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A Book Recommendation for Bill Gates: The Story of PLATO 59

Long-time Slashdot reader theodp writes: This holiday season, many Slashdot readers are likely to find gifts under the tree because of Bill Gates' book picks. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it seems that turnabout is fair play -- what book recommendations do you have for Bill?

At the top of my pick list for personalized learning advocate Gates would be Brian Dear's remarkable The Friendly Orange Glow: The Untold Story of the PLATO System and the Dawn of Cyberculture, with its tale of how a group of visionary engineers and designers -- some of them only high school students -- created a shockingly little-known computer system called PLATO in the late 1960s and 1970s that was decades ahead of its time in experimenting with how people could learn, engage, communicate, and play through connected terminals and computers. After all, "we can't move forward," as Audrey Watters argued in The Hidden History of Ed-Tech, "til we reconcile where we've been before."
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A Book Recommendation for Bill Gates: The Story of PLATO

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  • How about "The Kids Took my Job"? Great book!
  • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Sunday December 17, 2017 @08:42PM (#55758193) Journal
    I love looking at old-style keyboards [wikipedia.org]. They have so much variety and uniqueness, before the monoculture that we have now took over. (I'm not interested in superiority or inferiority, just the artistry that went into the different keyboards. Core memory is just as great).
    • Core memory is just as great.

      Sometimes it wasn't so great. Our entire PLATO installation was down for about a week after a storm that caused electrical power surges which somehow fried the decades-old core memory in the mainframe (although one would think that stuff would be resistant to getting zapped). Apparently, the memory in question was no longer readily available.

      It is kind of amazing that the system supported about 400 interactive users on graphics terminals, all simultaneously sharing a single processor with compute power that

      • by zaft ( 597194 )
        While it's true the CDC processors weren't that powerful, they were designed for a lot of I/O throughput so it's not a good comparison.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'd recommend A Troublesome Inheritance by Nicholas Wade. [amazon.com]

    Maybe then he'd stop wasting his money on doing things that can't be done, and spend his money on something sensible such as spaceflight, like Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos.

  • Inadequate Equilibria is a (freely available) online book about how and why our civilization succeeds at some things, such as predicting the future value of Microsoft stock, and fails at others, such as determining the optimal diet to remain healthy. It's one of the most interesting books I've ever read.

  • That and much, much more in Ted Nelson's Computer Lib/Dream Machines.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Bill Gates' first question:

    "How can I make money off it?"


  • by oldgraybeard ( 2939809 ) on Sunday December 17, 2017 @09:58PM (#55758435)
    I worked for Control Data in the early 80's. While browsing through equipment in their Corporate Recovery Department with a friend of mine we came across several Plato Terminals (think is was 3-4) and we purchased them. We wanted to experiment with them, they were really ahead of their time.

    Got them home and found out they had pulled all the display cards out. Otherwise they were complete. But Control Data kept any information and the cards themselves in-house. We were never able to do anything with them or get a hold of any display cards/information ;) a real bummer.
  • by careysub ( 976506 ) on Sunday December 17, 2017 @10:08PM (#55758467)

    Ah PLATO - a system I knew about back in the day, and which we actually had some terminals for on campus (down in the medical research center on campus) and which I spent most of an academic year trying to find someway to gain access, unsuccessfully! I had the endorsement of a couple of professors, and a upper division research course to provide justification, but - nope, no way to do it. They were installed as part of grant program to the medical center, and although no one was even using them I couldn't even see the terminals, much less touch or use them.

    • by fermion ( 181285 )
      There was a Plato in High School, though I don't know if I ever used it. We had actual computers, Apple and DEC, that we could actually code on and that is what most of us did. I probably was assigned work on Plato, but it recall it being boring.

      I think what we can learn from the past is that simply that motivated students are going to learn anywhere, and less motivated students are not going to be more engaged just because throw new technology at them. I am a practical person so I learn when I solve p

      • Lowering the price of education through the use of computers is a good thing. It doesn't only have to mean we can have more students per teacher, but it can also mean we can make learning material available to people who don't have it. Students in developing countries are teaching themselves all manner of skills, where before they didn't have access to a teacher let alone the right books. And its not basic education (many of them do have that), but advanced subjects and vocational training.

