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Eugene Jarecki was the guest on The Daily Show last night with Jon Stewart. Born in Connecticut in 1969, and a Princeton graduate, is a successful filmmaker with a string of compelling, award-winning movies. His latest is the prison and drug war documentary The House I Live In which is getting excellent reviews.

He and his brothers are now all filmmakers, all successful. His brother Andrew was CEO and co-founder of MovieFone and has done a number of interesting, notable films, and Nicholas, who was born in 1979, just recently came out with the Richard Gere financial thriller Arbitrage which also got very good reviews.

But in terms of PLATO history, what's interesting is that the Jarecki family (the father is the psychologist and successful commodities investor Dr. Henry Jarecki) was one of the only families in the entire world to have a private PLATO terminal in their home during the early to mid-1970s. That made Eugene was one of the first kids in the world to grow up online in the sense we mean it today: in addition to access to countless hours of online courseware (he loved the Sentences lesson), he also had access to the notesfiles, chat rooms, instant messaging, and addictive multiplayer games, not to mention having the experience commonplace today of every day (if not every minute) something new, exciting, and distracting happening online. He got an early, and heavy, dose of what was coming decades later.

Even years later, Jarecki vividly remembered playing games on PLATO. "The addiction never goes away," Eugene told me in a 2003 interview for the book. "So I would always be happy to play Empire."

He was particularly fond of the orange glow that emanated from his family's PLATO terminal's flat-panel display. "The thing with the orange glow," he told me, "is it remains to this day the most pleasing color palette I've seen, that sort of weird cloudy screen? It's like dark, you honestly felt that behind that screen that there was miles of space." He's not the only one who felt that way.

Dr. Larry Weber, who worked on the PLATO plasma panel project at CERL back in the day, and who participated in the hardware session at the PLATO @ 50 conference (watch the video here), was one of thirteen individuals inducted into the Consumer Electronics Association's CE Hall of Fame 2010 class. Dr. Bitzer and Dr. Slottow, co-inventors of the plasma panel display, were already inducted into the CE Hall of Fame in 2006.

Congrats Larry!

For more on the story, here's a link to the CEA's own blog post.

The September 2010 issue of Illinois Alumni magazine, the official publication of the University of Illinois Alumni Assocation, has an article about the history of PLATO entitled In The Time Of PLATO: How Students at Illinois Created Today's Computer Technology 50 Years Ago by Mary Timmins.

Mentioned in the article are Dan Alpert, Don Bitzer, Roger Johnson, Ray Ozzie, C.K. Gunsalus, Lippold Haken, and Paul Tenczar.

Is nothing sacred? Apparently not, when it comes to names of people, places, and things from the PLATO era. Last year was the year that "Avatar" was wrenched from the clutches of PLATO gaming legend to become the biggest movie in history. And now, I find that not even Bruce Parrello's famous screen name, Red Sweater, is safe. No, there's a software company with that name:

Red Sweater

I contacted the folks at Red Sweater, and they say they've never heard of PLATO let alone poor Mr. Parrello. And so it goes, another PLATO name gobbled up by the present day...

One mystery I've never been able to solve is: who went, in May 1974, to the Little Theatre in Sullivan, Illinois, where Leonard Nimoy -- Spock himself -- was starring in a regional stage performance of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest? I ask, because whoever it was who went down there, apparently went backstage, met Nimoy, and invited him up to the University of Illinois for a visit. And, what do you know, Nimoy agreed. And next thing you know, he is touring CERL.

Were you the person who invited Nimoy? Or, were you there the day he visited CERL? If I've not already interviewed you about this, please get in touch. I'd really like to get this story straight. Thanks!

The PLATO: A Culture of Innovation panel from the PLATO@50 conference, June 3, 2010. Featuring Don Bitzer, David Frankel, Tina Gunsalus, and Bob Price. Moderated by Bob Sutton. About 80 minutes long.

Stumbled on this oldie from the early 1970s. Written by Mike Carroll ("Hob"), Mike Folk ("Starry"), and Tom Stieglitz ("Condor"):

Twas the week before finals,
And on every term
The gamers were playing, making everyone squirm
The Cyber was clicking, the disks were a-spin
And the people in moonwar were trying to win
S-3's on remotes were blinking and flashing
(Every 5 minutes the system was crashing)
A new version here, and a new version there
Was enough to make even John Eisenberg swear
The Baron was BLEEPING at the raunched Comptech2
And Fuller was missing his space: fr2
Pad was in shambles, thanks to aero of glass
And everyone's heading for talko, en masse.
Poor John Daleske (as empire dies)
Is tearing his hair: tears in his eyes.
Meanwhile Pete Rowell and his friend Al McNeil
Are busily trying to make Nova look real
With cookies we authors, try Frankel to please
And Rick Blomme's beard is down to his knees.
He's being attacked, he's getting quite mad
But he's still the best friend the games ever had.
Then what to my wondering eyes should appear
But a sorrowful Sweater and a can of ROOT BEER.
"I'm hooked on my Fanta, I've given up hope...
The withdrawal is bad, like being on dope."
The author of pad, gandy, et al.
Will hopefully be back on the system next fall
(PLUG PLUG PLUG PLUG)
For those that we've missed (we know quite a few)
Check back in a month, when we write version 2.
Hob, Condor, Starry: We all need a rest.
We know this is poor, but we did do our best.

Novelist Richard Powers, a professor of English at the University of Illinois, has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Powers, a MacArthur Award winner and winner of the National Book Award for Fiction in 2006, used the PLATO system in the 1970s at the University of Illinois when he was a student there. He told me once that he'd never have become the novelist he did if not for the profound eye-opening experience he had by being exposed to PLATO.

From the University of Illinois news release linked above: "Election to the Academy, based in New York, is considered the highest formal recognition of artistic merit in the U.S. Members are elected to the academy for life, and the roster of past academicians includes literary giants such as John Cheever, Sinclair Lewis, Carl Sandburg, and Edith Wharton. Current members of the academy's department of literature include E.L. Doctorow, John Irving, Joyce Carol Oates, Gore Vidal, and Elie Wiesel."

If you haven't read any of Richard's novels, I would suggest starting with Galatea 2.2 or Plowing the Dark as they both have interesting PLATO DNA in them.

The event's one PLATO history session, featuring Don Bitzer, Lippold Haken, and Peter Braunfeld, starts around then. The embedded video window below should activate around 8:45am Central Time on Thurs, April 15, 2010:

For more info on the conference please see http://50years.lis.illinois.edu/.

UPDATE 6/24/2010 --- I've updated the video to be the archived video since this is no longer streaming live obviously :-)

The University of Illinois Archives has this contact sheet in its collection, by some unknown photographer, of an unknown PLATO person using a PLATO IV terminal, probably in the CERL building in the early 1970s.

unknown PLATO user

Anyone, especially former CERL staff, know who this is? If you can help me out, please post a reply below. Thanks!

 

Learn more about the upcoming book:

The Friendly Orange Glow: The Story of the PLATO System and the Dawn of Cyberculture, by Brian Dear

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