Douglas Englebart and the Mother of all Demos

On December 9, 1968, something huge took place in the world of computing. Indeed, it was an event that would help shape our world as we know it today.  This event, spearheaded by one Douglas Englebart, showcased several technologies that we know and love today, but, in 1968, were absolutely extraordinary.

firstMouseSo, what was this earth-shattering event? It was ‘The Mother of all Demos’.  This demo, showcasing the ideas that Englebart and his staff were working on at the Stanford Research Institute.

The result of the work, and what was demonstrated, was called NLS or oN Line System. The audience of a thousand were witness to the first live demo of: interconnected computers, the mouse, video teleconferencing, word processing, collaborative software, hypertext, objects in the computer space, a very, very crude type of graphical interface (sans real graphics, more like cursor addressable text, but the basis for gui’s were there) and more.

Englebart and his team were way ahead of the technology, however. And, not all of his ideas were accepted. For instance, the piano key style ‘quick keys’ never really took off.  This device consisted of several (four or five) multipurpose keys (that looked like piano keys) that execute what were, essentially, macros. It was a novel idea, but never took off.

Englebart went on to put his interconnectivity ideas to use in what was to become the ARPANET. ARPANET was the precursor to our current Internet.

Englebart and his team continued to work at the Augmentation Research Center into the 1970’s, which saw the dawn of personal computing. Interestingly enough, he didn’t fully embrace the notion of the ‘personal’ computer, instead, he foresaw networked, collaborative computing. More like timeshare or client-server style computing. He may have been onto something, as the majority of people now work in the type of setup: you may spend a grand on a computer, but what is the first thing you want to do with it: get on the Internet. It was this difference in philosophy that caused many of his colleagues to run off to Xerox Parc and work on the Graphical User Interface that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates ripped off and what gave way to our modern way of computing.

Douglas Englebart was a visionary who, unfortunately, got swept away by time and flashy personalities like Jobs.  People tend to credit Jobs and Gates for most of our computing advancements, but it was Englebart who led the way and laid the foundation for those two to build upon.

Mr. Englebart passed away on July 3, 2013. He was 88 years old.

For more information on the man and his research:


Bardini, Thierry. Bootstrapping: Douglas Engelbart, Coevolution, and the Origins of Personal Computing. Stanford CA: Stanford University Press, 2000. ISBN 0-8047-3871-8

Douglas Englebart’s Demo, December 8, 1968

CBS, you can keep your programming

There is a small start up called Aereo is retransmitting over the air broadcast signals on the internet for a fee. To skirt around certain laws, Aereo gives each of its customers an antenna. So, for a small fee, people can subscribe to this service on the internet and receive nice, high definition television.

Well, naturally, this has broadcasters really knotted up and in a major tizzy.  Last month, Aereo won a major court case and was emboldened to expand. Currently, they are only in New York City, but have announced plans for Boston.

As a result of that court victory for Aereo, both Fox and CBS have publicly stated that they will – get this – go CABLE. 

Going cable would, likely, be a bigger issue for Fox than CBS, but, both nets would lose a lot of viewers. And, at the same, one can imagine they will also lose programming (due rights having to be renegotiated for cable, something most producers have done for other companies) and revenue. If I were an advertiser, I would demand the much lower rates that most cable channels get versus broadcast television.

I kind of hope that CBS does go cable. About the only thing we watch on this network are Big Bang Theory and Survivor.  Both of which I get, legally, via on demand, DVD, Hulu or the net’s own web site. The local CBS affiliate would then be free to put good programming on its airwaves.

Affiliates…oh, right…doesn’t CBS and Fox care about them? Are they so freaking shallow and scared of Aereo-which will fail, btw- that they would risk their own business? And would of the agreements they currently have? Hmmm….

In a recent statement, Les Moonves of CBS claims that they can go cable in a matter of a few days. This is something I find difficult to believe. He goes on to say that about ten percent of the country would NOT get the channel and those people will be upset.  He says it like it’s a threat. Well, guess what…the courts do not care. And neither does the public. Unless its Sunday and they can’t get that football game.  What’s that? The Internet…oh yeah.

Granted, broadcast television does not have much of a long term future, cable and the internet ARE the future of television, but, for the next ten to twenty years, broadcast television will still be here and watched by millions. 

And, those millions are people that CBS and Fox cannot afford to piss off and lose.  While I don’t care much for the gimmicky solution that Aereo came up with to skirt the law, I do think Barry Diller is correct about one thing: the Internet (or its replacement) IS where television is headed. 

Personally, I don’t care anymore.  Go cable. Disappear. Your programming will live on. With or with you, CBS.

