:

    Correlation does not equal causation. You might just as easily say that computers caused people to do drugs.

  3. Capissen says:

    I have this book, and it is a must-read for any geek. The original “augment” vision of networked computing is only now beginning to be partially realized.

  4. Roy Trumbull says:

    Writing code while blasted would yield a lot of loops and error codes. But, if you were stuck, it might unstick you after you settled back to earth.
    Without drugs, I once had a dream that flipped how I was looking at a problem and after that I filled pages with working diagrams that eventually became hardware.

  5. rastronomicals says:

    that’d be “dormouse”

  6. friendpuppy says:

    I’ve read “Dormouse”and it isn’t very spectacular. The links in the book between psychedelics and engineering seem pretty weak. “LSD:Storming Heaven” by Jay Stevens and “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” by Tom Wolfe have more spirited and even exciting anecdotes.

  7. querent says:

    Lets not forget Kary Mullis and the discovery of PCR.

    • millrick says:

      why would i forget a man who denies global warming or that HIV causes AIDS and believes in astrology and little green raccoons?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Steve Woz wasn’t much into drugs according to his bio, iWoz. And many of us early computer nerds were techies, ham radio operators or in the military, not hippies or druggies.

    • Phikus says:

      Woz woz not? I submit that “much” is a relative term. When I worked at Apple, there were many stories about the good ‘ol days with Woz, and most of those tales involved drugs.

  9. Megan says:

    For a minute I was concerned that the title made it through the entire publication process without being flagged for misspelling ‘dormouse.’

  10. arborman says:

    Sigh. Or more accurately, Yawn.

    This reminds me of that scene in ‘My big fat greek wedding’ when the father makes the case that every word – even kimono – is rooted in Greek.

    And we still hear, endlessly, that everything interesting is rooted in the fucking 60s counterculture that happened over 40 years ago. Yawn. So some hippies were involved, so what? I for one am sick to death of hearing about how special the frikkin 60s and the boomers are, given that they have done more than any generation in history to destroy the planet and bankrupt the world to serve their interests.

    Though some of the music is still good.

    But maybe I’m just grumpy tonight.

  11. Phikus says:

    Jerry Garcia was also one of the first people to try LSD in clinical tests in the early 60s. The internet as we know it would not exist if it weren’t for Deadheads BBS-ing setlists of Dead shows from the night before.

  12. Anonymous says:

    An interesting insight into how the the 60s counterculture influenced the ‘personal computer’ and some of the most important personal and social technology of today.

    However anyone with any experience of the IBM PC internals will testify that that particular technology was clearly designed by MEN IN SUITS.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Highly recommended on the same topic, fascinating read:

    From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism by Fred Turner (ISBN-10: 0226817423)

  14. jimkirk says:

    From an article ( by Dennis Wier about working on compiler for a language called “MARLAN” for the IBM 360…

    “At one point in the project I could not
    get an overall viewpoint for the operation
    of the entire system. It really was too much
    for my brain to keep all the subtle aspects
    and processing nuances clear so I could get
    a processing and design overview. After
    struggling with this problem for a few
    weeks, I decided to use a little acid to see if
    it would enable a breakthrough, because
    otherwise, I would not be able to complete
    the project and be certain of a consistent
    overall design. Overall design consistency
    was important to reduce program and
    design errors.”

    It worked.

  15. epo says:

    This is on the home page twice. Flashback?

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