Milestones in the History of Technology: Week of January 18, 2016


January 19, 1983

Apple introduces Lisa, a $9,995 PC for business users. Many of its innovations such as the graphical user interface, a mouse, and document-centric computing, were taken from the Alto computer developed at Xerox PARC, introduced as the $16,595 Xerox Star in 1981.

Jobs recalled that he and the Lisa team were very relieved when they saw the Xerox Star: “We knew they hadn’t done it right and that we could–at a fraction of the price.” Walter Isaacson in Steve Jobs: “The Apple raid on Xerox PARC is sometimes described as one of the biggest heists in the chronicles of industry.” Isaacson quotes Jobs on the subject: “Picasso had a saying–‘good artists copy, great artists steal’–and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas–and we have always been shameless about stealing great ideas… They [Xerox management] were copier-heads who had no clue about what a computer could do… Xerox could have owned the entire computer industry.”

Says Isaacson: “…there is more to it than that… In the annals of innovation, new ideas are only part of the equation. Execution is just as important.” True, but given that Lisa didn’t become a commercial success, “execution” obviously means much more than “getting the product right.”

Byte magazine called the Lisa “the most important development in computers in the last five years, easily outpacing [the IBM PC].” But the intended business customers were reluctant to purchase the Lisa because of its high launch price of $9,995, making it largely unable to compete with the less expensive IBM PCs. Steve Jobs’ announcement that Apple will release a superior system in the future which would not be compatible with the Lisa didn’t help.

The release of the Apple Macintosh in January 1984, which was faster and much less expensive, was the most significant factor in the demise of the Lisa.

Apple_Macintosh-128kJanuary 24, 1984

The Apple Macintosh is launched, together with two applications, MacWrite and MacPaint, designed to show off its interface. It was the first mass-market personal computer featuring an integral graphical user interface and mouse. By April 1984, 50,000 Macintoshes were sold.

Rolling Stones announced that “This the future of computing” and the magazine’s 1984 article is full of quotable quotes:

Steve Jobs: “I don’t want to sound arrogant, but I know this thing is going to be the next great milestone in this industry. Every bone in my body says it’s going to be great, and people are going to realize that and buy it.”

Bill Gates: “People concentrate on finding Jobs’ flaws, but there’s no way this group could have done any of this stuff without Jobs. They really have worked miracles.”

Mitch Kapor, developer of Lotus 1-2-3, a best-selling program for the IBM PC: “The IBM PC is a machine you can respect. The Macintosh is a machine you can love.”

Here’s Steve Jobs introducing the Macintosh at the Apple shareholders meeting on January 24, 1984. And the Mac said: “Never trust a computer you cannot lift.”

In January 1984, I started working for NORC, a social science research center at the University of Chicago. Over the next 12 months or so, I’ve experienced the shift from large, centralized computers to personal ones and the shift from a command-line to a graphical user interface.

I was responsible, among other things, for managing $2.5 million in survey research budgets. At first, I used the budget management application running on the University’s VAX mini-computer (“mini,” as opposed to “mainframe”). I would logon using a remote terminal, type some commands and enter the new numbers I needed to record. Then, after an hour or two of hard work, I pressed a key on the terminal, telling the VAX to re-calculate the budget with the new data I’ve entered. To this day I remember my great frustration and dismay when the VAX came back telling me something was wrong in the data I entered. Telling me what exactly was wrong was beyond what the VAX—or any other computer of the time—could do.

So I basically had to start the work from the beginning and hope that on the second or third try I will get everything right and the new budget spreadsheet will be created.  This, by the way, was no different from my experience working for a bank a few years before, where I totaled by hand on an accounting machine the transactions for the day. Quite often I would get to the end of the pile of checks only to find out that the accounts didn’t balance because somewhere I entered a wrong number.

This linear approach to accounting and finance changed in 1979 when Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston invented Visicalc, the first electronic spreadsheet and the first killer app for personal computers.

