1. 16

How do you proceed with your life now? Do you have time to wait for C, Lisp, C#, JS, or Rust? The first personal computers aren’t for awhile. Try to be as realistic as you can.

Edit: To be clear you are exactly as you are now, in the place you are (give or take). Things are going to more or less unroll pretty much the same unless you think you really have the capacity to make world changes.

    1. 26

      A friend of mine has a better answer than I could ever give:

      • Step one, make tons of money in the stock market
      • Step two, spend a decade or two building up your funds (and goons), then hunt down everyone who is starting to create the 3D modelling/CAD software industry and make them all use the same fucking coordinate system
      1. 4

        When compiling a table of common graphics related coordinate systems I learned about the GLTF convention (-X goes right) that does not match any other I’ve ever seen. I mean, there must be some but why did they do it? Why make us suffer for no gain?

        I actually have rough code ready that generates automatically code for transforms between systems but I’d like polish it more before putting it online. It uses the info from the above table.

        1. 1

          Thanks, that table is actually really handy! Some additions, if you want them:

          • Vulkan: Right +X, up -Y, forward +Z, handedness: Right
          • Metal: Right +X, up +Y, forward +Z, handedness: Left
          • WebGPU: Right +X, up +y, forward +Z, handedness: Left

          All of these are for Normalized Device Coordinates.

          1. 2

            The Z axis seems fairly uncontroversial, but y axis has historically been the subject of a lot of debate. Mathematics had a fairly strong view that the positive quadrant was the top-right part of a graph and so anything that started with the view of a piece of graph paper thinks positive Y is up. This is annoying for windowing systems though because humans think of the top-left of a window as a stable point and expect that resizing the window will (normally) keep things in the same place relative to the top left. On early Windowing systems, it rapidly became clear that making the top left corner 0,0 saved a lot of recalculations on resize events. Rather than making the window the positive-X, negative-Y quadrant of a graph, they simply negated the Y. This also means that width and X and height and Y have the same values (you don’t have negative-width windows unless you’ve done something very wrong).

            This often got somewhat confusing because it was sometimes convenient to have a positive-Y-is-up coordinate system within a widget. By the time people started caring about this, graphics cards could do 3x3 matrix multiplication very easily and so it became easy to apply an affine transform that let the window coordinate and the widget coordinate space be upside down relative to eachother. I can’t remember where I saw it, but one windowing system that I used had 0,0 at the bottom left of the screen, the top left of the window, and the bottom left of individual widgets, each for the same reason (they were the stable point from a user’s perspective when resizing).

            This is further complicated by the fact that some windowing systems (especially those in the Display PostScript lineage) had the same coordinate model as print. You never resize a piece of paper and dynamically reflow the contents and so print never experienced this trade off and happily stayed in the 0,0-is-bottom-left world.

            3D systems very often took the X and Y coordinate model from their original host system (which may not have been the one on which they ended up being the most widely deployed) and added Z.

            Every step along the way made sense but the end result is something that I can definitely see leading to crimes against the sacred timeline.

          2. 1

            Thanks. I’m having trouble figuring out how to present both world space conventions of 3D packages and others like the NDC conventions of graphics APIs in a single table. Maybe I should just split it in two.

    2. 18

      Continue with what I do here and now: writing Fortran codes.

      1. 2

        So this is one avenue I’d expect a lot of us to at least start: mainframes. And I suspect most of us would just learn languages of the time and assembly really well and just live out our lives as if we’d always belong there.

    3. 10

      Write down all the song lyrics I remember, obtain a Gibson Les Paul, practice like crazy & become a rock/metal legend.

      1. 3

        TBF, you’d just be ripped off by Jimmy Page, so you would have no discernible impact on the TL.