What does the New York Times have to do with this blog?

I watch the blog stats on a regular basis. I am always interested in what people read the most. It is, usually, about running old games in newer versions of Windows, something OneNote related or the home page. In the last few days, though, a post from quite awhile back has gotten a lot of attention. That post, about Altair creator Ed Roberts, turns up, quite high, in search results when you search for ‘pioneering microcomputer’ or a variation of that. So, why, suddenly, was this post read? It was not Ed’s passing, anniversary of the Altair or anything related.

So, what gives?

As it turns out, ‘pioneering microcomputer’ was a clue (Altair’ was the answer) in the New York Times puzzle.

How about that?

Now, I am sure most of those who visited this blog won’t be back but, hopefully, a few will return.  That is fine with me.

Traffic comes from all kinds of places, but, to be part of the NYT puzzle, by association, well, that’s just cool.

EC strikes again…fines Microsoft for lame browser ballot screen…Europeans, after all, cannot make up their own minds you know

Microsoft reached an agreement, several years ago, with EC to include a browser ballot in Windows. This browser ballot allowed Europeans to choose a default browser. In effect, this protectionist move (over the ill-fated Opera browser) hand held Europeans in selecting a browser because, you know, they couldn’t figure it out on their own.

Fast forward to 2011. Microsoft releases service pack 1 for Windows 7. Through some kind of mistake, the browser ballot is left out. A YEAR LATER, Microsoft informs the EC that of the mistake. It took the Commission from July of 2012 to NOW to decide to fine MS a cool $750 million dollars for the mistake. Never mind NO ONE NOTICED that for nearly a year, the ballot was missing.

Now, aside from the fact that the reasoning for the screen is long dead and stupid to begin with-I know my Euro friends are quite intelligent-the fact that no one noticed speaks volumes. This ruling is yet one more reason for the EU/EC/Ewhatever to slap an American company for doing well.

What would happen if the Us did the same? There would be an outcry from every EU member nation.  Yet, this move, designed to protect Opera, goes on without so much as a protest from anyone.It just makes me want to use IE even more and hope for Opera’s demise-which, fortunately,has been hastened by its adoption of Webkit, a decidedly inferior web rendering engine.

Now, I gotta run and do some surfing…avoiding any EC-sanctioned site or product, of course.

Endeavour’s last flight

OV105finalvoyageThe Shuttle Endeavor is on its final voyage, to its new home in Los Angeles. The Endeavor, the newest in the fleet, was built in response to the loss of the Challenger.

Reading news accounts of Endeavor’s last voyage inevitably led to a recounting of its history, its reason for being built: the loss of the Challenger. Now, most of those retellings made the same mistake: that Challenger ‘exploded.’  This is not the case.

Challenger did not explode, it was blown apart.  Because of the way the shuttles were mated to the launch vehicle, there was enough room between the external fuel tank and the bottom of the shuttle to allow a shock wave to form from the external tank’s explosion. The shock blew apart the shuttle, resulting in the loss of the crew.

Video and forensic evidence shows that the crew, at least those on the flight deck, were alive after the craft was blown apart.  Oxygen tanks were turned on and the crew compartment can be seen falling, intact, into the water. The impact likely killed whomever may have survived the initial event.

President Reagan vowed to continue the Shuttle program and the decision was made to replace Challenger.  Initially, thought was given to refurbishing the Enterprise, but, ultimately, spare frame parts were used to built a new Shuttle, the Endeavour.

Endeavour, named after the first ship commanded by James Cook, an 18th century British explorer.

Endeavour’s first space mission was to retrieve a stranded communications satellite in May of 1992. The last mission was flown in May of 2011. In all, Endeavour flew 25 flights, spent 299 days in space, traversed the Earth 4,671 times and travelled 122.883 million miles.

More information on Endeavour

WTC Building 7: controlled demolition? Hardly

wtc7September 11, 2001. It is a day that most Americans, indeed people all over the planet, won’t forget anytime soon.  On that morning,four hi-jacked aircraft were used as guided missiles with three of them hitting their targets and the fourth going down in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  Two of the planes hit the World Trade Center in New York City and the other plane crashed into the Pentagon in Virginia.

The aftermath of the crashed were that the World Trade Center complex was detroyed and the Pentagon suffered heavy damage. 

The World Trade Center, which consisted of seven buildings, was mostly destroyed early in the morning when both of the Twin Towers collapsed as a result of the two planes crashing into them. When those towers came down, the debris from them crushed much of the complex, including the hotel at the base.  The last building, Building 7, collapsed nearly eight hours later.