Steven Levy describes the way financial calculations were done at the time (on paper!) and Brickiln’s epiphany in 1978 when he was a student at the Harvard Business School:

The problem with ledger sheets was that if one monthly expense went up or down, everything – everything – had to be recalculated. It was a tedious task, and few people who earned their MBAs at Harvard expected to work with spreadsheets very much. Making spreadsheets, however necessary, was a dull chore best left to accountants, junior analysts, or secretaries. As for sophisticated “modeling” tasks – which, among other things, enable executives to project costs for their companies – these tasks could be done only on big mainframe computers by the data-processing people who worked for the companies Harvard MBAs managed.

Bricklin knew all this, but he also knew that spreadsheets were needed for the exercise; he wanted an easier way to do them. It occurred to him: why not create the spreadsheets on a microcomputer?

At NORC, I experienced first-hand the power of that idea when I started managing budgets with Visicalc, running on an Osborne laptop. Soon thereafter I migrated to the first IBM PC at NORC which ran the invention of another HBS student, Mitch Kapor, who was also frustrated with re-calculation and other delights of paper or electronic spreadsheets running on large computers.

Lotus 1-2-3 was an efficient tool for managing budgets that managers could use themselves without wasting time on redundant work. You had complete control of the numbers and the processing of the data, you didn’t have to wait for a remote computer to do the calculations only to find out you need to enter the data again.  To say nothing, of course, about modeling, what-if scenarios, the entire range of functions at your fingertips.

But in many respects, the IBM PC (and other PCs) was a mainframe on a desk. Steve Jobs and the Lisa and Macintosh teams changed that by giving us an interface that made computing easy, intuitive, and fun. NORC got 80 Macs that year, mostly used for computer-assisted interviewing. I don’t think there was any financial software available for the Mac at the time and I continued to use Lotus 1-2-3 on the IBM PC. But I played with the Mac any opportunity I got. Indeed, there was nothing like it at the time. There was no doubt in my mind that it represented the future of computing.

It took sometime before the software running on most PCs adapted to the new personal approach to computing, but eventually Windows came along and icons and folders ruled the day. Microsoft also crushed all other electronic spreadsheets with Excel and did the same to competing word-processing and presentation tools.

But Steve Jobs triumphed at the end with yet another series of magic tricks. At the introduction of the iPhone, he should have said (or let the iPhone say): “Never trust a computer you cannot put it in your pocket.”


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Super Bowl 1985: Typewriters, Fax Machines and Steve Jobs

Long before Levi’s Stadium’s modern-day luxury suites, exclusive wine tastings and mobile app to watch video replays, there was Stanford Stadium, a huge and forlorn crater of a place with gangling weeds poking through splintered wooden bleachers.

In 1985, for the Bay Area’s first and until now only Super Bowl, Jim Steeg’s job as head of special events for the NFL was to gussy it up for the title game between the San Francisco 49ers and the Miami Dolphins and make it comfortable for the VIPs paying $60 a ticket.

So he walked into the Cupertino office of the man who the year before had unveiled the first Super Bowl-specific commercial, the Orwellian “1984” ad to launch the inaugural Macintosh. Would Steve Jobs mind paying for 85,000 seat cushions? Steeg asked. He could print his rainbow Apple Computer logo on each one.

Super Bowl pregame festivities at Stanford Stadium, 1985.

Super Bowl pregame festivities at Stanford Stadium, 1985. (Mercury News archives)

As Steeg recalls, Jobs had only one question: “Will they last forever?”

It was an ironic if not prescient question posed at a pivotal time both in the history of the Super Bowl and in the personal computer revolution taking hold across the Santa Clara Valley. By year’s end, Jobs himself would be gone, ousted from the company he founded.
To consider who we were in 1985 and how far we’ve come on the road to Super Bowl 50, we need look no further than inside and outside the gates of Stanford Stadium on Jan. 20, an unusually foggy day when President Ronald Reagan tossed the coin via satellite and Joe Montana, Dwight Clark and Ronnie Lott took down Dan Marino and his Dolphins 38-16.