    4. 10

      I’m in a really deep sh*t, because in 1960s my country was in deep communism, and without proper paperology related to my birth and my citizenship history I’m a candidate for arrest and jail. So I’m starting to figure out how to flee the country, because faking my ID can be a life sentence, and programming languages are the least of my worries ;)

    5. 7

      Since I’m legally blind, but have some usable vision, I suppose I’d have to get used to using a magnifying glass to read print, including computer printouts. Perhaps I’d start seriously practicing reading Braille, so I can read whatever Braille books are available. Meanwhile, I’d start seriously practicing the piano again so I could maybe get work as a musician (I quit piano lessons when I was 17, and have only casually played from time to time in the 25 years since then). As for programming, I suppose I could learn Fortran or COBOL, but it might be better to focus on music until Lisp comes along.

    6. 5

      It’s too early to buy bitcoins, so I’ll invent bitcoins. Bitcoin, in FORTH! 300 hashes per second IS possible!

      Then again, without a network to propagate transactions, you’ll have to wait for the following week’s blockchain meetup to receive anything…

      1. 6

        Hmm, has anyone ever seen Satoshi Nakamoto and John Titor in the same room?

        1. [Comment removed by author]

    7. 5

      I have a chronical disease, for which a very expensive and somewhat new medicine, as an injection, twice a month. I also tested positive for tuberculosis and am undergoing treatment for it.

      So, if I wake up on 1960, I’ll die in a couple of months, tops.

    8. 7

      I guess I’d probably see if I can take the bar exam.

      I understand that in the 1960s US, if you were a white man, people would just hire you for jobs on the basis of willingness to work and whether or not they liked the look of you, unless specific skills were really, really required. So, alternatively any other job involving building or fixing things while going to school if needs be.

      On reflection, I’d probably be most anxious to return to our time, what with my family being here and the enormous amount of environmental lead (in 1960).

    9. 4

      Let’s see.

      Tech (career):

      • Attempt to land a job at Burroughs, then hop to DEC until the mid 70s.
      • Try to build a startup using the new Intel and Motorola microprocessors, see if I can poach Woz.
      • Whether or not that works, try to buy into 3Com early.
      • During the 90s, take money and try to support formalization of privacy laws in an amendment.
      • In the late 70s/early 80s, try to buy into Software Development Laboratories and Sun Microsystems.
      • Mid 1960s, take money from Burroughs and stock up on Texas Instruments shares to ride the 5400/7400 wave.
      • Late 1960s, try to get in on AMD. Encourage idea of microcode and RISC systems.
      • Early 1970s, try to get a good spot on the new Depository Trust Company.
      • Late 1970s, try to get in on Visa, Epic Systems, and Universal Computer Systems.

      Tech (speedrun):

      • Try and talk Stallman out of the Hurd earlier.
      • Try to get second author with Codd on his relational algebra/normal form work.
      • Try to do something neat with those Murray Hill folks.
      • Try to get in on BSPs early.

      Tech (humanitarian):

      • Try to warn about the Therac-25 before it happens; suggest a testing procedure and then open case study to the IEEE on the dangers of race conditions in embedded code.
      • Try to warn about the Hyatt Regency Walkway design and get a structural engineer to look at it before the collapse.
      • It might draw too much attention, but try and tip off the AEC/IAEA to the positive void coefficient in RBMK reactors in the early 1970s. Sketch out the basic setup for a Chernobyl-style event, and hope they don’t kick it off trying to verify it.
      • Tip off the Three Mile Island folks about the design flaws in their monitoring and alerting for the reactor.
      • Around 1965, tip off about the Phillips report, and later try and tip off about the impending fire in Apollo 1.
      • Try to warn about the Bhopal plant disaster before it happens in 1984.


      • It’s 1960. Try to get a license for Merck’s MDMA patent. We’ve got a decade before it gets scheduled, so let’s goooooo.
      • Introduce cocaine derivatives for health and wellness again, as best as possible. Again, 10 years before it’ll become scheduled.
      • Try and invent flash and algorithmic trading using fiber and microwave links with MCI and other providers.
      • Take my money and try to keep Jack Welch from getting in at General Electric and spreading memetic cancer to MBAs.

