Old Computer Podcasts - Find Shows About Computing's Past

The only online repository for audio about antiquated technology. Here you can find all the best podcasts covering the history of computers, their evolution, and where old technology lives in the modern day.

Recent episodes:

Iomega

    RetroMacCast 6/26/2022

James and John discuss eBay finds: Mac IIvi/IIvx poster, Iomega Zip Drive, and collection of Apple logo items. They look at the history of Iomega, and news includes Matias creations and new MacEffects Store offerings.

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St Jude, Felsenstein, and Community Memory

    The History of Computing 6/25/2022

Lee Felsenstein went to the University of California, Berkeley in the 1960s. He worked at the tape manufacturer Ampex, where Oracle was born out of before going back to Berkeley to finish his degree. He was one of the original members of the Homebrew Computer Club, and as with so many inspired by the Altair S-100 bus, designed the Sol-20, arguably the first microcomputer that came with a built-in keyboard that could be hooked up to a television in 1976. The Apple II was introduced the following year.

Adam Osborne was another of the Homebrew Computer Club regulars who wrote An Introduction to Microcomputers and sold his publishing company to McGraw-Hill in 1979. Flush with cash, he enlisted Felsenstein to help create another computer, which became the Osborne 1. The first commercial portable computer, although given that it weighed almost 25 pounds, is more appropriate to call a luggable computer. Before Felsensten built computers, though, he worked with a few others on a community computing project they called Community Memory. 

Judith Milhon was an activist in the 1960s Civil Rights movement who helped organize marches and rallies and went to jail for civil disobedience. She moved to Ohio, where she met Efrem Lipkin, and as with many in what we might think of as the counterculture now, they moved to San Francisco in 1968. St Jude, as she became called learned to program in 1967 and ended up at the Berkeley Computer Company after the work on the Berkeley timesharing projects was commercialized. There, she met Pam Hardt at Project One. 

Project One was a technological community built around an alternative high school founded by Ralph Scott. They brought together a number of non-profits to train people in various skills and as one might expect in the San Francisco area counterculture they had a mix of artists, craftspeople, filmmakers, and people with deep roots in technology. So much so that it became a bit of a technological commune. They had a warehouse and did day care, engineering, film processing, documentaries, and many participated in anti-Vietnam war protests.

They had all this space and Hardt called around to find the computer. She got an SDS-940 mainframe donated by TransAmerica in 1971. Xerox had gotten out of the computing business and TransAmerica’s needs were better suited for other computers at the time. They had this idea to create a bulletin board system for the community and created a project at Project One they called Resource One. Plenty thought computers were evil at the time, given their rapid advancements during the Cold War era, and yet many also thought there was incredible promise to democratize everything. 

Peter Deutsch then donated time and an operating system he’d written a few years before. She then published a request for help in the People’s Computer Computer magazine and got a lot of people who just made their own things. An early precursor to maybe micro-services, where various people tinkered with data and programs. They were able to do so because of the people who could turn that SDS into a timesharing system. 

St Jude’s partner Lipkin took on the software part of the project. Chris Macie wrote a program that digitized information on social services offered in the area that was maintained by Mary Janowitz, Sherry Reson, and Mya Shone. That was eventually taken over by the United Way until the 1990s. 

Felsenstein helped with the hardware. They used teletype terminals to connect a video terminal and keyboard built into a wooden cabinet so real humans could access the system. The project then evolved into what was referred to as Community Memory.

Community Memory
Community Memory became the first public computerized bulletin board system established in 1973 in Berkeley, California. The first Community Memory terminal was located at Leopard’s Record in Berkeley. This was the first opportunity for people who were not studying the scientific subject to be able to use computers. It became very popular but soon was shut down by the founders because they face hurdles to replicate the equipment and languages being used. They were unable to expand the project. 

This allowed them to expand the timesharing system into the community and became a free online community-based resource used to share knowledge, organize, and grow. The initial stage of Community Memory from 1973 to 1975, was an experiment to see how people would react to using computers to share information. 

Operating from 1973 to 1992, it went from minicomputers to microcomputers as those became more prevelant. Before Resource One and Community Memory, computers weren’t necessarily used for people. They were used for business, scientific research, and military purposes. After Community Memory,  Felsenstein and others in the area and around the world helped make computers personal. Commun tty Memory was one aspect of that process but there were others that unfolded in the UK, France, Germany and even the Soviet Union - although those were typically impacted by embargoes and a lack of the central government’s buy-in for computing in general. 

After the initial work was done, many of the core instigators went in their own directions. For example, Felsenstein went on to create the SOL and pursue his other projects in personal computing. Many had families or moved out of the area after the Vietnam War ended in 1975. The economy still wasn’t great, but the technical skills made them more employable. 

Some of the developers and a new era of contributors regrouped and created a new non-profit in 1977. They started from scratch and developed their own software, database, and communication packages. It was very noisy so they encased it in a card box. It had a transparent plastic top so they could see what was being printed out. This program ran from 1984 to 1989.  After more research, a new terminal was released in 1989 in Berkeley. By then it had evolved into a pre-web social network. 

The modified keyboard had brief instructions mounted on it, which showed the steps to send a message, how to attach keywords to messages, and how to search those keywords to find messages from others. 

Ultimately, the design underwent three generations, ending in a network of text-based browsers running on basic IBM PCs accessing a Unix server. It was never connected to the Internet, and closed in 1992. By then, it was large, unpowered, and uneconomical to run in an era where servers and graphical interfaces were available. A booming economy also ironically meant a shortage of funding. The job market exploded for programmers in the decade that led up to the dot com bubble and with inconsistent marketing and outreach, Community Memory shut down in 1992.

Many of the people involved with Resource One and Community memory went on to have careers in computing. St Jude helped found the cypherpunks and created Mondo 2000 magazine, a magazine dedicated to that space where computers meet culture. She also worked with Efrem Lipkin on CoDesign, and he was a CTO for many of the dot coms in the late 1990s. Chris Neustrup became a programmer for Agilent. The whole operation had been funded by various grants and donations and while there haven’t been any studies on the economic impact due to how hard it is to attribute inspiration rather than direct influence, the payoff was nonetheless considerable.


VCFSE 9.0 Preview

    RetroMacCast 6/19/2022

James and John discuss eBay finds: Apple Computer playing card, Mac Plus with Brainstorm accelerator, and G3 desktop painted black. Earl Baugh gives us a preview of Vintage Computer Festival Southeast 9.0, and news includes a WWDC recap and Doom on A/UX.

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Research In Motion and the Blackberry

    The History of Computing 6/17/2022

Lars Magnus Ericsson was working for the Swedish government that made telegraph equipment in the 1870s when he started a little telegraph repair shop in 1976. That was the same year the telephone was invented. After fixing other people’s telegraphs and then telephones he started a company making his own telephone equipment. He started making his own equipment and by the 1890s was shipping gear to the UK. As the roaring 20s came, they sold stock to buy other companies and expanded quickly.

Early mobile devices used radios to connect mobile phones to wired phone networks and following projects like ALOHANET in the 1970s they expanded to digitize communications, allowing for sending early forms of text messages, the way people might have sent those telegraphs when old Lars was still alive and kicking. At the time, the Swedish state-owned Televerket Radio was dabbling in this space and partnered with Ericsson to take first those messages then as email became a thing, email, to people wirelessly using the 400 to 450 MHz range in Europe and 900 MHz in the US. That standard went to the OSI and became a 1G wireless packet switching network we call Mobitex.

Mike Lazaridis was born in Istanbul and moved to Canada in 1966 when he was five, attending the University of Waterloo in 1979. He dropped out of school to take a contract with General Motors to build a networked computer display in 1984. He took out a loan from his parents, got a grant from the Canadian government, and recruited another electrical engineering student, Doug Fregin from the University of Windsor, who designed the first circuit boards. to join him starting a company they called Research in Motion. Mike Barnstijn joined them and they were off to do research. 

After a few years doing research projects, they managed to build up a dozen employees and a million in revenues. They became the first Mobitex provider in America and by 1991 shipped the first Mobitex device. They brought in James Balsillie as co-CEO, to handle corporate finance and business development in 1992, a partnership between co-CEOs that would prove fruitful for 20 years. 

Some of those work-for-hire projects they’d done involved reading bar codes so they started with point-of-sale, enabling mobile payments and by 1993 shipped RIMGate, a gateway for Mobitex. Then a Mobitex point-of-sale terminal and finally with the establishment of the PCMCIA standard, a  PCMCIP Mobitex modem they called Freedom.

Two-way paging had already become a thing and they were ready to venture out of PoS systems. So  in 1995, they took a $5 million investment to develop the RIM 900 OEM radio modem. They also developed a pager they called the Inter@ctive Pager 900 that was capable of  two-way messaging the next year. Then they went public on the Toronto Stock Exchange in 1997.

The next year, they sold a licensing deal to IBM for the 900 for $10M dollars. That IBM mark of approval is always a sign that a company is ready to play in an enterprise market. And enterprises increasingly wanted to keep executives just a quick two-way page away. But everyone knew there was a technology convergence on the way. They worked with Ericsson to further the technology and over the next few years competed with SkyTel in the interactive pager market.

Enter The Blackberry
They knew there was something new coming. Just as the founders know something is coming in Quantum Computing and run a fund for that now. They hired a marketing firm called Lexicon Branding to come up with a name and after they saw the keys on the now-iconic keyboard, the marketing firm suggested BlackBerry. They’d done the research and development and they thought they had a product that was special. So they released the first BlackBerry 850 in Munich in 1999. But those were still using radio networks and more specifically the DataTAC network.

The age of mobility was imminent, although we didn’t call it that yet. Handspring and Palm each went public in 2000. 

In 2000, Research In Motion brought its first cellular phone product in the BlackBerry 957, with push email and internet capability. But then came the dot com bubble. Some thought the Internet might have been a fad and in fact might disappear. But instead the world was actually ready for that mobile convergence. Part of that was developing a great operating system for the time when they released the BlackBerry OS the year before. And in 2000 the BlackBerry was named Product of the Year by InfoWorld. 

The new devices took the market by storm and shattered the previous personal information manager market, with shares of that Palm company dropping by over 90% and Palm OS being setup as it’s own corporation within a couple of years. People were increasingly glued to their email. While the BlackBerry could do web browsing and faxing over the internet, it was really the integrated email access, phone, and text messaging platform that companies like General Magic had been working on as far back as the early 1990s.

The Rise of the BlackBerry
The BlackBerry was finally the breakthrough mobile product everyone had been expecting and waiting for. Enterprise-level security, integration with business email like Microsoft’s Exchange Server, a QWERTY keyboard that most had grown accustomed to, the option to use a stylus, and a simple menu made the product an instant smash success. And by instant we mean after five years of research and development and a massive financial investment.

The Palm owned the PDA market. But the VII cost $599 and the BlackBerry cost $399 at the time (which was far less than the $675 Inter@ctive Pager had cost in the 1990s). The Palm also let us know when we had new messages using the emerging concept of push notifications. 2000 had seen the second version of the BlackBerry OS and their AOL Mobile Communicator had helped them spread the message that the wealthy could have access to their data any time. But by 2001 other carriers were signing on to support devices and BlackBerry was selling bigger and bigger contracts. 5,000 devices, 50,000 devices, 100,000 devices. And a company called Kasten Chase stepped in to develop a secure wireless interface to the Defense Messaging System in the US, which opened up another potential two million people in the defense industry

They expanded the service to cover more and more geographies in 2001 and revenues doubled, jumping to 164,000 subscribers by the end of the year. That’s when they added wireless downloads so could access all those MIME attachments in email and display them. Finally, reading PDFs on a phone with the help of GoAmerica Communications! And somehow they won a patent for the idea that a single email address could be used on both a mobile device and a desktop. I guess the patent office didn’t understand why IMAP  was invented by Mark Crispin at Stanford in the 80s, or why Exchange allowed multiple devices access to the same mailbox.

They kept inking contracts with other companies. AT&T added the BlackBerry in 2002 in the era of GSM. The 5810 was the first truly convergent BlackBerry that offered email and a phone in one device with seamless SMS communications. It shipped in the US and the 5820 in Europe and Cingular Wireless jumped on board in the US and Deutsche Telekom in Germany, as well as Vivendi in France, Telecom Italia in Italy, etc. The devices had inched back up to around $500 with service fees ranging from $40 to $100 plus pretty limited data plans. The Tree came out that year but while it was cool and provided a familiar interface to the legions of Palm users, it was clunky and had less options for securing communications. The NSA signed on and by the end of the year they were a truly global operation, raking in revenues of nearly $300 million. 

The Buying Torndado
They added web-based application in 2003, as well as network printing. They moved to a Java-based interface and added the 6500 series, adding a walkie-talkie function. But that 6200 series at around $200 turned out to be huge. This is when they went into that thing a lot of companies do - they started suing companies like Good and Handspring for infringing on patents they probably never should have been awarded. They eventually lost the cases and paid out tens of millions of dollars in damages. More importantly they took their eyes off innovating, a common mistake in the history of computing companies.

Yet there were innovations. They released Blackberry Enterprise Server in 2004 then bolted on connectors to Exchange, Lotus Domino, and allowed for interfacing with XML-based APIs in popular enterprise toolchains of the day. They also later added support for GroupWise. That was one of the last solutions that worked with symmetric key cryptography I can remember using and initially required the devices be cradled to get the necessary keys to secure communications, which then worked over Triple-DES, common at the time. One thing we never liked was that messages did end up living at Research in Motion, even if encrypted at the time. This is one aspect that future types of push communications would resolve. And Microsoft Exchange’s ActiveSync. 

By 2005 there were CVEs filed for BlackBerry Enterprise Server, racking up 17 in the six years that product shipped up to 5.0 in 2010 before becoming BES 10 and much later Blackberry Enterprise Mobility Management, a cross-platform mobile device management solution. Those BES 4 and 5 support contracts, or T-Support, could cost hundreds of dollars per incident. Microsoft had Windows Mobile clients out that integrated pretty seamlessly with Exchange. But people loved their Blackberries.

Other device manufacturers experimented with different modes of interactivity. Microsoft made APIs for pens and keyboards that flipped open. BlackBerry added a trackball in 2006, that was always kind of clunky. Nokia, Ericsson, Motorola, and others were experimenting with new ways to navigate devices, but people were used to menus and even styluses. And they seemed to prefer a look and feel that seemed like what they used for the menuing control systems on HVAC controls, video games, and even the iPod. 

The Eye Of The Storm
A new paradigm was on the way. Apple's iPhone was released in 2007 and Google's Android OS in 2008. By then the BlackBerry Pearl was shipping and it was clear which devices were better.

No one saw the two biggest threats coming. Apple was a consumer company. They were slow to add ActiveSync policies, which many thought would be the corporate answer to mobile management as group policies in Active Directory had become for desktops. Apple  and Google were slow to take the market, as BlackBerry continued to dominate the smartphone industry well into 2010, especially once then-president Barack Obama strong-armed the NSA into allowing him to use a special version of the BlackBerry 8830 World Edition for official communiques. Other world leaders followed suit, as did the leaders of global companies that had previously been luddites when it came to constantly being online. Even Eric Schmidt, then chairman of google loved his Crackberry in 2013, 5 years after the arrival of Android.

Looking back, we can see a steady rise in iPhone sales up to the iPhone 4, released in 2010. Many still said they loved the keyboard on their BlackBerries. Organizations had built BES into their networks and had policies dating back to NIST STIGs. Research in Motion owned the enterprise and held over half the US market and a fifth of the global market. That peaked in 2011.

BlackBerry put mobility on the map. But companies like AirWatch, founded in 2003 and  MobileIron, founded in 2007, had risen to take a cross-platform approach to the device management aspect of mobile devices. We call them Unified Endpoint Protection products today and companies could suddenly support BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and iPhones from a single console. Over 50 million Blackberries were being sold a year and the stock was soaring at over $230 a share. 

Today, they hold no market share and their stock performance shows it. Even though they’ve pivoted to more of a device management company, given their decades of experience working with some of the biggest and most secure companies and governments in the world.

The Fall Of The BlackBerry
The iPhone was beautiful. It had amazing graphics and a full touch screen. It was the very symbol of innovation. The rising tide of the App Store also made it a developers playground (no pun intended). It was more expensive than the Blackberry, but while they didn’t cater to the enterprise, they wedged their way in there with first executives and then anyone. Initially because of ActiveSync, which had come along in 1996 mostly to support Windows Mobile, but by Exchange Server 2003 SP 2 could do almost anything Outlook could do - provided software developers like Apple could make the clients work.

So by 2011, Exchange clients could automatically locate a server based on an email address (or more to the point based on DNS records for the domain) and work just as webmail, which was open in almost every IIS implementation that worked with Exchange. And Office365 was released in 2011, paving the way to move from on-prem Exchange to what we now call “the cloud.” And Google Mail had been around for 7 years by then and people were putting it on the BlackBerry as well, blending home and office accounts on the same devices at times. In fact, Google licensed Exchange ActiveSync, or EAS in 2009 so support for Gmail was showing up on a variety of devices.

BlackBerry had everything companies wanted. But people slowly moved to that new iPhone. Or Androids when decent models of phones started shipping with the OS on them. BlackBerry stuck by that keyboard, even though it was clear that people wanted full touchscreens. The BlackBerry Bold came out in 2009. BlackBerry had not just doubled down with the keyboard instead of full touchscreen, but they tripled down on it.

They had released the Storm in 2008 and then the Storm in 2009 but they just had a different kind of customer. Albeit one that was slowly starting to retire. This is the hard thing about being in the buying tornado. We’re so busy transacting that we can’t think ahead to staying in the eye that we don’t see how the world is changing outside of it. 

As we saw with companies like Amdahl and Control Data, when we only focus on big customers and ignore the mass market we leave room for entrants in our industries who have more mass appeal. Since the rise of the independent software market following the IBM anti-trust cases, app developers have been a bellwether of successful platforms. And the iPhone revenue split was appealing to say the least. 

Sales fell off fast. By 2012, the BlackBerry represented less than 6 percent of smartphones sold and by the start of 2013 that number dropped in half, falling to less than 1 percent in 2014. That’s when the White House tested replacements for the Blackberry. There was a small bump in sales when they finally released a product that had competitive specs to the iPhone, but it was shortly lived. The Crackberry craze was officially over. 

BlackBerry shot into the mainstream and brought the smartphone with them. They made the devices secure and work seamlessly in corporate environments and for those who could pay money to run BES or BIS. They proved the market and then got stuck in the Innovator’s Dilemna. They became all about features that big customers wanted and needed. And so they missed the personal part of personal computing.

Apple, as they did with the PC and then graphical user interfaces saw a successful technology and made people salivate over it. They saw how Windows had built a better sandbox for developers and built the best app delivery mechanism the world has seen to date. Google followed suit and managed to take a much larger piece of the market with more competitive pricing. 

There is so much we didn’t discuss, like the short-lived Playbook tablet from BlackBerry. Or the Priv. Because for the most part, they a device management solution today. The founders are long gone, investing in the next wave of technology: Quantum Computing. The new face of BlackBerry is chasing device management, following adjacencies into security and dabbling in IoT for healthcare and finance. Big ticket types of buys that include red teaming to automotive management to XDR. Maybe their future is in the convergence of post-quantum security, or maybe we’ll see their $5.5B market cap get tasty enough for one of those billionaires who really, really, really wants their chicklet keyboard back. Who knows but part of the fun of this is it’s a living history.

 

 


Review: Outbound Laptop System (1990)

    Mac Folklore Radio 6/16/2022

From the days before the hot-selling PowerBook 100 series, David Pogue reviews a sleeker, less expensive alternative to Apple’s 1989 Macintosh Portable.

Original text from Macworld, September 1990.

Enjoy some gorgeous photos of the original Outbound Laptop System from applerooter.net.


The Digital Good Life

    RetroMacCast 6/12/2022

James and John discuss eBay finds: Apple jacket, Power Mac 7200, and Jimmy Grewal's Apple I. They look back at Macaddict June 2002, and news includes a WWDC preview, old school chargerOld School Icon Set, Newton 30 year anniversary, and a Pocket Mac concept.

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Myth III

    RetroMacCast 6/12/2022

James and John discuss eBay finds: Apple logo glass marble, Gravis MouseStick II, and Apple computer collection. John plays some Myth III The Wolf Age, and news includes NanoRaptor creations, and an iMac based cosplay creation.

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Colossal Cave Adventure

    The History of Computing 6/2/2022

Imagine a game that begins with a printout that reads:

You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building. Around you is a forest. A small stream flows out of the building and down a gully. In the distance there is a tall gleaming white tower.

Now imagine typing some information into a teletype and then reading the next printout. And then another. A trail of paper lists your every move. This is interactive gaming in the 1970s. Later versions had a monitor so a screen could just show a cursor and the player needed to know what to type. Type N and hit enter and the player travels north. “Search” doesn’t work but “look” does. “Take water” works as does “Drink water” but it takes hours to find dwarves and dragons and figure out how to battle or escape. This is one of the earliest games we played and it was marvelous. The game was called Colossal Cave Adventure and it was one of the first conversational adventure games. Many came after it in the 70s and 80s, in an era before good graphics were feasible. But the imagination was strong. 

The Oregon Trail was written before it, in 1971 and Trek73 came in 1973, both written for HP minicomputers. Dungeon was written in 1975 for a PDP-10. The author, Don Daglow, went on the work on games like Utopia and Neverwinter Nights Another game called Dungeon showed up in 1975 as well, on the PLATO network at the University of Illinois Champagne-Urbana. As the computer monitor spread, so spread games.

William Crowther got his degree in physics at MIT and then went to work at Bolt Baranek and Newman during the early days of the ARPANET. He was on the IMP team, or the people who developed the Interface Message Processor, the first nodes of the packet switching ARPANET, the ancestor of the Internet. They were long hours, but when he wasn’t working, he and his wife Pat explored caves. She was a programmer as well. Or he played the new Dungeons & Dragons game that was popular with other programmers.

The two got divorced in 1975 and like many suddenly single fathers he searched for something for his daughters to do when they were at the house. Crowther combined exploring caves, Dungeons & Dragons, and FORTRAN to get Colossal Cave Adventure, often just called Adventure. And since he worked on the ARPANET, the game found its way out onto the growing computer network. Crowther moved to Palo Alto and went to work for Xerox PARC in 1976 before going back to BBN and eventually retiring from Cisco.

Crowther loosely based the game mechanics on the ELIZA natural language processing work done by Joseph Weizenbaum at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in the 1960s. That had been a project to show how computers could be shown to understand text provided to computers. It was most notably used in tests to have a computer provide therapy sessions. And writing software for the kids or gaming can be therapeutic as well. As can replaying happier times. 

Crowther explored Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky in the early 1970s. The characters in the game follow along his notes about the caves, exploring the area around it using natural language while the computer looked for commands in what was entered. It took about 700 lines to do the original Fortran code for the PDP-10 he had at his disposal at BBN. When he was done he went off on vacation, and the game spread.

Programmers in that era just shared code. Source needed to be recompiled for different computers, so they had to. Another programmer was Don Woods, who also used a PDP-10. He went to Princeton in the 1970s and was working at the Stanford AI Lab, or SAIL, at the time. He came across the game and asked Crowther if it would be OK to add a few features and did. His version got distributed through DECUS, or the Digital Equipment Computer Users Society. A lot of people went there for software at the time. The game was up to 3,000 lines of code when it left Woods.

The adventurer could now enter the mysterious cave in search of the hidden treasures. The concept of the computer as a narrator began with Collosal Cave Adventure and is now widely used. Although we now have vast scenery rendered and can point and click where we want to go so don’t need to type commands as often. The interpreter looked for commands like “move”, “interact” with other characters, “get” items for the inventory, etc. Woods went further and added more words and the ability to interpret punctuation as well. He also added over a thousand lines of text used to identify and describe the 40 locations. Woods continued to update that game until the mid-1990s.

James Gillogly of RAND ported the code to C so it would run on the newer Unix architecture in 1977  and it’s still part of many a BSD distribution. Microsoft published a version of Adventure in 1979 that was distributed for the Apple II and TRS-80 and followed that up in 1981 with a version for Microsoft DOS or MS-DOS. Adventure was now a commercial product. Kevin Black wrote a version for IBM PCs. Peter Gerrard ported it to Amiga

Bob Supnik rose to a Vice President at Digital Equipment, not because he ported the game, but it didn’t hurt. And throughout the 1980s, the game spread to other devices as well. Peter Gerrard implemented the version for the Tandy 1000. The Original Adventure was a version that came out of Aventuras AD in Spain. They gave it one of the biggest updates of all. Colossal Cave Adventure was never forgotten, even though it was Zork was replaced. Zork came along in 1977 and Adventureland in 1979.

Ken and Roberta Williams played the game in 1979. Ken had bounced around the computer industry for awhile and had a teletype terminal at home when he came across Colossal Cave Adventure in 1979. The two became transfixed and opened their own company to make the game they released the next year called Mystery House. And the text adventure genre moved to a new level when they sold 15,000 copies and it became the first hit. Rogue, and others followed, increasingly interactive, until fully immersive graphical games replaced the adventure genre in general. That process began when Warren Robinett of Atari created the 1980 game, Adventure. 

Robinett saw Colossal Cave Adventure when he visited the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory in 1977. He was inspired into a life of programming by a programming professor he had in college named Ken Thompson while he was on sabbatical from Bell Labs. That’s where Thompason, with Dennis Ritchie and one of the most amazing teams of programmers ever assembled, gave the world Unix and the the C programming language at Bell Labs. Adventure game went on to sell over a million copies and the genre of fantasy action-adventure games moved from text to video.


Review: NuTek Duet Macintosh Clone (1994)

    Mac Folklore Radio 5/20/2022

NuTek’s years of labour finally bear fruit–kind of. The trail of NuTek coverage stops cold after early 1994. We don’t know exactly what happened but this review provides some strong hints.

Original text from Macworld, February 1994.

The review states you can toggle between the Duet’s Mac and PC modes from the front panel. Nothing is labelled “Mac/PC” in the advertisements. Did they change the silkscreen for production models? Wouldn’t it be funny if they just wired up the turbo button or the keyboard lock switch and left the labels as is to cut costs?

Benjamin Chou is still around, helping startups.


MySpace And My First Friend, Tom

    The History of Computing 5/14/2022

Before Facebook, there was MySpace. People logged into a web page every day to write to friends, show off photos, and play music. Some of the things we still do on social networks. The world had been shifting to personal use of computers since the early days when time sharing systems were used in universities. Then came the Bulletin Board Systems of the 80s. But those were somewhat difficult to use and prone to be taken over by people like the ones who went on to found DefCon and hacking collectives. 

Then in the 1990s computers and networks started to get easier to use. We got tools like AOL Instant Messenger and a Microsoft knockoff called Messenger. It’s different ‘cause it doesn’t say Instant. The rise of the World Wide Web meant that people could build their own websites in online communities. We got these online communities like Geocities in 1994, where users could build their own little web page. Some were notes from classes at universities; others how to be better at dressing goth. They tried to sort people by communities they called cities, and then each member got an address number in their community. They grew fast and even went public before being acquired by Yahoo! in 1999. Tripod showed up the year after Geocities came out and got acquired by Yahoo! competitor Lycos in 1998, signaling that portal services in a pre-modern search engine world would be getting into more content to show ads to eyeballs. Angelfire was another that started in 1996 and ended up in the Lycos portfolio as well. More people had more pages and that meant more eyeballs to show ads to. No knowledge of HTML was really required but it did help to know some.

The GeoCities idea about communities was a good one. Turns out people liked hanging out with others like themselves online. People liked reading thoughts and ideas and seeing photos if they ever bothered to finish downloading. But forget to bookmark a page and it could be lost in the cyberbits or whatever happened to pages when we weren’t looking at them. 

The concept of six agrees of Kevin Bacon had been rolling around a bit, so Andrew Weinreich got the idea to do something similar to Angelfire and the next year created SixDegrees.com. It was easy to evolve the concept to bookmark pages by making connections on the site. Except to get people into the site and signing up the model appeared to be the flip side: enter real world friends and family and they were invited to join up. Accepted contacts could then post on each others bulletin boards or send messages to one another. We could also see who our connections were connected to, thus allowing us to say “oh I met that person at a party.” Within a few years the web of contacts model was so successful that it had a few million users and was sold for over $100 million. By 2000 it was shut down but had proven there was a model there that could work.

Xanga came along the next year as a weblog and social networking site but never made it  to the level of success. Classmates.com is still out there as well, having been founded in 1995 to build a web of contacts for finding those friends from high school we lost contact with. Then came Friendster and MySpace in 2003. Friendster came out of the gate faster but faded away quicker. These took the concepts of SixDegrees.com where users invited friends and family but went a little further, allowing people to post on one another boards. 

MySpace went a little further. They used some of the same concepts Geocities used and allowed people to customize their own web pages. When some people learned HTML to edit their pages, they got the bug to create. And so a new generation of web developers was created as people learned to layout pages and do basic web programming in order to embed files, flash content, change backgrounds, and insert little DHTML or even JavaScript snippets.

MySpace was co-founded by Chris DeWolfe, Uber Whitcomb, Josh Berman, and Tom Anderson while working at an incubator or software holding company called eUniverse, which was later renamed to Intermix Media. Brad Greenspan founded that after going to UCLA and then jumping headfirst into the startup universe. He created Entertainment Universe, then raised $2M in capital from Lehman Brothers, another $5M from others and bought a young site called CD Universe, which was selling Compact Disks online. He reverse merged that into an empty public shell company, like a modern SPAC works, and was suddenly the CEO of a public company, expanding into online DVD sales. Remember, these were the days leading up to the dot com bubble. There was a lot of money floating around.

They expanded into dating sites and other membership programs. We’d think of monthly member fees as Monthly Recurring Revenue now, but at the time there was so much free stuff on the internet that those most sites just gave it away and built revenue streams on advertising revenues.

CDs and DVDs have data on them. Data can be shared. Napster proved how lucrative that could be by then. Maybe that was something eUniverse should get into. DeWolfe created a tool called Sitegeist, which was a site with a little dating, a little instant messaging, and a little hyper localized search. It was just a school project but got him thinking. Then, like millions of us were about to do, he met Tom.

Tom was a kid from the valley who’d been tinkering with computers for years, as “Lord Flathead” who’d been busted hacking as a kid before going off to the University of California at Berkeley before coming home to LA to do software QA for an online storage company. The company he worked for got acquired as a depressed asset by eUniverse in 2002, along with Josh Berman. They got matched up with DeWolfe, and saw this crazy Friendster coming out of nowhere and decided to build something like it.

They had a domain they weren’t using called MySpace.com, which they were going to use for another online storage project. So they grabbed Aber Whitcomb, fired up a ColdFusion IDE and given the other properties eUniverse was sitting on had the expertise to get everything up and running fairly quickly. So they launched MySpace internally first and then had little contests to see who could get the most people to sign up. eUniverse had tens of millions of users on the other properties so they emailed them too. Within two years they had 20 million users and were the centerpiece of the eUniverse portfolio. Wanting in on what the young kids were doing these days, Rupert Murdoch and News Corporation, or NewsCorp for short, picked up the company for $580 Million in cash. It’s like an episode of Succession, right?