No one sitting on their Apple seat cushions on that Super Bowl XIX Sunday, from then-San Jose Mayor Tom McEnery to Computer History Museum curator Chris Garcia, who was just 11 then, could anticipate how quickly antiquated their film-filled cameras would become or that the transistor radios many carried to listen to the game on KCBS were the grandfathers of ubiquitous personal electronics. The football fans were all perched on the squishy precipice of change that would dramatically redefine this place and the world as they knew it.

“Up until then, when you said where you were from, you’d say San Francisco or the Bay Area,” said author and historian Michael S. Malone, an adjunct writing professor at Santa Clara University. “Right about then, you could say Silicon Valley.” Until then, business in San Francisco was mostly known for its lawyers and bankers and Palo Alto for its venture capitalists on Sand Hill Road. The geeks of the valley — the engineers with pocket protectors — were only starting to cross the border of San Antonio Road. When you said technology, many people still thought of Hewlett-Packard. When you said software, people thought flannel pajamas.

And back then, the Super Bowl began its transformation from sport to spectacle.

The 49ers’ home at Candlestick Park, along the edge of the bay in south San Francisco, was too small and too cold for Super Bowl standards, which required at least 70,000 seats and a mean temperature in January of 50 degrees.

Before it was renovated and downsized for intimacy, 84,000-seat Stanford Stadium met the criteria, but its crude amenities and other challenges necessitated the kinds of invention that would come to exemplify the event three decades later. The megasized banners that now drape from stadiums were born from Steeg’s attempts to cover up the stadium’s bland walls. Corporate villages for Super Bowl VIP pregame parties arose from Steeg’s fear that the big wigs would be bored for hours before kickoff since he encouraged them to leave their San Francisco hotels four hours early to beat the traffic on Highway 101.

It was also the first year the Super Bowl moved away from the tradition of having the local university band play in the pregame show.

“I love the Stanford band, but I was going, ‘That’s not going to happen,’ ” Steeg said of the notoriously irreverent and unpredictable ensemble.

For entertainment at the 1985 Super Bowl — instead of a hot band like Coldplay headlining this year’s half-time show — the performance featured cartwheeling clowns and sparring pirates and an astronaut in a spacesuit honoring the space shuttle Discovery, which was orbiting the Earth.

And while Super Bowl coaches these days are usually escorted to the media day conference by limousine and police escort, in 1985, Steeg said, Dolphins coach Don Shula took BART from Oakland, where the team was staying, to the San Francisco event.

The press box at Stanford was expanded to accommodate the burgeoning media interested in the game. Steeg ordered 65 typewriters along with fax machines so reporters could send their stories back to their offices. Only the earliest adopters (was that even a hip term yet?) were outfitted with brick-size Motorola DynaTAC mobile phones or the portable TRS-80 Model 100, a Tandy Radio Shack computer released in 1983 that ran on four AA batteries. Transmitting required suctioning “acoustic couplers” onto a telephone’s handset.

On game day, Doug Menuez, who went on to chronicle some of Silicon Valley’s most historic moments, was working as a freelance photographer for USA Today. Across the street at the Holiday Inn, he and his team employed the latest technology at hand: a “refrigerator-size” computer and a Scitex scanner that transmitted images to his editors in Virginia.

“Picture me standing in a room at the Holiday Inn processing film in the bathroom,” he said. “I’m trying to transmit. Somebody turns on a hair dryer to dry the film and a fuse blew out the whole wing of the hotel. It could have been me.”

In 1985, email was a “curiosity” and innovation was the purview of the establishment, said tech forecaster Paul Saffo.

Now, he said, “We’ve had a perfect inversion of innovation in that sense. I think we’ve gone too damn far. Everyone wants to do a startup,” Saffo said. “The great irony is that people are thinking much more short-term today than they did in 1985.”