      Politically (domestically):

      • Take money from pharmaceutical work and lobby hard to prevent anything like the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 from ever passing. This will hopefully head off the DEA and the decades of trouble it will create for everyone.
      • Anonymous tips to newspapers about COINTELPRO and sustained attacks on orgs like the Black Panthers and Nation of Islam. Successful attacks on leadership here can be traced to later tensions and crime.
      • Phone in a tip about Kennedy. Ask for the EPA sooner in exchange, and to back off on the war on drugs.
      • Write McNamara that he’s a bloody fool about the Vietnamese conflict and that he misunderstands the Vietnamese relationship with the Soviets. It won’t help, but it’ll be cathartic.
      • Tip off folks about Ellsberg and Russo before they publish the Pentagon Papers.
      • Warn Brother Malcolm prior to his assassination in 1965, ditto MLK in 1968.
      • Try and warn Congress via Richard Howard Ichord Jr. in the early 60s that the Army Ordnance department has totally goofed up the ammunition for the new assault rifle and they need to fix it before it gets a bunch of good American boys killed.
      • Total gamble, but right at the beginning in 1960 anonymously tip off several papers that Eisenhower is authorizing covert prep to invade Cuba. Try to get that story out before the Bay of Pigs is a thing.
      • Try to use some of my money to head off the AIDS epidemic and start on that education early.

      Politically (abroad):

      • Attempt to warn Nasser in May of 1967 that he’s being played by the USSR and not to push on the Syrian border.
      • If that doesn’t work–and hell, just in case–attempt to warn Egypt prior to June 5 1967 that they’re about to have their shit kicked in by the Israelis and to mobilize their air assets.This will hopefully stem decades of occupation and oppression and maybe even save the USS Liberty. This might also stave off OPEC’s retaliatory 1973 oil crisis.
      • Similarly, for same day, try and warn Egypt about the June 5th offensive by Tal.
      • Basically, try to do anything with foreknowledge to avoid the Yom Kippur war. This will one day prevent Charlie Wilson from having bonds with Israel and having the means to intervene in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, if we’re unable to avoid that whole thing (see the next).
      • Literally anything to try and avoid the 1973 oil crisis. The knock-on effects of that, from our home front to modern Middle East diplomacy to even the course of the Vietnam war, are incalculable.
      • Another 1973…try and tip Zahir Shah off to stop the Afghanistan coup that will ultimately contribute to the fall of the Soviet Union.
      • If we can stave off the oil crisis, maybe we won’t have to worry about the Iranian revolution in 1978. If not, at least a tip off about the Cinema Rex fire to try and save some folks. If we can keep Iran stable, maybe we can prevent the Iran-Iraq war.

      So much stuff to do, so little time, and I’ve basically ignored two continents entirely.

      1. 1

        As they say, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”, so I’m kind of interested if any of those world-related suggestions wouldn’t produce even worse result than what happened originally. Of course we’ll never know, but I’m always restraining myself from thinking about alternative timelines; after all, saving lives may lead to saving lives of some serial killers, which could be the reason for even more killings, etc.

    10. 4

      I would probably get a job managing manufacturing plants, further modernizing them with machines and reproducible processes and procedures - basically programming but without computers :)

    11. 4

      Lisp seems the only interesting language available then — Wikipedia says the first interpreter was 1960. (It also says the first garbage collector wasn’t written until 1962 — it must have run for weeks collecting two years’ accumulated garbage!)

      The problem is how to get into MIT as a newly-arrived time traveler. Maybe bone up on IBM or Univac assembly and apply for a job in industry, then go from there to academia.

      Applying for a few dozen fundamental patents would be a good idea too. Software wasn’t patentable, but I probably know enough about basic computer hardware to describe some patentable things.

      Trying to think of a way to greatly accelerate progress so I’d have a PC by 1970 but I don’t think it’s feasible — the main driving factor is ICs and their ever increasing density, and that depends on big factories, let alone all kinds of chemistry/physics knowledge I lack.

      1. 8

        Getting into MIT is probably quite easy. Half the algorithms that you learned as an undergraduate haven’t been invented yet. You could invent semaphores a couple of years before Dijkstra, for example. Even without knowing anything about how contemporary computers worked, you’re in a land where lambda calculus is still fairly new and typed lambda calculus is decades away. RSA had secretly been invented but wouldn’t be publicly reinvented for a long time. I suspect if you showed up at MIT in 1960 with Dijkstra’s algorithms, semaphores, and RSA, they’d throw money and tenure at you.

