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Written By

Bianca de Loryn


College of Science and Engineering

Publish Date

7 July 2020

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Computer science with Snoopy in the 1980s

What do clunky computers and Snoopy, the cheeky dog from the Peanuts cartoon, have in common? JCU Computer Science alumni Ken Jones lets us in on the connection.

The 1980s was probably the most colourful decade of the 20th century, with Jane Fonda introducing us to aerobics, Crocodile Dundee joking “that’s a knife” and Lady Di doing everything in style. Less stylish, however, were the computers of that era, which were slowly finding their ways into Australian homes, as Computer Science graduate Ken Jones remembers.

When Ken started studying Computer Science at JCU in 1987, computers were still clunky boxes with no mouse and green screens without Microsoft Windows. But this didn’t stop Ken’s enthusiasm. “The mini-computer terminal rooms were open pretty much all hours,” he says. “There were students, including me, who were in there late at night programming feverishly away.”

The beginning of the internet

Only in Ken’s third year as a Computer Science student, in 1989, the mouse and a windows-based operating system finally came to JCU by means of a couple of Macintosh computers. This was also the time when something called ‘the internet’ began to emerge – but not like we know it today. It was probably more like we imagine the ‘dark net’ today. “I did use the internet in a minimal way to get access to research papers,” Ken says. “The tools were very limited, there was no Google search. You had to know the internet addresses before you connected.”

So, where does Snoopy come in?

Ken loved graphics and couldn’t get enough of 3D animations and computer games. So, when JCU opened their computer graphics lab with expensive ‘Apollo’ computers, things got interesting for Ken. “Pixar was in its very early days. I thought I would like to work in the field and so I designed and implemented a 3D keyframe animation system for Snoopy.”

Snoopy was also the topic of Ken’s Honours project: “I ended up creating a sixty second dancing Snoopy. I was very happy with the work and learned a great deal.”

Even though Ken never went to Hollywood, he did go to the United States and opened a successful software business in Pennsylvania. However, he never forgot about his childhood in Townsville. “I have been back to Townsville many times in the last thirty years to visit my family who still live there,” he says. “I always go out to JCU to visit the campus and see how it has changed. I get quite nostalgic when I go there.”

For more about JCU’s history, visit the timeline or Celebrating 50 Years.

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