What's something that was ahead of its time?
I think "ahead of its time" is a fairly commonly understood phrase, but just in case it's more regional or idiomatic than I'm aware of, it means to be far forward of where everybody else currently is. This often isn't apparent in the moment and isn't until later, when advancements are made and the rest of the world catches up, that it's clear that the [whatever] was really "living in the future" all along.
So, what's something you believe was ahead of its time and why?
Anything is fair game -- it can be an idea, a device, a person, a book/movie/game, etc.
As the resident car guy here (seemingly, if there are others do pipe up!) I'll gladly throw in the Volvo 240 as ahead of it's time!
Not only is the Volvo 240 a beautiful automobile in it's simple-yet-elegant design, the wagon variant is still the standard by which all other wagons are judged. At least in my mind anyway. Yet the handsome styling and, despite it's appearance, racing pedigree aren't why I mention it here. I bring it up because the Volvo 240 is, more likely than not, the reason you are alive today.
The Volvo 240 was based off of Volvo's Experimental Safety Car concept which, way back in 1972, had modern safety technology like crumple zones, side impact door bars, rollover protection, collapsing steering wheel, anti-lock brakes, auto-locking seat belts, airbags, back of seat padding, center mounted fuel tank, automatic fuel shutoff mechanisms and a firewall design that sent the drivetrain underneath the car instead of into the passenger cabin in the event of a crash, warning lights/reflectors in the doors, and it even had a back-up camera! When the Volvo 240 went on sale in 1975 it had pretty much every one of these, now standard, safety features available or, if they needed time to technologically mature, were added at a later date (save for the backup camera). In 1976 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) bought 25 of them and used them as the standard by which all crash tests were measured. Fifteen years later, in 1991, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) stated their surveys showed that the Volvo 240 was still the safest car on American roads. 1
Volvo's 240 wasn't going to stop at mere safety standards, they also worked with Saab (don't you just love the Swedes?) and Bosch to develop the first automotive oxygen sensor, introduced in 1976 on the Volvo 240. Some background: In 1975 catalytic converters (an emissions device that cleans up the exhaust in automobiles) were made legally required standard equipment in the US, largely leading to the "malaise era" (I'm a big fan of this era actually) of (mostly American) automotive design. This era is condemned for incredibly low output engines and excessively heavy cars as the catalytic converter was a hindrance to performance, many automakers focused on features and luxury because they either couldn't figure out or be bothered with trying to clean up their old engine designs to work with the emission regulations instead of against them. Most manufacturers just slapped on the converter and sent the now choked and inefficient car out the door with little to no tuning involved as they pouted about the government making them clean up their act and simultaneously banning lead from gasoline. Belching smoke and burning lead is poisonous, whodathunkit?!
Volvo (and Saab) decided they needed feedback to maximize the catalytic converter's effectiveness and did so by placing the oxygen sensor in the exhaust stream as well. The oxygen sensor measures the difference between the amount of oxygen in the exhaust gas and the amount of oxygen in air. All fuels have a stoichiometric ratio, the ratio where the fuel is completely combusted when combined with a specific mass of air. Gasoline has a 14.7:1 air-to-fuel stoichiometric ratio. The oxygen sensor measures this and if there is too much air in the exhaust it knows that more fuel needs to be injected as the engine is running lean (which can cause a number of problems), if it sees too little air in the exhaust it knows the engine needs less fuel as it is running rich (using more fuel than necessary and increasing emissions). Most automakers of the time were happily letting their engines run rich as fuel was cheap, emissions were unmeasured, power was plentiful, and running an engine lean caused damage. However running rich reduces the effectiveness of a catalytic converter and can damage or clog it leading to premature failure and the widespread decision by owners of the period to simply remove the converter entirely once it failed. 2
Simply put the safety measures Volvo employed in the 240 set the standard for the rest of the industry, and the oxygen sensor/catalytic converter combination led to increased efficiency in controlling emissions. Without Volvo and the 240, you or one of your ancestors would likely have died in a car crash. Without Volvo (and Saab along with Bosch) the air you breath would be dirtier and more fossil fuels would have been burned.