        1. 11

          <travel back in time to 1960>

          Normal people: “play the stockmarket, become filthy rich”

          Lobste.rs: “get tenure at MIT”


          1. 3

            No reason you couldn’t do both. The problem with the stock market is that you need money to invest, a professor’s salary at MIT would give you the seed capital. Not sure about other folks, but I’m not sure I can remember any good bets in the ‘60s (IBM, definitely, maybe some aerospace companies since the space race is kicking off - anything whose name I recognised will probably be a safe bet), definitely not enough to make a killing. Landing in the early ‘80s or later, I’d have a much clearer idea of the companies that will give a return of a factor of a hundred or more and, importantly, when to sell them.

          2. 2

            I mean it would be way cooler than being rich!

      2. 3

        I feel a better action would be to get a job anywhere with mainframes and implement a lisp yourself…!

    12. 3

      How old am I? Where am I? What resources do I have? Do I know what’s happened to me, and do I have any chance of getting back without living the next 63 years out? Is this a self-consistent timeline or a diverging one?

      The problem is underspecified.

      1. 1

        It’s however you are and where you are now - I’ve updated the description :)

        1. 4

          One of the problems with time travel – besides the verb tenses – is that Things Change. For example, the house I am now in was not constructed in 1960; the land that it is on was underwater at the time. Glug!

          I have a sufficiently good understanding of 20th century world history that I can change it. First, though, I need to attend to basic needs: shelter, food, medicine. I have a chronic disease which needs treatment; the first-line drug has just become available in France and won’t be available in the US for more than 30 years. In 1960, the state of medicine in general is terrible. In the next 15 years, survival rates for traumatic injuries are going to skyrocket. Drunk driving isn’t even specifically illegal in many jurisdictions.

          The past is a foreign country, where they speak a surprisingly understandable foreign language.

          1. 2

            I have a sufficiently good understanding of 20th century world history that I can change it.

            …except if you try, you might just look like a crackpot. I’m a bit skeptical about all the responses here that you could just invent popular music or algorithms and benefit from it. Yeah, that could happen. Or your “discovery” will go unrecognised until 20 years after its rediscovery by the people who were lucky enough to find themselves in a situation in which their discovery could be appreciated.

            Even if I invented a good algorithm today, it’s unlikely I’d get much recognition for it. Too much noise. At best, it might improve my employer’s bottom line. I don’t know if it was harder or easier to get recognition in the 1960s but I could argue both ways.

    13. 3

      If you are at MIT, the Lisp interpreter was running by Nov 1958, and student projects were using it by spring of 1959. (Wikipedia is wrong.) MIT has several personal computers with an interactive graphics console. The TX-0 was working by 1956, the TX-2 was working in 1958. The prececessor of the Hacker’s Dictionary was compiled in 1959 by some TMRC members, who originated hacker culture. Then some people working on the TX-2 went off to form DEC and they delivered the PDP-1 to MIT in 1961. The PDP-1 would run Spacewar in 1962 (first multiplayer interactive video game) and Sketchpad in 1963 (first CAD program). It would have been pretty cool to have been part of that scene in 1960, assuming I was born etc.

    14. 3

      Honestly, I’d be tempted to try to prevent the JFK assassination, just to see how history would unfold in that alternate timeline.

      1. 3

        The original timeline was so much of a mess that someone invented a time machine to go back and assassinate JFK.

    15. 2

      I would try and make forth the industry standard!

      1. 2


        I’m genuinely curious. :)

        1. 1

          Oh! It’s mostly just a personal fascination. I would love to see what the world would look like if users were used to loading up “vocabularies” instead of apps.

    16. 2

      First priority: try to meet all of my grandparents. If I woke up in 1960 with equivalent resources (e.g., an account at the local bank in inflation-adjusted dollars), then travel is easy enough. And if history unrolls pretty much the same, I don’t need to worry about screwing up the timeline too much.

      Go to city, check phone book, resist urge to introduce myself as “your friendly neighborhood Terminator.”

