Steve Jobs on Starting Apple (1980 Video)

“We absolutely had no idea what people will do with [the PC] when we started out. The two people it was designed for were Woz and myself because we couldn’t afford to buy a computer kit on the market.”

“Man as a tool maker has the ability to make a tool to amplify an inherent ability that he has. And that’s exactly what we are doing here…. We are building tools that amplify a human ability.”

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication–this is what we were striving for and this is what the Apple symbolizes.”

“Apple II will never be obsolete.”

Source: The Computer History Museum

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Launching Cloud Telephony: First battery-operated switchboard installed

NewEnglandBellToday in 1894, New England Telephone and Telegraph installed the first battery-operated switchboard in Lexington, Massachusetts. With what became to be known as the “common battery” (replacing the local battery attached to the telephone), the subscriber could signal the operator simply by lifting the receiver from its hook. According to the 1911 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, with this development, “the time occupied by an operator per call was reduced from 50.77 seconds to 16.63 seconds.”

The 1911 edition also tells us that the term “telephony” was first used 150 years ago by Philipp Reis of Friedrichsdorf, in a lecture delivered before the Physical Society of Frankfurt.

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Triumph of the Robots

golemToday in 2004, Dan Pulcrano of the Metro published “Triumph of the Robots: When Google tweaks its search rankings, whole economies tremble in fear”:

The rapid ascent of invisible robots is a unforeseen twist in the sci-fi playbook. The theme of intelligent machines achieving tyrannical domination over human beings has cropped up in numerous screenplays, though their exercise of power was never this elegant and subtle. A Star Wars laser shootout provides much better visuals. These guys just kind of snuck up on us.

And, while we knew that assembly-line labor would be replaced by robotic assemblers with welding torches, smug information workers like, ahem, newspaper editors will not be spared as the robot invasion proceeds.

It turns out that Google News does a pretty good job of sifting, ranking and organizing a mass of information larger than any carbon-based brain could process. This will no doubt have unintended social consequences. Just as program trading crashed the stock market, robotized news filtering will one day change a government or keep one in power, or cost some lives…

The current generation of information bots is likely the Model T Ford version of what lies ahead. Robots will become our personal information gatekeepers, provide content-based spam filtering, answer our mail and determine who gets through to us on the phone. Eventually, robots will begin to route our physical movements, providing Homeland Security border services, examining our biometrics as we enter buildings, guiding our vehicles on the freeways and braking at stop signs. …

Technology usually advances ahead of the social wisdom to control it, and benefits arrive in tandem with risks, from Prometheus’ taming of the fire god to the exploitation of nuclear energy. Prometheus was the inspiration for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, about the robot that got away, just as some early robot science fiction drew from the legend of the golem, a clay figurine that came to life in 1580, the creation of Rabbi Judah Low bin Bezulel of Prague. While the golem proved useful in fending off enemies, the good rabbi was careful to give his clay man a rest at night and each Sabbath by slipping a piece of paper in its mouth. When the golem developed a soul and the rabbi feared that it had grown too powerful, he rendered it lifeless and left it undisturbed in an attic, where centuries later, the story goes, its imprint struck fear in the hearts of invading Germans.

The intersection of the next generation of technology with global warfare and accelerating economic forces carries a new set of risks. We’ll have to know when to put the paper in the golem’s mouth and return it to the attic from time to time.

Rabbi Loew and Golem by Mikoláš Aleš, 1899

Rabbi Loew and Golem by Mikoláš Aleš, 1899

Last month, Google acquired Boston Dynamics, a leader in mobile robots technology, and the eighth robotics company it has acquired in 2013. “Google is intent on building a new class of autonomous systems that might do anything from warehouse work to package delivery and even elder care,” said The New York Times.


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Launching Photography: The Pencil of Nature and the Mirror with Memory

Francois Arago

Francois Arago

Today in 1839, the Daguerreotype process was presented to the French Academy of Sciences by Francois Arago, a physicist and politician. Arago told the Academy that it was “…indispensable that the Government should compensate M. Daguerre, and that France should then nobly give to the whole world this discovery which could contribute so much to the progress of art and science.”

