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Last Updated: Monday, 16 January 2006, 17:50 GMT
Newsnight's 'Geek Week'
It's 25 years since the release of the Sinclair ZX81 (making it nearly as old as Newsnight).

Newsnight editor Peter Barron holds his ZX81
Newsnight editor Peter Barron proudly clutches his ZX81
Not that this was the inspiration for Newsnight's Geek Week, but we thought we'd mention it anyway as Newsnight's editor is the proud owner of one.

This week, Stephen Smith is let loose in Silicon Valley and Paul Mason veers towards virtual reality to find out what's happening in the technical world.

Join in our Geek Week celebrations by sending Newsnight your reflections, predictions and complaints about all things technical.

Unfortunately, Newsnight is unable to offer assistance with the timers on your DVD recorders...




    The e-mails published reflect the balance of opinion received.

    Newsnight's Geek Week graphic

    I started out on a ZX Spectrum too. I'm now studying Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence at university. To elaborate on what Abhir Bhalerao from Coventry said: We are a long way off from complex voice recognition and task comprehension. Think 50 years if we are lucky, and it will take a genius to get us there at that! It doesn't matter how fast our computers get, they are still just calculators. The thing that matters is we lack a working concept to express intelligence and/or knowledge in a form a computer could use. We don't fully understand how humans comprehend abstract concepts - why would anyone think we could make an artificial version of this in 10 years? Giving commands using voice recognition you can have now - but understanding natural language and doing something useful with it is a long way off. Cyber pets are a long way from fetching your newspaper from the corner shop at the passing mention you want one.
    Matt Oates, Cheltenham

    Advances in computing technology pale into insignificance when compared to Genetic Engineering and Bio Technology advances in the last 40 years
    It's so nice to see the Sinclair ZX81, but you may be too early? I think the ZX81 was released on March 11, 1981. "Sinclairly" yours.
    Peter Liebert-Adelt, Braunschweig in Germany

    If all you saw were the sex clubs, casinos and shooting galleries and that's all you reported on, you missed a lot; and missed a lot of reporting on the very real community(ies) within Second Life.
    Jitar, FurNation, Second Life

    Excellent! I enjoyed the "Geek Week" experience. Now I have to get the gadgets to be smaller or larger!
    Janet, Harpenden

    Geek Week has made my year already
    Dick Komakech
    What a lot of fuss about computers. Advances in computing technology pale into insignificance when compared to Genetic Engineering and Bio Technology advances in the last 40 years. Most computer scientists would agree that AI has not delivered so all that claptrap about computing intelligence taking over seems as distant as a 50s sci-fi film. I don't want to be in an office full of people chattering to their computers, even if it does become possible - how daft is that?
    Roseanna, Sutton

    Wow, the memories of that ZX81 when it came out of the box for the first time and plugged into the family television. It's true that processor-specific, low-level coding taught kids how to eek every last droplet of CPU from these machines. However, the largess that modern computing languages and practices demand has enabled a new generation of programmers to create computer codes as if building Lego models. In addition to the now familiar interface with the world of information that is the search engine, we have a newly emergent computing interface, the 3D OpenGL view, of the real world (Google Earth), and of alternative worlds (Second Life), appealing to a new generation and demanding new modes of invention.
    Richard Hugtenburg, Birmingham

    It was good to see a well informed report that could be appreciated by both geeks and non geeks
    Geek Week has made my year already. Virtual reality has been in my mouth and mind since I joined High School. The computer and its associated games are my best companion - they entertain, and best of all give you the comfort of the modern world. With computers and the World Wide Web, the sky is the limit.
    Dick Komakech, Woking

    I got a Sinclair "speccy" 48k back in '83 and have been hooked virtually ever since. The retro scene has kept this and other 8-bit machines well and truly alive. With emulators for virtually every platform, everyone can now replay the classics such as Jet Set Willy and Manic Miner.
    Daren, Manchester

    It was very nice to meet Paul Mason in Second Life and hear his first-hand impressions
    Garnet Psaltery
    Like most of the people who spend more time playing online games than watching TV, I was playing an online game when Newsnight's report was shown last night. Fortunately, my wife alerted me, so I didn't miss it. Did you know that, like the World Wide Web, virtual worlds are a UK invention?
    Professor Richard A Bartle, Colchester

    I was really fascinated by the Geek Week report about online gaming. It was good to see a well informed report that could be appreciated by both geeks and non geeks. I think I stand somewhere between the two. I don't play computer games but I do access most of my news online - apart from TV news, which I usually watch, and browse other websites relevant to what I'm watching. Oh dear, perhaps I am a geek.
    Barrie, York

    It was very nice to meet Paul Mason in Second Life and hear his first-hand impressions. We watched his rapidly-increasing understanding and enjoyment of our virtual world during several hours in which he stayed to discuss the programme with us. Though most of us found his item a fair representation of a new arrival's view we would, I think, not be surprised to see at least one follow-up detailing more real life experiences and positive activities in-world.
    Garnet Psaltery, Telford and Second Life