After the acquisition of Myspace by news corporation, Myspace continued its exponential growth. Later in the year, the site started signing up 200,000 new users every day. About a year later, it was registering approx. 320,000 users each day. They localized into different languages and became the biggest website in the US. So they turned on the advertising machine, paying back their purchase price by doing $800 million in revenue back to NewsCorp. 

MySpace had become the first big social media platform that was always free that allowed users to freely express their minds and thoughts with millions of other users, provided they were 13 years or older. They restricted access to profiles of people younger than 16 years in such a way that they couldn’t be viewed by people over 18 years old. That was to keep sexual predators from accessing the profile of a minor. Kids turned out to be a challenge. In 2006, during extensive research the company began detecting and deleting profiles of registered sex offenders which had started showing up on the platform. 

Myspace partnered with Sentinel Tech Holdings Corporation to build a searchable, national database containing names, physical descriptions, and other identity details known as the Sentinel Safe which allowed them to keep track of over half a million registered sex offenders from  U.S. government records. This way they developed the first national database of convicted sex offenders to protect kids on the platform, which they then provided to state attorney generals when the sex offenders tried to use MySpace. 

Facebook was created in 2004 and Twitter was created in 2006. They picked up market share, but MySpace continued to do well in 2007 then not as well in 2008. By 2009, Facebook surpassed Myspace in the number of unique U.S. visitors. Myspace began a rapid decline and lost members fast. Network effects can disappear as quickly as they are created. They kept the site simple and basic; people would log in, make new friends, and share music, photos, and chat with people. Facebook and Twitter constantly introduced new features for users to explore; this kept the existing users on the site and attracted more users. Then social media companies like twitter began to target users on Myspace. 

New and more complicated issues kept coming up. Pages were vandalized, there were phishing attacks, malware got posted to the site, and there were outages as the ColdFusion code had been easy to implement but proved harder to hyperscale. In fact, few had needed to scale a site like MySpace had in that era. Not only were users abandoning the platform, but employees at Myspace started to leave. The changes to MySpace’s executive ranks went down quicky in June 2009 by a layoff of 37.5% of its workforce reducing, the employees went down from 1,600 to 1,000.

Myspace attempted to rebrand itself as primarily a music site to try and gain the audience they lost. They changed the layout to make it look more attractive but continued a quick decline just as Facebook and Twitter were in the midst of a meteoric rise. In 2011 News Corporation sold Myspace to Specific Media and Justin Timberlake for around $35 million. Timberlake wanted to make a platform where fans could go and communicate with their favorite entertainers, listen to new music, watch videos, share music, and connect with others who liked the same things. Like Geocities but for music lovers. They never really managed to turn things around.

In 2016, Myspace and its parent company were acquired by Time Inc. and later Time inc. was in turn purchased by the Meredith Corporation. A few months later the news cycle on and about the platform became less positive. A hacker retrieved 427 million Myspace passwords and tried to sell them for $2,800. In 2019, Myspace accidentally deleted over 50 million digital files including photos, songs, and videos during a server migration. Everything up to 2015 was erased. In some ways that’s not the worst thing, considering some of the history left on older profiles.

MySpace continues to push music today, with shows that include original content, like interviews with artists. It’s more of a way for artists to project their craft than a social network. It’s featured content, either sponsored by a label or artist, or from artists so popular or with such an intriguing story their label doesn’t need to promote them. There are elements of a social network left, but nothing like the other social networks of the day. And there’s some beauty in that simplicity.

MySpace was always more than just a social networking website; it was the social network that kickstarted the web 2.0 experience we know today. Tom was everyone who joined the networks first friend. So he became the first major social media star. MySpace became the most visited social networking site in the world, often surpassing Google in number of visitors. Then the network effect moved elsewhere, and those who inherited the users analyzed what caused them to move away from MySpace and either through copying features, out innovating, or acquisition, have managed to remain dominant for over a decade. But there’s always something else right around the corner.

One of the major reasons people abandoned MySpace was to be with those who thought just like them. When Facebook was only available to college kids it had a young appeal. It slowly leaked into the mainstream and my grandmother started typing the word like when I posted pictures of my kid. Because we grew up. They didn’t attempt to monetize too early. They remained stable. They didn’t spend more than they needed to keep the site going, so never lost control to investors. Meanwhile, MySpace grew to well over a thousand people to support a web property that would take a dozen to support today. Facebook may move fast and break things. But they do so because they saw what happens when we don’t.


Gateway 2000, and Sioux City

    The History of Computing 5/9/2022

Theophile Bruguier was a fur trader who moved south out of Monreal after a stint as an attorney in Quebec before his fiancé died. He became friends with Chief War Eagle of the Yankton Sioux. We call him Chief, but he left the Santee rather than have a bloody fight over who would be the next chief. The Santee were being pushed down from the Great Lakes area of Minnesota and Wisconsin by the growing Ojibwe and were pushing further and further south.

There are two main divisions of the Sioux people: the Dakota and the Lakota. There are two main ethnic groups of the Dakota, the Eastern, sometimes called the Santee and the Western, or the Yankton. After the issues with the his native Santee, he was welcomed by the Yankton, where he had two wives and seven children. 

Chief War Eagle then spent time with the white people moving into the area in greater and greater numbers. They even went to war and he acted as a messenger for them in the War of 1812 and then became a messenger for the American Fur Company and a guide along the Missouri. After the war, he was elected a chief and helped negotiate peace treaties. He married two of his daughters off to Theophile Bruguier, who he sailed the Missouri with on trips between St Louis and Fort Pierre in the Dakota territory. 

The place where Theophile settled was where the Big Sioux and Missouri rivers meet. Two water ways for trade made his cabin a perfect place to trade, and the chief died a couple of years later and was buried in what we now call War Eagle Park, a beautiful hike above Sioux City. His city. Around the same time, the Sioux throughout the Minnesota River were moved to South Dakota to live on reservations, having lost their lands and war broke out in the 1860s. 

Back at the Bruguier land, more French moved into the area after Bruguier opened a trading post and was one of the 17 white people that voted in the first Woodbury County election, once Wahkaw County was changed to Woodbury to honor Levi Woodbury, a former Supreme Court Justice. 

Bruguier sold some of his land to Joseph Leonais in 1852. He sold it to a land surveyor, Dr. John Cook, who founded Sioux City in 1854. By 1860, with the westward expansion of the US, the population had already risen to 400. Steamboats, railroads, livestock yards, and by 1880 they were over 7,000 souls, growing to 6 times that by the time Bruguier died in 1896. Seemingly more comfortable with those of the First Nations, his body is interred with Chief War Eagle and his first two wives on the bluffs overlooking Sioux City, totally unrecognizable by then.

The goods this new industry brought had to cross the rivers. Before there were bridges to cross the sometimes angry rivers, ranchers had to ferry cattle across. Sometimes cattle fell off the barges and once they were moving, they couldn’t stop for a single head of cattle. Ted Waitt’s ancestors rescued cattle and sold them, eventually homesteading their own ranch. And that ranch is where Ted started Gateway Computers in 1985 with his friend Mike Hammond. 

Michael Dell started Dell computers in 1984 and grew the company on the backs of a strong mail order business. He went from selling repair services and upgrades to selling full systems. He wasn’t the only one to build a company based on a mail and phone order business model in the 1980s and 1990s. Before the internet that was the most modern way to transact business. 

Ted Waitt went to the University of Iowa in Iowa City a couple of years before Michael Dell went to the University of Texas. He started out in marketing and then spent a couple of years working for a reseller and repair store in Des Moines before he decided to start his own company.

Gateway began life in 1985 as the Texas Instruments PC Network, or TIPC Network for short. They sold stuff for Texas Instruments computers like modems, printers, and other peripherals. The TI-99/4A had been released in 1979 and was discontinued a year before. It was a niche hobbyist market even by then, but the Texas Instruments Personal Computer had shipped in 1983 and came with an 8088 CPU. It was similar to an IBM PC and came with a DOS. But Texas Instruments wasn’t a clone maker and the machines weren’t fully Personal Computer compatible. Instead, there were differences. 

They found some success and made more than $100,000 in just a few months, so brought in Tedd’s brother Norm. Compaq, Dell, and a bunch of other companies were springing up to build computers. Anyone who had sold parts for an 8088 and used DOS on it knew how to build a computer. And after a few years of supplying parts, they had a good idea how to find inexpensive components to build their own computers. They could rescue parts and sell them to meatpacking plants as full-blown computers. They just needed some Intel chips, some boards, which were pretty common by then, some RAM, which was dirt cheap due to a number of foreign companies dumping RAM into the US market.

They built some computers and got up to $1 million in revenue in 1986. Then they became an IBM-compatible personal computer when they found the right mix of parts. It was close to what Texas Instruments sold, but came with a color monitor and two floppy disk drives, which were important in that era before all the computers came with spinning hard drives. Their first computer sold for just under $2,000, which made it half what a Texas Instruments computer cost. They found the same thing that Dell had found: the R&D and marketing overhead at big companies meant they could be more cost-competitive. They couldn’t call the computers a TIPC Network though. Sioux City, Iowa became the Gateway to the Dakotas, and beyond, so they changed their name to Gateway 2000. 

Gateway 2000 then released an 80286, which we lovingly called the 286, in 1988 and finally left the ranch to move into the city. They also put Waitt’s marketing classes to use and slapped a photo of the cows from the ranch in a magazine that said “Computers from Iowa?” and one of the better tactics for long-term loyalty, they gave cash bonuses to employees based on their profits. Within a year, they jumped to $12 million in sales. Then $70 million in 1989, and moved to South Dakota in 1990 to avoid paying state income tax. The cow turned out to be popular, so they kept Holstein cows in their ads and even added them to the box. Everyone knew what those Gateway boxes looked like.

Like Dell, they hired great tech support who seemed to love their jobs at Gateway and would help with any problems people found. They brought in the adults in 1990. Executives from big firms. They had been the first to Mae color monitors standard and now, with the release of Windows they became the first big computer seller to standardize on the platform. 

They released a notebook computer in 1992. The HandBook was their first computer that didn’t do well. It could have been the timing, but in the midst of a recession in a time when most households were getting computers, a low cost computer sold well and sales hit $1 billion. Yet they had trouble scaling to their ship hundreds of computers a day. They opened an office in Ireland and ramped up sales overseas. Then they went public in 1993, raising $150 million. The Wiatt’s hung on to 85% of the company and used the capital raised in the IPO to branch into other areas to complete the Gateway offering: modems, networking equipment, printers, and more support representatives. 

Sales in 1994 hit $2.7 billion a year. They added another support center a few hours down the Missouri River in Kansas City. They opened showrooms. They added a manufacturing plant in Malaysia. They bought Osborne Computer. They opened showrooms and by 1996 Gateway spent tens of millions a year in advertising. The ads worked and they became a household name. They became a top ten company in computing with $5 billion in sales. Dell was the only direct personal computer supplier who was bigger. 

They opened a new sales channel: the World Wide Web. Many still called after they looked up prices at first but by 1997 they did hundreds of millions in sales on the web. By then, Ethernet had become the standard network protocol so they introduced the E-Series, which came with networks. They bought Advanced Logic Research to expand into servers. They launched a dialup provider called gateway.net. 

By the late 1990s, the ocean of companies who sold personal computers was red. Anyone could head down to the local shop, buy some parts, and build their own personal computer. Dell, HP, Compaq, and others dropped their prices and Gateway was left needing a new approach. Three years before Apple opened their first store, Gateway launched Gateway Country, retail stores that sold the computer, the dialup service, and they went big fast, launching 58 stores in 26 states in a short period of time. With 2000 right around the corner, they also changed their name to Gateway, Inc. Price pressure continued to hammer away at them and they couldn’t find talent so they moved to San Diego. 

1999 proved a pivotal year for many in technology. The run-up to the dot com bubble meant new web properties popped up constantly. AOL had more capital than they could spend and invested heavily into Gateway to take over the ISP business, which had grown to over half a million subscribers. They threw in free Internet access with the computers, opened more channels into different sectors, and expanded the retail stores to over 200. Some thought Waitt needed to let go and let someone with more executive experience come in. So long-time AT&T exec Jeff Weitzen, who had joined the company in 1998 took over as CEO. By then Waitt was worth billions and it made sense that maybe he could go run a cattle ranch. By then his former partner Mike Hammond had a little business fixing up cars so why not explore something new. 

Waitt stayed on as chairman as Weitzen reorganized the company. But the prices of computers continued to fall. To keep up, Gateway released the Astro computer in 2000. This was an affordable, small desktop that had a built-in monitor, CPU, and speakers. It ran a 400 MHz Intel Celeron, had a CD-ROM, and a 4.3 GB hard drive, with 64 Megabytes of memory, a floppy, a modem, Windows 98 Second Edition, Norton Anti-Virus, USB ports, and the Microsoft Works Suite. All this came in at $799. Gateway had led the market with Windows and other firsts they jumped on board with. They had been aggressive. The first iMac had been released in 1998 and this seemed like they were following that with a cheaper computer.

Gateway Country stores grew over 400+ stores. But the margins had gotten razor thin. That meant profits were down. Waitt came back to run the company, the US Securities and Exchange Commission filed charges for fraud against Weitzen, the former controller, and the former CFO, and that raged on for years. In that time, Gateway got into TVs, cameras, MP3 players, and in 2004 acquired eMachines, a rapidly growing economy PC manufacturer. Their CEO, Wayne Inouye then came in to run Gateway. He had been an executive at The Good Guys! and Best Buy before taking the helm of eMachines in 2001, helping them open sales channels in retail stores. But Gateway didn’t get as much a foothold in retail.

That laptop failure from the 1980s stuck with Gateway. They never managed to ship a game-changing laptop. Then the market started to shift to laptops. Other companies left on that market but Gateway never seemed able to ship the right device. They instead branched into consumer electronics. The dot com bubble burst and they never recovered. The financial woes with the SEC hurt trust in the brand. The outsourcing hurt the trust in the brand. The acquisition of a budget manufacturer hurt the brand. Apple managed to open retail stores to great success, while preserving relationships with big box retailers. But Gateway lost that route to market when they opened their own stores. Then Acer acquired Gateway in 2007. They can now be found at Walmart, having been relaunched as a budget brand of Acer, a company who the big American firms once outsourced to, but who now stands on their own two feed as a maker of personal computers.


Whistling Our Way To Windows XP

    The History of Computing 4/25/2022

Microsoft had confusion in the Windows 2000 marketing and disappointment with Millennium Edition, which was built on a kernel that had run its course. It was time to phase out the older 95, 98, and Millennium code. So in 2001, Microsoft introduced Windows NT 5.1, known as Windows XP (eXperience). XP came in a Home or Professional edition. 

Microsoft built a new interface they called Whistler for XP. It was sleeker and took more use of the graphics processors of the day. Jim Allchin was the Vice President in charge of the software group by then and helped spearhead development. XP had even more security options, which were simplified in the home edition. They did a lot of work to improve the compatibility between hardware and software and added the option for fast user switching so users didn’t have to log off completely and close all of their applications when someone else needed to use the computer. They also improved on the digital media experience and added new libraries to incorporate DirectX for various games. 

Professional edition also added options that were more business focused. This included the ability to join a network and Remote Desktop without the need of a third party product to take control of the keyboard, video, and mouse of a remote computer. Users could use their XP Home Edition computer to log into work, if the network administrator could forward the port necessary. XP Professional also came with the ability to support multiple processors, send faxes, an encrypted file system, more granular control of files and other objects (including GPOs), roaming profiles (centrally managed through Active Directory using those GPOs), multiple language support, IntelliMirror (an oft forgotten centralized management solution that included RIS and sysprep for mass deployments), an option to do an Automated System Recovery, or ASR restore of a computer. Professional also came with the ability to act as a web server, not that anyone should run one on a home operating system. XP Professional was also 64-bit given the right processor.

XP Home Edition could be upgraded to from Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition, Millineum, and XP Professional could be upgraded to from any operating system since Windows 98 was released., including NT 4 and Windows 2000 Professional. And users could upgrade from Home to Professional for an additional $100.  

Microsoft also fixed a few features. One that had plagued users was that they had to gracefully unmount a drive before removing it; Microsoft got in front of this when they removed the warning that a drive was disconnected improperly and had the software take care of that preemptively. They removed some features users didn’t really use like NetMeeting and Phone Dialer and removed some of the themes options. The 3D Maze was also sadly removed. Other options just cleaned up the interface or merged technologies that had become similar, like Deluxe CD player and DVD player were removed in lieu of just using Windows Media Player. And chatty network protocols that caused problems like NetBEUI and AppleTalk were removed from the defaults, as was the legacy Microsoft OS/2 subsystem.

In general, Microsoft moved from two operating system code bases to one. Although with the introduction of Windows CE, they arguably had no net-savings. However, to the consumer and enterprise buyer, it was a simpler licensing scheme. Those enterprise buyers were more and more important to Microsoft. Larger and larger fleets gave them buying power and the line items with resellers showed it with an explosion in the number of options for licensing packs and tiers. But feature-wise Microsoft had spent the Microsoft NT and Windows 2000-era training thousands of engineers on how to manage large fleets of Windows machines as Microsoft Certified Systems Engineers (MCSE) and other credentials. Deployments grew and by the time XP was released, Microsoft had the lions’ share of the market for desktop operating systems and productivity apps. XP would only cement that lead and create a generation of systems administrators equipped to manage the platform, who never knew a way other than the Microsoft way.

One step along the path to the MCSE was through servers. For the first couple of years, XP connected to Windows 2000 Servers. Windows Server 2003, which was built on the Windows NT 5.2 kernel, was then released in 2003. Here, we saw Active Directory cement a lead created in 2000 over servers from Novell and other vendors. Server 2003 became the de facto platform for centralized file, print, web, ftp, software  time, DHCP, DNS, event, messeging, and terminal services (or shared Remote Desktop services through Terminal Server). Server 2003 could also be purchased with Exchange 2003. Given the integration with Microsoft Outlook and a number of desktop services, Microsoft Exchange. 

The groupware market in 2003 and the years that followed were dominated by Lotus Notes, Novell’s GroupWise, and Exchange. Microsoft was aggressive. They were aggressive on pricing. They released tools to migrate from Notes to Exchange the week before IBM’s conference. We saw some of the same tactics and some of the same faces that were involved in Microsoft’s Internet Explorer anti-trust suit from the 1990s. The competition to Change never recovered and while Microsoft gained ground in the groupware space through the Exchange Server 4.0, 5.0, 5.5, 2000, 2003, 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016 eras, by Exchange 2019 over half the mailboxes formerly hosted by on premises Exchange servers had moved to the cloud and predominantly Microsoft’s Office 365 cloud service. Some still used legacy Unix mail services like sendmail or those hosted by third party providers like GoDaddy with their domain or website - but many of those ran on Exchange as well. The only company to put up true competition in the space has been Google.

Other companies had released tools to manage Windows devices en masse. Companies like Altiris sprang out of needs for companies who did third party software testing to manage the state of Windows computers. Microsoft had a product called Systems Management Server but Altiris built a better product, so Microsoft built an even more robust solution called System Center Configuration Management server, or SCCM for short, and within a few years Altiris lost so much business they were acquired by Symantec. Other similar stories played out across other areas where each product competed with other vendors and sometimes market segments - and usually won.

To a large degree this was because of the tight hold Windows had on the market. Microsoft had taken the desktop metaphor and seemed to own the entire stack by the end of the Windows XP era. However, the technology we used was a couple of years after the product management and product development teams started to build it. And by the end of the XP era, Bill Gates had been gone long enough, and many of the early stars that almost by pure will pushed products through development cycles were as well. Microsoft continued to release new versions of the operating systems but XP became one of the biggest competitors to later operating systems rather than other companies. This reluctance to move to Vista and other technologies was the main reason extended support for XP through to 2012, around 11 years after it was released. 


Ron's Classic Mac Video Adapter

    RetroMacCast 4/24/2022

James, John, and Ron discuss eBay finds: Sears print ad, Radius display card for SE/30, and Performa 560 Money Magazine Edition. Ron from Ron's Computer Videos talks about his Universal Plus/SE/Classic TTL Video Adapter, and news includes Jason Snell's old Mac nostalgia, A-Max Mac emulator for Amiga, and Susan Kare exhibit.

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Send In The Clones (1991)

    Mac Folklore Radio 4/23/2022

NuTek’s plan for Macintosh World Domination: a clean room implementation of the ROMs and System 6, cheap hardware, and enough investor money to survive the inevitable legal assault from Apple.

Macworld speculated a Macintosh clone with a 68030 CPU, colour monitor and hard disk could cost just $600USD at a time when lowly Macintosh LC systems sold for $2700USD. The faster 32-bit data path IIsi sold for $3700 in complete configurations, and the more expandable IIci, $6,000USD and up.

Original text from Macworld, April 1991.

Advertisements for the NuTek One and Duet.

Why use custom chips instead of off-the-shelf parts?

IBM PC clone production went into high gear thanks to PC-compatible BIOS vendors like Phoenix and chipset manufacturers like Chips and Technologies. Did you know C&T founder Gordon Campbell went on to co-found 3dfx, the Voodoo company?

Savour the varying quality of different IBM PC compatible chipsets.

John Warnock gave Apple a good needling in this article, likely because of the ongoing Font Wars. See Chuck Geschke and John Warnock retelling the story.

ARDI Executor was open sourced in 2008.

Lee Lorenzen speaking about Apple’s lawsuit against Digital Research, and Bill Gates admitting he intended this to serve as a distraction while work progressed on Windows. Lee’s “sick cow” story.

Steve Jobs WWDC 1997 Q&A: “I was hoping that you would venture an opinion this morning on how you see the future evolution of the Macintosh compatible market.”


Windows NT 5 becomes Windows 2000

    The History of Computing 4/17/2022

Microsoft Windows 2000 was the successor to Windows NT 4.0, which had been released in 1997. Windows 2000 didn’t have a code name (supposedly because Jim Allchin didn’t like codenames), although its service packs did; Service Pack 1 and Windows 2000 64-bit were codenamed "Asteroid" and "Janus," respectively. 2000 began as NT 5.0 but Microsoft announced the name change in 1998, in a signal with when customer might expect the OS. 

Some of the enhancements were just to match the look and feel of the consumer Windows 98 counterpart. For example, the logo in the boot screens was cleaned up and they added new icons.  Some found Windows 2000 to be more reliable, others claimed it didn’t have enough new features. But what it might have lacked in features from a cursory glance, Windows 2000 made up for in stability, scalability, and reliability. 

This time around, Microsoft had input from some of their larger partners. They released the operating system to partners in 1999, after releasing three release candidates or developer previews earlier that year. They needed to, if only so third parties could understand what items needed to be sold to customers. There were enough editions now, that it wasn’t uncommon for resellers to have to call the licensing desk at a distributor (similar to a wholesaler for packaged goods) in order to figure out what line items the reseller needed to put on a bid, or estimate. 

Reporters hailed it as the most stable product ever produced by Microsoft. It was also the most secure version. 2000 brought Group Policies forward from NT and enhanced what could be controlled from a central system. The old single line domain concept for managing domains was enhanced to become what Microsoft called Active Directory, a modern directory service that located resources in a database and allowed for finely grained controls of those resources. Windows 2000 also introduced NTFS 3, an Encrypted File System that was built on top of layers of APIs, each with their own controls. 

Still, Windows 98 was the most popular operating system in the world by then and it was harder to move people to it than initially expected. Microsoft released Windows 98 Second Edition in 1999 and then Windows Millennium Edition, or Me, in 2000. Millennium was a flop and helped move more people into 2000, even though 2000 was marketed as a business or enterprise operating system. 

Windows 2000 Professional was the workstation workhorse. Active Directory and other server services ran on Windows 2000 Server Edition. They also released Advanced Server and Datacenter Server for even more advanced environments, with Datacenter able to support up to 32 CPUs. Professional borrowed many features from both NT and 98 Second Edition, including the Outlook Express email client, expanded file system support, WebDAV support, Windows Media Player, WDM (Windows Driver Model), the Microsoft Management Console (MMC) for making it easier to manage those GPOs, support for new mass storage devices like Firewire, hibernation and passwords to wake up from hibernation, the System File Checker, new debugging options, better event logs, Windows Desktop Update (which gave us “Patch Tuesday”), a new Windows Installer, Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI), Plug and Play hardware (installing new hardware in Windows NT was a bit more like doing so in Unix than Windows 95), and all the transitions and animations of the Windows shell like an Explorer integrated with Internet Explorer. 

Some of these features were abused. We got Code Red, Nimbda, and other malware that became high profile attacks against vulnerable binaries. These were unprecedented in terms of how quickly a flaw in the code could get abused en masse. Hundreds of thousands of computers could be infected in a matter of days with a well crafted exploit. Even some of the server services were exploited such as the IIS, or Internet Information Services server. Microsoft responded with security bulletins but buffer overflows and other vulnerabilities allows mass infections. So much so that the US and other governments got involved. This wasn’t made any easier by the fact that the source code for parts of 2000 was leaked on the Internet and had been used to help find new exploits.

Yet Windows 2000 was still the most secure operating system Microsoft had put out. Imagine how many viruses and exploits would have appeared on all those computers if it hadn’t of been. And within Microsoft, Windows 2000 was a critical step toward mass adoption of the far more stable, technically sophisticated Windows NT platform. It demonstrated that a technologically powerful Windows operating system could also have a user-friendly interface and multimedia capabilities.


It's as boring as it looks

    RetroMacCast 4/17/2022

James and John discuss eBay finds: authorized service center sign, MacPhone, and M5000 prototype server. They look back at April 2022 in MacAddict magazine, and news include upcoming WWDC and System 7 and OS 8 emulators in a browser.

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What Comes Together Falls Apart (1985)

    Mac Folklore Radio 4/16/2022

InfoWorld (13-May-1985) profiles Andy Hertzfeld one year after his departure from Apple. Original text by Kevin Strehlo.


Unusual HD Enclosure Suckers

    RetroMacCast 4/10/2022

James and John discuss eBay finds: Mac sales literature, Mac 512, and the Snail poster. John shows us his Mac10 external serial drive, and news includes Apple logo design with circules and NanoRaptor creations.

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The R Programming Language

    The History of Computing 4/1/2022

R is the 18th level of the Latin alphabet. It represents the rhotic consonant, or the r sound. It goes back to the Greek Rho, the Phoenician Resh before that and the Egyptian rêš, which is the same name the Egyptians had for head, before that. R appears in about 7 and a half percent of the words in the English dictionary. 

And R is probably the best language out there for programming around various statistical and machine learning tasks. We may use tools like Tensorflow imported to languages like python to prototype but R is incredibly performant for all the maths. And so it has become an essential piece of software for data scientists. 

The R programming language was created in 1993 by two statisticians Robert Gentleman, and Ross Ihaka at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. It has since been ported to practically every operating system and is available at r-project.org. Initially called "S," the name changed to "R" to avoid a trademark issue with a commercial software package that we’ll discuss in a bit. R was primarily written in C but used Fortran and since even R itself. 

And there have been statistical packages since the very first computers were used for math. 

IBM in fact packaged up BMDP when they first started working on the idea at UCLA Health Computing Facility. That was 1957. Then came SPSS out of the University of Chicago in 1968. And the same year, John Sall and others gave us SAS, or Statistical Analysis System) out of North Carolina State University. And those evolved from those early days through into the 80s with the advent of object oriented everything and thus got not only windowing interfaces but also extensibility, code sharing, and as we moved into the 90s, acquisition’s. BMDP was acquired by SPSS who was then acquired by IBM and the products were getting more expensive but not getting a ton of key updates for the same scientific and medical communities.

And so we saw the upstarts in the 80s, Data Desk and JMP and others. Tools built for windowing operating systems and in object oriented languages. We got the ability to interactively manipulate data, zoom in and spin three dimensional representations of data, and all kinds of pretty aspects. But they were not a programmers tool.

S was begun in the seventies at Bell Labs and was supposed to be a statistical MATLAB, a language specifically designed for number crunching. And the statistical techniques were far beyond where SPSS and SAS had stopped. And with the breakup of Ma Bell, parts of Bell became Lucent, which sold S to Insightful Corporation who released S-PLUS and would later get bought by TIBCO. Keep in mind, Bell was testing line quality and statistics and going back to World War II employed some of the top scientists in those fields, ones who would later create large chunks of the quality movement and implementations like Six Sigma. Once S went to a standalone software company basically, it became less about the statistics and more about porting to different computers to make more money. 

Private equity and portfolio conglomerates are, by nature, after improving the multiples on a line of business. But sometimes more statisticians in various feels might feel left behind. And this is where R comes into the picture. R gained popularity among statisticians because it made it easier to write complicated statistical algorithms without learning an entire programming language. Its popularity has grown significantly since then. R has been described as a cross between MATLAB and SPSS, but much faster.


R was initially designed to be a language that could handle statistical analysis and other types of data mining, an offshoot of which we now call machine learning. R is also an open-source language and as with a number of other languages has plenty of packages available through a package repository - which they call CRAN (Comprehensive R Archive Network). This allows R to be used in fields outside of statistics and data science or to just get new methods to do math that doesn’t belong in the main language. 

There are over 18,000 packages for R. One of the more popular is ggplot2, an open-source data visualization package. data.table is another that performs programmatic data manipulation operations. dplyr provides functions designed to enable data frame manipulation in an intuitive manner. tidyr helps create tidier data. Shiny generates interactive web apps. And there are plenty of packages to make R easier, faster, and more extensible.

By 2015, more than 10 million people used R every month and it’s now the 13th most popular language in use. And the needs have expanded. We can drop r scripts into other programs and tools for processing. And some of the workloads are huge. This led to the development of parallel computing, specifically using MPI (Message Passing Interface). 

R programming is one of the most popular languages used for statistical analysis, statistical graphics generation, and data science projects. There are other languages or tools for specific uses but it’s even started being used in those. 

The latest version, R 4.1.2, was released on 21/11/01. R development, as with most thriving open source solutions, is guided by a group of core developers supported by contributions from the broader community. It became popular because it provides all essential features for data mining and graphics needed for academic research and industry applications and because of the pluggable and robust and versatile nature.

And projects like tensorflow and numpy and sci-kit have evolved for other languages. And there are services from companies like Amazon that can host and process assets from both, both using unstructured databases like NoSQL or using Jupyter notebooks.

A Jupyter Notebook is a JSON document, following a versioned schema that contains an ordered list of input/output cells which can contain code, text (using Markdown), formulas, algorithms, plots and even media like audio or video. Project Jupyter was a spin-off of iPython but the goal was to create a language-agnostic tool where we could execute aspects in Ruby or Haskel or Python or even R. This gives us so many ways to get our data into the notebook, in batches or deep learning environments or whatever pipeline needs to be built based on an organization’s stack. Especially if the notebook has a frontend based on Amazon SageMaker Notebooks, Google's Colaboratory and Microsoft's Azure Notebook.

