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Triumph of the Nerds

Triumph of the Nerds
This is an incredible PBS documentary on the beginnings of the computer industry, with special emphasis on Apple and Microsoft. It is hosted by the infamous Robert X. Cringely who’s been documenting and gossiping about computers and technology for decades.

The series consists of three shows: Impressing Their Friends, Riding the Bear, and Great Artists Steal. All shows are on a single disc. The shows originally aired on PBS TV, so they are around 1 hour each.

Triumph of the Nerds is based upon the book Accidental Empires, also by Cringely.

In the shows, Cringely gives an entertaining documentary of the history of the personal computer and interviews many of the key players along the way. He chats with Ed Roberts, the founder of MITS who produced the very first commercially available computer kit, the Altair 8800. He also spends some time Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, Paul Allen, and Larry Ellison — just some “small” names in the computer world. There are short clips with one of the original Xeros PARC members who worked on the first GUI for the Alto, and much more.

The shows are extremely entertaining, assuming, of course, that you are into this kind of thing. The shows move quickly, Cringely has an energetic, varying delivery of the narration, and the story very well done to cover a lot of time in a few short shows. There are many cool and informative tidbits throughout the shows, including one from Cringely himself. He has the distinction of being one of the first employees at Apple and being offered stock instead of pay when the company was in its rocky infancy. He didn’t think it was worth it and turned it down. That decision was only worth a few tens-of-millions of dollars. He says his mother still reminds him of that to this day.

There was a follow-on to Triump of the Nerds called Nerds 2.01. Nerds 2.01 focused on the (then) modern-day life of dot-com startups. I found 2.01 to be extremely interesting as well, however, it’s was only available on primitive VHS tapes and I have not had a VCR hooked-up in probably 3+ years (love that Tivo!) so I don’t own 2.01. Also, TNT made a drama loosely based upon the history described in Triumph called Pirates of Silicon Valley (DVD) which is not so factual but also very enjoyable.

I get these shows out at least once a year and re-watch them. They help me to rekindle my entrepreneurial interests and get me interested in doing things outside of holding a normal job. I highly recommend Triumph of the Nerds (DVD) if you have any interest in computer history at all. Of course, the book Accidental Empires makes a wonderful companion to the movie.

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