In the latest installment of OfficeHop, meet Computer Science Professor and onetime McDonald’s model Stephen Edwards. Daily Editor Brian Wagner ventured into the depths of the CSB to tour what might just be the coolest office on campus. As Edwards puts it, “Space is one of the most precious resources at Columbia.”
If you closed your eyes and tried to imagine the ideal office of a computer science professor, chances are you’d come pretty close to picturing the nook in the Computer Science Building that belongs to Professor Stephen Edwards. Step through the door and you’re greeted by a massive bookshelf overflowing with volumes of programming texts, and a desk literally covered in computer monitors (at least four of which were active upon this Bwogger’s entry). But what makes this crowded space every programmer’s dream is something much more special—video games. And lots of ’em.
Most of the retro games in Edwards’ collection don’t resemble those you’ve probably seen; they are simply the circuit boards containing the game programming itself—this is true hardcore gaming. Edwards’ obsession with the virtual toys began when he was a teenager and video games were just becoming popular: “I used to go down to the arcade…I never had money to play the games, so I just watched other people.” Most of the boards aren’t quite in working order when Edwards acquires them—a copy of Pacman he showed off required some part replacements and rewiring. Once they are fully repaired, he attaches an adapter to the boards so that he can play them on a modern
monitor. His favorite? Pengo, because it’s “sort of obscure.”
But not all of Edwards’ games are on nondescript-looking plates of fiberglass. Three Sega arcade games—two Monaco GPs and a Hang-On—line the walls of his office. According to Edwards, the motorcycle game is functional, and one of the Monaco GP’s is “either really easy or really hard depending on whether or not I switch a wire.” Minor hardware bugs aside, it’s impressive that Edwards has done such a great deal of restoration to these now-relics of modern entertainment. He fondly recalls his first purchase, the Monaco GP, which he acquired on eBay, then rented a Zipcar to drive to Atlantic City and pick it up. “It was a crazy experience,” he admits, “but it was good, because I think I wanted a crazy experience.”
Besides the Sega motorcycle, Edwards stores two other bikes in his office. Actually, one of them is not a bicycle—it’s a unicycle, which Edwards picked up while traveling in Asia. “I tried to practice, but I just don’t have the time,” he reflects. “And it’s way too small, so when I get on it it looks like a clown bike.”
Though Edwards laments that he hasn’t had much spare time lately to work on fixing up his less functional games, he has been trying to get his children hooked on restoration. His eight-year-old son isn’t terribly fascinated by the retro games (“When you’ve got these new fully-rendered, 3D games…”), but Edwards has attempted to assemble a kit for a Pong-like game with him. “He burned himself with a soldering iron, though, so he’s afraid of it now,” Edwards sighs.