Think about this. 25% of the languages lack a rhotic consonant. Sometimes it seems like we’ve got languages that do everything or that we’ve built products that do everything. But I bet no matter the industry or focus or sub-specialty, there’s still 25% more automation or instigation into our own data to be done. Because there always will be.


folklore.org: PCB Aesthetics/Diagnostic Port (1981)

    Mac Folklore Radio 4/1/2022

Steve Jobs says of the Mac’s logic board “The lines are too close together!” while Burrell Smith surreptitiously adds some means of expansion.

Original text from folklore.org: PC Board Aesthetics, Diagnostic Port.

Jef Raskin: Design Considerations for an Anthropophilic Computer

Jerry Manock/Jef Raskin/Bill Atkinson “convection enhancement device” quote from “The Macintosh at 20” panel hosted at Macworld Boston 2004.

Fiennes on management’s tentative request for iPhone motherboard layout refinement.

Pixar on attention to detail: “We sand the undersides of the drawers.”

Adrian Black showing the 512k expansion decoder circuit to the left of the 68000.

MacGUI’s detailed history of Mac 128K memory upgrades: the Dr. Dobbs article, the early 128k adopter outrage, the high list prices for the Apple 512k upgrade kit.

MacGUI’s collection of original Macintosh memory upgrade boards.

Steve from Mac84TV tries out a 3DFX Voodoo2 card for the Rev A iMac’s Mezzanine slot.


Created on a Macintosh

    RetroMacCast 3/27/2022

James and John discuss eBay finds: Mac LC II, SE/30, and Mac Office Technical Procedures. James shares his Created on a Macintosh booket, and news includes SystemSix and Yellowstone Universal Disk Controller.

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Marchintosh 2022

    RetroMacCast 3/27/2022

John, Joe Strosnider and Ron McAdams discuss eBay finds: Mac 512k Accessory Kit, Mac Classic for parts, and Mac G4 Cube. Joe and Ron talk all about Marchintosh 2022, and news includes the new Mac Studio announcement.


The Earliest Days of Microsoft Windows NT

    The History of Computing 3/24/2022

The first operating systems as we might think of them today (or at least anything beyond a basic task manager) shipped in the form of Multics in 1969. Some of the people who worked on that then helped created Unix at Bell Labs in 1971. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Unix flowed to education, research, and corporate environments through minicomputers and many in those environments thought a flavor of BSD, or Berkeley Software Distribution, might become the operating system of choice on microcomputers. But the microcomputer movement had a while other plan if only in spite of the elder minicomputers.

Apple DOS was created in 1978 in a time when most companies who made computers had to mail their own DOS as well, if only so software developers could built disks capable of booting the machines. Microsoft created their Disk Operating System, or MS-DOS, in 1981. They proceeded to Windows 1 to sit on top of MS-DOS in 1985, which was built in Intel’s 8086 assembler and called operating system services via interrupts. That led to poor programmers locking down points in order to access memory addresses and written assuming a single-user operating system.

Then came Windows 2 in 1987, Windows 3 in 1992, and released one of the most anticipated operating systems of all time in 1995 with Windows 95. 95 turned into 98, and then Millineum in 2000. But in the meantime, Microsoft began work on another generation of operating systems based on a fusion of ideas between work they were doing with IBM, work architects had done at Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), and rethinking all of it with modern foundations of APIs and layers of security sitting atop a kernel.

Microsoft worked on OS/2 with IBM from 1985 to 1989. This was to be the IBM-blessed successor of the personal computer. But IBM was losing control of the PC market with the rise of cloned IBM architectures. IBM was also big, corporate, and the small, fledgeling Microsoft was able to move quicker. Really small companies that find success often don’t mesh well with really big companies that have layers of bureaucracy. The people Microsoft originally worked with were nimble and moved quickly. The ones presiding over the massive sales and go to market efforts and the explosion in engineering team size was back to the old IBM.

OS/2 had APIs for most everything the computer could do. This meant that programmers weren’t just calling assembly any time they wanted and invading whatever memory addresses they wanted. They also wanted preemptive multitasking and threading. And a file system since by then computers had internal hard drives. The Microsoft and IBM relationship fell apart and Microsoft decided to go their own way.

Microsoft realized that DOS was old and building on top of DOS was going to some day be a big, big problem. Windows 3 was closer, as was 95, so they continued on with that plan. But they started something similar to what we’d call a fork of OS/2 today. So Gates went out to recruit the best in the industry. He hired Dave Cutler from Digital Equipment to take on the architecture of the new operating system.

Cutler had worked on the VMS operating system and helped lead efforts for next-generation operating system at DEC that they called MICA. And that moment began the march towards a new operating system called NT, which borrowed much of the best from VMS, Microsoft Windows, and OS/2 - and had little baggage. Microsoft was supposed to make version 3 of OS/2 but NT OS/2 3.0 would become just Windows NT when Microsoft stopped developing on OS/2. It took 12 years, because um, they had a loooooot of customers after the wild success of first Windows 3 and then Windows 95, but eventually Cutler and team’s NT would replace all other operating systems in the family with the release of Windows 2000.

Cutler wanted to escape the confines of what was by then the second largest computing company in the world. Cutler worked on VMS and RSX-12 before he got to Microsoft. There were constant turf battles and arguments about microkernels and system architecture and meetings weren’t always conducive with actually shipping code. So Cutler went somewhere he could. At least, so long as they kept IBM at bay. Cutler brought some of the team from Digital with him and they got to work on that next generation of operating systems in 1988.

They sat down to decide what they wanted to build, using the NS OS/2 operating system they had a starting point. Microsoft had sold Xenix and the team knew about most every operating system on the market at the time. They wanted a multi-user environment like a Unix. They wanted programming APIs, especially for networking, but different than what BSD had. In fact, many of the paths and structures of networking commands in Windows still harken back to emulating those structures.

The system would be slow on the 8086 processor, but ever since the days of Xerox PARC, everyone knew Moore’s Law was real and that the processors would double in speed every other year. Especially since Moore was still at Intel and could make his law remain true with the 286 and 386 chips in the pipeline. They also wanted the operating system to be portable since IBM selected the Intel CPU but there were plenty of other CPU architectures out there as well.

The original name for NT was to be OS/2 3.0. But the IBM and Microsoft relationship fell apart and the two companies took their operating systems in different directions. OS/2 became went the direction of Warp and IBM never recovered. NT went in a direction where some ideas came over from Windows 95 or 3.1 but mostly the team just added layers of APIs and focused on making NT a fully 32-bit version of Windows that could that could be ported to other platforms including ARM, PowerPC, and the DEC Alpha that Cutler had exposure to from his days at Digital.

The name became Windows NT and NT began with version 3, as it was in fact the third installment of OS/2. The team began with Cutler and a few others, grew to eight and by the time it finally shipped as NT 3.1 in 1993 there were a few hundred people working on the project. Where Windows 95 became the mass marketed operating system, NT took lessons learned from the Unix, IBM mainframe, and VMS worlds and packed them into an operating system that could run on a corporate desktop computer, as microcomputers were called by then.

The project cost $150 million, about the same as the first iPhone. It was a rough start. But that core team and those who followed did what Apple couldn’t in a time when a missing modern operating system nearly put Apple out of business. Cutler inspired, good managers drove teams forward, some bad managers left, other bad managers stayed, and in an almost agile development environment they managed to break through the conflicts and ship an operating system that didn’t actually seem like it was built by a committee. Bill Gates knew the market and was patient enough to let NT 3 mature.

They took the parts of OS/2 like LAN Manager. They took parts of Unix like ping. But those were at the application level. The microkernel was the most important part. And that was a small core team, like it always is.

The first version they shipped to the public was Windows NT 3.1. The sales people found it easiest to often say that NT was the business-oriented operating system. Over time, the Windows NT series was slowly enlarged to become the company’s general-purpose OS product line for all PCs, and thus Microsoft abandoned the Windows 9x family, which might or might not have a lot to do with the poor reviews Millennium Edition had.

Other aspects of the application layer the original team didn’t do much with included the GUI, which was much more similar to Windows 3.x. But based on great APIs they were able to move faster than most, especially in that era where Unix was in weird legal territory, changing hands from Bell to Novell, and BSD was also in dubious legal territory. The Linux kernel had been written in 1991 but wasn’t yet a desktop-class operating system. So the remaining choices most business considered were really Mac, which had serious operating system issues at the time and seemed to lack a vision since Steve Jobs left the company, or Windows.

Windows NT 3.5 was introduced in 1994, followed by 3.51 a year later. During those releases they shored up access control lists for files, functions, and services. Services being similar in nearly every way to a process in Unix. It sported a TCP/IP network stack but also NetBIOS for locating computers to establish a share and a file sharing stack in LAN Manager based on the Server Message Block, or SMB protocol that Barry Feigenbaum wrote at IBM in 1983 to turn a DOS computer into a file server. Over the years, Microsoft and 3COM add additional functionality and Microsoft added the full Samba with LDAP out of the University of Michigan as a backend and Kerberos (out of MIT) to provide single sign-on services.

3.51 also brought a lot of user-mode components from Windows 95. That included the Windows 95 common control library, which included the rich edit control, and a number of tools for developers. NT could run DOS software, now they were getting it to run Windows 95 software without sacrificing the security of the operating system where possible. It kinda’ looked like a slightly more boring version of 95. And some of the features were a little harder to use, like configuring a SCSI driver to get a tape drive to work. But they got the ability to run Office 95 and it was the last version that ran the old Program Manager graphical interface.

Cutler had been joined by Moshe Dunie, who led the management side of NT 3.1, through NT 4 and became the VP of the Windows Operating System Division so also had responsibility for Windows 98 and 2000. For perspective, that operating system group grew to include 3,000 badged Microsoft employees and about half that number of contractors. Mark Luovsky and Lou Perazzoli joined from Digital. Jim Alchin came in from Banyan Vines.

Windows NT 4.0 was released in 1996, with a GUI very similar to Windows 95. NT 4 became the workhorse of the field that emerged for large deployments of computers we now refer to as enterprise computing. It didn’t have all the animation-type bells and whistles of 95 but did perform about as well as any operating system could. It had the NT Explorer to browse files, a Start menu, for which many of us just clicked run and types cmd. It had a Windows Desktop Update and a task scheduler. They released a number of features that would take years for other vendors to catch up with. The DCOM, or Distributed Component Object Modeling and Object Linking & Embedding (or OLE) was a core aspect any developer had to learn. The Telephony API (or TAPI) allowed access to the modem. The Microsoft Transaction Server allowed developers to build network applications on their own sockets. The Crypto API allowed developers to encrypt information in their applications. The Microsoft Message Queuing service allowed queuing data transfer between services.

They also built in DirectX support and already had OpenGL support. The Task Manager in NT 4 was like an awesome graphical version of the top command on Unix. And it came with Internet Explorer 2 built in. NT 4 would be followed by a series of service packs for 4 years before the next generation of operating system was ready. That was Windows 5, or more colloquially called Windows 2000.

In those years NT became known as NT Workstation, the server became known as NT Server, they built out Terminal Server Edition in collaboration with Citrix. And across 6 service packs, NT became the standard in enterprise computing. IBM released OS/2 Warp version 4.52 in 2001, but never had even a fraction of the sales Microsoft did. By contrast, NT 5.1 became Windows XP and 6 became Vista in while OS/2 was cancelled in 2005.


World's Greatest Computer

    RetroMacCast 3/20/2022

James and John discuss eBay finds: Bongo's Dream Dorm poster, 128k Mac, and NIB Twentieth Anniversary Mac. They look back at March 2002 in MacAddict magazine, and news includes upcoming Apple Event rumors and Marchintosh.


Qualcomm: From Satellites to CDMA to Snapdragons

    The History of Computing 3/17/2022

Qualcomm is the world's largest fabless semiconductor designer. The name Qualcomm is a mashup of  Quality and Communications and communications has been a hallmark of the company since its founding. They began in satellite communications and today most every smartphone has a Qualcomm chip. The ubiquity of communications in our devices and everyday lives has allowed them a $182 billion market cap as of the time of this writing. 

Qualcomm began with far humbler beginnings. They emerged out of a company called Linkabit in 1985. Linkabit was started by Irwin Jacobs, Leonard Kleinrock, and Andrew Viterbi - all three former graduate students at MIT. 

Viterbi moved to California to take a job with JPL in Pasadena, where he worked on satellites. He then went off to UCLA where he developed what we now call the Viterti algorithm, for encoding and decoding digital communications. Jacobs worked on a book called Principles of Communication Engineering after getting his doctorate at MIT. Jacobs then took a year of leave to work at JPL after he met Viterbi in the early 1960s and the two hit it off. By 1966, Jacobs was a professor at the University of California, San Diego. Kleinrock was at UCLA by then and the three realized they had too many consulting efforts between them, but if they consolidated the request they could pool their resources. Eventually Jacobs and Viterbi left and Kleinrock got busy working on the first ARPANET node when it was installed at UCLA.

Jerry Heller, Andrew Cohen, Klein Gilhousen, and James Dunn eventually moved into the area to work at Linkabit and by the 1970s Jacobs was back to help design telecommunications for satellites. They’d been working to refine the theories from Claude Shannon’s time at MIT and Bell Labs and were some of the top names in the industry on the work. And the space race needed a lot of this type of work. They did their work on Scientific Data Systems computers in an era before that company was acquired by Xerox. Much as Claude Shannon got started thinking of data loss as it pertains to information theory while trying to send telegraphs over barbed wire, they refined that work thinking about sending images from mars to earth. 

Others from MIT worked on other space projects as a part of missions. Many of those early employees were Viterbi’s PhD students and they were joined by Joseph Odenwalder, who took Viterbi’s decoding work and combined it with a previous dissertation out of MIT when he joined Linkabit. That got used in the Voyager space probes and put Linkabit on the map. They were hiring some of the top talent in digital communications and were able to promote not only being able to work with some of the top minds in the industry but also the fact that they were in beautiful San Diego, which appealed to many in the Boston or MIT communities during harsh winters.

As solid state electronics got cheaper and the number of transistors more densely packed into those wafers, they were able to exploit the ability to make hardware and software for military applications by packing digital signal processors that had previously taken a Sigma from SDS into smaller and smaller form factors, like the Linkabit Microprocessor, which got Viterbi’s algorithm for encoding data into a breadboard and a chip. 

The work continued with defense contractors and suppliers. They built modulation and demodulation for UHF signals for military communications. That evolved into a Command Post Modem/Processor they sold, or CPM/P for short. They made modems for the military in the 1970s, some of which remained in production until the 1990s. And as they turned their way into the 1980s, they had more than $10 million in revenue. 

The UC San Diego program grew in those years, and the Linkabit founders had more and more local talent to choose from. Linkabit developed tools to facilitate encoded communications over commercial satellites as well. They partnered with companies like IBM and developed smaller business units they were able to sell off. They also developed a tool they called VideoCipher to encode video, which HBO and others used to do what we later called scrambling on satellite signals. As we rounded the corner into the 1990s, though, they turned their attention to cellular services with TDMA (Time-Division Multiple Access), an early alternative to CDMA.

Along the way, Linkabit got acquired by a company called MACOM in 1980 for $25 million. The founders liked that the acquirer was a fellow PhD from MIT and Linkabit stayed separate but grew quickly with the products they were introducing. As with most acquisitions, the culture changed and by 1985 the founders were gone. The VideoCipher and other units were sold off, spun off, or people just left and started new companies. Information theory was decades old at this point, plenty of academic papers had been published, and everyone who understood the industry knew that digital telecommunications was about to explode; a perfect storm for defections.

Qualcomm
Over the course of the next few years over two dozen companies were born as the alumni left and by 2003, 76 companies were founded by Linkabit alumni, including four who went public. One of the companies that emerged included the Linkabit founders Irwin Jacobs and Andrew Viterbi, Begun in 1985, Qualcomm is also based in San Diego. The founders had put information theory into practice at Linkabit and seen that the managers who were great at finance just weren’t inspiring to scientists. 

Qualcomm began with consulting and research, but this time looked for products to take to market. They merged with a company called Omninet and the two released the OmniTRACS satellite communication system for trucking and logistical companies. They landed Schneider National and a few other large customers and grew to over 600 employees in those first five years. It remained a Qualcomm subsidiary until recently. Even with tens of millions in revenue, they operated at a loss while researching what they knew would be the next big thing. 

Code-Division Multiple Acces, or CDMA, is a technology that allows for sending information over multiple channels so users can share not just a single frequency of the radio band, but multiple frequencies without a lot of interference. The original research began all the way back in the 1930s when Dmitry Ageyev in the Soviet Union researched the theory of code division of signals at Leningrad Electrotechnical Institute of Communications. That work and was furthered during World War II by German researchers like Karl Küpfmüller and Americans like Claude Shannon, who focused more on the information theory of communication channels. 

People like Lee Yuk-wing then took the cybernetics work from pioneers like Norbert Weiner and helped connect those with others like Qualcomm’s Jacobs, a student of Yuk-wing’s when he was a professor at MIT. They were already working on CDMA jamming in the early 1950s at MIT’s Lincoln Lab. Another Russian named Leonid Kupriyanovich put the concept of CMDA into practice in the later 1950s so the Soviets could track people using a service they called Altai. That made it perfect for  perfect for tracking trucks and within a few years was released in 1965 as a pre-cellular radiotelephone network that got bridged to standard phone lines.

The Linkabit and then Qualcomm engineers had worked closely with satellite engineers at JPL then Hughes and other defense then commercial contractors. They’d come in contact with work and built their own intellectual property for decades. Bell was working on mobile, or cellular technologies. Ameritech Mobile Communications, or Advanced Mobile Phone System (AMPS) as they were known at the time, launched the first 1G network in 1983 and Vodaphone launched their first service in the UK in 1984. Qualcomm filed their first patent for CDMA the next year. 

That patent is one of the most cited documents in all of technology. Qualcomm worked closely with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US and with industry consortiums, such as the CTIA, or Cellular Telephone Industries Association. Meanwhile Ericsson promoted the TDMA standard as they claimed it was more standard; however, Qualcomm worked on additional patents and got to the point that they licensed their technology to early cell phone providers like Ameritech, who was one of the first to switch from the TDMA standard Ericsson promoted to CDMA. Other carriers switched to CDMA as well, which gave them data to prove their technology worked.

The OmniTRACS service helped with revenue, but they needed more. So they filed for an initial public offering in 1991 and raised over $500 billion in funding between then and 1995 when they sold another round of shares. By then, they had done the work to get CDMA encoding on a chip and it was time to go to the mass market. They made double what they raised back in just the first two years, reaching over $800 million in revenue in 1996. 

Qualcomm and Cell Phones
One of the reasons Qualcomm was able to raise so much money in two substantial rounds of public funding is that the test demonstrations were going so well. They deployed CDMA in San Diego, New York, Honk Kong, Los Angeles, and within just a few years had over a dozen carriers running substantial tests. The CTIA supported CDMA as a standard in 1993 and by 1995 they went from tests to commercial networks. 

The standard grew in adoption from there. South Korea standardized on CDMA between 1993 to 116. The CDMA standard was embraced by Primeco in 1995, who used the 1900 MHz PCS band. This was a joint venture between a number of vendors including two former regional AT&T spin-offs from before the breakup of AT&T and represented interests from Cox Communications, Sprint, and turned out to be a large undertaking. It was also the largest cellular launch with services going live in 19 cities and the first phones were from a joint venture between Qualcomm and Sony. Most of PrimeCo’s assets were later merged with AirTouch Cellular and the Bell Atlantic Mobile to form what we now know as Verizon Wireless. 

Along the way, there were a few barriers to mass proliferation of the Qualcomm CDMA standards. One is that they made phones. The Qualcomm Q cost them a lot to manufacture and it was a market with a lot of competition who had cheaper manufacturing ecosystems. So Qualcomm sold the manufacturing business to Kyocera, who continued to license Qualcomm chips. Now they could shift all of their focus on encoding bits of data to be carried over multiple radio channels to do their part in paving the way for 2G and 3G networks with the chips that went into most phones of the era. 

Qualcomm couldn’t have built out a mass manufacturing ecosystem to supply the world with every phone needed in the 2G and 3G era. Nor could they make the chips that went in those phones. The mid and late 1990s saw them outsource then just license their patents and know-how to other companies. A quarter of a billion 3G subscribers across over a hundred carriers in dozens of countries. They got in front of what came after CDMA and worked on multiple other standards, including OFDMA, or Orthogonal frequency-Division Multiple Access. For those they developed the Qualcomm Flarion Flash-OFDM and 3GPP 5G NR, or New Radio. And of course a boatload of other innovative technologies and chips. Thus paving the way to have made Qualcomm instrumental in 5G and beyond. 

This was really made possible by this hyper-specialization. Many of the same people who developed the encoding technology for the Voyager satellite decades prior helped pave the way for the mobile revolution. They ventured into manufacturing but as with many of the designers of technology and chips, chose to license the technology in massive cross-licensing deals. These deals are so big Apple sued Qualcomm recently for a billion in missed rebates. But there were changes happening in the technology industry that would shake up those licensing deals. 

Broadcom was growing into a behemoth. Many of their designs sent from stand-alone chips to being a small part of a SoC, or system on a chip. Suddenly, cross-licensing the ARM gave Qualcomm the ability to make full SoCs.  Snapdragon has been the moniker of the current line of SoCs since 2007. Qualcomm has an ARM Architectural License and uses the ARM instruction set to create their own CPUs. The most recent incarnation is known as Krait. They also create their own Graphics Processor (GPU) and Digital Signal Processors (DSPs) known as Adreno and Hexagon. They recently acquired Arteris' technology and engineering group, and they used Arteris' Network on Chip (NoC) technology.

Snapdragon chips can be found in the Samsung Galaxy, Vivo, Asus, and Xiaomi phones. Apple designs their own chips that are based on the ARM architecture, so in some ways compete with the Snapdragon, but still use Qualcomm modems like every other SoC. Qualcomm also bought a new patent portfolio from HP, including the Palm patents and others, so who knows what we’ll find in the next chips - maybe a chip in a stylus. 

Their slogan is "enabling the wireless industry," and they’ve certainly done that. From satellite communications that required a computer the size of a few refrigerators to battlefield communications to shipping trucks with tracking systems to cell towers, and now the full processor on a cell phone. They’ve been with us since the beginning of the mobile era and one has to wonder if the next few generations of mobile technology will involve satellites, so if Qualcomm will end up right back where they began: encoding bits of information theory into silicon.


The Short But Sweet History Of The Go Programming Language

    The History of Computing 3/13/2022

The Go Programming Language

Go is an open-source programming language with influences from Limbo, C, APL, Modular, Oberon, Pascal, Alex, Erlang, and most importantly, C. While relatively young compared to many languages, there are over 365,000 repositories of Go projects on Github alone. There are a few reason it gained popularity so quickly: it’s fast and efficient in the right hands, simple to pick up, doesn’t have some of the baggage of some more mature languages, and the name Ken Thompson.

The seamless way we can make calls from Go into C and the fact that Ken Thompson was one of the parties responsible for C, makes it seem in part like a modern web enabled language that can stretch between the tasks C is still used for all the way to playing fart sounds in an app. And it didn’t hurt that co-author Rob Pike had whelped write books, co-created UTF-8, and was part of the distributed operating system Plan 9  team at Bell Labs and had worked on the Limbo programming language there. 

And Robert Griesemer was another co-author. He’d begun his career studying under Niklaus Wirth, the greater of Pascal, Modula, and Oberon. So it’s no surprise that he’d go on to write compilers and design languages. Before go, he’d worked on the V8 JavaScript engine at Google and a compiler for the Java HotSpot Virtual Machine.

So our intrepid heroes assembled (pun intended) at Google in 2009. But why? Friends don’t let friends write in C. Thompson had done something amazing for the world with C. But that was going on 50 years ago. And others had picked up the mantle with C++. But there were shortcomings the team wanted to address. And so Go has the ability to concatenate string variables without using a preprocessor, has many similarities to languages like BASIC from the Limbo influences, but the most impressive feature about this programming language is its support for concurrent execution. And probably the best garbage collection facility I’ve ever seen. 

The first version of the language wasn't released to the public and wouldn’t be for a few years. The initial compiler was written in C but over time they got to where it can be self-hosted, which is to say that Go is compiled in Go. 

Go is a compiled language that can run on a command line, in a browser, on the server, or even be used to compile itself. Go compiles fast and has no global variables to clutter memory. This simplicity makes it easy to read through Go code line by line without consulting any parsing tools or syntax charts. Let’s look at a quick Hello World:

// A basic Go program that demonstrates "Hello World!"
package main
import "fmt"
func main() {
    fmt.Println("Hello World!")
}

The output would be a simple Hello World!

Fairly straight forward but the power gets into more of the scripting structures - especially given that a micro service is just a lot of little functional scripts. The language itself has no connection to any other functional programming languages and does not include support for object orientation or reflection. The language consists of two parts: a parser (which processes an input file) and a bytecode interpreter, which translates all source code into machine code. Consequently, Go programs tend to compile quickly and run very efficiently because they are mainly independent of the runtime environment and can execute directly on the hardware without being interpreted by some sort of virtual machine first. Additionally, there is no need for a separate interpreter during execution since everything runs natively.

The libraries and sources built using the Go programming language provide developers with a straightforward, safe, and extensibility system to build on. We have things like Go Kit, GORM, cli, Vegeta, fuzzy, Authboss, Image, Time, gg, and mgo. These can basically provide pre-built functions and APIs to hook into any old type of service or give a number of things for free.

Go was well designed from the outset and while it’s evolved over the years, it hasn’t changed as much as many other languages. with the latest release being Go 1.17. 1.1 came just a couple of months after the initial release to increase how much memory could be used on 64 bit chips by about 10-fold, add detection for race conditions, added the uint for 64 bit integers. Oh and fixed a couple of issues in the compiler. 1.2 also came in 2013 and tweaked how slicing of arrays worked in a really elegant way (almost ruby-like) and allowed developers to call the runtime scheduler for non-inline calls. And added a thread limit, like the ulimit a bash would have, for 10,000 threads. And they doubled the grouting minimum size of the stack. 

Then the changes got smaller. This happens as every language gets more popular. The more people use it, the more havoc the developers cause when they make breaking changes. Bigger changes are contiguous models of grouting stacks in 1.3, the addition of internal packages in 1.4, a redesigned garbage collector in 1.5 when Go was moved away from C and implemented solely in Go and assembler. And 17 releases later, it’s more popular than ever. While C remains the most popular language today, Go is hovering in the top 10. Imagine, one day saying let’s build a better language for concurrent programming. And then viola; hundreds of thousands of people are using it. 


awk && Regular Expressions For Finding Text

    The History of Computing 3/4/2022

Programming was once all about math. And life was good. Then came strings, or those icky non-numbery things. Then we had to process those strings. And much of that is looking for patterns that wouldn’t be a need with integers, or numbers. For example, a space in a string of text. Let’s say we want to print hello world to the screen in bash. That would be the echo command, followed by “Hello World!” Now let’s say we ran that without the quotes then it would simply echo out the word Hello to the screen, given that the interpreter saw the space and ended the command, or looked for the next operator or verb according to which command is being used.

Unix was started in 1969 at Bell Labs. Part of that work was The Thompson shell, the first Unix shell, which shipped in 1971. And C was written in 1972. These make up the ancestral underpinnings of the modern Linux, BSD, Android, Chrome, iPhone, and Mac operating systems.

A lot of the work the team at Bell Labs was doing was shifting from pure statistical and mathematical operations to connect phones and do R&D faster to more general computing applications. Those meant going from math to those annoying stringy things. Unix was an early operating system and that shell gave them new abilities to interact with the computer. People called files funny things. There was text in those files. And so text manipulation became a thing.

Lee McMahon developed sed in 1974, which was great for finding patterns and doing basic substitutions. Another team  at Bell Labs that included Finnish programmer Alfred Aho, Peter Weinberger, and Brian Kernighan had more advanced needs. Take their last name initials and we get awk. Awk is a programming language they developed in 1977 for data processing, or more specifically for text manipulation. Marc Rochkind had been working on a version management tool for code at Bell and that involved some text manipulation, as well as a good starting point for awk. 

It’s meant to be concise and given some input, produce the desired output. Nice, short, and efficient scripting language to help people that didn’t need to go out and learn C to do some basic tasks. AWK is a programming language with its own interpreter, so no need to compile to run AWK scripts as executable programs. 

Sed and awk are both written to be used as one0line programs, or more if needed. But building in an implicit loops and implicit variables made it simple to build short but power regular expressions. Think of awk as a pair of objects. The first is a pattern followed by an action to take in curly brackets. It can be dangerous to call if the pattern is too wide open.; especially when piping information For example,  ls -al at the root of a volume and piping that to awk $1 or some other position and then piping that into xargs to rm and a systems administrator could have a really rough day. Those $1, $2, and so-on represent the positions of words. So could be directories. 

Think about this, though. In a world before relational databases, when we were looking to query the 3rd column in a file with information separated by some delimiter, piping those positions represented a simple way to effectively join tables of information into a text file or screen output. Or to find files on a computer that match a pattern for whatever reason. 

Awk began powerful. Over time, improvements have enabled it to be used in increasingly  complicated scenarios. Especially when it comes to pattern matching with regular expressions. Various coding styles for input and output have been added as well, which can be changed depending on the need at hand. 

Awk is also important because it influenced other languages. After becoming part of the IEEE Standard 1003.1, it is now a part of the POSIX standard. And after a few years, Larry Wall came up with some improvements, and along came Perl. But the awk syntax has always been the most succinct and useable regular expression engines. Part of that is the wildcard, piping, and file redirection techniques borrowed from the original shells.

The AWK creators wrote a book called The AWK Programming Language for Addison-Wesley in 1988. Aho would go on to develop influential algorithms, write compilers, and write books (some of which were about compilers). Weinberger continued to do work at Bell before becoming the Chief Technology Officer of Hedge Fund Renaissance Technologies with former code breaker and mathematician James Simon and Robert Mercer. His face led to much love from his coworkers at Bell during the advent of digital photography and hopefully some day we’ll see it on the Google Search page, given he now works there. 

Brian Kernighan was a contributor to the early Multics then Unix work, as well as C. In fact, an important C implementation, K&R C, stands for Kernighan and Ritchie C. He coauthored The C Programming Language ands written a number of other books, most recently on the Go Programming Language. He also wrote a number of influential algorithms, as well as some other programming languages, including AMPL. His 1978 description of how to manage memory when working with those pesky strings we discussed earlier went on to give us the Hello World example we use for pretty much all introductions to programming languages today. He worked on ARPA projects at Stanford, helped with emacs, and now teaches computer science at Princeton, where he can help to shape the minds of future generations of programming languages and their creators. 


It's Always 1992

    RetroMacCast 2/28/2022

James, John, and guest Scott Baret discuss eBay Finds: Hypercard training shirt, Mouse Master, and 1984 Macintosh Sales Training. They chat with Scott about his vintage Macintosh Lab, and news includes NanoRaptor creations, NIB TAM and other Apple auctions.


Banyan Vines and the Emerging Local Area Network

    The History of Computing 2/27/2022

One of my first jobs out of college was ripping Banyan VINES out of a company and replacing it with LAN Manager. Banyan VINES was a network operating system for Unix systems. It came along in 1984. This was a time when minicomputers running Unix were running at most every University and when Unix offered far more features that the alternatives.