On March 5, 1839, another inventor looking (in the United States, England, and France) for government sponsorship of his invention, met with Daguerre. A highly impressed Samuel F. B. Morse wrote to his brother: “It is one of the most beautiful discoveries of the age… No painting or engraving ever approached it.”

Earliest surviving photograph by Daguerre, 1838

Earliest surviving photograph by Daguerre, 1838

In late September, as Jeff Rosenheim tells us in Art and the Empire Cityshortly after the French government (on August 19) publicly released the details of the Daguerreotype process, “…a boat arrived [in New York] with a published text with step-by-step instructions for creating the plates and making the exposures. Morse and others in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia immediately set about to build their cameras, find usable lenses, and experiment with the new invention.”

New Yorkers were ready for the Daguerreotype, already alerted to the “new discovery” by articles in the local press, such as the one in The Corsair titled, “The Pencil of Nature” (April 13): “Wonderful wonder of wonders!! … Steel engravers, copper engravers, and etchers, drink up your aquafortis, and die! There is an end to your black art… All nature shall paint herself — fields, rivers, trees, houses, plains, mountains, cities, shall all paint themselves at a bidding, and at a few moment’s notice.”

William Howarth paints for us (in Civilization, March/April 1996) the larger picture of the new industry in America: “Daguerreotypes introduced to Americans a new realism, a style built on close observation and exact detail, so factual it no longer seemed an illusion. … Hawthorne’s one attempt at literary realism, The House of the Seven Gables (1851), features a daguerreotypist who uses his new art to dispel old shadows: ‘I make pictures out of sunshine,’ he claims, and they reveal ‘the secret character with a truth that no painter would ever venture upon.’… By 1853 the American photo industry employed 17,000 workers, who took over 3 million pictures a year.”

A hundred and fifty years later, the Metropolitan Museum of Art mounted an exhibition on the early days of Daguerreotypes in France. Said Philippe de Montebello, the director of the museum at the time: “The invention of the daguerreotype—the earliest photographic process—forever altered the way we see and understand our world. No invention since Gutenberg’s movable type had so changed the transmission of knowledge and culture, and none would have so great an impact again until the informational revolution of the late twentieth century.”

In the same year of the Metropolitan’s exhibition, 2003, more digital cameras than traditional film cameras were sold for the first time in the U.S. Four years later, Facebook stored 1.7 billion user photos and served every day more than 3 billion photo images to its users. In 2012, Facebook users uploaded around 300 million photos each day.

The “informational revolution” has replaced analog with digital, but it did not alter the idea of photography as invented by Nicéphore Niépce in 1822, and captured so well by the inimitable Ambrose Bierce in his definition of “photograph” (The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911): “A picture painted by the sun without instruction in art.”

See Also: First US Photography PatentInstant Photography“The Mirror with a Memory”First Photo Studio

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IBM Introduces Personal Cloud Computing, Today in 1976

Acoustic coupler modem

Acoustic coupler modem

Today in 1976, IBM introduced Virtual Storage Personal Computing, “a new program product to allow people with little or no data processing experience to use a computer terminal to solve problems.” The terminals were connected to remote IBM mainframes via telephone lines. From Wikipedia: “In a campus setting, VSPC offered users the ability to create and submit programs to an IBM (or compatible) mainframe without using punched cards, though the programs were still submitted as card images, and programs so submitted needed all the usual IBM Job Control Language (JCL) statements to access the mainframe batch submission and resource allocation processes. Output from a job submitted through VSPC could be routed to a printer, or back to the user’s VSPC account, though in general the output would be too wide to easily view on a VSPC terminal.”

