Project Eighties

When I was in university, I had a crazy idea of building a database of everything that happened in the 1980’s. I suspect this came about because of playing far too much Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, and being disappointed that at a certain point you hit a wall where you’ve exhausted all the 80’s-ness out of the game. The eventual goal of my “Project Eighties” was that, with a VR headset, you could go to a set point in time in the 80’s, and be in a period-appropriate world. VR headsets weren’t exactly great back in 2005, but my figuring was that by the time the technology got good enough, I’d have a massive database of songs (with release dates and chart positions - so you could guess the probability of the song on the radio in the virtual world based on point-in-time), films, events - anything that could further the effort towards hyperreality.

I started the database using the MediaWiki software (the same Wikipedia uses), scraping websites to get chart positions, Peel Session dates, anything I could get my hands on. This started to require quite a bit of classification, and before long it became clear that I should have used a relational database, but by then I realized it would have required a significant amount of work to bring order to the chaos that was evolving (it was around this time I began to appreciate the editing efforts in Wikipedia a great deal).

I stumbled across some of the first documents I wrote while doing a purge of my office clutter. It was fun flipping through, seeing the hurried writing as the thoughts came faster than my pen (I was also trying to pay attention to an economics class lecture when this came about). Looking back I can see how classifying and keeping information has been an interest of mine ever since this project. Personal information management is tricky enough - let alone trying to manage the information of an entire decade of world culture and events.

Project Eighties design notes

(Small note - the Slonimsky reference was to Nicolas Slonimsky - who catalogued the history of classical music).

I still have the backups of Project Eighties (it compresses surprisingly well), but I imagine it would involve a great deal of effort to get it working again (assuming there’s been no bit rot in the decade plus since it was created). It was one of my first grand failures, an expenditure of months of effort, and for that it will remain a warm memory. Best of all, describing the work to someone ended up landing me a job in the computer industry - but that’s a story for another time.