Sharing files was as old as the Internet. Telnet was created in 1969. FTP came along in 1971. SMB in 1983. Networking computers together had evolved from just the ARPANET to local protocols like ALOHAnet, which inspired Bob Metcalfe to start work on the PARC Universal Packet protocol with David Boggs, which evolved into the Xerox Network Systems, or XNS, suite of networking protocols that were developed to network the Xerox Alto. Along the way the two of them co-invented Ethernet. But there were developments happening in various locations in silos. For example, TCP was more of an ARPANET then NSFNET project so wasn’t used for computers on their own networks to communicate yet.

Data General was founded in 1968 when Edson de Castro, the project manager for the PDP-8 at Digital Equipment Corporation, grew frustrated that the PDP wasn’t evolving fast enough. He, Henry Burkhardt, and Richard Sogge of Digital would be joined by Herbert Richman, who did sales for Fairchild Semiconductor. They were proud of the PDP-8. It was a beautiful machine. But they wanted to go even further. And they didn’t feel like they could do so at Digital. A few computers later,

Within a year, they shipped the next generation machine, which they called the Nova. They released more computers but then came the explosion of computers that was the personal computing market. Microcomputers showed up in offices around the world and on multiple desks. And it didn’t take long before people started wondering if it wouldn’t be faster to run a cable between computers than it was to save a file to a floppy and get on an elevator.

By the 1970s, Data General had been writing software for customers, mostly for the rising tide of UNIX System V implementations. But just giving customers a TCP/IP stack or an application that could open a socket over an X.25 network, which was later replaced with Frame Relay networks run by phone systems and for legacy support on those X.25 was streamed over TCP/IP. Some of the people from those projects at Data General saw an opportunity to build a company that focused on a common need, moving files back and forth between the microcomputers that were also being connected to these networks.

David Mahoney was a manager at Data General who saw what customers were asking for. And he saw an increasing under of those microcomputers needed a few common services to connect to. So he left to form Banyan Systems in 1983, bringing Anand Jagannathan and Larry Floryan with him. They built Banyan VINES (Virtual Integrated NEtwork Service) in 1984, releasing version 1. Their client software could run on DOS and connect to X.25, Token Ring (which IBM introduced in 1984), or the Ethernet networks Bob Metcalfe from Xerox and then 3Com was a proponent of. After all, much of their work resembled the Xerox Network Systems protocols, which Metcalfe had helped develop.

They used a 32-bit address. They developed an Address Resolution Protocol (or ARP) and Routing Table Protocol (RTP) that used tables on a server. And they created a file services application, print services application, and directory service they called StreetTalk. To help, they brought in Jim Allchin, who eventually did much of the heavy lifting. It was similar enough to TCP/IP, but different. Yet as TCP/IP became the standard, they added that at a cost.

The whole thing came in at $17,000 and ran on less bandwidth than other services, and so they won a few contracts with the US State Deparment, US Marine Corps, and other government agencies. Many embassies used 300 baud phone lines with older modems and the new VINES service allowed them to do file sharing, print sharing, and even instant messaging throughout the late 80s and early 90s. The Marine Corp used it during the Gulf War and in an early form of a buying tornado, they went public in 1992, raising $28 million through NASDAQ.

They grew to 410 employees and peaked at around $75 million in sales, spread across 7000 customers. They’d grown through word of mouth and other companies with strong marketing and sales arms were waiting in the wings. Novel was founded in 1983 in Utah and they developed the IPX network protocol. Netware would eventually become one of the most dominant network operating systems for Windows 3 and then Windows 95 computers.

Yet, with incumbents like Banyan VINES and Novel Netware, this is another one of those times when Microsoft saw an opening for something better and just willed it into existence. And the story is similar to that of dozens of other companies including Novell, Lotus, VisiCalc, Netscape, Digital Research, and the list goes on and on and on.

This kept happening because of a number of reasons. The field of computing had been comprised of former academics, many of whom weren’t aggressive in business. Microsoft ended up owning the operating system and so had selling power when it came to cornering adjacent markets because they could provide the cleanest possible user experience. People seemed to underestimate Microsoft until it was too late. Inertia. Oh, and Microsoft could outspend on top talent and offer them the biggest impact for their work. Whatever the motivators, Microsoft won in nearly every nook and cranny in the IT field that they pursued for decades.

The damaging part for Banyan was when they teamed up with IBM to ship LAN Manager, which ultimately shipped under the name of each company. Microsoft ended up recruiting Jim Allchin away and with network interface cards falling below $1,000 it became clear that the local area network was really just in its infancy. He inherited LAN Manager and then NT from Dave Cutler and the next thing we knew, Windows NT Server was born, complete with file services, print services, and a domain, which wasn’t a fully qualified domain name until the release of Active Directory. Microsoft added Windsock in 1993 and released their own protocols. They supported protocols like IPX/SPX and DECnet but slowly moved customers to their own protocols.

Banyan released the last version of Banyan VINES, 7.0, in 1997. StreetTalk eventually became an NT to LDAP bridge before being cancelled in the end. The dot com bubble was firmly here, though, so all was not lost. They changed their name in 1999 to ePresence, shifting their focus to identity management and security, officially pulling out of the VINES market. But the dot com bubble burst, so they were acquired in 2003 by Unisys.

There were other companies in different networking niches along the way. Phil Karn wrote KA9Q NOS to connect CP/M and then DOS to TCP/IP in 1985. He wrote it on a Xerox 820, but by then Xerox was putting Zilog chips in computers and running CP/M, seemingly with little of the flair the Alto could have had. But with KA9Q NOS any of the personal computers on the market could get on the Internet and that software helped host many a commercial dialup connection and would go on to be used for years in small embedded devices that needed IP connectivity. Those turned out to be markets overtaken by Banyan who was overtaken by Novel, who was overtaken by Microsoft when they added WinSock.

There are a few things to take away from this journey. The first is that when IBM and Microsoft team up to develop a competing product, it’s time to pivot when there’s plenty of money left in the bank. The second is that there was an era of closed systems that was short lived when vendors wanted to increasingly embrace open standards. Open standards like TCP/IP. We also want to keep our most talented team in place. Jim Allchin was responsible for those initial Windows Server implementations. Then SQL Server. He was the kind of person who’s a game changer on a team. We also don’t want to pivot to the new hotness because it’s the new hotness. Customers pay vendors to solve problems. Putting an e in front of the name of a company seemed really cool in 1998. But surveying customers and thinking more deeply about problems they face - that’s where magic can happen. Provided we have the right talent to make it happen.


Boot Mac mini G4 in OS 9

    RetroMacCast 2/20/2022

John and John discuss eBay Finds: Apple employee blanket, Macintosh II, and 1984 Apple Collection catalog. John boots his G4 Mac mini into OS 9, and news includes event rumors, a new Apple IIc keyboard, and retro Mac keycaps.


It's Time to Switch

    RetroMacCast 2/20/2022

John and Derek discuss eBay Finds: PowerBook 5300cs, HyperDrive kit, and Macintosh 128k. They look back at MacAddict February 2002, and news includes more Nanoraptor creations, iMac G4 inspired iPhone charger, and M1 powered iMac G4


The Nature and Causes of the Cold War

    The History of Computing 2/18/2022

Our last episode was on Project MAC, a Cold War-era project sponsored by ARPA. That led to many questions like what led to the Cold War and just what was the Cold War. We'll dig into that today.

The Cold War was a period between 1946, in the days after World War II, and 1991, when the United States and western allies were engaged in a technical time of peace that was actually an aggressive time of arms buildup and proxy wars. Technology often moves quickly when nations or empires are at war. In many ways, the Cold War gave us the very thought of interactive computing and networking, so is responsible for the acceleration towards our modern digital lives.

And while I’ve never seen it references as such, this was more of a continuation of wars between the former British empire and the Imperialistic Russian empires. These make up two or the three largest empires the world has ever seen and a rare pair of empires that were active at the same time. 

And the third, well, we’ll get to the Mongols in this story as well. These were larger than the Greeks, the Romans, the Persians, or any of the Chinese dynasties. In fact, the British Empire that reached its peak in 1920 was 7 times larger than the land controlled by the Romans, clocking in at 13.7 million square miles. The Russian Empire was 8.8 million square miles. Combined the two held nearly half the world. And their legacies live on in trade empires, in some cases run by the same families that helped fun the previous expansions. 

But the Russians and British were on a collision course going back to a time when their roots were not as different as one might think. They were both known to the Romans. But yet they both became feudal powers with lineages of rulers going back to Vikings.

We know the Romans battled the Celts, but they also knew of a place that Ptolemy called Sarmatia Europea in around 150AD, where a man named Rurik settle far later. He was a Varangian prince, which is the name Romans gave to Vikings from the area we now call Sweden. The 9th to 11th century saw a number o these warrior chiefs flow down rivers throughout the Baltics and modern Russia in search of riches from the dwindling Roman vestiges of empire. Some returned home to Sweden; others conquered and settled. They rowed down the rivers: the Volga, the Volkhov, the Dvina, and the networks of rivers that flow between one another, all the way down the Dnieper river, through the Slavic tripes Ptolemy described which by then had developed into city-states, such as Kiev, past the Romanians and Bulgers and to the second Rome, or Constantinople. 

The Viking ships rowed down these rivers. They pillaged, conquered, and sometimes settled. The term for rowers was Rus. Some Viking chiefs set up their own city-states in and around the lands. Some when their lands back home were taken while they were off on long campaigns. Charlemagne conquered modern day France and much of Germany, from The Atlantic all the way down into the Italian peninsula, north into Jutland, and east to the border with the Slavic tribes. He weakened many, upsetting the balance of power in the area. Or perhaps there was never a balance of power. 

Empires such as the Scythians and Sarmatians and various Turkic or Iranian powers had come and gone and each in their wake crossing the vast and harsh lands found only what Homer said of the area all the way back in the 8th century BCE, that the land was deprived of sunshine. The Romans never pushed up so far into the interior of the steppes as the were busy with more fertile farming grounds. But as the Roman Empire fell and the Byzantines flourished, the Vikings traded with them and even took their turn trying to loot Constantinople. And Frankish Paris. And again, settled in the Slavic lands, marrying into cultures and DNA. 

The Rus
Rome retreated from lands as her generals were defeated. The Merovingian dynasty rose in the 5th century with the defeat of Syagrius, the last Roman general Gaul and lasted until a family of advisors slowly took control of running the country, transitioning to the Carolingian Empire, of which Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Emperor, as he was crowned, was the most famous. He conquered and grew the empire. 

Charlemagne knew the empire had outgrown what one person could rule with the technology of the era, so it was split into three, which his son passed to his grandsons. And so the Carolingian empire had made the Eastern Slavs into tributaries of the Franks. There were hostilities but by the Treaty of Mersen in 870 the split of the empire generally looked like the borders of northern Italy, France, and Germany - although Germany also included Austria but not yet Bohemia. It split and re-merged and smaller boundary changes happened but that left the Slavs aware of these larger empires.

The Slavic peoples grew and mixed with people from the Steppes and Vikings. The Viking chiefs were always looking for new extensions to their trade networks. Trade was good. Looting was good. Looting and getting trade concessions to stop looting those already looted was better. The networks grew. One of those Vikings was Rurik. Possibly Danish Rorik, a well documented ally who tended to play all sides of the Carolingians and a well respected raider and military mind. 

Rurik was brought in as the first Viking, or rower, or Rus, ruler of the important trade city that would be known as New City, or Novgorod. Humans had settled in Kiev since the Stone Age and then by Polans before another prince Kyi took over and then Rurik’s successor Oleg took Smolensk and Lyubech. Oleg extended the land of Rus down the trading routes, and conquered Kiev. Now, they had a larger capital and were the Kievan Rus. 

Rurik’s son Igor took over after Oleg and centralized power in Kiev. He took tribute from Constantinople after he attacked, plunder Arab lands off the Caspian Sea, and was killed overtaxing vassal states in his territory. His son Sviatoslav the Brave then conquered the Alans and through other raiding helped cause the collapse of the Kazaria and Bulgarian empires. They expanded throughout the Volga River valley, then to the Balkans, and up the Pontic Steppe, and quickly became the largest empire in Europe of the day. His son Vladimir the Great expanded again, with he empire extending from the Baltics to Belarus to the Baltics and converted to Christianity, thus Christianizing the lands he ruled. 

He began marrying and integrating into the Christian monarchies, which his son continued. Yaroslov the Wise married the daughter of the King of Sweden who gave him the area around modern-day Leningrad. He then captured Estonia in 1030, and as with others in the Rurikid dynasty as they were now known, made treaties with others and then  pillaged more Byzantine treasures. He married one daughter to the King of Norway, another to the King of Hungary, another to the King of the Franks, and another to Edward the Exile of England, and thus was the grandfather of Edgar the Aetheling, who later became a king of England. 

The Mongols
The next couple of centuries saw the rise of Feudalism and the descendants of Rurik fight amongst each other. The various principalities were, as with much of Europe during the Middle Ages, semi-independent duchies, similar to city-states. Kiev became one of the many and around the mid 1100s Yaroslav the Wise’s great-grandson, Yuri Dolgoruki built a number of new villages and principalities, including one along the Moskva river they called Moscow. They built a keep there, which the Rus called kremlins. 

The walls of those keeps didn’t keep the Mongols out. They arrived in 1237. They moved the capital to Moscow and Yaroslav II, Yuri’s grandson, was poisoned in the court of Ghengis Khan’s grandson Batu. The Mongols ruled, sometimes through the descendants of Rurik, sometimes disposing of them and picking a new one, for 200 years. This is known as the time of the “Mongol yoke.” 

One of those princes the Mongols let rule was Ivan I of Moscow, who helped them put down a revolt in a rival area in the 1300s. The Mongols trusted Moscow after that, and so we see a migration of rulers of the land up into Moscow. The Golden Horde, like the Viking  Danes and Swedes settled in some lands. Kublai Khan made himself ruler of China. Khanates splintered off to form the ruling factions of weaker lands, such as modern India and Iran - who were once the cradle of civilization. Those became the Mughals dynasties as they Muslimized and moved south. And so the Golden Horde became the Great Horde.

Ivan the Great expanded the Muscovite sphere of influence, taking Novgorod, Rostov, Tver, Vyatka, and up into the land of the Finns. They were finally strong enough to stand up to the Tatars as they called their Mongol overlords and made a Great Stand on the Ugra River. And summoning a great army simply frightened the Mongol Tatars off. Turns out they were going through their own power struggles between princes of their realm and Akhmed was assassinated the next year, with his successor becoming Sheikh instead of Khan.

Ivan’s grandson, Ivan the Terrible expanded the country even further. He made deals with various Khans and then conquered others, pushing east to conquer the Khanate of Sibiu and so conquered Siberia in the 1580s. The empire then stretched all the way to the Pacific Ocean. 

He had a son who didn’t have any heirs and so was the last in the Rurikid dynasty. But Ivan the Terrible had married Anastasia Romanov, who when he crowned himself Caesar, or Tsar as they called it, made her Tsaritsa. And so the Romanov’s came to power in 1596 and following the rule of Peter the Great from 1672 to 1725, brought the Enlightenment to Russia. He started the process of industrialization, built a new capital he called St Petersburg, built a navy, made peace with the Polish king, then Ottoman king, and so took control of the Baltics, where the Swedes had taken control of on and off since the time of Rurik. 

Russian Empire
Thus began the expansion as the Russian Empire. They used an alliance with Denmark-Norway and chased the Swedes through the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, unseating the Polish king along the way. He probably should not have allied with them. They moved back into Finland, took the Baltics so modern Latvia and Estonia, and pushed all the way across the Eurasian content across the frozen tundra and into Alaska. 

Catherine the Great took power in 1762 and ignited a golden age. She took Belarus, parts of Mongolia, parts of modern day Georgia, overtook the Crimean Khanate, and modern day Azerbaijan. and during her reign founded Odessa, Sevastopol and other cities. She modernized the country like Peter and oversaw nearly constant rebellions in the empire. And her three or four children went on to fill the courts of Britain, Denmark, Sweden, Spain, and the Netherlands. She set up a national network of schools, with teachings from Russian and western philosophers like John Locke. She collected vast amounts of art, including many from China. She set up a banking system and issued paper money. She also started the process to bring about the end of serfdom. Even though between her and the country she owned 3.3 million herself. 

She planned on invading the Khanate of Persia, but passed away before her army got there. Her son Paul halted expansion. And probably just in time. Her grandson Alexander I supported other imperial powers against Napoleon and so had to deal with the biggest invasion Russia had seen. Napoleon moved in with his grand army of half a million troops. The Russians used a tactic that Peter the Great used and mostly refused to engage Napoleon’s troops instead burning the supply lines. Napoleon lost 300,000 troops during that campaign. Soon after the Napoleanic wars ended, the railways began to appear. The country was industrializing and with guns and cannons, growing stronger than ever. 

The Opium Wars, between China and the UK then the UK and France were not good to China. Even though Russia didn’t really help they needed up with a piece of the Chinese empire and so in the last half of the 1800s the Russian Empire grew by another 300,000 square miles on the backs of a series of unequal treaties as they came to be known in China following World War I. 

And so by 1895, the Romanovs had expanded past their native Moscow, driven back the Mongols, followed some of the former Mongol Khanates to their lands and taken them, took Siberia, parts of the Chinese empire, the Baltics, Alaska, and were sitting on the third largest empire the world had ever seen, which covered nearly 17 percent of the world. Some 8.8 million square miles. And yet, still just a little smaller than the British empire. They had small skirmishes with the British but by and large looked to smaller foes or proxy wars, with the exception of the Crimean War. 

Revolution
The population was expanding and industrializing. Workers flocked to factories on those train lines. And more people in more concentrated urban areas meant more ideas. Rurik came in 862 and his descendants ruled until the Romanovs took power in 1613. They ruled until 1917. That’s over 1,000 years of kings, queens, Tsars, and Emperors. The ideas of Marx slowly spread. While the ruling family was busy with treaties and wars and empire, they forgot to pay attention to the wars at home. 

People like Vladimir Lenin discovered books by people like Karl Marx. Revolution was in the air around the world. France had shown monarchies could be toppled. Some of the revolutionaries were killed, others put to work in labor camps, others exiled, and still others continued on. Still, the empire was caught up in global empire intrigues. The German empire had been growing and the Russians had the Ottomans and Bulgarians on their southern boarders. They allied with France to take Germany, just as they’d allied with Germany to take down Poland. And so after over 1.8 million dead Russians and another 3.2 million wounded or captured and food shortages back home and in the trenches, the people finally had enough of their Tsar. They went on strike but Tsar Nicholas ordered the troops to fire. The troops refused. The Duma stepped in and forced Nicholas to abdicate. Russia had revolted in 1917, sued Germany for peace, and gave up more territory than they wanted in the process. Finland, the Baltics, their share of Poland, parts of the Ukraine. It was too much. But the Germans took a lot of time and focus to occupy and so it helped to weaken them in the overall war effort. 

Back home, Lenin took a train home and his Bolshevik party took control of the country. After the war Poland was again independent. Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, and the Serbs became independent nations. In the wake of the war the Ottoman Empire was toppled and modern Turkey was born. The German Kaiser abdicated. And socialism and communism were on the rise. In some cases, that was really just a new way to refer to a dictator that pretended to care about the people. Revolution had come to China in 1911 and Mao took power in the 1940s. 

Meanwhile, Lenin passed in 1924 and Rykov, then Molotov, who helped spur a new wave of industrialization. Then Stalin, who led purges of the Russian people in a number of Show Trials before getting the Soviet Union, as Russian Empire was now called, into World War II. Stalin encouraged Hitler to attack Poland in 1939. Let’s sit on that for a second. He tried to build a pact with the Western powers and after that broke down, he launched excursions annexing parts of Poland, Finland, Romania, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia. Many of the lands were parts of the former Russian Empire. The USSR had chunks of Belarus and the Ukraine before but as of the 1950s annexed Poland, Easter Germany, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria as part of the Warsaw Pact, a block of nations we later called the Soviet Bloc. They even built a wall between East and West Germany.

During and after the war, the Americans whisked German scientists off to the United States. The Soviets were in no real danger from an invasion by the US and the weakened French, Austrians, and military-less Germans were in no place to attack the Soviets. The UK had to rebuild and British empire quickly fell apart. Even the traditional homes of the vikings who’d rowed down the rivers would cease to become global powers. And thus there were two superpowers remaining in the world, the Soviets and the United States. 

The Cold War
The Soviets took back much of the former Russian Empire, claiming they needed buffer zones or through subterfuge. At its peak, the Soviet Union cover 8.6 million square miles; just a couple hundred thousand shy of the Russian Empire. On the way there, they grew to a nation of over 290 million people with dozens of nationalities. And they expanded the sphere of influence even further, waging proxy wars in places like Vietnam and Korea. They never actually went to war with the United States, in much the same way they mostly avoided the direct big war with the Mongols and the British - and how Rorik of Dorestad played both sides of Frankish conflicts. We now call this period the Cold War.

The Cold War was an arms race. This manifested itself first in nuclear weapons. The US is still the only country to detonate a nuclear weapon in war time, from the bombings that caused the surrender of Japan at the end of the war. The Soviets weren’t that far behind and detonated a bomb in 1949. That was the same year NATO was founded as a treaty organization between Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and the United States. 

The US upped the ante with the hydrogen bomb in 1952. The Soviets got the hydrogen bomb in 1955. And then came the Space Race. Sputnik launched in 1957. The Russians were winning the space race. They further proved that when they put Yuri Gagarin up in 1961. By 1969 the US put Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon.

Each side developed military coalitions, provided economic aid to allies, built large arsenals of weapons, practiced espionage against one another, deployed massive amounts of propaganda, and spreading their ideology. Or at least that’s what the modern interpretation of history tells us. There were certainly ideological differences, but the Cold War saw the spread of communism as a replacement for conquest. That started with Lenin trying to lead a revolt throughout Europe but shifted over the decades into again, pure conquest. 

Truman saw the rapid expansion of the Soviets and without context that they were mostly reclaiming lands conquered by the Russian imperial forces, won support for the Truman Doctrine. There, he contained Soviet expansion in Eastern Europe. First, they supported Greece and Turkey. But the support extended throughout areas adjacent to Soviet interests. Eisenhower saw how swiftly Russians were putting science in action with satellites and space missions and nuclear weapons - and responded with an emphasis in American science. 

The post-war advancements in computing were vast in the US. The industry moved from tubes and punch cards to interactive computing after the Whirlwind computer was developed at MIT first to help train pilots and then to intercept soviet nuclear weapons. Packet switching, and so the foundations of the Internet were laid to build a computer network that could withstand nuclear attack. Graphical interfaces got their start when Ivan Sutherland was working at MIT on the grandchild of Whirlwind, the TX-2 - which would evolve into the Digital Equipment PDP once privatized. Drum memory, which became the foundation of storage was developed to help break Russian codes and intercept messages. There isn’t a part of the computing industry that isn’t touched by the research farmed out by various branches of the military and by ARPA.  

Before the Cold War, Russia and then the Soviet Union were about half for and half against various countries when it came to proxy wars. They tended to play both sides. After the Cold War it was pretty much always the US or UK vs the Soviet Union. Algeria, Kenya, Taiwan, the Sudan, Lebanon, Central America, the Congo, Eritrea, Yemen, Dhofar, Algeria, Malaysia, the Dominican Republic, Chad, Iran, Iraq, Thailand, Bolivia, South Africa, Nigeria, India, Bangladesh, Angolia, Ethiopia, the Sahara, Indonesia, Somalia, Mozambique, Libya, and Sri Lanka. And the big ones were Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan. Many of these are still raging on today. 

The Soviet empire grew to over 5 million soldiers. The US started with 2 nuclear weapons in 1945 and had nearly 300 by 1950 when the Soviets had just 5. The US stockpile grew to over 18,000 in 1960 and peaked at over 31,000 in 1965. The Soviets had 6,129 by then but kept building until they got close to 40,000 by 1980. By then the Chinese, France, and the UK each had over 200 and India and Israel had developed nuclear weapons. Since then only Pakistan and North Korea have added warheads, although there are US warheads located in Germany, Belgium, Italy, Turkey, and the Netherlands. 

Modern Russia
The buildup was expensive. Research, development, feeding troops, supporting asymmetrical warfare in proxy states, and trade sanctions put a strain on the government and nearly bankrupted Russia. They fell behind in science, after Stalin had been anti-computers. Meanwhile, the US was able to parlay all that research spending into true productivity gains. The venture capital system also fueled increasingly wealthy companies who paid taxes. Banking, supply chains, refrigeration, miniaturization, radio, television, and everywhere else we could think of. By the 1980s, the US had Apple and Microsoft and Commodore. The Russians were trading blat, or an informal black market currency, to gain access to knock-offs of ZX Spectrums when the graphical interfaces systems were born.

The system of government in the Soviet Union had become outdated. There were some who had thought to modernize it into more of a technocracy in an era when the US was just starting to build ARPANET - but those ideas never came to fruition. Instead it became almost feudalistic with high-ranking party members replacing the boyars, or aristocrats of the old Kievan Rus days. The standard of living suffered. So many cultures and tribes under one roof, but only the Slavs had much say.  As the empire over-extended there were food shortages. If there are independent companies then the finger can be pointed in their direction but when food is rationed by the Politburo then the decline in agricultural production became dependent on bringing food in from the outside. That meant paying for it. Pair that with uneven distribution and overspending on the military. 

The Marxist-Leninist doctrine had been a one party state. The Communist Party. Michael Gorbachev allowed countries in the Bloc to move into a democratic direction with multiple parties. The Soviet Union simply became unmanageable. And while Gorbachev took the blame for much of the downfall of the empire, there was already a deep decay - they were an oligarchy pretending to be a communist state. The countries outside of Russia quickly voted in non-communist governments and by 1989 the Berlin Wall came down and the Eastern European countries began to seek independence, most moving towards democratic governments. 

The collapse of the Soviet Union resulted in 15 separate countries and left the United States standing alone as the global superpower. The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland joined NATO in 1999. 2004 saw Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia join. 2009 brought in Albania and Croatia. 2017 led to Montenegro and then North Macedonia. Then came the subject of adding Ukraine. The country that the Kievan Rus had migrated throughout the lands from. The stem from which the name  and possibly soul of the country had sprouted from. How could Vladimir Putin allow that to happen? Why would it come up?

As the Soviets pulled out of the Bloc countries , they left remnants of their empire behind. Belarus, Kazakstan, and the Ukraine were left plenty of weapons that couldn’t be moved quickly. Ukraine alone had 1,700 nuclear weapons, which included 16 intercontinental ballistic missiles. Add to that nearly 2,000 biological and chemical weapons. Those went to Russia or were disassembled once the Ukrainians were assured of their sovereignty. The Crimea, which had been fought over in multiple bloody wars was added to Ukraine. At least until 2014, when Putin wanted the port of Sevastopol, founded by Catherine the Great. Now there was a gateway from Russia to the Mediterranean yet again.

So Kievan Rus under Rurik is really the modern Ukraine and the Russian Empire then Romanov Dynasty flowed from that following the Mongol invasions. The Russian Empire freed other nations from the yolk of Mongolian rule but became something entirely different once they over-extended. Those countries in the empire often traded the Mongol yolk for the Soviet yolk. And entirely different from the Soviet Union that fought the Cold War and the modern Russia we know today. 

Meanwhile, the states of Europe had been profoundly changed since the days of Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man and Marx. Many moved left of center and became socialized parts of their economy. No one ever need go hungry in a Scandanavian country. Health care, education, even child care became free in many countries. Many of those same ideals that helped lift the standard of living for all in developed countries then spread, including in Canada and some in the US. And so we see socialism to capitalism as more of a spectrum than a boolean choice now. And totalitarianism, oligarchy, and democracy as a spectrum as well. Many could argue reforms in democratic countries are paid for by lobbyists who are paid for by companies and thus an effective oligarchy. Others might argue the elections in many countries are rigged and so they aren’t even oligarchs, they’re monarchies. 

Putin took office in 1999 and while Dmitry Medvedev was the president for a time, but he effectively ruled in a tandemocracy with Putin until Putin decided to get back in power. That’s 23 years and counting and just a few months behind when King Abdullah took over in Jordan and King Mohammed VI took over in Morocco. And so while democratic in name, they’re not all quite so democratic.

Yet they do benefit from technology that began in Western countries and spread throughout the world. Countries like semi-conductor manufacturer Sitronics even went public on the London stock exchange. Hard line communists might (and do) counter that the US has an empire and that western countries conspire for the downfall of Russia or want to turn Russians into slaves to the capitalist machine. As mentioned earlier, there has always been plenty of propaganda in this relationship. Or gaslighting. Or fake news. Or disinformation. 

One of those American advancements that ties the Russians to the capitalist yoke is interactive computing. That could have been developed in Glushkov’s or Kitov’s labs in Russia, as they had the ideas and talent. But because the oligarchy that formed around communism, the ideas were sidelined and it came out of MIT - and that led to Project MAC, which did as much to democratize computing as Gorbachev did to democratize the Russian Federation.


Project MAC and Multics

    The History of Computing 2/15/2022

Welcome to the history of computing podcast. Today we’re going to cover a cold war-era project called Project MAC that bridged MIT with GE and Bell Labs.

The Russians beat the US to space when they launched Sputnik in 1958. Many in the US felt the nation was falling behind and so later that year president Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed then president of MIT James Killian as the Presidential Assistant for Science and created ARPA. The office was lean and funded a few projects without much oversight. One was Project MAC at MIT, which helped cement the university as one of the top in the field of computing as it grew.

Project MAC, short for Project on Mathematics and Computation, was a 1960s collaborative endeavor to develop a workable timesharing system. The concept of timesharing initially emerged during the late 1950s. Scientists and Researchers finally went beyond batch processing with Whirlwind and its spiritual predecessors, the TX-0 through TX-2 computers at MIT. We had computer memory now and so had interactive computing. That meant we could explore different ways to connect directly with the machine.

In 1959, British mathematician Christopher Strachey presented the first public presentation on timesharing at a UNESCO meeting, and John McCarthy distributed an internal letter regarding timesharing at MIT. Timesharing was initially demonstrated at the MIT Computational Center in November 1961, under the supervision of Fernando Corbato, an MIT professor. J.C.R. Licklider at ARPA had been involved with MIT for most of his career in one way or another and helped provide vision and funding along with contacts and guidance, including getting the team to work with Bolt, Beranek & Newman (BBN).

Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin went to space in 1961. The Russians were still lapping us. Money. Governments spend money. Let’s do that.

Licklider assisted in the development of Project MAC, machine-assisted cognition, led by Professor Robert M. Fano. He then funded the project with $3 million per year. That would become the most prominent initiative in timesharing. In 1967, the Information Processing Techniques Office invested more than $12 million in over a dozen timesharing programs at colleges and research institutions. Timesharing then enabled the development of new software and hardware separate from that used for batch processing. Thus, one of the most important innovations to come out of the project was an operating system capable of supporting multiple parallel users - all of whom could have complete control of the machine.