According to the official investigation, the four aircraft were hi-jacked by members of Al-Qaeda and were to be flown into significant landmarks, including the Trade Center, the White House and Pentagon. Of course, the plane bound for the White House was seized by the passengers and the hi-jackers deliberately flew it into the ground. While the report blames a ‘failure of imagination’ for the attacks, many do not believe it happened that way at all. Their imaginations have not failed them and one favorite subject, supposedly proving beyond doubt, is Building 7.

Building was a 47 story tower built in 1987. It was home to numerous agencies, including the FBI and the City of New York.  Fuel tanks were also stored in the building, in the basement and several levels up. The building design featured an open floor plan and load bearing supports were not in the typical areas one might find them.  Indeed, the load bearing support did not fully encompass the building, instead, it jutted inward and down rather than the traditional straight from top to bottom as in the Twin Towers themselves. The design was sound and it worked. Worked until most of the southwest corner was removed, that is.

When the towers collapsed, they sheared away massive parts of surrounding buildings, manyWTC7SouthWestCornerDamage of which have had to be demolished or were severely damaged.  Building 7 suffered a major blow with the removal of the southwest corner. However, just the corner sustaining damage was not fatal blow itself. No, that was the thousands of gallons of fuel that was now burning. At some point, in the late morning, the building was evacuated and allowed to burn, uncontrolled, for the next five or so hours.  The fires in the building, coupled with the now weak load bearing support, doomed the building and around 5:20pm, the building began to collapse.

Firefighters had noticed, two hours earlier, that there were signs that the building might collapse. Rescue operations were halted and the remaining firefighters left.  There were no known casualties as a result of the collapse.

Conspiracy believers are convinced that the building collapse was another controlled demolition. They point, yet again, to puffs of air and tiny explosions from windows just prior to each floor collapse. However, this is the exact thing you would see when the floors pancake each other: all of the pressure from the evacuating air blows the windows out and, thus, smoke as well. It is easy to see how this effect might be mistaken for tiny explosions. 

One convenient thing about the collapse is the lack of clear photos showing the destruction of the southwest corner.  There are photos and some video, but it is really difficult to see anything. They point to this as proof.  They also continue to state that no steel structure has ever been destroyed by fire.  What they fail to say is that the steel structure, in the case of building 7, was allowed to burn for nearly eight hours, thus softening the steel, and the support-which was already compromised.  To me, it is easy to understand and see, but to someone who has already made up their minds, it is damn near impossible.

While I generally agree with the government’s explanations, I do think the attacks could have been stopped. The lack of communication between the FBI and CIA, while deliberate and following proper protocol, was ludicrous, Those two organizations should be sharing information, especially about suspected terrorists and what they are doing.  Ask a “truther”, however, and they will tell you all about controlled demolition and missiles rather than aircraft hitting those buildings.  Failure of imagination for the government, maybe, but not for others. I’d say to call Building 7’s collapse a controlled demolition is from an overly active imagination.

Reaching for the skies…RIP Neil Armstrong

NeilArmstrongJuly 16, 1969. On that date, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins boarded the Apollo 11 craft that would take them to the moon. Four days later, on July 20,1969, Armstrong and Aldrin landed the Eagle on the surface of the moon.

Armstrong, as commander of the mission, got the honor of being the first human being to set foot on another celestial body.  His comments, as he did so, will forever be etched in the minds of humans. “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Those words were written prior to his footprints being implanted on the moon. Written prior to the launch of Apollo 11. Even through the static in the transmission, the words had a very symbolic meaning. 

As he took his moment in history, Armstrong was more concerned with accomplishing his mission than what it meant for human history. And, once he returned to earth, he did not let his new found fame go to his head. Instead of doing endless appearances, book deals, movie deals, etc., Mr. Armstrong went back to Ohio and became a aerospace professor at the University of Cincinnati for nearly a decade.

apollo-11The journey to the moon was a decade long challenge for the nation, NASA and people like Armstrong. Indeed, in 1957, the former Soviet Union put the first man made satellite in orbit, Sputnik. Sputnik scared the nation into space. four years later, President Kennedy challenged the nation to put a man on the moon and return him safely to earth. 

Armstrong and Aldrin fulfilled Kennedy’s challenge-with the help of thousands of people-and spent more than three hours roaming around the moon.  Armstrong placed a patch on the moon to commemorate the astronauts and cosmonauts who lost their lives while serving their respective space programs.

Armstrong’s last public appearance came in 2010 when he voiced his concern about the cuts to the program that President Obama had ordered.

Armstrong passed away August 25, 2012. He was 82 years old.  Godspeed, Neil.