This standard of safety and forward thinking innovation was practically a tradition at this point as Volvo is known for giving the gift of the three point seatbelt, an invention of the remarkable engineer Nils Bohlin, to the world. Mr.Bohlin invented the three point belt in 1959 using skills acquired at Saab where he designed and developed ejection seats for jets. Up until that point seat belts, when worn, were merely a single strap across the lap that was more of a device to keep a deceased person's body in place after a crash instead of actually preventing their death in the first place. In 1966 Mr.Bohlin demonstrated the three point belt's effectiveness to any continued naysayers at the 11th Stapp Car Crash Convention, sharing a paper that analyzed 28,000 car crashes in Sweden and showed that not wearing a seatbelt led to fatal injuries of passengers regardless of the speeds involved, whereas of the 37,511 people involved in those collisions any passenger wearing a three point seatbelt had no fatal injuries at speeds below 60mph.
The study made waves and the US Department of Transportation made the belts mandatory in 1968. Volvo and Bohlin had gone to great lengths to prove the efficacy of the belts and made the patent available to all instead of licensing it, gifting a proven safety device to all their competitors to encourage easy mass adoption and save lives.
Even though all of my projects are well past the age where it's necessary to adhere to emission standards and therefore having a catalytic converter is no longer required, I still put them on my cars. Catalytic converter technology has matured well enough that high flow models can be had cheaply (universal converters can be had for under $100) and the fear of them robbing power is long since outdated as even on high output engines they reduce overall power by an utterly imperceptible 1-3hp. In the grand scheme of a project car $100 is nothing and there is zero acceptable excuse for not reducing your emissions when there's an opportunity to do so with no drawbacks.
I have zero interest in cars and I just read the whole thing, at the edge of my seat. Thanks!
It's the mark of a good communicator. It's why channels on Youtube like Numberphile and Vi Hart and all the other math/science communicators do well, you can make anyone pay attention to almost anything by framing the presentation well, and this post is very well done indeed.
Edit: I also just noticed in one of his other posts that he used an interrobang (‽). This guy is definitely cool.
Ditto. I have zero interest in cars but I cannot get enough of @AugustusFerdinand's car content here. He's a legend!
For anyone that missed it, he chronicled, in absolutely fantastic detail, a build he did for Timasomo this past year. That link goes to the culminating comment, but check the in-comment links for the full story, complete with fascinating explanations and excellent photos. If anyone loves his comment here, I highly recommend checking out his work there. It's beyond impressive.
I know next to nothing about cars but I've always loved that wagon design - there's something about the boxier form of older cars that I just love. One of my dream cars is a 90s Jeep Cherokee XJ, but I'd feel silly now buying such an old car for a relatively high price, especially when I'm hopeless when it comes to fixing them. I hope that form factor comes back!
Edit: Great post by the way, it makes me want to learn more about cars.
It's gorgeous isn't it‽ I am an unabashed lover of nearly all things wagon and lament pretty much all things SUV (and derivatives) for seemingly being the death knell of it. That said I had an XJ Sport two door (not mine, just photo for those watching the conversation and mine was green) in a previous life and still hold a fondness for it. Prices are outrageous for them though it seems. Of course the only other SUV that comes to mind that I'd like in my collection is a Plymouth Trailduster because I like the similar two door design to the XJ and my family had the Dodge Ramcharger variant growing up. That and who wouldn't want a convertible SUV!
My wife’s family had 2x 240s and one was a wagon. It was the car she drove when we first started dating. His name was Simon.
Almost makes the VW Bugs pedigree shabby by comparison.
I always think that Sega Channel was amazing. A cartridge for the Sega Genesis that went into the normal game slot but had a coaxial cable connector on it, and you could connect your television cable to it (not internet!) and it would download games or demos for you to be able to play, out of a rotating selection.
This was a digital-distribution platform and game subscription service in 1994, that used the television network to transfer data. Both the system and cartridge didn't even have persistent storage, and you had to re-download a game every time you powered it on, because whatever you downloaded was just stored in RAM and would be erased when you turned the system off.
It wasn't a success (for a whole bunch of reasons), but it was definitely ahead of its time.
Sega Channel is one of the few things about the past that was actually as exciting and futuristic as it sounded. Especially because there were games that you could get that were exclusive to the service. My family was pretty poor, but my father paid for that service because he saw how happy it made everyone (and simultaneously it was still cheaper than regularly buying new games for the system).