      Tech-wise… making connections in academia seems like the easiest route to computing equipment, and eventually to the early Internet. Bell Labs might also work, though I don’t know how easily I could get access, aside from trying to get hired. But if I go to a university math department, I could probably interest someone in writing a paper together on RSA, which stands for, uh, “Really Secure Algorithm.”

      I think I need a stockbroker to invest? Like a normal person, I don’t have stock prices memorized, but I bet I’d recognize some famous names if I read the newspapers. Not sure if I’d be able to build my own PC any faster than waiting for the hobbyists to catch up, but financially I’d want to be in the position to buy the latest and greatest as it comes out.

      Rust might be too far in the future for me to use it much, but I’ll definitely be playing some old DOS games in retirement.

      1. 2

        On the theme of grandparents, I would likely spend the first few weeks just walking around neighbourhoods I know and marvel at how different they are. Very large parts of the city I live in today would be considered rural 70 years ago. The wide avenue outside my window would have been farmland and islands of industrial buildings.

        1. 1

          Definitely! I was discussing this with my wife last night, and one of the first things we’d do is carefully explore the neighborhood: with everything changed, there’s a high likelihood we’d get lost, and without GPS. Once we get to a store or gas station, buy a local map.

    17. 2

      Oh man. I would immediately apply for jobs at all the major mainframe companies, as well as try and get into the Apollo Guidance Computer group at MIT. I’d also love to work on the early calculators. The issue with the premise is that despite me not being the greatest programmer now, in 1960 I’d be so far ahead of the curve. Imaging bringing object-oriented stuff into ALGOL or FORTRAN? Or giving lectures on concepts taken from POSIX/UNIX etc.? Assuming people bought into it, you’d be able to move the field forward so quickly, and make so much money.

    18. 2

      Wait ten years or so, then show up at Bell Labs one day and tell them that null-terminated strings are awful and that they should reconsider them. And how are you even supposed to use the gets function safely?

    19. 2

      Maybe with my knowledge of WiFi, I could meet up with the now single Hedy Lamarr, have a drink, and start Interneting the world without wires from the start.

      1. 1

        This sounds really cool.

    20. 2

      I’d make it my mission to convince language inventors to make usability improvements before it’s too late:

      • Convince John McCarthy to replace car/cdr with first/rest (or something else short but actually human readable).
      • Convince Dennis Ritchie to formalise C syntax. Even better, try to explain the ideas behind Rust to the best of my very limited knowledge, and save the world from a trillion bugs.
      1. 2

        Oh my god, stopping null pointers could be possible!

    21. 2

      You could join the ALGOL 60 committee to try to keep ALGOL 68 from turning into a train wreck. I dunno, and stop the Kennedy assassination or w/e.

    22. 1

      My savings would buy 30 times as much, so I would retire. Then I guess off to be a Freedom Rider.

      It would actually be hard to make money in the market, since I have no idea how individual stocks did in the 60s. And a prop bet on 11/22/63 would certainly look suspicious. I guess you could bet on presidential elections, but it might be hard to find takers, and it would be hard to more than double your money. Wait until just before the Challenger launch and short Morton Thiokol, but that is a long way out (and, arguably, one case where a well-aimed letter could avert a catastrophe, although the foam problem turns out to be harder to avoid, so the shuttle program was doomed anyway).

      Rescue Samuel Delany’s lost novel?

      It might be easier to revolutionize cognitive psychology than CS. The whole heuristics and biases program hadn’t been invented yet. And research is entirely survey-based, so you don’t need access to a machine.

      I wish I were musical enough to do a Yesterday, but I am not.

      Too bad it’s so hard to do anything about the really stupid stuff: leaded gasoline, parking minimums and single family zoning, killings elephants to prevent desertification, totalitarian communism, hydrogenized fats, Vietnam, Afghanistan (and everything else CIA), the war on drugs, the ban on new med schools, overfishing, DDT for crops. Even unsafe pointers would be hard to fight against, given the efficiency constraints of the day.

    23. 1

      Make sure may ’68 succeeds :>