The operating system they created would be known as Multics, short for Multiplexed Information and Computing Service. It was created for a GE 645 computer but modular in nature and could be ported to other computers. The project was a collaborative effort between MIT, GE, and Bell Labs. Multics was the first time we really split files away from objects read in memory and wrote them into memory for processing then back to disk. They developed the concepts of dynamic linking, daemons, procedural calls, hierarchical file systems, process stacks, a split between user land and the system, and much more.

By the end of six months after Project MAC was created, 200 users in 10 different MIT departments had secured access to the system. The Project MAC laboratory was apart from its former Department of Electrical Engineering by 1967 and evolved into its interdepartmental laboratory.

Multics progressed from computer timesharing to a networked computer system, integrating file sharing and administration capabilities and security mechanisms into its architecture. The sophisticated design, which could serve 300 daily active users on 1,000 MIT terminal computers within a couple more years, inspired engineers Ken Thompson and Dennis Ritchie to create their own at Bell Labs, which evolved into the C programming language and the Unix operating system.

See, all the stakeholders with all the things they wanted in the operating system had built something slow and fragile. Solo developers don’t tend to build amazing systems, but neither do large intracompany bureaucracies.

GE never did commercialize Multics because they ended their computer hardware business in 1970. Bell Labs dropped out of the project as well. So Honeywell acquired the General Electric computer division and so rights to the Multics project. In addition, Honeywell possessed several other operating systems, each supported by its internal organizations.

In 1976, Project MAC was renamed the Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS) at MIT, broadening its scope. Michael L. Dertouzos, the lab's director, advocated developing intelligent computer programs. To increase computer use, the laboratory analyzed how to construct cost-effective, user-friendly systems and the theoretical underpinnings of computer science to recognize space and time constraints. Some of their project ran for decades afterwards. In 2000, several Multics sites were shut down.

The concept of buying corporate “computer utilities” was a large area of research in the late 60s to 70s. Scientists bought time on computers that universities purchased. Companies did the same. The pace of research at both increased dramatically. Companies like Tymeshare and IBM made money selling time or processing credits, and then after an anti-trust case, IBM handed that business over to Control Data Corporation, who developed training centers to teach people how to lease time. These helped prepare a generation of programmers when the microcomputers came along, often taking people who had spent their whole careers on CDC Cybers or Burroughs mainframes by surprise. That seems to happen with the rapid changes in computing. But it was good to those who invested in the concept early. And the lessons learned about scalable architectures were skills that transitioned nicely into a microcomputer world. In fact, many environments still run on applications built in this era.

The Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS) accomplished other ground-breaking work, including playing a critical role in advancing the Internet. It was often larger but less opulent than the AI lab at MIT. And their role in developing applications that would facilitate online processing and evaluation across various academic fields, such as engineering, medical, and library sciences led to advances in each. In 2004, LCS merged with MIT's AI laboratory to establish the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), one of the flagship research labs at MIT. And in the meantime countless computer scientists who contributed at every level of the field flowed through MIT - some because of the name made in those early days. And the royalties from patents have certainly helped the universities endowment.

The Cold War thawed. The US reduced ARPA spending after the Mansfield Amendment was passed in 1969. The MIT hackers flowed out to the world, changing not only how people thought of automating business processes, but how they thought of work and collaboration. And those hackers were happy to circumvent all the security precautions put on Multics, and so cultural movements evolved from there. And the legacy of Multics lived on in Unix, which evolved to influence Linux and is in some way now a part of iOS, Mac OS, Android, and Chrome OS.


Yay for PCMCIA!

    RetroMacCast 2/13/2022

James and John discuss eBay Finds: Macintosh Portable Battey Charger, Mac Classic II, and 1st generation AppleTV. John gets a mystery PCMCIA device working, and news includes installing Leopard on a 1st gen AppleTV and the naming of the original Macintosh fonts.


Steve Hayman - NeXT's Black Monday (1993)/The Merger (1996)

    Mac Folklore Radio 2/5/2022

Steve Hayman and diskzero recall the death and unlikely rebirth of NeXT.

Original text from blog.hayman.net (Remembering NeXT’s Black Monday, Apple & Next 25 Years Ago Today). Additional text from diskzero on the orange website. Thanks to thj for the submission!

Audio clips from these interviews packed with insight into Apple’s resurgence in the 2000s:

What happened to Dell’s WebObjects-based online store? (left/right channels out of phase; use headphones)

Watch perhaps the coldest crowd ever put in front of Steve Jobs as they take in a demonstration of a flight booking web application built in WebObjects running on Windows NT in 1996–at a Microsoft conference, no less. [originally hosted at Microsoft until 2019, now purged]


Dell: From A Dorm Room to a Board Room

    The History of Computing 2/4/2022

Dell is one of the largest technology companies in the world, and it all started with a small startup that sold personal computers out of Michael Dell's dorm room at the University of Texas. From there, Dell grew into a multi-billion dollar company, bought and sold other companies, went public, and now manufactures a wide range of electronics including laptops, desktops, servers, and more. 

After graduating high school, Michael Dell enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin with the idea that he would some day start his own company. Maybe even in computers. He had an Apple II in school and Apple and other companies had done pretty well by then in the new microcomputer space. He took it apart and these computers were just a few parts that were quickly becoming standardized. Parts that could be bought off the shelf at computer stores. So he opened a little business that he ran out of his dorm room fixing computers and selling little upgrades. Many a student around the world still does the exact same thing.

He also started buying up parts and building new computers. Texas Instruments was right up the road in Dallas. And there was a price war in the early 80s between Commodore and Texas Instruments. Computers could be big business. And it seemed clear that this IBM PC that was introduced in 1981 was going to be more of a thing, especially in offices. Especially since there were several companies making clones of the PC, including Compaq who was all over the news as Silicon Cowboys, having gotten to $100 million in sales within just two years. 

So from his dorm room in 1984, Dell started a little computer company he called PCs Limited. He built PCs using parts and experimented with different combinations. One customer led to another and he realized that a company like IBM bought a few hundred dollars worth of parts, put them in a big case and sold it for thousands of dollars. Any time a company makes too much margin, smaller and more disruptive companies will take the market away. Small orders turned into bigger and ones and he was able to parlay each into being able to build bigger orders. 

They released the Turbo PC in 1985. A case, a mother board, a CPU, a keyboard, a mouse, some memory, and a CPU chip. Those first computers he built came with an 8088 chip. Low overhead meant he could be competitive on price: $795. No retail store front and no dealers, who often took 25 to 50 percent of the money spent on computers, let the company run out of a condo. He’d sold newspapers as a kid so he was comfortable picking up the phone and dialing for dollars. He managed to make $200,000 in sales in that first year. So he dropped out of school to build the company. 

To keep costs low, he sold through direct mail and over the phone. No high-paid sellers in blue suits like IBM, even if the computers could run the same versions of DOS. He incorporated as Dell Computer Company in 1987, started to expand internationally, and on the back of rapid revenue growth and good margins. They hit $159 million in sales that year. So they took the company public in 1988. The market capitalization when they went public was $30 million and quickly rose to $80 million. By then we’d moved past the 8088 chips and the industry was standardizing on the 80386 chip, following the IBM PS/2. By the end of 1989 sales hit $250 million. 

They needed more Research and Development firepower, so they brought in Glenn Henry. He’d been at IBM for over 20 years and managed multiple generations of mid-range mainframes then servers and then RISC-based personal computers. He helped grow the R&D team into the hundreds and quality of computer went up, which paired well with costs of computers remaining affordable compared to the rest of the market. 

Dell was, and to a large degree still is, a direct to consumer company. They experimented with the channel in the early 1990s, which is to say 3rd parties that were authorized to sell their computers. They signed deals to sell through distributors, computer stores, warehouse clubs, and retail chains. But the margins didn’t work, so within just a few years they cancelled many of those relationships. Instead they went from selling to companies to the adjacent home market. 

It seems like that’s the last time in recent memory that direct mailing as a massive campaign worked. Dell was able to undercut most other companies who sold laptops at the time by going direct to consumers. They brought in marketing execs from other companies, like Tandy. The London office was a huge success, bringing in tens of millions in revenue, so they brought on a Munich office and then slowly expanded into tother countries. They were one of the best sales and marketing machines in that direct to consumer and business market. Customers could customize orders, so maybe add a faster CPU, some extra memory, or even a scanner, modem, or other peripheral. They got the manufacturing to the point where they could turn computers around in five days. Just a decade earlier people waited months for computers.

They released their first laptop in 1989, which they called the 316LT. Just a few years earlier, Michael Dell was in a dorm room. If he’d completed a pre-med degree and gotten into medical school, he’d likely be in his first or second year. He was now a millionaire; and just getting started.

With the help of their new R&D chief, they were able to get into the server market where the margins were higher, and that helped get more corporate customers. By the end of 1990, they were the sixth largest personal computer company in the US. To help sales in the rapidly growing European and Middle Eastern offices, they opened another manufacturing location in Ireland. And by 1992, they became a one of the top 500 companies in the world. Michael Dell, instead of being on an internship in medical school and staring down the barrel of school loans, was the youngest CEO in the Fortune 500.

The story is almost boring. They just grow and grow. Especially when rivals like IBM, HP, Digital Equipment, and Compaq make questionable finance and management choices that don’t allow those companies to remain competitive. They all had better technology at many times, but none managed to capitalize on the markets. Instead of becoming the best computer maker they could be, they played corporate development games and wandered away from their core businesses. Or like IBM they decided that they didn’t want to compete with the likes of Dell and just sold off their PC line to Lenovo. But Dell didn’t make crappy computers. 

They weren’t physically inspiring like some computers at the time, but they got the job done and offices that needed dozens or hundreds of machines often liked working with Dell. They continued the global expansion through the 90s and added servers in 1996. By now there were customers buying their second or third generation of computer, going from DOS to Windows 3.1 to Windows 95. And they did something else really important in 1996: they began to sell through the web at dell.com. Within a few months they were doing a million a day in sales and the next year hit 10 million PCs sold. 

Little Dell magazines showed up in offices around the world. Web banners appeared on web pages. Revenues responded and went from $2.9 billion in 1994 to $3.5 billion in 1995. And they were running at margins over 20 percent. Revenue hit $5.3 billion in 1996, 7.8 in 1997, 12.3 in 1998, 18.2 in 1999, and $25.3 in 2000. The 1990s had been good to Dell. Their stock split 7 times. It wouldn’t double every other year again, but would double again by 2009.

In the meantime, the market was changing. The Dell OptiPlex is one of the best selling lines of computers of all time and offers a glimpse into what was changing. Keep in mind, this was the corporate enterprise machine. Home machines can be better or less, according to the vendor. The processors ranged from a Celeron up to a Pentium i9 at this point. 

Again, we needed a mother board, usually an ATX or a derivative. They started with that standard ATX mother board form factor but later grew to be a line that came in the tower, the micro, and everything in between. Including an All-in-one. That Series 1 was beige and just the right size to put a big CRT monitor on top of it. It sported a 100 MHz 486 chip and could take up to 64 megabytes of memory across a pair of SIMM slots. The Series 2 was about half the size and by now we saw those small early LCD flat panel screens. They were still beige though.

As computers went from beige to black with the Series 3 we started to see the iconic metallic accents we’re accustomed to now. They followed along the Intel replacement for the ATX motherboard, the BTX, and we saw those early PCI form factors be traded for PCIe. By the end of the Series 3 in 2010, the Optiplex 780 could have up to 16 gigs of memory as a max, although that would set someone back a pretty penning in 2009. And the processors came ranging from the 800 MHz to 1.2 GHz. We’d also gone from PS/2 ports with serial and parallel  to USB 2 ports and from SIMM to DIMM slots, up to DDR4 with the memory about as fast as a CPU. 

But they went back to the ATX and newer Micro ATX with the Series 4. They embraced the Intel i series chips and we got all the fun little metal designs on the cases. Cases that slowly shifted to being made of recycled parts. The Latitude laptops followed a similar pattern. Bigger faster, and heavier. They released the Dell Dimension and acquired Alienware in 2006, at the time the darling of the gamer market. Higher margin hardware, like screaming fast GPU graphic cards. But also lower R&D costs for the Dell lines as there was the higher end line that flowed down to the OptiPlex then Dimension.

Meanwhile, there was this resurgent Apple. They’d released the iMac in 1998 and helped change the design language for computers everywhere. Not that everyone needed clear cases. Then came the iPod in 2001. Beautiful design could sell products at higher prices. But they needed to pay a little more attention to detail. But more importantly, those Dells were getting bigger and faster and heavier while the Apple computers were getting lighter, and even the desktops more portable. The iPhone came in 2007. The Intel MacBook Air came 10 years after that iMac, in 2008. The entire PC industry was in a race for bigger power supplies to push more and more gigahertz through a CPU without setting the house on fire and Apple changed the game. The iPad was released in 2010. Apple finally delivered on the promise of the Dynabook that began life at Xerox PARC.

Dell had been in the drivers seat. They became the top personal computer company in 2003 and held that spot until HP and Compaq merged. But their spot would never be regained as revenue slowed from the time the iPad was released for almost a decade, even contracting at times. See, Dell had a close partnership with Intel and Microsoft. Microsoft made operating systems for mobile devices but the Dell Venue was not competitive with the iPhone. They also tried making a mobile device using Android but the Streak never sold well either and was discontinued as well. 

While Microsoft retooled their mobile platforms to compete in the tablet space, Dell tried selling Android tablets but discontinued those in 2016. To make matters worse for Dell, they’d ridden a Microsoft Windows alliance where they never really had to compete with Microsoft for nearly 30 years and then Microsoft released the Surface in 2012. The operating systems hadn’t been pushing people to upgrade their computers and Microsoft even started selling Office directly and online, so Dell lost revenue bundling Office with computers. 

They too had taken their eye off the market. HP bought EDS in 2008, diversifying into a services organization, something IBM had done well over a decade before. Except rather than sell their PC business they made a go at both. So Dell did the same, acquiring Perot Systems, the company Perot started after he sold EDS and ran for president, for $3.9 billion, which came in at a solid $10 billion less than what HP paid for EDS. 

The US was in the midst of a recession, so that didn’t help matters either. But it did make for an interesting investment climate. Interest rates were down, so large investors needed to put money to work to show good returns for customers. Dell had acquired just 8 companies before the Great Recession but acquired an average of 5 over each of the next four years. This allowed them to diversify, And Michael Dell made another savvy finance move, he took the company private in 2013 with the help of Silver Lake partners. 5 years off the public market was just what they needed. 2018 they went public again on the backs of revenues that had shot up to to $79 billion from a low of around $50 billion in 2016. And they exceeded $94 billion in 2021. 

The acquisition of EMC-VMware was probably the most substantial to $67 billion. That put them in the enterprise server market and gave them a compelling offer at pretty much every level of the enterprise stack. Although at this point maybe it remains to be seen if the enterprise server and storage stack is still truly a thing. 

A Dell Optiplex costs about the same amount today as it did when Dell sold that first Turbo PC. They can be had cheaper but probably shouldn’t. Adjusted for an average 2.6 percent inflation rate, that brings those first Dell PCs to just north of $2,000 as of the time of this writing. Yet the computer remained the same, with fairly consistent margins. That means the components have gotten half as expensive because they’re made in places with cheaper labor than they were in the early 1980s. That means there are potentially less components, like a fan for certain chips or RAM when they’re memory integrated in a SoC, etc. 

But the world is increasingly mobile. Apple, Google, and Microsoft sell computers for their own operating systems now. Dell doesn’t make phones and they aren’t in the top 10 for the tablet market. People don’t buy products from magazines that show up any longer. Now it’s a quick search on Amazon. And looking for a personal computer there, the results right this second (that is, while writing this paragraph) showed the exact same order as vendor market share for 2021: Lenovo, followed by HP, then Dell. All of the devices looked about the same. Kinda’ like those beige injection-molded devices looked about the same. 

HP couldn’t have such a large company exist under one roof and eventually spun HP Enterprise out into its own entity. Dell sold Perot Systems to NTT Docomo to get the money to buy EMC on leverage. Not only do many of these companies have products that look similar, but their composition does as well. What doesn’t look similar is Michael Dell. He’s worth just shy of $60 billion dollars (according to the day and the markets). His book, Direct From Dell is one of the best looks at the insides of a direct order mail business making the transition to early commerce one can find. Oh, and it’s not just him and some friends in a dorm room. It’s 158,000 employees who help make up over a $42 billion market cap. And helped generations of people afford personal computers. That might be the best part of such a legacy.


600th Episode!

    RetroMacCast 1/30/2022

James and John discuss eBay Finds: Macintosh Demo Series, tiny Mac laptop trinket, and Apple kite. They look back at Episode #1, and news includes the Macintosh anniversary and the 1984 commercial.


Bill Atkinson's HyperCard

    The History of Computing 1/29/2022

We had this Mac lab in school. And even though they were a few years old at the time, we had a whole room full of Macintosh SEs. I’d been using the Apple II Cs before that and these just felt like Isaac Asimov himself dropped them off just for me to play with. Only thing: no BASIC interpreter. But in the Apple menu, tucked away in the corner was a little application called HyperCard.

HyperCard wasn’t left by Asimov, but instead burst from the mind of Bill Atkinson. Atkinson was the 51st employee at Apple and a former student of Jeff Raskin, the initial inventor of the Mac before Steve Jobs took over. Steve Jobs convinced him to join Apple where he started with the Lisa and then joined the Mac team until he left with the team who created General Magic and helped bring shape to the world of mobile devices. But while at Apple he was on the original Mac team developing the menu bar, the double-click, Atkinson dithering, MacPaint, QuickDraw, and HyperCard. 

Those were all amazing tools and many came out of his work on the original 1984 Mac and the Lisa days before that. But HyperCard was something entirely different. It was a glimpse into the future, even if self-contained on a given computer. See, there had been this idea floating around for awhile.  Vannevar Bush initially introduced the world to a device with all the world’s information available in his article “As We May Think” in 1946. Doug Engelbart had a team of researchers working on the oN-Line System that saw him give “The Mother of All Demos in 1968” where he showed how that might look, complete with a graphical interface and hypertext, including linked content. Ted Nelson introduced furthered the ideas in 1969 of having linked content, which evolved into what we now call hyperlinks. Although Nelson thought ahead to include the idea of what he called transclusions, or the snippets of text displayed on the screen from their live, original source. 

HyperCard built on that wealth of information with a database that had a graphical front-end that allowed inserting media and a programming language they called HyperTalk. Databases were nothing new. But a simple form creator that supported graphics and again stressed simple, was new. Something else that was brewing was this idea of software economics. Brooks’ Law laid it out but Barry Boehm’s book on Software Engineering Economics took the idea of rapid application development another step forward in 1981. People wanted to build smaller programs faster. And so many people wanted to build tools that we needed to make it easier to do so in order for computers to make us more productive.

Against that backdrop, Atkinson took some acid and came up with the idea for a tool he initially called WildCard. Dan Winkler signed onto the project to help build the programming language, HyperTalk, and they got to work in 1986. They changed the name of the program to HyperCard and released it in 1987 at MacWorld. Regular old people could create programs without knowing how to write code. There were a number of User Interface (UI) components that could easily be dropped on the screen, and true to his experience there was panel of elements like boxes, erasers, and text, just like we’d seen in MacPaint. Suppose you wanted a button, just pick it up from the menu and drop it where it goes. Then make a little script using the HyperText that read more like the English language than a programming language like LISP. 

Each stack might be synonymous with a web page today. And a card was a building block of those stacks. Consider the desktop metaphor extended to a rolodex of cards. Those cards can be stacked up. There were template cards and if the background on a template changed, that flowed to each card that used the template, like styles in Keynote might today. The cards could have text fields, video, images, buttons, or anything else an author could think of. And the author word is important. Apple wanted everyone to feel like they could author a hypercard stack or program or application or… app. Just as they do with Swift Playgrounds today. That never left the DNA.

We can see that ease of use in how scripting is done in HyperTalk. Not only the word scripting rather than programming, but how HyperTalk is weakly typed. This is to say there’s no memory safety or type safety, so a variable might be used as an integer or boolean. That either involves more work by the interpreter or compiler - or programs tend to crash a lot. Put the work on the programmers who build programming tools rather than the authors of HyperCard stacks.

The ease of use and visual design made Hypercard popular instantly. It was the first of its kind. It didn’t compile at first, although larger stacks got slow because HyperTalk was interpreted, so the team added a just-in-time compiler in 1989 with HyperCard 2.0. They also added a debugger. 

There were some funny behaviors. Like some cards could have objects that other cards in a stack didn’t have. This led to many a migration woe for larger stacks that moved into modern tools. One that could almost be considered HyperCard 3, was FileMaker. Apple spun their software business out as Claris, who bought Noshuba software, which had this interesting little database program called Nutshell. That became FileMaker in 1985. By the time HyperCard was ready to become 3.0, FileMaker Pro was launched in 1990. 

Attempts to make Hypercard 3.0 were still made, but Hypercard had its run by the mid-1990s and died a nice quiet death. The web was here and starting to spread. The concept of a bunch of stacks on just one computer had run its course. Now we wanted pages that anyone could access. HyperCard could have become that but that isn’t its place in history. It was a stepping stone and yet a milestone and a legacy that lives on. Because it was a small tool in a large company. Atkinson and some of the other team that built the original Mac were off to General Magic. Yet there was still this idea, this legacy. 

Hypercard’s interface inspired many modern applications we use to create applications. The first was probably Delphi, from Borland. But over time Visual Studio (which we still use today) for Microsoft’s Visual Basic. Even Powerpoint has some similarities with HyperCard’s interface. WinPlus was similar to Hypercard as well. Even today, several applications and tools use HyperCard’s ideas such as HyperNext, HyperStudio, SuperCard, and LiveCode. HyperCard also certainly inspired FileMaker and every Apple development environment since - and through that, most every tool we use to build software, which we call the IDE, or Integrated Development Environment.

The most important IDE for any Apple developer is Xcode. Open Xcode to build an app and look at Interface Builder and you can almost feel Bill Atkinson’s pupils dilated pupils looking back at you, 10 hours into a trip. And within those pupils visions - visions of graphical elements being dropped into a card and people digitized CD collections, built a repository for their book collection, put all the Grateful Dead shows they’d recorded into a stack, or even built an application to automate their business. Oh and let’s not forget the Zine, or music and scene magazines that were so popular in the era that saw photocopying come down in price. HyperCard made for a pretty sweet Zine. 

HyperCard sprang from a trip when the graphical interface was still just coming into its own. Digital computing might have been 40 years old but the information theorists and engineers hadn’t been as interested in making things easy to use. They wouldn’t have been against it, but they weren’t trying to appeal to regular humans. Apple was, and still is. The success of HyperCard seems to have taken everyone by surprise. Apple sold the last copy in 2004, but the legacy lives on. Successful products help to mass-

Its success made a huge impact at that time as well on the upcoming technology. Its popularity declined in the mid-1990s and it died quietly when Apple sold its last copy in 2004. But it surely left a legacy that has inspired many - especially old-school Apple programmers, in today’s “there’s an app for that” world.


Surprise Roundtable

    ANTIC The Atari 8-bit Podcast 1/25/2022

In this episode of ANTIC The Atari 8-Bit Computer Podcast...we have a surprise roundtable with guests Nir Dary, Jason Moore, Corey Koltz, and Bill Kendrick!

READY!


How Ruby Got Nice

    The History of Computing 1/24/2022

As with many a programming language, ruby was originally designed as a teaching language - to teach programming to students at universities. From there, it is now used to create various programs, including games, interfaces for websites, scripts to run on desktop computers, backend REST endpoints, and business software. Although ruby is used for web development more than anything else. It has an elegant syntax that makes it easy to read the code; this is one of the reasons why Ruby is so popular, especially with beginners (after all it was designed to teach programming).

Yukihiro Matsumoto, or Mats for short, originally developed the ruby's programming language in the 1990s. Ruby was initially designed as an interpreted scripting language. That first interpreter, MRI, or Mats’s Ruby Interpreter, spread quickly. In part because he’s nice. In fact, he’s so nice that the motto MINASWAN, or “Matz is nice and so we are nice.” Juxtapose this against some of the angrier programmers who develop their own languages. And remember, it was a teach language. And so he named ruby  after a character he encountered in a children's book. Or because it was a birthstone. Or both.

He graduated from the University of Tsukuba and worked on compilers before writing a mail agent in Emacs Lisp. Having worked with Lisp and Perl and Python, he was looking for a language that was truly object-oriented from the ground up. He came up with the idea in 1993 of another Lisp at the core, but something that used objects like Smalltalk. That would allow developers to write less cyclomatically complex code. And yet he wanted to provide higher-order functions for routine tasks like Perl and Python did. Just with native objects rather than those bolted on the side. And he wanted to do so in as consistent a manner as possible.

Believe it or not that meant dynamic typing. And garbage collection for free. And literal notation for some things like arrays and regular expressions while allowing for dynamic reflection for meta programming and allowing for everything to be an expression. The syntax is similar to a python or a perl and yet whitespace in things like indentation doesn’t play a part. It’s concise and the deep thinking that goes into making something concise can be incredible. And yet freeing. 

The first version of Ruby was released in 1995 and allowed programs to be concise, so written with fewer lines of code than would have been possible with other languages at the time. And yet elegant. In 1996, David Flanagan and Jim Weirich grabbed the MRI interpreter and started using ruby for real projects. And so ruby expanded outside of Japan. 

As the popularity grew, Matz founded his own company called Object Technology Inc, This allowed him to continue developing Ruby while making money. After all, programmers gotta’ eat too. In 2006 Matsumoto committed the first version of what would eventually become Rails on Version Control Systems (VCS), a precursor git. 

Ruby is written in C, which means it has access to most underlying operating systems given the right API access. It has a vast dictionary with nearly 1 million entries. It can often be found in many event-driven frameworks, with the most popular being Ruby on Rails, a server-side web application framework developed by David Heinemeier Hansson of Basecamp in 2004. Other frameworks include Sinatra (which came in 2007), Roda, Camping (which comes in at a whopping 4k in size), and Padrino. And Ramaze and Merb and Goliath. Each has their own merits. 

These libraries help developers code faster, easier, and more efficiently than if they had to write all the server-side code from scratch. Another aspect of Ruby that made it popular is a simple package manager. RubyGems came about in 2003. Here, we lay out a simple structure that includes a README, a gem spec with info about the gem, a lib directory (the code for the gem), a test directory, and a makefile for Ruby they call a Rake. This way the developer of the gem does everything needed to be able to call them in their code. And so there are now well over 100,000 gems out there.

Not all work with all the interpreters. Ruby went from 1.0 in 1996 to 1.2 in 1998 to 1.4 in 1999 and 1.6 in 2000. Then to 1.8 in 2003 and by then it was gettin popular and ready to get standardized. This always slows down changes. So it went to become an ISO standard in 2012 - the hallmark if you will that a language is too big to fail. Ruby 2 came along the next year with nearly full backwards compatibility. And then 3 came in 2020 in order to bring just-in-time compilation, which can make the runtime faster than just interpreting. And unlike the XRuby variant, no need to do java-style compilation.

Still, not all ruby tooling needs to be compiled. Ruby scripts can be loaded in tools like Amazon’s Lambda service or Google Cloud Functions. From there, it can talk to tools like MySQL and MongoDB. And it’s fun. I mean, Matz uses the word fun. And ruby can present a challenge that to experienced programmers might be seen as fun. Because anything you can do with other languages, you can do with ruby. Might not get as much for free as with a spring security for Java, but it’s still an excellent language and sometimes I can’t help but wonder if we shouldn’t get so much for free with certain lanuages.

Matz is now the chief architect of Heroku. He has since written a slimmed down version of ruby called mruby and another language called streem. He also wrote a few books on ruby. Because you know, he’s nice.


The Elegance of LISP

    Advent of Computing 1/24/2022

This is the conclusion to my exploration of why LISP is the "mother tongue of artificial intelligence". We pick up from the end of last episode and continue to cover the early days of AI. We follow the meandering path from the FORTRAN List Processing Language and IPL, up to pen-and-paper versions of LISP and into the first true implementation of the language. Along the way we will see just why LISP is called elegant, and how it was tailored for thinking machines.
Selected Sources:
https://sci-hub.se/10.1145/321021.321022 - FLPL
http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/mcc59.pdf - Machines with Common Sense
https://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.1/6096/AIM-008.pdf - AI Memo 8


RaSCSI

    RetroMacCast 1/23/2022

James and John discuss eBay Finds: American Girl desk and Mac, icon trash bag, and Apple Game Team jacket. John gets his RaSCSI working, and news includes 3D printed Apple logo and iMac found on Twitter.


2021 Year in Review

    RetroMacCast 1/16/2022

James and John discuss eBay Finds: Approaching Macintosh sweatshirt, different Think poster, and a lot of Macs. They look back at 2021 and plan for 2022. News includes iMac G4 20th anniversary, hidden Mac icons, and photos from MacAttic.


Email: From Time Sharing To Mail Servers To The Cloud

    The History of Computing 1/15/2022

With over 2.6 billion active users ad 4.6billion active accounts email has become a significant means of communication in the business, professional, academic, and personal worlds. Before email we had protocols that enabled us to send messages within small splinters of networks. Time Sharing systems like PLATO at the University of Champaign-Urbana, DTSS at Dartmouth College, BerkNet at the University of California Berkeley, and CTTS at MIT pioneered electronic communication. Private corporations like IBM launched VNET We could create files or send messages that were immediately transferred to other people.

The universities that were experimenting with these messaging systems even used some of the words we use today. MIT’s CTSS used the MAIL program to send messages. Glenda Schroeder from there documented that messages would be placed into a MAIL BOX in 1965. She had already been instrumental in implementing the MULTICS shell that would later evolve into the Unix shell. Users dialed into the IBM 7094 mainframe and communicated within that walled garden with other users of the system. That was made possible after Tom Van Vleck and Noel Morris picked up her documentation and turned it into reality, writing the program in MAD or the Michigan Algorithm Decoder.

But each system was different and mail didn’t flow between them. One issue was headers. These are the parts of a message that show what time the message was sent, who sent the message, a subject line, etc. Every team had different formats and requirements. The first attempt to formalize headers was made in RFC 561 by Abhay Bhutan and Ken Pogran from MIT, Jim White at Stanford, and Ray Tomlinson.

Tomlinson was a programmer at Bolt Beranek and Newman. He defined the basic structure we use for email while working on a government-funded project at ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) in 1971. While there, he wrote a tool called CYPNET to send various objects over a network, then ported that into the SNDMSG program used to send messages between users of their TENEX system so people could send messages to other computers. The structure he chose was Username@Computername because it just made sense to send a message to a user on the computer that user was at. We still use that structure today, although the hostname transitioned to a fully qualified domain name a bit later. Given that he wanted to route messages between multiple computers, he had a keen interest in making sure other computers could interpret messages once received.

The concept of instantaneous communication between computer scientists led to huge productivity gains and new, innovative ideas. People could reach out to others they had never met and get quick responses. No more walking to the other side of a college campus. Some even communicated primarily through the computers, taking terminals with them when they went on the road. Email was really the first killer app on the networks that would some day become the Internet.
People quickly embraced this new technology. By 1975 almost 75% of the ARPANET traffic was electronic mails, which provided the idea to send these electronic mails to users on other computers and networks.

