Culture & Criticism Since 2003
Several years ago, a popular text file making its way around the BBSes (small, private computer networks) was a list of fake basic assembly-code instructions that resided in the BIOS of every computer. The list supposedly provided an explanation for every eccentricity and failing of the often-unreliable boxes. The best-known one was “Halt and catch fire.”
Twenty years later, it’s the title of a new series airing on AMC, and it does for the computer industry what “Mad Men” did for advertising, or “Breaking Bad” did for meth producers.
The series features Lee Pace as sleek, personable sociopath Joe MacMillan, a man willing to gamble with the lives of perfect strangers and break laws considered inviolate to his industry. His opening scene is probably best described as “armadillo armageddon.” Scoot McNairy plays a capable, but depressed and frustrated computer genius, while Mackenzie Davis is Cameron Howe- the brilliant wild girl/computer nerd. In sum, acting, writing and direction all show good standards, with a fair bit of wit and savvy.
As background, Christopher Cantwell’s series deals with a seminal event in early personal computing history: the breaking of the IBM copyright of their computer. In reality, this occurred in 1982, when Columbia Data Products introduced the first PC clone, the MPC (Multi Personal Computer) 1600 for $3,000, which was about 40% of the cost of the IBM-PC. This successful breaking of the IBM copyright made the 4.77 MHz 8088 16 bit register architecture nearly universal. And for better or for worse, it most certainly ensured that home computers would be common-place by the 1990s.
Sundays at 10pm (9 central) on AMC.
Zepp Jamieson was born in Ottawa, Ontario, and spent his formative years living in various parts of Canada, the UK, South Africa and Australia before finally moving to the United States, where he has lived for over 40 years. Aside from writing, his interests include hiking, raising dogs and cats, and making computers jump through hoops. His wife of 25 years edits his copy, and bravely attempts to make him sound coherent. Reach him through The Electric Review.