The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

27 November 2005

It's that age thing

Lachlan, who is way younger than I am, reports:

One of my coworkers, we'll call him Dan, came up with this unknowing gem today.

Dan: Would you take a look at this video tape? I think it's prohibited for sale on the site.

Me: Sure, send me the link. (Remember, I work for A Cool Company. Details will be, to protect my ass assets, sketchy and vague.) Link arrives. I scan it. It's a page for a copy of "Ruthless People."

Me: So, umm, why do you think this is prohibited? I don't see anything unusual.

Dan: Well, that beta comment threw me.

I search the text again. There it is, in big black letters.

Me: Dan, beta is a format. Like VHS. This tape is just really old.

Dan: Oh.

Poor Dan. It could just as well have been on one of Edison's cylinders; it was that far removed from his existence. And small-b beta, nowadays, means something wholly different.

And no, I don't think the change in the vernacular hastened the format's decline; the appearance of Beta inventor Sony's first VHS machine in 1988 — one of which I have, in fact — probably sealed the deal, and a lot more people in 1988 were worried about home video than about computer software development.

I will mention in passing that this particular Sony machine, which offered a weird 15-year clock, would literally time-stamp a recording: you set the timer, the program records, you rewind, and there are the recording details at the beginning, right on the tape. Great for archivists, and for practically no one else on earth. This is the sort of gee-whiz thinking at Sony that brought us simulated digital frame grabs (on a late-Eighties Beta machine I still have), a clock-radio that requires half a dozen button operations to change the alarm time (which I bought and now deeply regret), and now CDs that hijack your operating system. It's almost enough to make one say kind things about Microsoft. (Now there's some Ruthless People.)

Posted at 10:53 AM to General Disinterest , PEBKAC


It seems I'm too old to know about beta (with a small "b"). NOw I"m curious!

Posted by: Jan at 8:28 PM on 27 November 2005

Software goes through a minimum of two testing phases: alpha, which is done in-house, and beta, which is inflicted on actual users. (I beta-tested a couple of packages when I was younger; the more common practice today is to allow users to download beta versions directly from the producers.) Once a software package is deemed Ready for Prime Time, it comes off beta status and becomes fully (and I use the term loosely) supported, but while it's a beta, you're on your own if you use it, which is why online third-party vendors shy away from betas.

Posted by: CGHill at 8:49 PM on 27 November 2005

okay, then. In other words, it is not a slang term like "bling" or "ho" but is, instead, something totally incomprehensible to those of us who use free blog hosts.

Posted by: Jan at 11:34 PM on 27 November 2005