Fry’s Electronics opened its first store in Sunnyvale in 1985, and in June of that year the San Jose Mercury News switched from a paper clipping file to electronic archives. On the Stanford campus, the “Center for Integrated Systems,” which began the intense development of microelectronics, was built, the first building on campus to break with the traditional sandstone architecture. And just months earlier, Stanford University started collecting pieces for its Silicon Valley archives, “a recognition that something was going on that’s historically important,” said Henry Lowood, curator of Stanford’s History of Science & Technology Collections.

At the same time, Silicon Valley was barreling into the future, with IBM’s PC and Apple’s Macintosh, complete with mouse, plotting a digital path into our homes. San Jose would give itself the name “Capital of Silicon Valley,” and the coveted Fairmont Hotel would complete construction and help transform downtown San Jose. Just two years earlier, Mayor McEnery took a helicopter ride with Steve Jobs over the verdant Coyote Valley to the south, where Jobs first dreamed of building an I.M. Pei version of the spaceship headquarters now under construction along Interstate 280 in Cupertino.

“We were at the end of the rainbow and had the pot of gold, a lot of land,” McEnery said. “If I looked as a historian, I’m amazed how far we’ve come and I’m disappointed that we didn’t go a bit further.”

The Super Bowl sure has. The $1.3 billion Levi’s Stadium, now the Santa Clara home of the 49ers, is considered the most technologically advanced, equipped with more than 400 miles of data cable, 1,300 Wi-Fi access points and two of the largest high-definition video boards in the NFL.

Looking back, it seems like the 1985 Super Bowl was in many ways a celebration of Silicon Valley and the Apple seat cushions a symbol of what was to come. If he looked hard enough, McEnery said, he would probably find the souvenirs in his basement. Garcia, from the Computer History Museum, went to the game with his father and wishes he kept his, too.

“Even then I was an Apple geek,” he said. “We had an Apple II.”

Steve Jobs died in 2011 of cancer at the age of 56, but his Silicon Valley legend grows on. And what about those seat cushions? Would they last forever?

Check eBay, a company founded in the heart of Silicon Valley in 1995. You can buy one for $198 — just about the price to upgrade to an iPhone 6.

Source: Julia Prodis Sulek at San Jose Mercury News

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Milestones in the History of Technology: Week of January 11, 2016

January 11, 1994


Vice President Al Gore smiles as high school student Mark Wang, right, demonstrates an on-line interactive computer system in a computer class during Gore’s visit to Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, California, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 1994. (Joe Pugliese | The Associated Press)

The Superhighway Summit is held at UCLA’s Royce Hall. It was the “first public conference bringing together all of the major industry, government and academic leaders in the field [and] also began the national dialogue about the Information Superhighway and its implications.” The conference was organized by Richard Frank of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and Jeffrey Cole and Geoffrey Cowan, the former co-directors of UCLA’s Center for Communication Policy. The keynote speaker was Vice President Al Gore who said:  “We have a dream for…an information superhighway that can save lives, create jobs and give every American, young and old, the chance for the best education available to anyone, anywhere.”

According to Cynthia Lee in UCLA Today: “The participants underscored the point that the major challenge of the Information Highway would lie in access or the ‘gap between those who will have access to it because they can afford to equip themselves with the latest electronic devices and those who can’t.’”

In a March 9, 1999 interview with CNN’s Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, Gore discussed the possibility of running for President in the 2000 election. In response to Wolf Blitzer’s question: “Why should Democrats, looking at the Democratic nomination process, support you instead of Bill Bradley,” Gore responded:

I’ll be offering my vision when my campaign begins. And it will be comprehensive and sweeping. … During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet. I took the initiative in moving forward a whole range of initiatives that have proven to be important to our country’s economic growth and environmental protection, improvements in our educational system.