        Reaching th
    • Access to terminal was the major hurdle these days, very true. The queue books, the limits "one hour per session", people hanging over your shoulder, counting minutes till your turn, and, finally, the green glimmer on your screen.

  • Wired article (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mfnickster ( 182520 ) on Sunday December 17, 2017 @10:21PM (#55758509)

    I got to play with a Plato terminal on a college campus around 1979 or so, it was really cool. Way beyond anything the standard campus terminals could do.

    Years later I stumbled across this article:
    https://www.wired.com/1997/03/platofest-to-celebrate-first-online-community/ [wired.com]

    I didn't recall the name Brian Dear, but he was interviewed:

    “I was given a tour of the Chemistry Learning Center today, to a room where there had been PLATO terminals,” Dear continues. “The cable for the terminals was literally hanging from the wall, the terminals have been replaced by IBM PCs, and the students were using the Web. With PLATO, if you asked a question, you got an answer back in less than a second. If you ask a question on the Web, it can take as long as 15 or 20 seconds to get your answer, while the Net clunks away. The students were falling asleep. I asked myself, ‘Is this progress?’”

    • On the web, everyone can be a student, but they also get to be an author or even a teacher if they want. And many people do. In those 15 or 20 seconds, I can find information on programming Arduinos, basic car maintenance, language courses, carpentry, machine learning, keeping an aquarium, astronomy, and first aid for cats. And much of that material has been put there by enthusiasts with no other motivation than a desire to teach. That's real progress. Plato was a remarkable system and ahead of its tim
      • Yeah, I get the essence of his complaint. Progress should mean better results, faster.

        Two caveats might apply to that anecdote, though... one being the increase in availability of broadband after 1997, and the other being sheer number of users trying to access the same resources. I'm sure part of the reason Plato was fast was because it had relatively few users.

  • I had an author signon in the University of Maine group (mainei) which I lost when I annoyed many participants in the =events Notes forum. They were angered by my expressing Conservative views, and caused much trouble. Annoying sysops can lead to entire systems being deleted. I surrendered.

    But I played a lot Avatar, lots. Among other things, Avatar had an in-game chat system most useful for players to organize and accomplish what they could not alone. But it was multipurpose.

    I found that my afternoon sessio

  • A preparation for road ahead.
  • ""640K ought to be enough for anybody"
  • "I should have done it earlier. It's so nice to crawl into the chair with the tablet/hardcopy and just go through it".

    First paragraph.

    "Hmm.... Is that true? Let me Google this up.... "

    and we are done. I know, I have an attention span of the teenager.

  • When I graduated from UMass/Amherst, we had just installed a new-to-us (we got a good deal on someone else's upgrade) CDC Cyber-74. We had no PLATO terminals, but the CDC people were milking it for all the advertising value they could get out of it. I worked in the Computing Center, and took the required assembly language programming course on that monster. 60-bit word and hardware floating point was a Big Deal.

    Why, yes, I *am* an antique technology junkie. Took a programming (wiring) class on the IBM 402

  • I was a PLATO author and user in the mid-80s, starting at the University of Arizona. I worked on physics lessons. Tutor was a pretty straightforward language and pretty powerful, really. We did not have the kinds of tools programmers expect to have now - not even a real version control system. Still, we accomplished quite a lot. And yes, the chat and notesfile functions were easy to use and powerful (and popular).
  • First, I remember my father working on PLATO during the mid and late 70's, working with PDP's at University of Calgary, when I was a teenager. Of course my priorities then were playing Collosal Cave and Hammurabi on the PDP via teletype.

    Back to the original post, I am certain that Bill Gates, and Steve's Job and Wozniak, were both intimately familiar with the PLATO system. In another great book about the era, "Dealers in Lightning" about the team at XEROX Parc, in Palo Alto, "Early in 1972, researchers

Stinginess with privileges is kindness in disguise. -- Guide to VAX/VMS Security, Sep. 1984