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The Birth and Growth of Scientific Journals

journal_des_scavans_1665Today in 1665, the first issue of the Journal des sçavans (later renamed Journal des savants), was published in Paris. It is widely regarded as the first scientific journal but a more apt description would be a journal for men of letters as it also carried non-scientific material such as book reviews, obituaries of famous men, church history, and legal reports. The next day, January 6, 1665, saw the publication of the first (exclusively) scientific journal,  the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. The two were followed by Giornale de litterati d’Italia (Italy, 1668), Miscellenea Curiosa (Germany, 1670), Acta Medica et Philosophia Hafniensa (Denmark, 1673?), and Acta Eruditorum (Germany, 1682). Say Lewis Pyenson and Susan Sheets-Pyenson in Servants of Nature: “The scientific paper or journal article eventually displaced the definitive and comprehensive book as the appropriate showcase for a scientist’s work. This development hastened the process of specialization, whereby scientists strove for mastery of an ever more narrowly circumscribed area of knowledge.”

In 1944, Fremont Rider, the University Librarian at Wesleyan, calculated that American research libraries were, on the average, doubling in size every sixteen years. Given this growth rate, he estimated that the Yale Library would have in 2040 “approximately 200,000.000 volumes, which will occupy over 6,000 miles of shelves…. New material will be coming in at the rate of 12,000,000 volumes a year; and the cataloging of this new material will require a cataloging staff of over six thousand persons.”

ptIn 1961, Derek Price published Science Since Babylon, in which he charted the growth of scientific knowledge by looking at the growth in the number of scientific journals and papers. He concluded that the number of new journals has grown exponentially rather than linearly, doubling every fifteen years and increasing by a factor of ten during every half-century. Price called this the “law of exponential increase,” explaining that “each [scientific] advance generates a new series of advances at a reasonably constant birth rate, so that the number of births is strictly proportional to the size of the population of discoveries at any given time.” 

In The Coming of Post-Industrial Society (1973), Daniel Bell observed that “The idea of exponentiality, the idea that scientific knowledge accumulates ‘linearly’ in some compound fashion, has obscured the fact that the more typical, and important, pattern is the development of  ‘branching,’ or the creation of new and numerous subdivisions or specialties within fields, rather than just growth…. One can find some evidence of the extraordinary proliferation of fields in the breakdown of specializations listed in the National Register of Scientific and Technical Personnel… The Register began shortly after World War II with about 54 specializations in the sciences; 20 years later there were over 900 scientific and technical specializations listed.”

It was estimated that in 2006, the total number of scientific articles published was approximately 1,350,000, in more than 23,000 journals (including social sciences and the humanities). Of this number, 4.6% became immediately openly available on the Web and an additional 3.5% after an embargo period of, typically, one year. Furthermore, usable copies of 11.3% could be found in subject-specific or institutional repositories or on the home pages of the authors. In 2010, it was estimated that about 50 million articles have been published in scientific journals since 1665. 

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First Pocket Calculator Introduced

HP-35Today in 1972, the HP-35 was introduced. The world’s first handheld-sized scientific calculator, ultimately made the slide rule, which had previously been used by generations of engineers and scientists, obsolete. Named for its 35 keys, it performed all the functions of the slide rule to 10-digit precision and could determine the decimal point or power-of-10 exponent through a full 200-decade range. The HP-35 was 5.8 inches (150 mm) long and 3.2 inches (81 mm) wide, and said to have been designed to fit into one of William Hewlett’s shirt pockets. The Museum of HP Calculators:

Based on marketing studies done at the time, the HP-9100 was the “right” size and price for a scientific calculator.  The studies showed little or no interest in a pocket device. However Bill Hewlett thought differently.  He began the development of a “shirt pocket-sized HP-9100″ on an accelerated schedule. It was a risky project involving several immature technologies. HP originally developed the HP-35 for internal use and then decided to try selling it. Based on a marketing study, it was believed that they might sell 50,000 units. It turned out that the marketing study was wrong by an order of magnitude. Within the first few months they received orders exceeding their guess as to the total market size. General Electric alone placed an order for 20,000 units.

See also “The ‘Powerful Pocketful’: an Electronic Calculator Challenges the Slide Rule,” HP Journal, June 1972

Today, an emulation of the HP-35 is available for the Apple iPhone and iPad.

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