In a speech to the American Political Science Association, former Republican Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Newt Gingrich said:

Gore is not the Father of the Internet, but in all fairness, Gore is the person who, in the Congress, most systematically worked to make sure that we got to an Internet, and the truth is — and I worked with him starting in 1978 when I got [to Congress], we were both part of a “futures group”—the fact is, in the Clinton administration, the world we had talked about in the ’80s began to actually happen.

A November 2014 Pew Research Center online survey found that only 23% of respondents knew that the “Internet” and the “World Wide Web” do not refer to the same thing.

January 12, 1910


1910 New York Times advertisement for the wireless radio. Source: Wikipedia

Opera is first heard on the radio in what is considered the first public radio broadcast. On January 12, Lee De Forest conducted an experimental broadcast of part of the live Metropolitan Opera performance of Tosca and, on January 13, a broadcast of Enrico Caruso and Emmy Destinn singing arias from Cavalleria Rusticana and I Pagliacci.

Susan Douglas tells the story in Inventing American Broadcasting:

The timing of the actual moment of insight remains uncertain, but sometime during the insecure winter of 1906-7, De Forest conceived of radio broadcasting. It was an insight fueled less by a compelling technical vision and more by the desired and longings of the social outcast. During De Forest’s impoverished and lonely spells, he would cheer himself up by going to the opera. Usually he could only afford a twenty-five-cents ticket which bought him a spot to stand in at the back of the opera house. De Forest was an ardent music lover, and he considered unjust the fact that ready access to beautiful music was reserved primarily to the financially comfortable. … De Forest was convinced that there were thousands of other deprived music fans in America who would love to have opera transmitted to their homes. He decided to use his radiophone not only for point-to-point message sending, but also for broadcasting music and speech. This conception of radio’s place in America’s social and economic landscape was original, revolutionary, and quite different from that of his contemporaries… [De Forest] told the New York Times [in 1909], prophetically: “I look forward to the day when opera may be brought to every home. Someday the news and even advertising will be sent out over the wireless telephone.”

In They Made America, Harold Evans continues the story:

De Forest was disappointed in his dream of bringing culture to the masses, especially his beloved opera. In 1933 he denounced “uncouth sandwich men” whose advertisements had come to dominate radio. “From the ecstasies of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky, listeners are suddenly dumped into a cold mess of ginger ale and cigarettes.” He was still in anguish in 1946. He told broadcasters they had sent his “child” into the street “in rags of ragtime, tatters of jive and boogie woogie, to collect money from all and sundry, for hubba hubba and audio jitterbug.”

Today, the 85th season of Saturday Matinee broadcasts from the Metropolitan Opera can be heard over the Toll Brothers–Metropolitan Opera International Radio Network. The Met also streams one live performance per week on its website at

January 13, 1946


(Photo: Falcon Writing)

Chester Gould introduces in Dick Tracy’s 2-Way Wrist Radio, having drawn inspiration from a visit to inventor Al Gross. It became one of the strip’s most immediately recognizable icons, and was eventually upgraded to a 2-Way Wrist TV in 1964.

January 15, 2001

Wikipedia is launched. It has grown rapidly into one of the largest reference websites, attracting 374 million unique visitors monthly as of September 2015. There are more than 70,000 active contributors working on more than 35,000,000 articles in 290 languages.

January 16, 1956

The development of the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) is disclosed to the public. SAGE’s use of telephone lines to communicate from computer to computer and computer to radar laid the groundwork for modems. The control program, the largest real-time computer program written at that time, spawned a new profession, software development engineers and programmers.

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Milestones in Tech History: Week of January 4, 2016

January 4, 1972

The HP-35 is 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.


Source: Wikipedia

From the 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.

A sidebar in the article “The ‘Powerful Pocketful’: an Electronic Calculator Challenges the Slide Rule,” published in the HP Journal, June 1972, provided performance comparisons of the HP-35 and a slide rule operated by engineers who were “highly proficient in slide rule calculation.” For example, the problem “Great circle distance between San Francisco and Miami” was solved in 65 seconds with answer to ten significant digits by the HP-35. It took 5 minutes to get an answer with four significant digits with the slide rule.