Almost a decade later, DOCSIS and cable modems finally came around to make broadband commercially available, and a young me just wondered why we couldn't have had this the whole time.
Wow! You brought up some good memories. I'm from Romania and at the beginning of the '90s, as we just got rid of communism, there were a lot of new things up on TV. One of the shows, airing weekly on friday/thursday afternoon (I can't remember the time exactly) was about computers - a new thing for us at the moment. The only personal computers at the moment were Sinclair ZX80 clones with BASIC.
This TV show would present news about technology at the time and there were some BASIC lessons for kids - explaining a bit of algorithms and programming - but at the end of the show (maybe for 10-15 minutes) they would broadcast/upload games and other software (very rarely though). Most of the kids that had one of these computers would record the signal through their cassete tape recorder's microphone - which was a bad idea. My dad, being impassioned with electronics, made a DYI audio out which I would connect to the recorder and I had the best quality. Of course, the worst part was that if the show was airing during bad weather the signal wouldn't be that great - and I remember a lot of whining because I couldn't dowload Dan Dare :-D
Reminds me of Frank Zappa’s Cassette Tape over phone line/cable of the late 80s (though it never had an implementation).
Oh wow, I had completely forgotten about Sega Channel. A friend of mine had it (I was a strict Nintendo fanboy growing up), and I remember thinking it was the coolest thing I had seen. I'm pretty sure that's how we played Skitchin'. Thank you for reminding me of that!
You wouldn't be the only person who thought that Skitchin' was a fever dream. It was a really weird concept.
It’s one of the few carts I still throw into my Nomad occasionally. It holds up!
Sega Channel wasn't the first of these services. I knew that there were some satellite services for the Famicom in Japan, but digging deeper it looks like these services go back a lot farther than I expected.
The PlayCable was released in 1980 and delivered Intellivision games over cable TV. Then, GameLine was a modem and dialup service for the Atari 2600, which seems to have been released in 1983. I could swear there was a satellite adapter for the NES/Famicom, but right now all I can find is the Famicom Network System, which was a dialup modem released in 1988. The wiki article says only a few games came out for it, but I recall seeing a bunch of ROMs in NES collections marked [BS], which I thought came from a satellite service, but I could be confusing that with Satellaview for the Super Famicom. I also learned of Sega MegaNet, which was Sega's precursor to Sega Channel, released in Japan in 1990.
Sega Channel is just the most notable because it was the first one to actually hit the mass market. Sega Channel saw a maximum of 250K subscribers. The PlayCable page doesn't mention how many people they got to subscribe, but it mentions less than 3% of a maximum of 650K households, which would mean less than 20K actual subscribers.
But yes, if we were in Japan we would probably be talking about the Satalaview instead, which I understand was actually a fairly popular service.
IRC had huge group chats, bots and scrips with all kinds of useful functionality, moderation, and file transfer (both for piracy and personal files) decades before programs like Slack and Discord brought many of its features to contemporary users.
Still does ;) I chat on IRC almost every day.
It’s been awhile for me, but I tried firing it up a few months ago and didn’t find a lot of activity. What servers/channels do you recommend ?
I'm active on tilde.chat, which is kind of a round-robin for the "tildeverse," a loose collection of public Unix servers focused on community building. There's a list of members here -- you can sign up for one to get on the server, you might be able to otherwise, idk.
When I get home I can tell you the other servers I'm connected to; I can't access IRC at work.
You definitely can get on tilde.chat without being on a tilde. Well either that or I'm breaking some rules somewhere :p
lolol,good to know :)
What client is popular/best? I used to use mIRC back in the day, and have heard a lot about a bit of a "resurgence" of IRC chat, but I have no idea what advances have been made (if any) in client software.
I use weechat and love it, but if you prefer GUI, I've heard HexChat is good. I keep wanting to switch to a proper bouncer so I can use an Emacs-based client (RCIRC/ERC/circe), but haven't yet.
To me the biggest downside to IRC was always the fact that you couldn't see any messages if you were offline at the time, at least as far as I've always understood it.
You can get around that with a bouncer, and some people prefer not having it (ala ethereal messaging like in snapchat) but tbh the reality is that most people want to see chat history and "lol just set up a bouncer" is not a solution for the vast majority of people.