Most universities that were getting mail only had one or two computers connected to ARPANET. Terminals were spread around campuses and even smaller microcomputers in places. This was before the DNS (Domain Name Service), so the name of the computer was still just a hostname from the hosts file and users needed to know which computer and what the correct username was to send mail to one another. Elizabeth “Jake” Feinler had been maintaining a hosts file to keep track of computers on the growing network when her employer Stanford was just starting the NIC, or Network Information Center. Once the Internet was formed that NIC would be the foundation or the InterNIC who managed the buying and selling of domain names once Paul Mockapetris formalized DNS in 1983.

At this point, the number of computers was increasing and not all accepted mail on behalf of an organization. The Internet Service Providers (ISPs) began to connect people across the world to the Internet during the 1980s and for many people, electronic mail was the first practical application they used on the internet. This was made easier by the fact that the research community had already struggled with email standards and in 1981 had defined how servers sent mail to one another using the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol, or SMTP, in RFC 788, updated in 1982 with 821 and 822. Still, the computers at networks like CSNET received email and users dialed into those computers to read the email they stored. Remembering the name of the computer to send mail to was still difficult.

By 1986 we also got the concept routing mail in RFC 974 from Craig Partridge. Here we got the first MX record. Those are DNS records that define the computer that received mail for a given domain name. So stanford.edu had a single computer that accepted mail for the university. These became known as mail servers. As the use of mail grew and reliance on mail increased, some had multiple mail servers for fault tolerance, for different departments, or to split the load between servers. We also saw some split various messaging roles up. A mail transfer agent, or MTA, sent mail between different servers. The received field in the header is stamped with the time the server acting as the MTA got an email. MTAs mostly used port 25 to transfer mail until SSL was introduced when port 587 started to be used for encrypted connections.

Bandwidth and time on these computers was expensive. There was a cost to make a phone call to dial into a mail provider and providers often charged by the minute. So people also wanted to store their mail offline and then dial in to send messages and receive messages. Close enough to instant communication. So software was created to manage email storage, which we call a mail client or more formally a Mail User Agent, or MUA. This would be programs like Microsoft Outlook and Apple Mail today or even a web mail client as with Gmail. POP, or Post Office Protocol was written to facilitate that transaction in 1984. Receive mail over POP and send over SMTP. POP evolved over the years with POPv3 coming along in 1993.

At this point we just needed a username and the domain name to send someone a message. But the number of messages was exploding. As were the needs. Let’s say a user needed to get their email on two different computers. POP mail needed to know to leave a copy of messages on servers. But then those messages all showed up as new on the next computer. So Mark Crispin developed IMAP, or Internet Message Access Protocol, in 1986, which left messages on the server and by IMAPv4 in the 1990s, was updated to the IMAPv4 we use today. Now mail clients had a few different options to use when accessing mail.

Those previous RFCs focused on mail itself and the community could use tools like FTP to get files. But over time we also wanted to add attachments to emails so MIME, or Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions became a standard with RFC 1341 in 1993. Those mail and RFC standards would evolve over the years to add better support for encapsulations and internationalization.

With the more widespread use of electronic mail, the words were shortened and to email and became common in everyday conversations. With the necessary standards, the next few years saw a number of private vendors jump on the internet bandwagon and invest in providing mail to customers America Online added email in 1993, Echomail came along in 1994, Hotmail added advertisements to messages, launching in 1996, and Yahoo added mail in 1997. All of the portals added mail within a few years.

The age of email kicked into high gear in the late 1990s, reaching 55 million users in 1997 and 400 million by 1999. During this time having an email address went from a luxury or curiosity to a societal and business expectation, like having a phone might be today. We also started to rely on digital contacts and calendars, and companies like HP released Personal Information Managers, or PIMs. Some companies wanted to sync those the same way they did email, so Microsoft Exchange was launched in 1996. That original concept went all the way back to PLATO in the 1960s with Dave Wooley’s PLATO NOTES and was Ray Ozzie’s inspiration when he wrote the commercial product that became Lotus Notes in 1989. Microsoft inspired Google who in turn inspired Microsoft to take Exchange to the cloud with Outlook.com.

It hadn’t taken long after the concept of sending mail between computers was possible that we got spam. Then spam blockers and other technology to allow us to stay productive despite the thousands of messages from vendors desperately trying to sell us their goods through drip campaigns. We’ve even had legislation to limit the amount of spam, given that at one point over 9 out of 10 emails was spam. Diligent efforts have driven that number down to just shy of a third at this point.

Email is now well over 40 years old and pretty much ubiquitous around the world. We’ve had other tools for instant messaging, messaging within every popular app, and group messaging products like bulletin boards online and now group instant messaging products like Slack and Microsoft Teams. We even have various forms of communication options integrated with one another. Like the ability to initiate a video call within Slack or Teams. Or the ability to toggle the Teams option when we send an invitation for a meeting in Outlook. Every few years there’s a new communication medium that some think will replace email. And yet email is as critical to our workflows today as it ever was.


A Suit In Time (1992)

    Mac Folklore Radio 1/13/2022

Sheldon Breiner (1936-2019) gives Apple a taste of its own medicine.

Sheldon’s bio at breiner.com. Stanford Alumni Magazine on Sheldon’s quest to find a giant 3,000 year-old Olmec head.

Yes, that’s the late Gerry Davis mentioned in Triumph of the Nerds. Gerry Davis on his relationship with Gary Kildall in his own words.

Not very much ado about Symantec’s Bedrock: [1, 2, 3, 4]

Original website for Altura Software’s Mac2Win framework. Lee Lorenzen CHM interview covering Xerox PARC, Digital Research, GEM, Ventura Publisher, Fractal Design Painter and the birth of Mac2Win.

Developer Jonathan Hoyle on a Mac2Win easter egg. Jonathan Hoyle grilling Steve Jobs about Apple’s developer predicament in 1997. (Hoyle identifies himself in other WWDC 1997 sessions.)

Original text from Macworld, November 1992.


The Teletype and TTY

    The History of Computing 1/10/2022

Teleprinters, sometimes referred to as teletypes based on the dominance of the Tyletype corporation in their hayday, are devices that send or receive written transmissions over a wire or over radios. Those have evolved over time to include text and images. And while it may seem as though their development corresponds to the telegraph, that’s true only so far as discoveries in electromagnetism led to the ability to send tones or pules over wires once there was a constant current.

That story of the teletype evolved through a number of people in the 1800s. The modern telegraph was invented in 1835 and taken to market a few years later. Soon after that, we were sending written messages encoded and typed on what we called a teletype machine, or teletypewriter if you will. Those were initially invented by a German inventor, Friedrich König in 1837, the same year Cooke and Wheatstone got their patent on telgraphy in England, and a few years before they patented automatic printing.

König figured out how to send messages over about 130 miles. Parts of the telegraph were based on his work. But he used a wire per letter of the alphabet and Samuel Morse used a single wire and encoded messages with the Morse code he developed.

Alexander Bain developed a printing telegraph that used electromagnets that turned clockworks. But keep in mind that these were still considered precision electronics at the time and human labor to encode, signal, receive, and decode communications were still cheaper. Therefore, the Morse telegraph service that went operational in 1846 became the standard.

Meanwhile Royal Earl House built a device that used piano keyboards to send letters, which had a shift register to change characters being sent. Thus predating the modern typewriter, developed in 1878, by decades. Yet, while humans were cheaper, machines were less prone to error, unless of course they broke down.

Then David Edward Hughes developed the first commercial teletype machine known as the Model 11 in 1855 to 1856. A few small telegraph companies then emerged to market the innovation, including Wester Union Telegraph company.

Picking up where Morse left off, Émile Baudot developed a code that consisted of five units, that became popular in France and spread to England in 1897 before spreading to the US. That’s when Donald Murray added punching data into paper tape for transmissions and incremented the Baudot encoding scheme to add control characters like carriage returns and line feeds. And some of the Baudot codes and Murray codes are still in use.

The ideas continued to evolve. In 1902, Charles Krum invented something he called the teletypewriter, picking up on the work started by Frank Pearne and funded by Joy Morton of the Morton Salt company. He filed a patent for his work. He and Morton then formed a new company called the Morkrum Printing Telegraph. Edward Kleinschmidt had filed a similar patent in 1916 so they merged the two companies into the Morkrump-Kleinschmidt Company in 1925 but to more easily market their innovation changed the name to the Teletype Corporation in 1928, then selling to the American Telegraph and Telephone Company, or AT&T, for $30M. And so salt was lucrative, but investing salt money netted a pretty darn good return as well.

Teletype Corporation produced a number of models over the next few decades. The Model 15 through 35 saw an increase in the speed messages could be sent and improved encoding techniques. As the typewriter became a standard, the 8.5 by 11 inch came as a means of being most easily compatible for those typewriters. The A standard was developed so A0 is a square meter, A1 is half that, A2, half that, and so on, with A4 becoming a standard paper size in Europe. But teletypes often had continual feeds and so while they had the same width in many cases, paper moved from a small paper tape to a longer roll of paper cut the same size as letter paper.

Decades after Krum was out of the company, the US Naval Observatory built what they called a Krum TTY to transmit data over radio, naming their device after him. Now, messages could be sent over a telegraph wire and wirelessly.

Thus by 1966 when the Inktronic shipped and printed 1200 characters a minute, it was able to print in baud or ASCII, which Teletype had developed for guess who, the Navy. But they had also developed a Teletype they called the Dataspeed with what we think of as a modem today, which evolved into the Teletype 33, the first Teletype to be consistently used with a computer. The teletype could send data to a computer and receive information that was printed in the same way information would be sent to another teletype operator who would respond in a printout. Another teletype with the same line receives that signal. When hooked to a computer though, the operator presses one of the keys on the teletype keyboard, it transmits an electronic signal.

Over time, those teletypes could be installed on the other side of a phone line. And if a person could talk to a computer, why couldn’t two computers talk to one another? ASCII was initially published in 1963 so computers could exchange information in a standardized fashion. Bell Labs was involved and so it’s no surprise we saw ASCII show up within just a couple of years on the Teletype.

ASCII was a huge win. Teletype sold over 600,000 of the 32s and 33s. Early video screens cost over $10,000 so interactive computing meant sending characters to a computer, which translated the characters into commands, and those into machine code. But the invention of the integrated circuit, MOSFET, and microchip dropped those prices considerably.

When screens dropped in price enough, and Unix came along in 1971, also from the Bell system, it’s no surprised that the first shells were referred to as TTY, short for teletype. After all, the developers and users were often literally using teletypes to connect. As computing companies embraced time sharing and added the ability to handle multiple tasks those evolved into the ability to invoke multiple TTY sessions as a given user, thus while waiting for a task to complete we could do another task. And so we got tty1, tty2, tty3, etc.

The first GUIs were then effectively macros or shell scripts that were called by clicking a button. And those evolved so they weren’t obfuscating the shell but instead now we open a terminal emulator in most modern operating systems not to talk to the shell directly but to send commands to the emulator that interprets them in more modern languages. And yet run tty and we can still see the “return user’s terminal name” to quote the man page.

Today we interact with computers in a very different way than we did over teletypes. We don’t send text and receive the output in a a print-out any longer. Instead we use monitors that allow us to use keyboards to type out messages through the Internet as we do over telnet and then ssh using either binary or ASCII codes.

The Teletype and typewriter evolved into today's keyboard, which offers a faster and more efficient way to communicate. Those early CTSS then Unix C programs that evolved into ls and ssh and cat are now actions performed in graphical interfaces or shells. The last remaining teletypes are now used in airline telephone systems. And following the breakup of AT&T, Teletype Corporation need finally in 1990, as computer terminals evolved into a different direction. Yet we still see their remnants in everyday use.


IPL, AI, and Linked Lists

    Advent of Computing 1/10/2022

I'll let you in on a secret: I've never understood why LISP is so closely associated with artificial intelligence. I've decided to fix this. In this episode, and the next, I'm tracing the early roots of AI and why list processing is important in the field. This episode we dive into the Information Processing Language, a strange programming language that predates LISP . Along the way we discuss the origin of linked lists, chess playing machines, and a program that could solve logic proofs.
Selected Sources:


See Different

    RetroMacCast 1/9/2022

James and John discuss eBay Finds: Apple seat cushion, Macworld 2000 Pro Mouse, and framed Picasso Mac poster. They offer their favorite gift ideas, and news includes a changing image file and Inside Apple Park.


A History of Esports

    The History of Computing 1/8/2022

It’s human nature to make everything we do competitive. I’ve played football, ran track at times, competed in hacking competitions at Def Con, and even participated in various gaming competitions like Halo tournaments. I always get annihilated by kids who had voices that were cracking, but I played!

Humans have been competing in sports for thousands of years. The Lascaux in France shows people sprinting over 15,000 years ago. The Egyptians were bowling in the 5,000s BCE. The Sumerians were wrestling 5,000 years ago. Mesopotamian art shows boxing in the second or third millennium BCE. The Olmecs in Mesoamerican societies were playing games with balls around the same time.

Egyptian monuments show a number of individual sports being practiced in Egypt as far back as 2,000 BCE. The Greeks evolved the games first with the Minoans and Mycenaeans between 1,500 BCE and 1,000BCE and then they first recorded their Olympic games in 776 BCE, although historians seem to agree the games were practiced at least 500 years before that evolving potentially from funeral games.

Sports competitions began as ways to showcase an individuals physical prowess. Weight lifting, discus, whether individual or team sports, sports rely on physical strength, coordination, repetitive action, or some other feat that allows one person or team to stand out.

Organized team sports first appeared in ancient times. The Olmecs in Mesoamerica but Hurling supposedly evolved past 1000 BCE, although written records of that only begin around the 16th century and it could be that was borrowed through the Greek game harpaston when the Romans evolved it into the game harpastum and it spread with Roman conquests. But the exact rules and timelines of all of these are lost to written history. Instead, written records back up that western civilization team sports began with polo appearing about 2,500 years ago in Persia. The Chinese gave us a form of kickball they called cuju, around 200 BCE. Football, or soccer for the American listeners, started in 9th century England but evolved into the game we think of today in the 1850s, then a couple of decades later to American football. Meanwhile, cricket came around in the 16th century and then hockey and baseball came along in the mid 1800s with basketball arriving in the 1890s. That’s also around the same time the modern darts game was born, although that started in the Middle Ages when troops threw arrows or crossbow bolts at wine barrels turned on their sides or sections of tree trunks.

Many of these sports are big business today, netting multi-billion dollar contracts for media rights to show and stream games, naming rights to stadiums for hundreds of millions, and players signing contracts for hundreds of millions across all major sports. There’s been a sharp increase in sports contracts since the roaring 1920s, rising steadily until the television started to show up in homes around the world until ESPN solidified a new status in our lives when it was created in 1979. Then came the Internet and the money got crazy town.

All that money leads the occasional entrepreneurial minded sports enthusiast to try something new. We got the World Wrestling Body in the 1950s, which evolved out of Jim McMahon’s father’s boxing promotions put him working with Toots Mondt on what they called Western Style Wrestling. Beating people up has been around since the dawn of life but became an official sport when UFC 1 was launched in 1993. We got the XFL in 1999. So it’s no surprise that we would take a sport that requires hand-eye coordination and turn that into a team endeavor. That’s been around for a long time, but we call it Esports today.

Video Game Competitions
Competing in video games is as almost as old as, well, video games. Spacewar! was written in 1962 and students from MIT competed with one another for dominance of deep space, dogfighting little ships, which we call sprites today, into oblivion. The game spread to campuses and companies as the PDP minicomputers spread. Countless hours spent playing and by 1972, there were enough players that they held the first Esports competition, appropriately called the Intergalactic Spacewar! Olympics. Of course, Steward Brand would report on that for Rolling Stone, having helped Mouse inventor Doug Englebart with the “Mother of All Demos” just four years before.

Pinball had been around since the 1930s, or 1940s with flippers. They could be found around the world by the 1970s and 1972 was also the first year there was a Pinball World Champion. So game leagues were nothing new. But Brand and others, like Atari founder Nolan Bushnell knew that video games were about to get huge.

Tennis was invented in the 1870s in England and went back to 11th century France. Tennis on a screen would make loads of sense as well when Tennis For Two debuted in 1958. So when Pong came along in 1972, the world (and the ability to mass produce technology) was ready for the first video game hit. So when people flowed into bars first in the San Francisco Bay Area, then around the country to play Pong, it’s no surprise that people would eventually compete in the game.

From competing in billiards to a big game console just made sense. Now it was a quarter a game instead of just a dart board hanging in the corner. And so when Pong went to home consoles of course people competed there as well.

Then came Space Invaders in 1978. By 1980 we got the first statewide Space Invaders competition, and 10,000 players showed up. The next year there was a Donkey Kong tournament and Billy Mitchell set the record for the game at 874,300 that stood for 18 years. We got the US National Video Game Team in 1983 and competitions for arcade games sprung up around the world. A syndicated television show called Starcade even ran to show competitions, which now we might call streaming. And Tron came in 1982. Then came the video game crash of 1983.

But games never left us. The next generation of consoles and arcade games gave us competitions and tournaments for Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat then first-person game like Goldeneye and other first-person shooters later in the decade, paving the way for games like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft. Then in 1998 a legendary StarCraft 2 tournament was held and 50 million people around the world tuned in on the Internet. That’s a lot of eyeballs.

Team options were also on the rise. Netter had been written to play over the Internet by 16 players at once. Within a few years, massive multiplayers could have hundreds of players duking it out in larger battle scenes. Some were recorded and posted to web pages. There was appetite for tracking scores for games and competing and even watching games, which we’ve all done over the shoulders of friends since the arcades and consoles of old.

Esports and Twitch
As the 2000s came, Esports grew in popularity. Esports is short for the term electronic sports, and refers to competitive video gaming, which includes tournaments and leagues. Let’s set aside the earlier gaming tournaments and think of those as classic video games. Let’s reserve the term Esports for events held after 2001.

That’s because the World Cyber Games was founded in 2000 and initially held in 2001, in Seoul, Korea (although there was a smaller competition in 2000). The haul was $300,000 and events continue on through the current day, having been held in San Francisco, Italy, Singapore, and China. Hundreds of people play today. That started a movement.

Major League Gaming (MLG) came along in 2002 and is now regarded as one of the most significant Esports hosts in the world. The Electronic Sports World Cup came in 2003 were the first tournaments, which were followed by the introduction of ESL Intel Extreme Master in 2007 and many others. The USA Network broadcast their first Halo 2 tournament in 2006.

We’ve gone from 10 major tournaments held in 2000 to an incalculable number today. That means more teams. Most Esports companies are founded by former competitors, like Cloud9, 100 Thieves, and FaZeClan. Team SoloMid is the most valuable Esports organization. Launched by League of Legends star Dan Dinh and his brother in 2009, and is now worth over $400 million and has fielded teams like ZeRo for Super Smash Brothers, Excelerate Gaming for Rainbow Six Seige, Team Dignitas for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and even chess grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura.

The analog counterpart would be sports franchises. Most of those were started by athletic clubs or people from the business community. Gaming has much lower startup costs and thus far has been more democratic in the ability to start a team with higher valuations.

Teams play in competitions held by leagues, of which There seems to be new ones all the time. The NBA 2K League and the Overwatch League are two new leagues that have had early success. One reason for teams and leagues like this is naming and advertising rights. Another is events like The International 2021, with a purse of over $40M. The inaugural League of Legends World Championship took place in 2011. In 2013 another tournament was held in the Staples Center in Los Angeles (close to their US offices). Tickets for the event sold out within minutes. The purse for that was originally $100,000 and has since risen to over $7M. But others are even larger. Arena of Valor tournament Honor of Kings World Champion Cup is $7.7M and Fortnite World Cup Finals has gone as high as $15M.

One reason for the leagues and teams is that companies that make games want to promote their games. The video game business is almost an 86 billion dollar industry. Another is that people started watching other people play on YouTube. But then YouTube wasn’t really purpose-built for gaming. Streamers made due using cameras to stream images of themselves in a picture-in-picture frame but that still wasn’t optimal. Esports had been broadcast (the original form of streaming) before but streaming wasn't all that commercially successful until the birth of Twitch in 2011.

YouTube had come along in 2005 and Justin Kan and Emmett Shear created Justin.tv in 2007 as a place for people to broadcast video, or stream, online. They started with just one channel: Justin’s life. Like 24 by 7 life. They did Y Combinator and managed to land an $8M seed round. Justin had a camera mounted to his hat, and left that outside the bathroom since it wasn’t that kind of site. They made a video chat system and not only was he streaming, but he was interacting with people on the other side of the stream. It was like the Truman Show, but for reals.

A few more people joined up, but then came other sites to provide this live streaming option. They added forums, headlines, comments, likes, featured categories of channels, and other features but just weren’t hitting it. One aspect was doing really well: gaming. They moved that to a new site in 2011 and called that Twitch. This platform allowed players to stream themselves and their games. And they could interact with their viewers, which gave the entire experience a new interactive paradigm. And it grew fast with the whole thing being rebranded as Twitch in 2014.

Amazon bought Twitch in 2014 for $1B. They made $2.3 Billion in 2020 with an average of nearly 3 million concurrent viewers watching nearly 19 billion hours of content provided monthly by nearly 9 million streamers. Other services like Youtube Gaming have come and gone but Twitch remains the main way people watch others game. ESPN and others still have channels for Esports, but Twitch is purpose-built for gaming. And watching others play games is no different than Greeks showing up for the Olympics or watching someone play pool or watching Liverpool play Man City. In fact, the money they make is catching up.

Platforms like Twitch allow professional gamers and those who announce the games to to become their own unique class of celebrities. The highest paid players have made between three and six million dollars, with the top 10 living outside the US and making their hauls from Dota 2. Others have made over a million playing games like Counter-Strike, Fortnite, League of Legends, and Call of Duty. None are likely to hold a record for any of those games for 18 years. But they are likely to diversify their sources of income. Add a YouTube channel, Twitch stream, product placements, and appearances - and a gamer could be looking at doubling what they bring in from competitions.

Esports has come far but has far further to go. The total Esports market was just shy of $1B in 2020 and expected tor each $2.5B in 2025 (which the pandemic may push even faster). Not quite the 100 million that watch the Super Bowl every year or the half billion that tune into the World Cup finals but growing at a faster rate than the Super Bowl, which has actually declined in the past few years. And the International Olympic Committee recognized the tremendous popularity of Esports throughout the world in 2017 and left open the prospect of Esports becoming an Olympic sport in the future (although with the number of vendors involved that’s hard to imagine happening).

Perhaps some day when archaeologists dig up what we’ve left behind, they’ll find some Egyptian Obelisk or gravestone with a controller and a high score. Although they’ll probably just scoff at the high score, since they already annihilated that when they first got their neural implants and have since moved on to far better games!

Twitch is young in the context of the decades of history in computing. However, the impact has been fast and along with Esports shows us a windows into how computing has reshaped entire ways we week not only entertainment, but also how we make a living. In fact, the US Government recognized League of Legends as a sport as early as 2013, allowing people to get Visas to come into the US and play. And where there’s money to be made, there’s betting and abuse. 2010 saw SaviOr and some of the best Starcraft players to ever play embroiled in a match-fixing scandal. That almost destroyed the Esports gaming industry. And yet as with the Video Game Crash of 1983, the industry has always bounced back, at magnitudes larger than before.


Review Episode 15

    The Atari XEGS Cart by Cart Podcast 12/31/2021

In Episode 15, we take to the skies during WWII and battle the Axis powers to become the Ace of Aces. Then the federation needs you once again to take out the invading Zylon Empire in Star Raiders II.

News

  • Going forward, we're omitting the “Where to Buy” section from our reviews

Ace of Aces

Star Raiders II


Atari Resolutions for the New Year

    ANTIC The Atari 8-bit Podcast 12/27/2021

ANTIC Episode 84 - Atari Resolutions for the New Year

In this episode of ANTIC The Atari 8-Bit Computer Podcast...we each talk about our top Atari resolution for 2022 (although maybe not the type of resolution you were thinking), and discuss all the Atari news we could find for December, 2021.

READY!

Recurring Links 

Floppy Days Podcast 

AtariArchives.org 

AtariMagazines.com 

Kevin’s Book “Terrible Nerd” 

New Atari books scans at archive.org 

ANTIC feedback at AtariAge 

Atari interview discussion thread on AtariAge 

Interview index: here 

ANTIC Facebook Page 

AHCS 

Eaten By a Grue 

Next Without For 

What We’ve Been Up To

Recent Interview Shows

News 

YouTube videos this month

New at GitHub

Word from our Sponsor


Viatron Topples IBM

    Advent of Computing 12/27/2021

Viatron's System 21 was the computer of the 1970s! ...At least that's what their marketing claimed. Started in 1967 Viatron was set to be one of the most exciting companies of the coming decade. They were offering a desktop sized computing machine, the System 21, that promised to break IBM's domination of the office. The System 21's heart, the so-called "micro-processor", was slated to be built from cutting edge LSI chips. It could automate data processing, replace bulky IBM hardware, and do away with the punch card. And this marvel could be yours for just $39 a month. Sounds like a good deal, right? Maybe too good. According to some Viatron was strait up stock fraud.
Selected sources:
http://bitsavers.trailing-edge.com/pdf/viatron/ViatronSystem21Brochure.pdf - 1969 Viatron Brochure
http://vintagecomputer.ca/viatron-system-21-model-2111-restoration/ - The beast itself
https://archive.org/details/CIA-RDP80-01794R000100200043-2/mode/2up - CIA review of System 21


ANTIC Interview 430 - Tim Huntington: Krazy Kopter, Fire Chief, Adventures of Robin Hood

    ANTIC The Atari 8-bit Podcast 12/26/2021

Tim Huntington: Krazy Kopter, Fire Chief, Adventures of Robin Hood

Tim Huntington was an Atari game developer based in the United Kingdom. He programmed Krazy Kopter, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and Fire Chief, which were published by English Software; and Despatch Rider, which was published by Mastertronic.

This interview took place on December 23, 2021.

Video version of this interview

Tim's segment on Look North West UK TV

AtariMania's list of Tim's games

Tim on Twitter


- Why Pay Someone Else? ; VLSI Primer ; Review of Blockdown

    The CoCo Crew Podcast 12/24/2021

Episode 79 Show Notes -- http://cococrew.org/cococrew-podcast-79.html


Dave's Vintage Apple Tech

    RetroMacCast 12/19/2021

James, John, and Dave discuss eBay Finds: Macintosh Portable, Mac IIfx in box, and Apple III. They learn more about Dave's YouTube channel Dave's Vintage Apple Tech, and news includes the iPod 20th anniversary with Panic's stealth prototype and the Mac Underground website.


Of Heath Robinson Contraptions And The Colossus

    The History of Computing 12/14/2021

The Industrial Revolution gave us the rise of factories all over the world in the 1800s. Life was moving faster and we were engineering complex solutions to mass produce items. And many expanded from there to engineer complex solutions for simple problems. Cartoonist Heath Robinson harnessed the reaction from normal humans to this changing world in the forms of cartoons and illustrations of elaborate machines meant to accomplish simple tasks.

These became known as “Heath Robinson contraptions” and were a reaction to the changing and increasingly complicated world order as much as anything. Just think of the rapidly evolving financial markets as one sign of the times! Following World War I, other cartoonists made similar cartoons. Like Rube Goldberg, giving us the concept of Rube Goldberg machines in the US.

And the very idea of breaking down simple operations into Boolean logic from those who didn’t understand the “why” would have seemed preposterous. I mean a wheel with 60 teeth or a complex series of switches and relays to achieve the same result? And yet with flip-flop circuits one would be able to process infinitely faster than it would take that wheel to turn with any semblance of precision. The Industrial Revolution of our data was to come.

And yet we were coming to a place in the world where we were just waking up to the reality of moving from analog to digital as Robinson passed away in 1944 with a series of electromechanical computers named after Robinson and then The Colossus. These came just one year after Claude Shannon and Alan Turing, two giants in the early history of computers, met at Bell Labs.

And a huge step in that transition was a paper by Alan Turing in 1936 called "On Computable Numbers with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem.” This would become the basis for a programmable computing machine concept and so before the war, Alan Turing had published papers about the computability of problems using what we now call a Turing machine - or recipes. Some of the work on that paper was inspired by Max Newman, who helped Turing go off to Princeton to work on all the maths, where Turing would get a PhD in 1938. He returned home and started working part-time at the Government Code and Cypher school during the pre-war buildup.

Hitler invaded Poland the next year, sparking World War II. The Poles had gotten pretty good with codebreaking, being situated right between world powers Germany and Russia and their ability to see troop movements through decrypted communications was one way they were able to keep forces in optimal locations. And yet the Germans got in there. The Germans had built a machine called the Enigma that also allowed their Navy to encrypt communications. Unable to track their movements, Allied forces were playing a cat and mouse game and not doing very well at it. Turing came up with a new way of decrypting the messages and that went into a new version of the Polish Bomba.

Later that year, the UK declared war on Germany. Turing’s work resulted in a lot of other advances in cryptanalysis throughout the war. But he also brought home the idea of an electromechanical machine to break those codes - almost as though he’d written a paper on building machines to do such things years before.

The Germans had given away a key to decrypt communications accidentally in 1941 and the codebreakers at Bletchley Park got to work on breaking the machines that used the Lorenz Cipher in new and interesting ways. The work had reduced the amount of losses - but they needed more people. It was time intensive to go through the possible wheel positions or guess at them, and every week meant lives lost. Or they needed more automation of people tasks… So they looked to automate the process.

Turing and the others wrote to Churchill directly. Churchill started his memo to General Ismay with “ACTION THIS DAY” and so they were able to get more bombes up and running. Bill Tutte and the codebreakers worked out the logic to process the work done by hand. The same number of codebreakers were able to a ton more work. The first pass was a device with uniselectors and relays. Frank Morrell did the engineering design to process the logic. And so we got the alpha test of an automation machine they called the Tunny. The start positions were plugged in by hand and it could still take weeks to decipher messages.

Max Newman, Turing’s former advisor and mentor, got tapped to work on the project and Turing was able to take the work of Polish code breakers and others and add sequential conditional probability to guess at the settings of the 12 wheels of an Enigma machine and thus get to the point they could decipher messages coming out of the German navy on paper. No written records indicate that Turing was involved much in the project beyond that.

Max Newman developed the specs, heavily influenced by Turing’s previous work. They got to work on an electro-mechanical device we now call the Heath Robinson. They needed to be able to store data. They used paper tape - which could process a thousand characters per second using photocell readers - but there were two and they had to run concurrently. Tape would rip and two tapes running concurrently meant a lot might rip.

Charles Wynn-Williams was a brilliant physicist who worked with electric waves since the late 1920s at Trinity College, Cambridge and was recruited from a project helping to develop RADAR because he’d specifically worked on electronic counters at Cambridge. That work went into the counting unit, counting how many times a function returned a true result.