January 6, 1976

IBM introduces 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.”

January 7, 1839



Francois Arago. Source: Wikipedia

The Daguerreotype photography process is 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 of the telegraph, 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.”

In late September 1839, 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 on April 13, 1839, titled “The Pencil of Nature”: “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.”


A Holmes stereoscope, the most popular form of 19th century stereoscope. Source: Wikipedia

Another memorable phrase capturing the wonders of photography came from the pen (or pencil) of Oliver Wendell Holmes, who wrote in “The Stereoscope and the Stereograph” (The Atlantic Monthly, June 1859):

The Daguerreotype… has fixed the most fleeting of our illusions, that which the apostle and the philosopher and the poet have alike used as the type of instability and unreality. The photograph has completed the triumph, by making a sheet of paper reflect images like a mirror and hold them as a picture… [it is the] invention of the mirror with a memory…

The time will come when a man who wishes to see any object, natural or artificial, will go to the Imperial, National, or City Stereographic Library and call for its skin or form, as he would for a book at any common library… we must have special stereographic collections, just as we have professional and other special libraries. And as a means of facilitating the formation of public and private stereographic collections, there must be arranged a comprehensive system of exchanges, so that there may grow up something like a universal currency of these bank-notes, or promises to pay in solid substance, which the sun has engraved for the great Bank of Nature.

Let our readers fill out a blank check on the future as they like,—we give our indorsement to their imaginations beforehand. We are looking into stereoscopes as pretty toys, and wondering over the photograph as a charming novelty; but before another generation has passed away, it will be recognized that a new epoch in the history of human progress dates from the time when He who

never but in uncreated light
Dwelt from eternity—

took a pencil of fire from the hand of the “angel standing in the sun,” and placed it in the hands of a mortal.


Stereoscopic view of Charles Street, Boston, c.1860. Source: Wikipedia

In Civilization (March/April 1996), William Howarth painted for us 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.”


Two Nude Women, 1840s Unknown Artist, French School Daguerreotype stereograph. Source: Metropolitan Museum

A hundred and fifty years after what Holmes called the moment of the “triumph of human ingenuity,” 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.

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.”

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This Week in Tech History: The Internet is 46 years old and Internet Advertising is 21

October 27, 2010

World Day for Audiovisual Heritage is celebrated or the first time, to “raise general awareness of the need for urgent measures to be taken and to acknowledge the importance of audiovisual documents as an integral part of national identity.” UNESCO estimates that “we have no more than 10 to 15 years to transfer audiovisual records to digital to prevent their loss.” Examples here and here.

To celebrate the International Day for Audiovisual Heritage, the Centre for Image Research and Diffusion (CRDI) of the Girona City Council, has made four audiovisuals with the CRDI footage, which show the evolution of four emblematic places in the city: the Cathedral, the Rambla, the Devesa and the Independence square.

October 27, 1994

HotWired, the first commercial Web magazine, gives birth to the first Web banner ad and the Internet advertising industry. Legend has it that the first banner ad was from AT&T, prophetically asking “Have you ever clicked your mouse right here? You will.” Worldwide Internet advertising revenues were $135.42 billion in 2014 and are expected to grow to $239.87 billion in 2019, surpassing TV as the largest single advertising category.

first Banner Ad

October 28, 1927

The first biweekly Movietone newsreel premiers at the Roxy Theater in New York City. Newsreels were a source of news, current affairs, and entertainment for millions of moviegoers until television supplanted them in the 1950s. In 2013, Television was still cited as one of two major sources of news by 69% of Americans, followed by a rapidly-rising Internet, cited by 50%. Today, the share of Americans for whom Twitter and Facebook serve as a source of news is continuing to rise, reaching 63% in 2015.