There are some solutions to that nowadays:
I use weechat in a tmux session on my server to keep messages over time. I need to install a proper bouncer though, so I can use like, Emacs to IRC.
Same for me. I have 94 days uptime on my last session. I just get there from time to time to check the activity on some favorite channels.
My go-to answer to this question is Yellow Magic Orchestra. They're the most influential music group that nobody's ever heard of.
But I'll give a slightly different answer this time: Palm.
Given how popular they were at the time, it's tempting to say that they were very much of the time, but it's not until Apple came out with the iPhone that the design sensibilities of the Palm really became front-and-center. The thing that's so impressive about PalmOS and the hardware that it was designed on is not that they were super high-tech - it was actually made with moderately cheap hardware for the time - but that it gave you incredibly useful applications in the palm of your hand, in such a way that everything is easy to use and accessible. In fact, I'd say that accessability is probably the best overall takeaway of the Palm experience.
The software is also notable because it basically stored everything in a database, allowing you to back up and synchronize your data with your PC at any time. It really was designed to be a PDA first, and so the entire system is built around the productivity software it came with.
GM's EV1. Even the lead acid version was a decent commuter car comparable to the leaf, in 1996, but the Ni-MH version had better range than any mainstream electric car until the Tesla Model S. What's more is that in GM's attempt to throw the car down the memory hole, they sold the patents for Ni-MH production to fucking Chevron, who promptly banned production of vehicle scale batteries, which killed Toyota's EV program. If you've ever seen Who Killed the Electric Car, well that's your answer, but they weren't aware at the time due to a gag order put in place to prevent what no doubt would've been massive public backlash.
I always thought the TV show Person of Interest was a bit ahead of its time. Usually, its lack of popularity is attributed to it being procedural in the first few seasons but I think that’s also because the core idea was ahead of its time, and network execs wanted to package it into something they understood. I’m speculating of course...
Are you the person that keeps bringing this show up here? I'm going to have to watch if you keep it up!
I think this is the first time I've mentioned it hehe! But I highly recommend it, and it's on HBO Max now. Stick through the first season/season-and-a-half, and the payoff is real!
Hahaha I think @elcuello might be thinking of me. I brought it up several times on Tildes. Indeed it was ahead of its time, and indeed you gotta stick through the first season for an amazing payoff.
Recommendation thread: https://tildes.net/~tv/775/recommendation_person_of_interest_2011_2016
My understanding is Nolan is the one who disguised the show as a procedural so that NBC would take it; as he got more control over the show he played a lot more with the format. Westworld was an unsurprising success: Seeing what the guy can do on basic network tv budget, no wonder he created a masterpiece on HBO aferwards.
It was you! Haha, I didn't know you've made a whole separate thread about it. I can't currently watch it on it any of the subscriptions I have but will look out for it.
It looks like the original plans for the Nintendo DS were ahead of its time. It was very recently discovered that every nintendo ds lite has video output functionality so with a mod you can display the top screen on a TV.
We don't know why it was never used in the final product but its a pretty good bet to assume this was the original idea for the wii u and switch. I assume they decided that having a cable to the tv was too clunky or some other limitation kept the idea on the shelf for many years.
Nintendo always has an extra expansion port in their HW that never gets used. They’re hardware experts, and understand having stuff like this can increase the prime lifetime of their platforms by an extra year or two. This is extremely important in the hw game - every new platform iteration costs tens of millions (if not more).
Also note how their HW builds upon each previous iteration. The switch is a perfected wiiU (tablet), wii (motion controls), and DS (cartridge, portability) all in one.
The ancient steam engine Aeolipile should qualify for being ahead of its time. Not sure why it didn't take off https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeolipile
Probably because it didn't have rotor blades attached.
The BBS systems that were a precursor to the modern web. In a lot of ways, the appeal of Tildes as a community is a throwback to that era: Smaller groups of people with sometimes different but usually "interesting" insights. It was such a rush when you repeat-dialed for an hour and finally "got" one of the nodes available.
For several years after I got out of college in the early 90s, I continued using an internet-connected BBS because it had uncensored Usenet feeds, and my ISP didn't. It also had a bunch of great discussion forums.
Granted I was never on Usenet but I think Yahoo did several things right with its groups/games/chatrooms... still not really replicated to any degree of satisfaction