As we saw with Bell Labs, the telephone engineers were looking for ways to leverage switching electronics to automate processes for the telephone exchange. Turing recommended they bring in telephone engineer Tommy Flowers to design the Combining unit, which used vacuum tubes to implement Boolean logic - much as the paper Shannon wrote in 1936 that he gave Turing over tea at Bell labs earlier 1943. It’s likely Turing would have also heard of the calculator George Stibitz of Bell Labs built out of relay switches all the way back in 1937. Slow but more reliable than the vacuum tubes of the era. And it’s likely he influenced those he came to help by collaborating on encrypted voice traffic and likely other projects as much if not more. Inspiration is often best found at the intersectionality between ideas and cultures.

Flowers looked to use vacuum tubes where the wheel patterns were produced. This gave one less set of paper tapes and infinitely more reliability. And a faster result. The programs were stored but they were programmable. Input was made using the shift registers from the paper tape and thyratron rings that simulated the bitstream for the wheels. There was a master control unit that handled the timing between the clock, signals, readouts, and printing. It didn’t predate the Von Neumann architecture. But it didn’t not.

The switch panel had a group of switches used to define the algorithm being used with a plug-board defining conditions. The combination provided billions of combinations for logic processing. Vacuum tube valves were still unstable but they rarely blew when on, it was the switching process. So if they could have the logic gates flow through a known set of wheel settings the new computer would be more stable. Just one thing - they needed 1,500 valves! This thing would be huge!

And so the Colossus Mark 1 was approved by W.G. Radley in 1943. It took 50 people 11 months to build and was able to compute wheel settings for ciphered message tapes. Computers automating productivity at its finest. The switches and plugs could be repositioned and so not only was Colossus able get messages decrypted in hours but could be reprogrammed to do other tasks.

Others joined and they got the character reading up to almost 10,000 characters a second. They improved on the design yet again by adding shift registers and got over four times the speeds. It could now process 25,000 characters per second.

One of the best uses was to confirm that Hitler got tricked into thinking the attack at Normandy at D-Day would happen elsewhere. And so the invasion of Normandy was safe to proceed. But the ability to reprogram made it a mostly universal computing machine - proving the Turing machine concept and fulfilling the dreams of Charles Babbage a hundred years earlier.

And so the war ended in 1945. After the war, The Colossus machines were destroyed - except the two sent to British GHCQ where they ran until 1960. So the simple story of Colossus is that it was a series of computers built in England from 1943 to 1945, at the heart of World War II. The purpose: cryptanalysis - or code breaking.

Turing went on to work on the Automatic Computing Engine at the National Physical Laboratory after the war and wrote a paper on the ACE - but while they were off to a quick start in computing in England having the humans who knew the things, they were slow to document given that their wartime work was classified.

ENIAC came along in 1946 as did the development of Cybernetics by Norbert Wiener. That same year Max Newman wrote to John Von Neumann (Wiener’s friend) about building a computer in England. He founded the Royal Society Computing Machine Laboratory at Victory University of Manchester, got Turing out to help and built the Manchester Baby, along with Frederic Williams and Thomas Kilburn. In 1946 Newman would also decline becoming Sir Newman when he rejected becoming an OBE, or Officer of the Order of the British Empire, over the treatment of his protege Turing not being offered the same. That’s leadership. They’d go on to collaborate on the Manchester Mark I and Ferranti Mark I. Turing would work on furthering computing until his death in 1954, from taking cyanide after going through years of forced estrogen treatments for being a homosexual. He has since been pardoned post

Following the war, Flowers tried to get a loan to start a computer company - but the very idea was ludicrous and he was denied. He retired from the Post Office Research Station after spearheading the move of the phone exchange to an electric, or what we might think of as a computerized exchange.

Over the next decade, the work from Claude Shannon and other mathematicians would perfect the implementation of Boolean logic in computers. Von Neumann only ever mentioned Shannon and Turing in his seminal 1958 paper called The Computer And The Brain. While classified by the British government the work on Colossus was likely known to Von Neumann, who will get his own episode soon - but suffice it to say was a physicist turned computer scientist and worked on ENIAC to help study and develop atom bombs - and who codified the von Neumann architecture.

We did a whole episode on Turing and another on Shannon, and we have mentioned the 1945 article As We May Think where Vannevar Bush predicted and inspired the next couple generations of computer scientists following the advancements in computing around the world during the war. He too would have likely known of the work on Colossus at Bletchley Park. Maybe not the specifics but he certainly knew of ENIAC - which unlike Colossus was run through a serious public relations machine.

There are a lot of heroes to this story. The brave men and women who worked tirelessly to break, decipher, and analyze the cryptography. The engineers who pulled it off. The mathematicians who sparked the idea. The arrival of the computer was almost deterministic. We had work on the Atanasoff-Berry Computer at Iowa State, work at Bell Labs, Norbert Wiener’s work on anti-aircraft guns at MIT during the war, Konrad Zuse’s Z3, Colossus, and other mechanical and electromechanical devices leading up to it.

But deterministic doesn’t mean lacking inspiration. And what is the source of inspiration and when mixed with perspiration - innovation? There were brilliant minds in mathematics, like Turing. Brilliant physicists like Wynn-Williams. Great engineers like Flowers. That intersection between disciplines is the wellspring of many an innovation. Equally as important, then there’s a leader who can take the ideas, find people who align with a mission, and help clear roadblocks. People like Newman. When they have domain expertise and knowledge - and are able to recruit and keep their teams inspired, they can change the world. And then there are people with purse strings who see the brilliance and can see a few moves ahead on the chessboard - like Churchill. They make things happen.

And finally, there are the legions who carried on the work in theoretical, practical, and in the pure sciences. People who continue the collaboration between disciplines, iterate, and bring products to ever growing markets. People who continue to fund those innovations. It can be argued that our intrepid heroes in this story helped win a war - but that the generations who followed, by connecting humanity and bringing productivity gains to help free our minds to solve bigger and bigger problems will hopefully some day end war.

Thank you for tuning in to this episode of the History of Computing Podcast. We hope to cover your contributions. Drop us a line and let us know how we can. And thank you so much for listening. We are so, so lucky to have you.


Don Melton - Memories of Steve (2013)

    Mac Folklore Radio 12/13/2021

Don Melton, former WebKit and Safari team lead at Apple, recalls some close encounters with Steve Jobs.

Original text from Don’s website.

Don did a wonderful interview about his computer journey before, during, and after heading the Safari project on episode 11 of the Debug podcast.

Steve Jobs Quote Compilation Index

WWDC 2004: “Our competitors buy the panels we reject”

All Things D 2007, Bill Gates: “He’s really pursued that with incredible taste and elegance… I’d do a lot to have Steve’s taste”

Game Changers, Guy Kawasaki: “It’s a perfect match because he’s a showman who can really introduce a product, and he has great products to introduce”

WWDC 1997 Keynote: “The line of code that a developer can write the fastest, the line of code the developer can maintain the cheapest, and the line of code that never breaks for the user is the line of code the developer never had to write.”

MWSF 2001 (Titanium PowerBook G4 intro): “We have the most powerful notebooks in the world … but they have the sex. We want both!”

MWSF 1999: “Our relationship with Microsoft, it’s kind of like a marriage … it’s terrific about 99% of the time… about 1% of the time we argue over stuff, usually having to do with multimedia. Y’know, in life, that’s not a bad ratio.”

MWSF 2001: “We very much appreciate the applause but you shouldn’t be applauding because this is how it ought to work!”

MWSF 1999: “We don’t think design is just how it looks; we think design is how it works. … We think we’ve got the most incredible access story in the business. And you know what’s it’s called? It’s called a door.”

WWDC 2004: “The back of these displays looks better than the front of most of our competitors’. … First time I saw one of these I couldn’t talk for the first minute.”

WWDC 1999: “We’re giving away fifty of these new PowerBooks… and the winner of the first PowerBook is… oh! Steve Jobs! No…”

iBook Dual USB Intro, 2001: “Michael Dell said some disparaging things about us lately, publicly. We’re not going to engage in that sort of thing, but let me show you their product. … It looks like this and you can see it’s about that thick, and it’s got some nice fans in the back so you can keep an eye on them…”

CAUSE 1998 on “digital convergence”: “I converged myself last week, actually. Can you tell? I don’t know what it means. Here’s what it means: it means your television’s gonna make toast. Y’know? That’s what it means. […] People go their TVs to turn their brain off […] I used to think like many you might have thought that there was this giant conspiracy of the networks to put mediocrity on television and dumb us down! … But I then found out the truth which is far more depressing, which is the networks give people precisely what they want!”

Apple 2003 Q4 investors call: “We’re gonna integrate toasters and computers. We think people want toast when they’re working on their computers. We can have computer control, just get it exactly how you–we can put up pictures of toast, and you pick the one that looks like what you want, and it’ll come right out the side!”

CHM iPhone Event w/Fiennes, Ganatra, Hertz, Forstall: Scott Forstall’s Steve Jobs cafeteria payment story

Xserve Launch Event/WWDC 2002: (on Apple’s extremely poor record of committing to enterprise products) “I wasn’t here when Apple did a lot of those … I look at that as a dream when, you know, Apple was in a coma.”

CHM iPhone Event w/Fiennes, Ganatra, Hertz, Forstall: “My interview at NeXT was funny because .. I’d been there 10 minutes… Steve barges into the room, grabs the guy …”

New Pathways Into the Library of Congress: “Bicycle for our minds” bit

CHM iPhone Event w/Fiennes, Ganatra, Hertz, Forstall: “You’re a billionaire, you don’t understand!”

MWSF 1999: “Maybe it’s telling you to revert back to a Macintosh”

CAUSE 1998: “The goal used to be to make the best computers in the world… goal 2 we got from Hewlett-Packard, which is we have to make a profit! .. along the way somewhere, those two got reversed. … It’s very subtle at first but it turns out it’s everything.”

CAUSE 1998: (on user interface design) “we’ve just stuck warts on the side of what we had 10 years ago instead of rethinking everything”

Seybold 1999 Keynote: John Warnock: “The wonderful thing about having Apple back is that this industry is no longer boring. Thank you, Steve.”


6502, The Mini-Microprocessor

    Advent of Computing 12/13/2021

No matter how you cut it the MOS Technology 6502 is an important chip. The chip was cheap, simple, and plentiful. This made it perfect for the home computing boom of the late 1970s. But how was this classic created? Today we are looking at Motorola's earliest attempts to seize the microprocessor market, how economic factors impact history, and how trends and forces can conspire to create better technology.
Selected sources:
https://archive.computerhistory.org/resources/access/text/2015/06/102702020-05-01-acc.pdf - 6800 Oral History Panel
https://archive.computerhistory.org/resources/access/text/2014/08/102739939-05-01-acc.pdf - Check Peddle Oral History


Hooked on Latch-Hook Part 2 with Myra Burg

    RetroMacCast 12/12/2021

James and John discuss eBay Finds: Mac motherboard collectible, clever 128k Mac listing, and interesting original Mac floppy disk auctions. James chats with Myra Burg, the designer of the Apple latch-hook rug kits and Apple wall hangings. News includes the Seiko WristMac auction.


The Dog Ate It

    ANTIC The Atari 8-bit Podcast 12/6/2021

ANTIC Episode 83 - The Dog Ate It

In this episode of ANTIC The Atari 8-Bit Computer Podcast...Kay forgets to wear his ANTIC t-shirt, we all have new members of the family (and Brad’s eats everything in sight), Kay goes crazy scanning Atari magazines, and we have lots of listener feedback.

READY!

Recurring Links 

Floppy Days Podcast 

AtariArchives.org 

AtariMagazines.com 

Kevin’s Book “Terrible Nerd” 

New Atari books scans at archive.org 

ANTIC feedback at AtariAge 

Atari interview discussion thread on AtariAge 

Interview index: here 

ANTIC Facebook Page 

AHCS 

Eaten By a Grue 

Next Without For 

What We’ve Been Up To

News 

Shows

YouTube videos this month

New at Archive.org

New at GitHub

Listener Feedback


ANTIC Interview 429 - Jack Verson: Action Quest, Ghost Encounters, Journey to the Planets, Gyruss

    ANTIC The Atari 8-bit Podcast 12/4/2021

Jack Verson was the founder of JV Software, where he programmed and published several games for the Atari 8-bit computers: Action Quest, Ghost Encounters, and Journey to the Planets. Roklan Software repackaged Action Quest and Ghost Encounters into a single game, titled Castle Hassle.

As part of On-Time Software, Jack programmed the Atari versions of Gyruss, James Bond 007, and perhaps other games, published by Parker Brothers. He ported the Atari 8-bit version of Joust to the Commodore 64. As Applied Systems Engineering, he programmed Time Tunnel for Commodore 64.

This interview took place on December 2, 2021.

AtariMania's list of Jack's software
James Bond 007
Gyruss
Journey to the Planets version differences and bugs
Larry Kalpan thanks Jack in the manual for 2600 Activision Bridge
Time Tunnel for Commodore 64
Jack's company, CDOAN 
Mark Benioff review of Action Quest
Popeye "V1" for Commodore discovered
Verson quoted in Compute! "How the Pros Write Computer Games"


Clifford Stoll and the Cuckoo’s Egg

    The History of Computing 12/3/2021

A honeypot is basically a computer made to look like a sweet, yummy bit of morsel that a hacker might find yummy mcyummersons. This is the story of one of the earliest on the Internet.

Clifford Stoll has been a lot of things. He was a teacher and a ham operator and appears on shows. And an engineer at a radio station. And he was an astronomer. But he’s probably best known for being an accidental systems administrator at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory who setup a honeypot in 1986 and used that to catch a KGB hacker.

It sounds like it could be a movie. And it was - on public television. Called “The KGB, the Computer, and Me.” And a book.

Clifford Stoll was an astronomer who stayed on as a systems administrator when a grant he was working on as an astronomer ran out. Many in IT came to the industry accidentally. Especially in the 80s and 90s.

Now accountants are meticulous. The monthly accounting report at the lab had never had any discrepancies. So when the lab had a 75 cent accounting error, his manager Dave Cleveland had Stoll go digging into the system to figure out what happened. And yet what he found was far more than the missing 75 cents.

This was an error of time sharing systems. And the lab leased out compute time at $300 per hour. Everyone who had accessed the system had an account number to bill time to. Well, everyone except a user named hunter. They disabled the user and then got an email that one of their computers tried to break into a computer elsewhere.

This is just a couple years after the movie War Games had been released. So of course this was something fun to dig your teeth into. Stoll combed through the logs and found the account that attempted to break into the computers in Maryland was a local professor named Joe Sventek, now at the University of Oregon. One who it was doubtful made the attempt because he was out town at the time.

So Stoll set his computer to beep when someone logged in so he could set a trap for the person using the professors account. Every time someone connected a teletype session, or tty, Stoll checked the machine. Until Sventek connected and with that, he went to see the networking team who confirmed the connection wasn’t a local terminal but had come in through one of the 50 modems through a dial-up session.

There wasn’t much in the form of caller ID. So Stoll had to connect a printer to each of the modems - that gave him the ability to print every command the user ran. A system had been compromised and this user was able to sudo, or elevate their privileges. UNIX System V had been released 3 years earlier and suddenly labs around the world were all running similar operating systems on their mainframes. Someone with a working knowledge of Unix internals could figure out how to do all kinds of things. Like add a program to routine housecleaning items that elevated their privileges.

They could also get into the passwd file that at the time housed all the passwords and delete those that were encrypted, thus granting access without a password. And they even went so far as to come up with dictionary brute force attacks similar to a modern rainbow table to figure out passwords so they wouldn’t get locked out when the user whose password was deleted called in to reset it again.

Being root allowed someone to delete the shell history and given that all the labs and universities were charging time, remove any record they’d been there from the call accounting systems. So Stoll wired a pager into the system so he could run up to the lab any time the hacker connected. Turns out the hacker was using the network to move laterally into other systems, including going from what was ARPANET at the time to military systems on Milnet. The hacker used default credentials for systems and leave accounts behind so he could get back in later.

Jaeger means hunter in German and those were both accounts used. So maybe they were looking for a German. Tymenet and Pacbell got involved and once they got a warrant they were able to get the phone number of the person connecting to the system. Only problem is the warrant was just for California.

Stoll scanned the packet delays and determined the hacker was coming in from overseas. The hacker had come in through Mitre Corporation. After Mitre disabled the connection the hacker slipped up and came in through International Telephone and Telegraph. Now they knew he was not in the US. In fact, he was in West Germany. At the time, Germany was still divided by the Berlin Wall and was a pretty mature spot for espionage. They confirmed the accounts were indicating they were dealing with a German.

Once they had the call traced to Germany they needed to keep the hacker online for an hour to trace the actual phone number because the facilities there still used mechanical switching mechanisms to connect calls. So that’s where the honeypot comes into play. Stoll’s girlfriend came up with the idea to make up a bunch of fake government data and host it on the system. Boom. It worked, the hacker stayed on for over an hour and they traced the number.

Along the way, this hippy-esque Cliff Stoll had worked with “the Man.” Looking through the logs, the hacker was accessing information about missile systems, military secrets, members of the CIA. There was so much on these systems. So Stoll called some of the people at the CIA. The FBI and NSA were also involved and before long, German authorities arrested the hacker.

Markus Hess, whose handle was Urmel, was a German hacker who we now think broke into over 400 military computers in the 80s. It wasn’t just one person though. Dirk-Otto Brezinski, or DOB, Hans Hübner, or Pengo, and Karl Koch, or Pengo were also involved. And not only had they stolen secrets, but they’d sold them to The KGB using Peter Carl as a handler.

Back in 1985, Koch was part of a small group of hackers who founded the Computer-Stammtisch in Hanover. That later became the Hanover chapter of the Chaos Computer Club. Hübner and Koch confessed, which gave them espionage amnesty - important in a place with so much of that going around in the 70s and 80s. He would be found burned by gasoline to death and while it was reported a suicide, that has very much been disputed - especially given that it happened shortly before the trials.

DOB and Urmel received a couple years of probation for their part in the espionage, likely less of a sentence given that the investigations took time and the Berlin Wall came down the year they were sentenced.

Hübner’s story and interrogation is covered in a book called Cyberpunk - which tells the same story from the side of the hackers. This includes passing into East Germany with magnetic tapes, working with handlers, sex, drugs, and hacker-esque rock and roll. I think I initially read the books a decade apart but would strongly recommend reading Part II of it either immediately before or after The Cukoo’s Egg.

It’s interesting how a bunch of kids just having fun can become something far more. Similar stories were happening all over the world - another book called The Hacker Crackdown tells of many, many of these stories. Real cyberpunk stories told by one of the great cyberpunk authors. And it continues through to the modern era, except with much larger stakes than ever.

Gorbachev may have worked to dismantle some of the more dangerous aspects of these security apparatuses, but Putin has certainly worked hard to build them up. Russian-sponsored and other state-sponsored rings of hackers continue to probe the Internet, delving into every little possible hole they can find. China hacks Google in 2009, Iran hits casinos, the US hits Iranian systems to disable centrifuges, and the list goes on. You see, these kids were stealing secrets - but after the Morris Worm brought the Internet to its knees in 1988, we started to realize how powerful the networks were becoming.

But it all started with 75 cents. Because when it comes to security, there’s no amount or event too small to look into.


- How long to wait on a project? ; Dragon Meetup ; Review of Pooyan

    The CoCo Crew Podcast 11/30/2021

Episode 78 Show Notes -- http://cococrew.org/cococrew-podcast-78.html


The oN-Line System, Part 2

    Advent of Computing 11/29/2021

NLS, or the oN-Line System, is often looked at as a mile marker in the development of modern computing. It was the first system to use a mouse, one of the first functional examples of hypertext, pioneered remote collaboration, and so much more. But how much do you know about NLS itself? In this series of episode I'm picking apart the system behind the legend.
In Part 2 we are looking at the development of NLS itself. Along the way we talk timesharing, strange custom hardware, and complex programming practices. Does NLS live up to the hype? You'll have to listen to find out.
Selected Sources:
https://dougengelbart.org/content/view/374/ - Go watch the Mother of All Demos
https://www.dougengelbart.org/content/view/140/ - 1968 NLS progress report
http://web.archive.org/web/20160210002938/https://web.stanford.edu/dept/SUL/library/extra4/sloan/mousesite/EngelbartPapers/B2_F5_ARNAS1.html - 1966 progress report


Buying All The Things On Black Friday and Cyber Monday

    The History of Computing 11/26/2021

The Friday after Thanksgiving to the Monday afterwards is a bonanza of shopping in the United States, where capitalism runs wild with reckless abandon. It’s almost a symbol of a society whose identity is as intertwined with with rampant consumerism as it is with freedom and democracy. We are free to spend all our gold pieces.

And once upon a time, we went back to work on Monday and looked for a raise or bonus to help replenish the coffers. But since fast internet connections started to show up in offices in the late 90s the commodification of holiday shopping, the very digitization of materialism.

But how did it come to be? The term Black Friday goes back to a financial crisis in 1869 after Jay Gould and Jim Fisk tried to corner the market on Gold. That backfired and led to a Wall Street crash in September of that year. As the decades rolled by, Americans in the suburbs of urban centers had more and more disposable income and flocked to city centers the day after Thanksgiving. Finally, by 1961, the term showed up in Philadelphia where turmoil over the holiday shopping extravaganza inside.

And so as economic downturns throughout the 60s and 70s gave way to the 1980s, the term spread slowly across the country until marketers, decided to use it to their advantage and run sales just on that day. Especially the big chains that were by now in cities where the term was common.

And many retailers spent the rest of the year in the red and made back all of their money over the holidays - thus they got in the black. The term went from a negative to a positive.

Stores opened earlier and earlier on Friday. Some even unlocking the doors at midnight after shoppers got a nice nap in following stuffing their faces with turkey the earlier in the day.

As the Internet exploded in the 90s and buying products online picked up steam, marketers of online e-commerce platforms wanted in on the action. See, they considered brick and mortar to be mortal competition. Most of them should have been looking over their shoulder at Amazon rising, but that’s another episode.

And so Cyber Monday was born in 2005 when the National Retail Federation launched the term to the world in a press release. And who wanted to be standing in line outside a retail store at midnight on Friday? Especially when the first Wii was released by Nintendo that year and was sold out everywhere early Friday morning. But come Cyber Monday it was all over the internet. Not only that, but one of Amazon’s top products that year was the iPod. And the DS Lite. And World of Warcraft. Oh and that was the same year Tickle Me Elmo was sold out everywhere. But available on the Internets. The online world closed the holiday out at just shy of half a billion dollars in sales. But they were just getting started.

And I’ve always thought it was kitschy. And yet I joined in with the rest of them when I started getting all those emails. Because opt-in campaigns were exploding as e-tailers honed those skills at appealing to not wanting to be the worst parent in the world. And Cyber Monday grew year over year. Even as the Great Recession came and has since grown first to a billion dollar shopping day in 2010 and as brick and mortar companies jumped in on the action, $4 billion by 2017, $6 billion in 2018, and nearly $8 billion in 2019.

As Covid-19 spread and people stayed home during the 2020 holiday shopping season, revenues from Cyber Monday grew 15% over the previous year, hitting $10.8 billion. But it came at the cost of brick and mortar sales, which fell nearly 24% over the same time a year prior. I guess it kinda’ did, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

Seeing the success of the Cyber Monday marketers, American Express launched Small Business Saturday in 2010, hoping to lure shoppers into small businesses that accepted their cards. And who doesn’t love small businesses? Politicians flocked into malls in support, including President Obama in 2011. And by 2012, spending was over $5 billion on Small Business Saturday, and grew to just shy of $20 billion in 2020. To put that into perspective, Georgia, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Jamaica, Niger, Armenia, Haiti, Mongolia, and dozens of other countries have smaller GDPs than just one shopping day in the US.

Brick and mortar stores are increasingly part of online shopping. Buy online, pick up curb-side. But that trend goes back to the early 2000s when Walmart was a bigger player on Cyber Monday than Amazon. That changed in 2008 and Walmart fought back with Cyber Week, stretching the field in 2009. Target said “us too” in 2010. And everyone in between hopped in. The sales start at least a week early and spread from online to retail in person with hundreds of emails flooding my inbox at this point. This year, Americans are expected to spend over $36 billion during the weekend from Black Friday to Cyber Monday. And the split between all the sales is pretty much indistinguishable. Who knows or to some degrees cares what bucket each gets placed in at this point.

Something else was happening in the decades as Black Friday spread to consume the other days around the Thanksgiving holiday: intensifying globalization. Products flooding into the US from all over the world. Some cheap, some better than what is made locally. Some awesome. Some completely unnecessary. It’s a land of plenty. And yet, does it make us happy? My kid enjoyed playing with an empty toilet paper roll just as much as a Furby. And loved the original Xbox just as much as the Switch. I personally need less and to be honest want less as I get older. And yet I still find myself getting roped into spending too much on people at the holidays.

Maybe we should create “experience Sunday” where instead of buying material goods, we facilitate free experiences for our loved ones. Because I’m pretty sure they’d rather have that than another ugly pair of holiday socks. Actually, that reminds me: I have some of those in my cart on Amazon so I should wrap this up as they can deliver it tonight if I hurry up.

So this Thanksgiving I’m thankful that I and my family are healthy and happy. I’m thankful to be able to do things I love. I’m thankful for my friends. And I’m thankful to all of you for staying with us as we turn another page into the 2022 year. I hope you have a lovely holiday season and have plenty to be thankful for as well. Because you deserve it.


An Abridged History of Free And Open Source Software

    The History of Computing 11/24/2021

In the previous episodes, we looked at the rise of patents and software and their impact on the nascent computer industry. But a copyright is a right. And that right can be given to others in whole or in part. We have all benefited from software where the right to copy was waved and it’s shaped the computing industry as much, if not more, than proprietary software.

The term Free and Open Source Software (FOSS for short) is a blanket term to describe software that’s free and/or whose source code is distributed for varying degrees of tinkeration. It’s a movement and a choice. Programmers can commercialize our software. But we can also distribute it free of copy protections. And there are about as many licenses as there are opinions about what is unique, types of software, underlying components, etc. But given that many choose to commercialize their work products, how did a movement arise that specifically didn’t?

The early computers were custom-built to perform various tasks. Then computers and software were bought as a bundle and organizations could edit the source code. But as operating systems and languages evolved and businesses wanted their own custom logic, a cottage industry for software started to emerge. We see this in every industry - as an innovation becomes more mainstream, the expectations and needs of customers progress at an accelerated rate.

That evolution took about 20 years to happen following World War II and by 1969, the software industry had evolved to the point that IBM faced antitrust charges for bundling software with hardware. And after that, the world of software would never be the same.

The knock-on effect was that in the 1970s, Bell Labs pushed away from MULTICS and developed Unix, which AT&T then gave away as compiled code to researchers. And so proprietary software was a growing industry, which AT&T began charging for commercial licenses as the bushy hair and sideburns of the 70s were traded for the yuppy culture of the 80s. In the meantime, software had become copyrightable due to the findings of CONTU and the codifying of the Copyright Act of 1976.

Bill Gates sent his infamous “Open Letter to Hobbyists” in 1976 as well, defending the right to charge for software in an exploding hobbyist market. And then Apple v Franklin led to the ability to copyright compiled code in 1983. There was a growing divide between those who’d been accustomed to being able to copy software freely and edit source code and those who in an up-market sense just needed supported software that worked - and were willing to pay for it, seeing the benefits that automation was having on the capabilities to scale an organization.

And yet there were plenty who considered copyright software immoral. One of the best remembered is Richard Stallman, or RMS for short. Steven Levy described Stallman as “The Last of the True Hackers” in his epic book “Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution.” In the book, he describes the MIT Stallman joined where there weren’t passwords and we didn’t yet pay for software and then goes through the emergence of the LISP language and the divide that formed between Richard Greenblatt, who wanted to keep The Hacker Ethic alive and those who wanted to commercialize LISP. The Hacker Ethic was born from the young MIT students who freely shared information and ideas with one another and help push forward computing in an era they thought was purer in a way, as though it hadn’t yet been commercialized.

The schism saw the death of the hacker culture and two projects came out of Stallman’s technical work: emacs, which is a text editor that is still included freely in most modern Unix variants and the GNU project. Here’s the thing, MIT was sitting on patents for things like core memory and thrived in part due to the commercialization or weaponization of the technology they were producing. The industry was maturing and since the days when kings granted patents, maturing technology would be commercialized using that system.

And so Stallman’s nostalgia gave us the GNU project, born from an idea that the industry moved faster in the days when information was freely shared and that knowledge was meant to be set free. For example, he wanted the source code for a printer driver so he could fix it and was told it was protected by an NDAQ and so couldn’t have it. A couple of years later he announced GNU, a recursive acronym for GNU’s Not Unix. The next year he built a compiler called GCC and the next year released the GNU Manifesto, launching the Free Software Foundation, often considered the charter of the free and open source software movement.

Over the next few years as he worked on GNU, he found emacs had a license, GCC had a license, and the rising tide of free software was all distributed with unique licenses. And so the GNU General Public License was born in 1989 - allowing organizations and individuals to copy, distribute, and modify software covered under the license but with a small change, that if someone modified the source, they had to release that with any binaries they distributed as well.

The University of California, Berkley had benefited from a lot of research grants over the years and many of their works could be put into the public domain. They had brought Unix in from Bell Labs in the 70s and Sun cofounder and Java author Bill Joy worked under professor Fabry, who brought Unix in. After working on a Pascal compiler that Unix coauthor Ken Thompson left for Berkeley, Joy and others started working on what would become BSD, not exactly a clone of Unix but with interchangeable parts. They bolted on the OSI model to get networking and through the 80s as Joy left for Sun and DEC got ahold of that source code there were variants and derivatives like FreeBSD, NetBSD, Darwin, and others. The licensing was pretty permissive and simple to understand:

Copyright (c) . All rights reserved.
Redistribution and use in source and binary forms are permitted provided that the above copyright notice and this paragraph are duplicated in all such forms and that any documentation, advertising materials, and other materials related to such distribution and use acknowledge that the software was developed by the . The name of the may not be used to endorse or promote products derived from this software without specific prior written permission.
THIS SOFTWARE IS PROVIDED ``AS IS AND WITHOUT ANY EXPRESS OR IMPLIED WARRANTIES, INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION, THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE.

By 1990 the Board of Regents at Berkley accepted a four clause BSD license that spawned a class of licenses. While it’s matured into other formats like a 0 clause license it’s one of my favorites as it is truest to the FOSS cause.

And the 90s gave us the Apache License, from the Apache Group, loosely based on the BSD License and then in 2004 leaning away from that with the release of the Apache License 2 that was more compatible with the GPL license. Given the modding nature of Apache they didn’t require derivative works to also be open sourced but did require leaving the license in place for unmodified parts of the original work.

GNU never really caught on as an OS in the mainstream, although a collection of tools did. The main reason the OS didn’t go far is probably because Linus Torvalds started releasing prototypes of his Linux operating system in 1991. Torvalds used The GNU General Public License v2, or GPLv2 to license his kernel, having been inspired by a talk given by Stallman. GPL 2 had been released in 1991 and something else was happening as we turned into the 1990s: the Internet. Suddenly the software projects being worked on weren’t just distributed on paper tape or floppy disks; they could be downloaded. The rise of Linux and Apache coincided and so many a web server and site ran that LAMP stack with MySQL and PHP added in there. All open source in varying flavors of what open source was at the time.