Movietone News Fox

Fox Movietone News, Vol. XVIII, No. 11,1935

October 20, 1969

Leonard Kleinrock and Charley Kline send the first message ever sent over the ARPANET, the predecessor of the Internet, from their network node at UCLA to Bill Duvall at SRI. They attempted to transmit the word “login,” as in logging into the SRI computer from their computer at UCLA. They succeeded in transmitting the “l” and the “o” and then the system crashed! Hence, says Kleinrock, the first message on the Internet was “lo”, as in “lo and behold!” They were able to do the full login about an hour later.


Internet birthplace at UCLA

November 1, 1870

The U.S. Weather Bureau makes its first meteorological observations using 24 locations that provided reports via telegraph. For the first time, weather observations from distant points could be “rapidly” collected, plotted, and analyzed at one location. It’s a great example of how the value of information increases when it’s shared or what Metcalfe’s Law should have been about. Instead, Metcalfe’s Law tries to capture the increase in the value of the network as more users join it. What flows over the network is more important and interesting than the network itself. Of course, what Metcalfe was selling in the early 1980s when he used the formula (later labeled “Metcalfe’s Law” by George Gilder), was a network card and the pioneering idea of local-area-networks. At that time, the major perceived benefit of networking PCs was not sharing information, but sharing a printer…

NOAA 1899 wea01304 .jpg (82072 bytes)

“The Local Forecast Office,” National Weather Service, Buffalo, NY, 1899.

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This Week In Tech History: Back To The Future



October 19, 1979                             

Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston release Visicalc, the first electronic spreadsheet and the first killer app for personal computers.

October 20, 2010                             

The first World Statistics Day is celebrated.

Here he comes big with Statistics, Troubled and sharp about fac’s. He has heaps of the Form that is thinkable—The stuff that is feeling he lacks.—Robert Louis Stevenson

Our modern reliance on numbers and quantification was born and nurtured in the scientific and commercial worlds of the seventeenth century… Numerical facts trounced opinions and were supposed to foster community consensus, because all thinking people would naturally agree if they possessed total and accurate information—Patricia Cline Cohen, A Calculating People, 1999

In an increasingly complex world full of senseless coincidence, what’s required in many situations is not more facts – we’re inundated already – but a better command of known facts, and for this a course in probability is invaluable—John Allen Paulos, Innumeracy, 1988

I keep saying that the sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians. And I’m not kidding—Hal Varian, 2009

"Is the world a better place today?" (isWBPT) is a web-based, interactive visualisation app based on the Millenium Develoment Goals data.

“Is the world a better place today?” (isWBPT) is a web-based, interactive visualisation app based on the Millenium Develoment Goals data.

October 21, 2015

Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown arrives in the future in his DeLorean time machine, bringing Marty McFly and his girlfriend, Jennifer Parker, to help their future children by being transported from October 26, 1985.


October 23, 2001

Apple Computer introduces the iPod portable music player with the slogan “1,000 songs in your pocket.” It features a 5GB capacity 1.8″ hard drive, FireWire connectivity, and a mechanical scroll wheel. Apple also releases version 2.0 of iTunes, with Steve Jobs announcing that “iTunes 2 seamlessly integrates with iPod to revolutionize the portable MP3 music experience.”

IPod 1000 songs

October 24, 1861

The transcontinental telegraph, the first instant communications link between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, is completed. The first message is sent to President Abraham Lincoln from Horace W. Carpentier, president of the Overland Telegraph Co.: “I announce to you that the telegraph to California has this day been completed. May it be a bond of perpetuity between the states of the Atlantic and those of the Pacific.”

Instant communications made the Pony Express obsolete, and it officially ceased operations two days later. For its 18 months of operation, the Pony Express reduced the time for messages to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to about ten days.

Life without instant communication (and before travel by railway), is described well by Stephen Ambrose in Undaunted Courage:

A critical fact in the world of 1801 was that nothing moved faster than the speed of a horse. No human being, no manufactured item, no bushel of wheat … no letter, no information, no idea, order, or instruction of any kind moved faster. Nothing ever had moved any faster, and, as far as contemporaries were able to tell, nothing ever would.