    Just like this life out here, Second Life is what you make of it!
    Eloise Pasteur
    As a fairly long term resident of Second Life (coming up for 18 months in just over a week and hardly missed a day in that time) I experienced an odd dichotomy last night - watching Newsnight about SL whilst being there and chatting to my friends! I enjoyed the piece very much, although I'd like to say it's not necessarily reflective of what keeps those of us that stay here, even if it is probably indicative of what many people first see. I've had sex in real life and in Second Life but I've never gambled in Second Life (although I built and sold a blackjack table for a client) - I've rarely gambled in real life, either. What I do manage in Second Life is much wider than that. Lots of talking to friends, sure, lots of shopping, too, which got a passing mention. But I also teach - some Second Life relevant stuff, some more generally applicable stuff such as creative writing - and I'm learning Portuguese. Just like this life out here, Second Life is what you make of it!
    Eloise Pasteur, York

    Andrew Street from Cardiff said lets make computers look nice. Well, lots of computers do look nice - Apple iMacs, which are designed to be the hub of a digital life, or Sony machines, have a sleekness about them. The only thing with these computers is cost. A computer will look nice but it may cost a bit more than a boring beige box that sits in the corner.
    Michael Jolly, Liverpool

    When Second Life hit the PCs I popped in just to take a look round and I was instantly hooked
    Viv Garbacki
    ZX-81 was my first computer - happy birthday. Thanks, Newsnight, for remembering. I loved my ZX-81, it was about 80, very affordable, you could plug it into your TV - that and a chemistry set were the best presents to get. Now I'm a Biochemist and Ultra-Mac/Unix Geek. Yes, there where bigger and better computers but this was affordable - that was the key. After that I has a C64, 128, Amiga then Apple Mac and PowerBooks - I'm so glad I've wasted zero time in my life in Windows... More Geek stuff please Newsnight - we're grown up now. Oh, and the coolest thing in the computer world today is the $100 laptop project from MIT - what a brilliant idea. Make it happen everyone - imagine all those third world kids at the start of their own 1/0 adventure.
    Asam Bashir, Cambridge

    After watching your video about Second Life, I have to say I AM HOOKED, and have been for some time now! I've been involved in 3D VR chat programmes for around seven years now as a user and now couldn't live without them! When SL hit the PCs I popped in just to take a look round and WOW, I was instantly hooked. You can be whatever and whoever you want to be - I've met and talked to some wonderful people. In March 2004, I flew to New York and married the man of my dreams after we met in Active Worlds.com and I've never been happier. By the way, I'm 53. Keep up the good work Newsnight!
    Viv Garbacki, Burnley

    It's not just coffee that they serve up at Buck's Diner, I'm sure as there certainly was a lot of BS going round
    Abhir Bhalerao
    ZX81 is OK but much more limited than the BBC Micro, specified by the BBC and produced by Acorn specifically to go with a BBC Television education series on computer literacy. The BBC wrote a special computer language (called BBC BASIC) which was a brilliant educational tool. BASIC is an interpreted language which is easy to programme but can be slow. The BBC version included functions and procedures and access to an assembler which not only ran faster but was educationally of much more value to future programmers. Pity to forget it altogether.
    Duncan Thomas, Marlow

    It's not just coffee that they serve up at Buck's Diner, I'm sure as there certainly was a lot of BS going round. Talking to computers so that they might understand what you are saying is just round the corner? Oh, (to use a horrible American expression), give me a break! I heard that 10 years ago. Tell us something new, Newsnight!
    Abhir Bhalerao, Coventry

    The great thing about the internet is that it is still anybody's game. Barriers to entry are low, and you are only as good as your next idea. Google and Microsoft will battle, but there is plenty of room in between. For example, I believe more press should be given to women's achievements so I started newsonwomen.com. I didn't need venture capital, I didn't need a business plan, I just wanted to make a difference, so I did it. That's the power of the internet.
    Alice Krause, New York

    These early home computers spawned a generation of people who understand how a computer works - I'm not sure if that will ever happen again
    Matt Rudge
    My idea of the future of computing will be more of a lifestyle change. At the moment the computer sits in the corner of a room for most people. More thought will have to be made as to the aesthetic value. LETS MAKE COMPUTERS LOOK NICE!
    Andrew Street, Cardiff

    Why are all the fancy gadgets getting smaller? Why not keep everything the same size and make them better, faster and easier to use?
    Jack Marks, Cork city

    My first computer was a 48K Sinclair Spectrum in 1982 and it was from this that I got bitten by the programming bug, mainly during the 1984 Miners' Strike when we were unable to afford to buy software, so I started writing my own. At age 13 I was selling my own Spectrum games. Now 24 years after getting that computer, I'm still using the skills I learnt while programming the Spectrum. Of course computers have advanced a lot, in both power and storage capacity, but the basic principles still apply. Programming the Spectrum was a challenge due to its limited memory and propensity for overheating; but I think that more recent programmers, who have learnt their trade on modern PCs only, don't try as hard to make their programs efficient. With only 41.5K of usable RAM on the Spectrum, even a single pixel could make a difference. These early home computers spawned a generation of people who understand how a computer works, and how to overcome technical challenges to get it to do what you want. I'm not sure if that will ever happen again.
    Matt Rudge

    Excellent! I most enjoyed tonight's first segment of "Geek Week". Now all I have to do is try and squeeze my way into the Google Labs...
    Rob McDougall, London



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