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What year is it, anyway?

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By Paulina Borsook

April 23, 1999 | After writing about technology for magazines since 1983, I took three years off to work on a book. As a consequence, I no longer know anything about anything: Whatever understandings I had built up in 15-plus years of writing about computers had to have become obsolete -- after all, in an era of Web-weeks and epoch-changing accelerating technological change, who can possibly keep up with the shock of the new?

My friend Owen Thomas, who compiles the sly dissing-the-digerati Ditherati every day, often skewers people and issues I have never heard of. Ditherati is as topical as it can be, savaging choice bits that appeared that very day on the wire services or in places such as the Wall Street Journal. Owen is fond of telling me some benighted frame of reference I have is so 1995. It is? It was? How will I ever be able to catch up?

So I spent a day in the library reading computer trade magazines, to see how bad my predicament was. Just how much had things changed since I had last really looked at the whiz-bang, all-new all-the-time world of high tech?

I have turned the results of that day's research into a quiz for Salon Technology readers, who may also be wondering just how current their knowledge of computers and communications is. After all, your next investment decision may depend on it!

Instructions: Beside the description of each news story, each of which appeared in one of several reputable computer-trade publications, choose the letter a, b or c to indicate the year in which the story was published.

1) The Internet, "the world of @ signs on business cards and home pages ... for Coors Brewing Company," gets called "the most overhyped topic" of the year.
a) 1999 b) 1995 c) 1994

2) Commercial uses of Internet technologies are growing fast, even outside the United States.
a) 1999 b) 1995 c) 1987

3) A front-page human-interest story describes how an author placed the first chapter of his book online for free, with interested readers having the option of downloading the rest for a fee.
a) 1999 b) 1995 c) 1985

4) A column on corporate computing outlines a day in the life of a consultant, which begins by his checking e-mail both for personal messages and news downloads, working with his calendaring and Rolodex programs, looking up relevant information in a database while talking to clients, using groupware to work collaboratively on a presentation that will be replete with fancy graphics and desktop-publishing bells and whistles, booking travel arrangements online and communicating with a colleague who is working on a proposal at a remote site.
a) 1999 b) 1995 c) 1986

5) "Apple Attempts to Mend User Fences."
a) 1999 b) 1995 c) 1990

6) Macintoshes have "at last found a home in the corporate world as serious business machines."
a) 1999 b) 1995 c) 1987

7) "A year ago, it really looked as though the Mac was dead meat. But that has really turned around."
a) 1999 b) 1995 c) 1987

8) Lotus founder Mitch Kapor predicts that the Macintosh will sell well to small businesses.
a) 1999 b) 1995 c) 1984

9) Institute for the Future cyberpundit Paul Saffo writes that "portable computers will ... sell as primary computers for an entirely new class of users."
a) 1999 b) 1995 c) 1991

10) Portable computers are named as the fastest-growing segment of the personal computer industry, representing "qualitative advantages beyond those reflected in their obvious technical advantages.
a) 1999 b) 1995 c) 1987

11) One of the lessons learned for the year is "Do not bad-mouth lap-size computers."
a) 1999 b) 1995 c) 1984

12) "PC managers expect a certain percentage of machines to fail ... New models, especially, tend to have higher failure rates initially ... Inexpensive clones [are] not of the same quality."
a) 1999 b) 1995 c) 1989

13) "Taking hardware to the limit," computers become "faster, smaller, cheaper."
a) 1999 b) 1995 c) 1993

14) "Movie moguls once opposed to computers are now computer advocates ... Now, all of our cameramen have to know how to use the computer ... The computer's precision saves time when scenes must be reshot over and over from different angles."
a) 1999 b) 1995 c) 1983

15) Encrypting e-mail with PGP is suggested as one way of engendering a modicum of enterprise-wide security.
a) 1999 b) 1995 c) 1993

16) Year-end prognostications: "new technologies will continue to confound the market ... The market analogs are elusive ... maybe the entertainment industry is a better comparison ... Wall Street is as confounded by the industry as the rest of us ... Companies have to make it on single product hits. And one success doesn't mean another will follow."
a) 1999 b) 1995 c) 1986

17) More year-end prognostications: "Do not predict IBM's demise ... The fancier the press kit, the more spectacular the demise ... Never trust an earnings estimate ... Never underestimate the clout of personal computer users."
a) 1999 b) 1995 c) 1984

18) Still more year-end prognostications: "Lots of people expect computers, phone systems, and televisions to grow together."
a) 1999 b) 1995 c) 1990

19) Regarding the Y2K problem: "It will be fun to see what stops after midnight on 1999 --- and fun to see Bill Gates find a way to make billions from it all."
a) 1999 b) 1995 c) 1989

20) John Markoff, currently a technology reporter for the New York Times, writes about Unix as a desktop OS for the everyday user.
a) 1999 b) 1995 c) 1983

21) The switch to a flavor of Unix is made for a highly visible company with terrific media presence -- an enterprise that depends on real-time flows of insanely accurate information, yet must maintain an immaculate and seamless presentation to the consumer at all times.
a) 1999 b) 1995 c) 1993

 Next page | All the answers (and the sources)

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