- Author John Steward
- Published June 6, 2014
Bulletin boards, GPS, synthetic insulin… and the first Van Halen album. Yep, 1978 was a doozie for tech and music fans.
The bulletin board is born
If you were a Chicago-based nerd with no one to argue with in 1978, February 16 was a key day for you. It saw the launch of the world’s first public dial-up bulletin-board service, CBBS. Or, to put it another way, the forerunner of every single modern online forum, messaging service, chat gizmo, social network…
Its creator Ward Christensen was apparently inspired by traditional pin-boards in libraries, supermarkets and the like, and came up with the idea when he was trapped at home during the city’s Great Blizzard of ’78.
Working with colleague Randy Seuss, the CBBS went from idea to launch in a month, and was an instant success. Users dialled in using their steam-powered computers, using screeching modems and flaky phone lines, typed in their messages and then got replies from people they’d probably never meet, miles away. (Not too far, though – they dialled into local servers. No one wanted long-distance charges on their phone bills). It was a revelation.
And it also kicked off the process of online evolution that would lead up to 2014 with “hey u shud chek out this cat video i found lol!!1!”.
The CBBS still (sort of) exists in web-based form here.
Beep, boop, beep, beep… brrrrrrrpppp. Simon says try again, you shovel-handed dolt. Milton Bradley’s flashy, bloopy game of memory and skill first broke cover in 1978 at New York’s Studio 54, costing $24.95 (equivalent to about £54 today). It spawned countless clones (and, these days, apps), but we still think the original is the best.
Another new arrival was Louise Brown. She was born in Oldham, Greater Manchester, on July 25th – and was the first human born after IVF conception. She’s referred to as the first test-tube baby… but her conception actually took place in a petri dish. Not too romantic, no – but this breakthrough changed – and created – the lives of millions.
An equally momentous announcement came on September 6, when scientists produced the first genetically-engineered insulin at City of Hope National Medical Center, California. They inserted synthetic genes carrying the code for human insulin into a strain of E.Coli bacteria, which produced the relevant protein chains. These were then stitched together to make insulin molecules. This breakthrough meant the industry could reduce the harvesting of insulin from swine and cattle – and use a pure, human-specific version.
The first GPS satellite, Navstar 1, was launched on February 22 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The US military controls the system, which now comprises 32 satellites orbiting once every 12 hours at 12,600 miles up. The system works by sending out a synchronised signal. Your device receives them at slightly different times; get at least four signals and your position can be calculated to within a few metres. All that effort, just so you can find the nearest pub…
Back in 1978 Wimbledon (its 92nd year) was full of names now more familiar in the commentary box. Those players were some of the all-time greats, though.
Martina Navratilova beat Chris Evert 2-6, 6-4, 7-5 in the women’s final, and Bjorn Borg demolished Jimmy Connors 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 in the men’s.
Want to watch them? Here you go:
There was a World Cup that year, too. Home nation Argentina beat The Netherlands 3-1 in a tournament surrounded by controversy. The country had seen a military coup only two years before, and many countries were understandably a bit iffy about taking part. And all of Argentina’s first-round games were played at night – meaning they always knew where they stood in the group (FIFA put a stop to that after the 1982 event).
Oh, and England? Didn’t qualify. Standard.
On February 10, Abba: The Album was number one in the UK charts. Across the pond, Van Halen were ripping it up in LA, busy creating the musical juggernaut that came to be known as “hair metal”.
Their first album, released in ’78, slapped rock music out of the bloated, cape-wearing, 20-minute-keyboard-solo doldrum it was becoming stuck in and went on to become one of the most critically acclaimed debuts of all time.
The band’s lightning-fast guitarist Eddie Van Halen brought shredding, scissor-kicking and two-handed tapping to the world. David Lee Roth, the high-kicking, fast-talking frontman took care of the partying, pin-up and groupie-getting duties. And drummer Alex Van Halen (Eddie’s older brother) and bassist Michael Anthony held the whole thing down. You can’t get this stuff no more…
Elsewhere, the Blues Brothers appeared on Saturday Night Live for the first time on April 22 (their album ain’t half bad either); Ben and Jerry opened their first ice-cream parlour in Burlington, Vermont; and cinemagoers were spoilt for choice: Grease, Superman, Animal House, The Deer Hunter, Halloween, Dawn of the Dead, Watership Down, The Buddy Holly Story, the bleak remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers… and Every Which Way But Loose all came out in the same year.
Next week, 1979…
This year’s tech innovations are coming from LG: see LG’s OLED TVs – seriously amazing screen quality and colours. Find out more here >>>