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This Week In Tech History: Steve Jobs And The NeXT Big Thing


October 12, 1988

Steve Jobs unveiled the NeXT Computer at Symphony Hall in San Francisco. A day or two later, I was among a standing-room only crowd at Boston’s Symphony Hall admiring the all-black, beautifully-designed “workstation” with a brand-new optical drive (no hard disk drive in the computer of the future according to Jobs) that played a duet with a human violinist.

That night I sent a gushing memo to my colleagues at DEC, telling them that the future has arrived and that Jobs education-sector-first marketing strategy was brilliant. Indeed, CERN was one of the early adopters and Tim Berners-Lee developed the first WWW browser/editor on the NeXT workstation. But NeXT Computer, Inc. went on to sell only 50,000 beautifully-designed “cubes,” getting out of the hardware business altogether in 1993.

For many years, I have kept in my office the “Computing advances to the NeXT level” poster I got that night as a reminder that forecasting the next big (or small) thing in technology is tough, even impossible.

And yet, many people believe that technology marches according to some “laws” or pre-defined trajectory and that all we have to do is decipher the “evolutionary” path technology (or the economy or society) is destined to follow.

Jobs went on to introduce the iPod and  the iPad, industry-changing devices whose invention was made possible, among other things, by a tiny disk drive. The possibility of a significant boost to the simultaneous shrinking (of size) and enlarging (of capacity) of disk drives was known since the discovery of the giant magnetoresistance effect in the very same year the NeXT Computer was introduced, 1988. Still, no one predicted the iPod.  Similarly, in 1990 no one predicted how the Web will change how we consume and create information or in 2000, how server virtualization will change the cost and availability of IT-on-demand, although both technologies existed at the time.

To quote someone who had the opportunity to meet his future, “Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if preserved in, they must lead. But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change.” We cannot predict our future. But, like Ebenezer Scrooge, we can create it. Steve Jobs did.

The move Steve Jobs opened Friday, October 9, 2015, with the launch of the NeXT Computer as one of the three product launches that form its story line.

October 13, 1860

James Wallace Black made the first successful aerial photographs in the United States. He photographed Boston from a hot-air balloon at 1,200 feet. One good print resulted, which Black titled “Boston as the Eagle and the Wild Goose see it.”

October 13, 1983

The wireless industry was born when the head of Ameritech Mobile Communications placed the first commercial cellphone call from Chicago (home of the first city-wide cellular network) to Alexander Graham Bell’s grandson in Germany. By the end of 2014, annual wireless revenues were 187.8 billion, wireless penetration in the U.S. was 110%, and 44% of U.S. households were wireless-only. Annual wirelss data usage rose from 1.468 trillion megabytes in 2012 to 4.06 trillion megabytes in 2014.

October 14, 1888

Louis Le Prince shot Roundhay Garden Scene, the earliest surviving motion picture.


October 15, 1973

Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson presented their first paper on Unix at the Fourth ACM Symposium on Operating Systems Principles (SOSP). The paper was later published in the July 1974 issue of Communications of the ACM. Ritchie and Thompson received the Turing Award from the ACM in 1983, the Hamming Medal from the IEEE in 1990 and the National Medal of Technology from President Clinton in 1999.

October 17, 1907

Guglielmo Marconi inaugurated the first regular transatlantic radio-telegraph service between Clifden, Ireland and Glace Bay, Canada.

October 18, 1954

Texas Instruments announced the first transistor radio, the Regency TR-1, which sold for $49.95 (about $440 in today’s dollars).

October 18, 1999

Steve Jobs was featured on the cover of Time magazine. Jobs talked about his two companies, Apple Computer and Pixar, in “Steve’s Two Jobs” by Michael Krantz. It starts with the sentence: “It’s 3:00 P.M. in Richmond, Calif., and Steve Jobs is micromanaging.”

Originally published on

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