And collaboration in the industry was at an all-time high. We got the rise of teams of developers who would edit and contribute to projects. One of these was a tool for another aspect of the Internet, email. It was called popclient, Here Eric S Raymond, or ESR for short, picked it up and renamed it to fetchmail, releasing it as an open source project.

Raymond presented on his work at the Linux Congress in 1997, expanded that work into an essay and then the essay into “The Cathedral and the Bazaar” where bazaar is meant to be like an open market. That inspired many to open source their own works, including the Netscape team, which resulted in Mozilla and so Firefox - and another book called “Freeing the Source: The Story of Mozilla” from O’Reilly.

By then, Tim O’Reilly was a huge proponent of this free or source code available type of software as it was known. And companies like VA Linux were growing fast. And many wanted to congeal around some common themes. So in 1998, Christine Peterson came up with the term “open source” in a meeting with Raymond, Todd Anderson, Larry Augustin, Sam Ockman, and Jon “Maddog” Hall, author of the first book I read on Linux. Free software it may or may not be but open source as a term quickly proliferated throughout the lands.

By 1998 there was this funny little company called Tivo that was doing a public beta of a little box with a Linux kernel running on it that bootstrapped a pretty GUI to record TV shows on a hard drive on the box and play them back. You remember when we had to wait for a TV show, right? Or back when some super-fancy VCRs could record a show at a specific time to VHS (but mostly failed for one reason or another)? Well, Tivo meant to fix that. We did an episode on them a couple of years ago but we skipped the term Tivoization and the impact they had on GPL.

As the 90s came to a close, VA Linux and Red Hat went through great IPOs, bringing about an era where open source could mean big business. And true to the cause, they shared enough stock with Linus Torvalds to make him a millionaire as well. And IBM pumped a billion dollars into open source, with Sun moving to open source openoffice.org. Now, what really happened there might be that by then Microsoft had become too big for anyone to effectively compete with and so they all tried to pivot around to find a niche, but it still benefited the world and open source in general.

By Y2K there was a rapidly growing number of vendors out there putting Linux kernels onto embedded devices. TiVo happened to be one of the most visible. Some in the Linux community felt like they were being taken advantage of because suddenly you had a vendor making changes to the kernel but their changes only worked on their hardware and they blocked users from modifying the software. So The Free Software Foundation updated GPL, bundling in some other minor changes and we got the GNU General Public License (Version 3) in 2006.

There was a lot more in GPL 3, given that so many organizations were involved in open source software by then. Here, the full license text and original copyright notice had to be included along with a statement of significant changes and making source code available with binaries. And commercial Unix variants struggled with SGI going bankrupt in 2006 and use of AIX and HP-UX

Many of these open source projects flourished because of version control systems and the web. SourceForge was created by VA Software in 1999 and is a free service that can be used to host open source projects. Concurrent Versions System, or CVS had been written by Dick Grune back in 1986 and quickly became a popular way to have multiple developers work on projects, merging diffs of code repositories. That gave way to git in the hearts of many a programmer after Linus Torvalds wrote a new versioning system called git in 2005. GitHub came along in 2008 and was bought by Microsoft in 2018 for 2018.

Seeing a need for people to ask questions about coding, Stack Overflow was created by Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky in 2008. Now, we could trade projects on one of the versioning tools, get help with projects or find smaller snippets of sample code on Stack Overflow, or even Google random things (and often find answers on Stack Overflow). And so social coding became a large part of many a programmers day. As did dependency management, given how many tools are used to compile a modern web app or app. I often wonder how much of the code in many of our favorite tools is actually original.

Another thought is that in an industry dominated by white males, it’s no surprise that we often gloss over previous contributions. It was actually Grace Hopper’s A-2 compiler that was the first software that was released freely with source for all the world to adapt. Sure, you needed a UNIVAC to run it, and so it might fall into the mainframe era and with the emergence of minicomputers we got Digital Equipment’s DECUS for sharing software, leading in part to the PDP-inspired need for source that Stallman was so adamant about. General Motors developed SHARE Operating System for the IBM 701 and made it available through the IBM user group called SHARE. The ARPAnet was free if you could get to it. TeX from Donald Knuth was free. The BASIC distribution from Dartmouth was academic and yet Microsoft sold it for up to $100,000 a license (see Commodore ). So it’s no surprise that people avoided paying upstarts like Microsoft for their software or that it took until the late 70s to get copyright legislation and common law.

But Hopper’s contributions were kinda’ like open source v1, the work from RMS to Linux was kinda’ like open source v2, and once the term was coined and we got the rise of a name and more social coding platforms from SourceForge to git, we moved into a third version of the FOSS movement. Today, some tools are free, some are open source, some are free as in beer (as you find in many a gist), some are proprietary. All are valid.

Today there are also about as many licenses as there are programmers putting software out there. And here’s the thing, they’re all valid. You see, every creator has the right to restrict the ability to copy their software. After all, it’s their intellectual property. Anyone who chooses to charge for their software is well within their rights. Anyone choosing to eschew commercialization also has that right. And every derivative in between. I wouldn’t judge anyone based on any model those choose. Just as those who distribute proprietary software shouldn’t be judged for retaining their rights to do so.

Why not just post things we want to make free? Patents, copyrights, and trademarks are all a part of intellectual property - but as developers of tools we also need to limit our liability as we’re probably not out there buying large errors and omissions insurance policies for every script or project we make freely available. Also, we might want to limit the abuse of our marks. For example, Linus Torvalds monitors the use of the Linux mark through the Linux Mark Institute. Apparently some William Dell Croce Jr tried to register the Linux trademark in 1995 and Torvalds had to sue to get it back. He provides use of the mark using a free and perpetual global sublicense. Given that his wife won the Finnish karate championship six times I wouldn’t be messing with his trademarks.

Thank you to all the creators out there. Thank you for your contributions. And thank you for tuning in to this episode of the History of Computing Podcast. Have a great day.


Wise Guy - Give and You Might Receive (1994)

    Mac Folklore Radio 11/24/2021

Guy suggests Christmas gifts for figures in the Macintosh world circa 1993.

Apple Board of Directors interview clip from the Macworld Boston 1997 keynote, the most depressing Apple keynote on record excluding every smarmy self-congratulatory Tim Cook keynote ever.

Hard Drive by David Pogue is out of print but available from used booksellers.

Original text from Macworld, January 1994.


Perl, Larry Wall, and Camels

    The History of Computing 11/21/2021

Perl was started by Larry Wall in 1987. Unisys had just released the 2200 series and only a few years stopped using the name UNIVAC for any of their mainframes. They merged with Burroughs the year before to form Unisys. The 2200 was a continuation of the 36-bit UNIVAC 1107, which went all the way back to 1962. Wall was one of the 100,000 employees that helped bring in over 10 and a half billion in revenues, making Unisys the second largest computing company in the world at the time.

They merged just in time for the mainframe market to start contracting.

Wall had grown up in LA and Washington and went to grad school at the University of California at Berkeley. He went to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory after Grad School and then landed at System Development Corporation, which had spun out of the SAGE missile air defense system in 1955 and merged into Burroughs in 1986, becoming Unisys Defense Systems.

The Cold War had been good to Burroughs after SDC built the timesharing components of the AN/FSQ-32 and the JOVIAL programming language. But changes were coming. Unix System V had been released in 1983 and by 1986 there was a rivalry with BSD, which had been spun out of UC - Berkeley where Wall went to school. And by then AT&T had built up the Unix System Development Laboratory, so Unix was no longer just a language for academics.

Wall had some complicated text manipulation to program on these new Unix system and as many of us have run into, when we exceed a certain amount of code, awk becomes unwieldy - both from a sheer amount of impossible to read code and from a runtime perspective. Others were running into the same thing and so he got started on a new language he named Practical Extraction And Report Language, or Perl for short. Or maybe it stands for Pathologically Eclectic Rubbish Lister. Only Wall could know.

The rise of personal computers gave way to the rise of newsgroups, and NNTP went to the IETF to become an Internet Draft in RFC 977. People were posting tools to this new medium and Wall posted his little Perl project to comp.sources.unix in 1988, quickly iterating to Perl 2 where he added the languages form of regular expressions. This is when Perl became one of the best programming languages for text processing and regular expressions available at the time.

Another quick iteration came when more and more people were trying to write arbitrary data into objects with the rise of byte-oriented binary streams. This allowed us to not only read data from text streams, terminated by newline characters, but to read and write with any old characters we wanted to. And so the era of socket-based client-server technologies was upon us. And yet, Perl would become even more influential in the next wave of technology as it matured alongside the web.

In the meantime, adoption was increasing and the only real resource to learn Perl was a the manual, or man, page. So Wall worked with Randal Schwartz to write Programming Perl for O’Reilly press in 1991. O’Reilly has always put animals on the front of their books and this one came with a Camel on it. And so it became known as “the pink camel” due to the fact that the art was pink and later the art was blue and so became just “the Camel book”. The book became the primary reference for Perl programmers and by then the web was on the rise. Yet perl was still more of a programming language for text manipulation. And yet most of what we did as programmers at the time was text manipulation.

Linux came around in 1991 as well. Those working on these projects probably had no clue what kind of storm was coming with the web, written in 1990, Linux, written in 1991, php in 1994, and mysql written in 1995. It was an era of new languages to support new ways of programming. But this is about Perl - whose fate is somewhat intertwined.

Perl 4 came in 1993. It was modular, so you could pull in external libraries of code. And so CPAN came along that year as well. It’s a repository of modules written in Perl and then dropped into a location on a file system that was set at the time perl was compiled, like /usr/lib/perl5. CPAN covers far more libraries than just perl, but there are now over a quarter million packages available, with mirrors on every continent except Antartica.

That second edition coincided with the release of Perl 5 and was published in 1996. The changes to the language had slowed down for a bit, but Perl 5 saw the addition of packages, objects, references, and the authors added Tom Christiansen to help with the ever-growing camel book. Perl 5 also brought the extension system we think of today - somewhat based off the module system in Linux. That meant we could load the base perl into memory and call those extensions.

Meanwhile, the web had been on the rise and one aspect of the power of the web was that while there were front-ends that were stateless, cookies had come along to maintain a user state. Given the variety of systems html was able to talk to mod_perl came along in 1996, from Gisle Was and others started working on ways to embed perl into pages.

Ken Coar chaired a working group in 1997 to formalize the concept of the Common Gateway Interface. Here, we’d have a common way to call external programs from web servers. The era of web interactivity was upon us. Pages that were constructed on the fly could call scripts. And much of what was being done was text manipulation.

One of the powerful aspects of Perl was that you didn’t have to compile. It was interpreted and yet dynamic. This meant a source control system could push changes to a site without uploading a new jar - as had to be done with a language like Java. And yet, object-oriented programming is weird in perl. We bless an object and then invoke them with arrow syntax, which is how Perl locates subroutines. That got fixed in Perl 6, but maybe 20 years too late to use a dot notation as is the case in Java and Python.

Perl 5.6 was released in 2000 and the team rewrote the camel book from the ground up in the 3rd edition, adding Jon Orwant to the team. This is also when they began the design process for Perl 6. By then the web was huge and those mod_perl servlets or CGI scripts were, along with PHP and other ways of developing interactive sites, becoming common. And because of CGI, we didn’t have to give the web server daemons access to too many local resources and could swap languages in and out. There are more modern ways now, but nearly every site needed CGI enabled back then.

Perl wasn’t just used in web programming. I’ve piped a lot of shell scripts out to perl over the years and used perl to do complicated regular expressions. Linux, Mac OS X, and other variants that followed Unix System V supported using perl in scripting and as an interpreter for stand-alone scripts. But I do that less and less these days as well.

The rapid rise of the web mean that a lot of languages slowed in their development. There was too much going on, too much code being developed, too few developers to work on the open source or open standards for a project like Perl. Or is it that Python came along and represented a different approach with modules in python created to do much of what Perl had done before?

Perl saw small slow changes. Python moved much more quickly. More modules came faster, and object-oriented programming techniques hadn’t been retrofitted into the language. As the 2010s came to a close, machine learning was on the rise and many more modules were being developed for Python than for Perl.

Either way, the fourth edition of the Camel Book came in 2012, when Unicode and multi-threading was added to Perl. Now with Brian Foy as a co-author. And yet, Perl 6 sat in a “it’s coming so soon” or “it’s right around the corner” or “it’s imminent” for over a decade.

Then 2019 saw Perl 6 finally released. It was renamed to Raku - given how big a change was involved. They’d opened up requests for comments all the way back in 2000. The aim was to remove what they considered historical warts, that the rest of us might call technical debt. Rather than a camel, they gave it a mascot called Camelia, the Raku Bug.

Thing is, Perl had a solid 10% market share for languages around 20 years ago. It was a niche langue maybe, but that popularity has slowly fizzled out and appears to be on a short resurgence with the introduction of 6 - but one that might just be temporary.

One aspect I’ve always loved about programming is the second we’re done with anything, we think of it as technical debt. Maybe the language or server matures. Maybe the business logic matures. Maybe it’s just our own skills. This means we’re always rebuilding little pieces of our code - constantly refining as we go. If we’re looking at Perl 6 today we have to look at whether we want to try and do something in Python 3 or another language - or try and just update Perl. If Perl isn’t being used in very many micro-services then given the compliance requirements to use each tool in our stack, it becomes somewhat costly to think of improving our craft with Perl rather than looking to use possibly more expensive solutions at runtime, but less expensive to maintain.

I hope Perl 6 grows and thrives and is everything we wanted it to be back in the early 2000s. It helped so much in an era and we owe the team that built it and all those modules so much. I’ll certainly be watching adoption with fingers crossed that it doesn’t fade away. Especially since I still have a few perl-based lamda functions out there that I’d have to rewrite. And I’d like to keep using Perl for them!


ThrowBoy and Iconic Pillow Collection 2

    RetroMacCast 11/21/2021

James and John discuss eBay Finds: Picasso Mac book cover, Macintosh IIfx, and Mac SE balloons. They chat to Roberto Hoyos from ThrowBoy about Iconic Pillow Collection 2, and news includes  Apple's Self Service Repair, and Dave's Vintage Apple Tech install of Sorbet Leopard.

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MacCatalogWorld

    RetroMacCast 11/21/2021

James and John discuss eBay Finds: Power Mac 4400, Through the Looking Glass, and 1998: The Year of Thinking Different. They look back at November 1991 in Macworld magazine, and news includes the Chaffey College Apple 1 auction and new ThrowBoy Kickstarter.

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MacVision

    RetroMacCast 11/21/2021

James and John discuss eBay Finds: Macintosh TV, and MacVision, Apple service sign. John demos the MacVision video digitizer, and news includes Adam Rosen's collection update and Super Mario Kart for Mac.

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Tinker Different

    RetroMacCast 11/21/2021

James and Steve (Mac84) discuss eBay Finds: dual SCSI enclosure, M0110A keyboard, and Apple game paddles. Steve talks about Tinker Different, and news includes Steve's trip to VCF East.

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Ep. 31: Dec 1982: Magazines, Part 1

    Player/Missile 11/19/2021

Coverage of Antic, Compute!, Creative Computing, Dec 1982. Chris Crawford on Legionnaire, first rumors of the IBM PCjr, and two articles predicting the future: Compute! does OK while Creative Computing gets a bunch of whammies. Also: Bullwinkle’s restaurant, sexism and mansplaining about whether educational software should ask kids their gender, and Bahrain doctors, video games & epilepsy.

Production Notes


The oN-Line System, Part 1

    Advent of Computing 11/15/2021

NLS, or the oN-Line System, is often looked at as a mile marker in the development of modern computing. It was the first system to use a mouse, one of the first functional examples of hypertext, pioneered remote collaboration, and so much more. But how much do you know about NLS itself? In this series of episode I'm picking apart the system behind the legend.
Part 1 deals primarily with the early roots of NLS, Augmenting Human Intellect, and Doug Engelbart's vision of hypertext. Surprisingly, a lot of this episode has to do with punch cards and a more obscure related technology: the edge notched card.
Selected Sources:
https://dougengelbart.org/content/view/138 - Augmenting Human Intellect
https://americanhistory.si.edu/comphist/englebar.htm - Engelbart Oral History, with the Smithsonian


Workgroup Server 4822

    RetroMacCast 11/14/2021

James and John discuss eBay Finds: Apple banner, original iPod, and Say hello to iPod banner. John shows us his recapped compact Macs, and news includes the iPod 20th birthday and recent Apple announcements.

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The Von Neumann Architecture

    The History of Computing 11/12/2021

John Von Neumann was born in Hungary at the tail end of the Astro-Hungarian Empire. The family was made a part of the nobility and as a young prodigy in Budapest, He learned languages and by 8 years old was doing calculus. By 17 he was writing papers on polynomials. He wrote his dissertation in 1925 he added to set theory with the axiom of foundation and the notion of class, or properties shared by members of a set. He worked on the minimax theorem in 1928, the proof of which established zero-sum games and started another discipline within math, game theory. By 1929 he published the axiom system that led to Von Neumann–Bernays–Gödel set theory.

And by 1932 he’d developed foundational work on ergodic theory which would evolve into a branch of math that looks at the states of dynamical systems, where functions can describe a points time dependence in space. And so he of course penned a book on quantum mechanics the same year.

Did we mention he was smart and given the way his brain worked it made sense that he would eventually gravitate into computing. He went to the best schools with other brilliant scholars who would go on to be called the Martians. They were all researching new areas that required more and more computing - then still done by hand or a combination of hand and mechanical calculators.

The Martians included De Hevesy, who won a Nobel prize for Chemistry. Von Kármán got the National Medal of Science and a Franklin Award. Polanyl developed the theory of knowledge and the philosophy of science. Paul Erdős was a brilliant mathematician who published over 1,500 articles. Edward Teller is known as the father of the hydrogen bomb, working on nuclear energy throughout his life and lobbying for the Strategic Defense Initiative, or Star Wars.

Dennis Gabor wrote Inventing the Future and won a Nobel Prize in Physics. Eugene Wigner also took home a Nobel Prize in Physics and a National Medal of Science. Leo Szilard took home an Albert Einstein award for his work on nuclear chain reactions and joined in the Manhattan Project as a patent holder for a nuclear reactor. Physicists and brilliant scientists. And here’s a key component to the explosion in science following World War II: many of them fled to the United States and other western powers because they were Jewish, to get away from the Nazis, or to avoid communists controlling science.

And then there was Harsanyl, Halmos, Goldmark, Franz Alexander, Orowan, and John Kemeny who gave us BASIC. They all contributed to the world we live in today - but von Neumann sometimes hid how smart he was, preferring to not show just how much arithmetic computed through his head.

He was married twice and loved fast cars, fine food, bad jokes, and was an engaging and enigmatic figure. He studied measure theory and broke dimension theory into algebraic operators. He studied topological groups, operator algebra, spectral theory, functional analysis and abstract Hilbert space. Geometry and Lattice theory. As with other great thinkers, some of his work has stood the test of time and some has had gaps filled with other theories. And then came the Manhattan project. Here, he helped develop explosive lenses - a key component to the nuclear bomb.

Along the way he worked on economics and fluid mechanics. And of course, he theorized and worked out the engineering principals for really big explosions. He was a commissioner of the Atomic Energy Commission and at the height of the Cold War after working out game theory, developed the concept of mutually assured destruction - giving the world hydrogen bombs and ICBMs and reducing the missile gap. Hard to imagine but at the times the Soviets actually had a technical lead over the US, which was proven true when they launched Sputnik. As with the other Martians, he fought Communism and Fasciscm until his death - which won him a Medal of Freedom from then president Eisenhower.

His friend Stanislaw Ulam developed the modern Markov Chain Monte Carlo method and Von Neumann got involved in computing to work out those calculations. This combined with where his research lay landed him as an early power user of ENIAC. He actually heard about the machine at a station while waiting for a train. He’d just gotten home from England and while we will never know if he knew of the work Turing was doing on Colossus at Bletchley Park, we do know that he offered Turing a job at the Institute for Advanced Study that he was running in Princeton before World War II and had read Turing’s papers, including “On Computable Numbers” and understood the basic concepts of stored programs - and breaking down the logic into zeros and ones.

He discussed using ENIAC to compute over 333 calculations per second. He could do a lot in his head, but he wasn’t that good of a computer. His input was taken and when Eckert and Mauchly went from ENIAC to EDVAC, or the Electronic Discrete Variable Calculator, the findings were published in a paper called “First Draft of a Report on the EDVAC” - a foundational paper in computing for a number of reasons.

One is that Mauchly and Eckert had an entrepreneurial spirit and felt that not only should their names have been on the paper but that it was probably premature and so they quickly filed a patent in 1945, even though some of what they told him that went into the paper helped to invalidate the patent later. They considered these trade secrets and didn’t share in von Neumann’s idea that information must be set free.

In the paper lies an important contribution, Von Neumann broke down the parts of a modern computer. He set the information for how these would work free. He broke down the logical blocks of how a computer works into the modern era. How once we strip away the electromechanical computers that a fully digital machine works. Inputs go into a Central Processing Unit, which has an instruction register, a clock to keep operations and data flow in sync, and a counter - it does the math. It then uses quick-access memory, which we’d call Random Access Memory, or RAM today, to make processing data instructions faster. And it would use long-term memory for operations that didn’t need to be as highly available to the CPU. This should sound like a pretty familiar way to architect devices at this point.

The result would be sent to an output device. Think of a modern Swift app for an iPhone - the whole of what the computer did could be moved into a single wafer once humanity worked out how first transistors and then multiple transistors on a single chip worked.

Yet another outcome of the paper was to inspire Turing and others to work on computers after the war. Turing named his ACE or Automatic Computing Engine out of respect to Charles Babbage. That led to the addition of storage to computers. After all, punched tape was used for Colossus during the war and and punched cards and tape had been around for awhile. It’s ironic that we think of memory as ephemeral data storage and storage as more long-term storage. But that’s likely more to do with the order these scientific papers came out than anything - and homage to the impact each had.

He’d write The Computer and the Brain, Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics, The Theory of Games and Economic Behavior, Continuous Geometry, and other books. He also studied DNA and cognition and weather systems, inferring we could predict the results of climate change and possibly even turn back global warming - which by 1950 when he was working on it was already acknowledged by scientists. As with many of the early researchers in nuclear physics, he died of cancer - invoking Pascal’s wager on his deathbed. He died in 1957 - just a few years too early to get a Nobel Prize in one of any number of fields.

One of my favorite aspects of Von Neumann was that he was a lifelong lover of history. He was a hacker - bouncing around between subjects. And he believed in human freedom. So much so that this wealthy and charismatic pseudo-aristocrat would dedicate his life to the study of knowledge and public service. So thank you for the Von Neumann Architecture and breaking computing down into ways that it couldn’t be wholesale patented too early to gain wide adoption. And thank you for helping keep the mutually assured destruction from happening and for inspiring generations of scientists in so many fields. I’m stoked to be alive and not some pile of nuclear dust. And to be gainfully employed in computing. He had a considerable impact in both.


Maxed-Out Visa Card

    RetroMacCast 11/7/2021

James and John discuss eBay Finds: Moof beer, WGS 9150, and Kyoto Apple Store t-shirt. They look back at October 2001 in MacAddict magazine, and news includes an Apple IIc flat panel and RetroChallenge 2021.

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Open Apple #81: Remembering Tony Diaz

    Open Apple 11/6/2021

For decades, Tony Diaz held the record of the only person to have attended every KansasFest. Whether at that convention, on the comp.sys.apple2 Usenet newsgroup, or on his livestreams, he would share his comprehensive knowledge of Apple II hardware and demo the rare prototypes in his vast collection. When KansasFest lost its home at Avila READ MORE

The post Open Apple #81: Remembering Tony Diaz first appeared on Open Apple.


Getting Fit With Fitbit

    The History of Computing 11/5/2021

Fitbit was founded in 2007, originally as Healthy Metrics Research, Inc, by James Park and Eric Friedman. They had a goal to bring fitness trackers to market. They didn’t invent the pedometer and in fact wanted to go far further. That prize goes to Abraham-Louis Perrelet of Switzerland in 1780 or possibly back to da Vinci. And there are stories of calculating the distance armies moved using various mechanisms that used automations based on steps or the spinning of wagon wheels.

The era of wearables arguably began in 1953 when the transistor radio showed up and Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka started Sony. People started to get accustomed to carrying around technology. 1961 and Claude Shannon and Edward Thorp build a small computer to time when balls would land in roulette. Which they put in a shoe. Meanwhile sensors that could detect motion and the other chips to essentially create a small computer in a watch-sized package were coming down in price.

Apple had already released the Nike+iPod Sports Kit the year before, with a little sensor that went in my running shoes. And Fitbit capitalized on an exploding market for tracking fitness. Apple effectively proved the concept was ready for higher end customers. But remember that while the iPod was incredibly popular at the time, what about everyone else?

Park and Friedman raised $400,000 on the idea in a pre-seed round and built a prototype. No, it wasn’t actually a wearable, it was a bunch of sensors in a wooden box. That enabled them to shop around for more investors to actually finish a marketable device. By 2008 they were ready to take the idea to TechCrunch 50 and Tim O’Reilly and other panelists from TechCrunch loved it. And they picked up a whopping 2,000 pre-release orders.

Only problem is they weren’t exactly ready to take that kind of volume. So they toured suppliers around Asia for months and worked overtime in hotel rooms fixing design and architecture issues. And in 2009 they were finally ready and took 25,000 orders, shipping about one fifth of them.

That device was called the Fitbit Tracker and took on a goal of 10,000 steps that became a popular goal in Japan in the 1960s. It’s a little money-clip sized device with just one button that shows the status towards that 10,000 step goal. And once synchronized we could not only see tons of information about how many calories we burned and other statistics but we could also see

Those first orders were sold directly through the web site. The next batch would be much different, going through Best Buy. The margins selling directly were much better and so they needed to tune those production lines. They went to four stores, then ten times that, then 15 times that.

They announced the Fitbit Ultra in 2011. Here we got a screen that showed a clock but also came with a stopwatch. That would evolve into the Fitbit One in 2012. Bluetooth now allowed us to sync with our phones. That original device would over time evolve to the Zip and then the Inspire Clip.

They grew fast in those first few years and enjoyed a large swathe of the market initially, but any time one vendor proves a market others are quick to fast-follow. The Nike Fuelband came along in 2012. There were also dozens of cheap $15 knock-offs in stores like Fry’s. But those didn’t have nearly as awesome an experience.

A simple experience was the Fitbit Flex, released in 2013. The Fitbit could now be worn on the wrist. It looked more like the original tracker but a little smaller so it could slide in and out of a wristband. It could vibrate so could wake us up and remind us to get up and move. And the Fitbit Force came out that year, which could scroll through information on the screen, like our current step count. But that got some bad press for the nickel used on the device so the Charge came out the next year, doing much of the same stuff. And here we see the price slowly going up from below a hundred dollars to $130 as new models with better accelerometers came along.

In 2014 they released a mobile app for all the major mobile platforms that allowed us to track devices through Bluetooth and opened up a ton of options to show other people our information. Chuck Schumer was concerned about privacy but the options for fitness tracking were about to explode in the other direction, becoming even less private. That’s the same year the LG G Watch came out, sporting a Qualcomm Snapdragon chip. The ocean was getting redder and devices were becoming more like miniature computers that happened to do tracking as well. After Android Wear was released in 2014, now called Wear OS, the ocean was bound to get much, much redder.

And yet, they continued to grow and thrive. They did an IPO, or Initial Public Offering, in 2015 on the back of selling over 21 million devices. They were ready to reach a larger market. Devices were now in stores like Walmart and Target, and they had badges. It was an era of gamification and they were one of the best in the market at that. Walk enough steps to have circumnavigated the sun? There’s a badge for that. Walk the distance of the Nile? There’s a badge for that. Do a round trip to the moon and back? Yup, there’s a badge for that as well.

And we could add friends in the app. Now we could compete to see who got more steps on the day. And of course some people cheated. Once I was wearing a Fitbit on my wrist I got 60,000 steps one day as I painted the kitchen. So we sometimes didn’t even mean to cheat. And an ecosystem had sprung up around Fitbit. Like Fitstar, a personal training coach, which got acquired by Fitbit and rebranded as Fitbit Coach.

2015 was also when the Apple Watch was released. The Apple Watch added many of the same features like badges and similar statistics. By then there were models of the Fitbit that could show who was calling our phone or display a text message we got. And that was certainly part of the Wear OS for of Android. But those other devices were more expensive and Fitbit was still able to own the less expensive part of the market and spend on R&D to still compete at the higher end.

They were flush with cash by 2016 so while selling 22 million more devices, they bought Coin and Pebble that year, taking in technology developed through crowdfunding sources and helping mass market it. That’s the same year we got the Fitbit Alta, effectively merging the Charge and Alta and we got HR models of some devices, which stands for Heart Rate. Yup, they could now track that too.

They bought Vector Watch SRL in 2017, the same year they released the Ionic smartwatch, based somewhat on the technology acquired from Pebble. But the stock took a nosedive, and the market capitalization was cut in half. They added weather to the Ionic and merged that tech with that from the Blaze, released the year before. Here, we see technology changing quickly - Pebble was merged with Blaze but Wear OS from Google and Watch OS from Apple were forcing changes all the faster. The apps on other platforms were a clear gap as were the sensors baked into so many different integrated circuit packages.

But Fitbit could still compete. In 2018 they released a cheaper version of the smartwatch called the Versa. They also released an API that allowed for a considerable amount of third party development, as well as Fitbit OS 3. They also bought Twine Health in 2018

Partnered with Adidas in 2018 for the ionic. Partnered with Blue Cross Blue Shield to reduce insurance rates

2018 released the Charge 3 with oxygen saturation sensors and a 40% larger screen than the Charge 2. From there the products got even more difficult to keep track of, as they poked at every different corner of the market. The Inspire, Inspire HR, Versa 2, Versa Lite, Charge 4, Versa 3, Sense, Inspire 2, Luxe. I wasn’t sure if they were going to figure out the killer device or not when Fitbit was acquired by Google in 2021.

And that’s where their story ends and the story of the ubiquitous ecosystem of Google begins. Maybe they continue with their own kernels or maybe they’re moving all of their devices to WearOS. Maybe Google figures out how to pull together all of their home automation and personal tracking devices into one compelling offer. Now they get to compete with Amazon who now has the Halo to help attack the bottom of the market. Or maybe Google leaves the Fitbit team alone to do what they do.

Fitbit has sold over 100 million devices and sports well over 25 million active users. The Apple Watch surpassed that number and blew right past it. WearOS lives in a much more distributed environment where companies like Asus, Samsung, and LG sell products but it appears to have a similar installation base. And it’s a market still growing and likely looking for a leader, as it’s easy to imagine a day when most people have a smart watch.

But the world has certainly changed since Mark Weiser was the Chief Technologist at the famed Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, or Xerox Parc in 1988 when he coined the term "ubiquitous computing.” Technology hadn’t entered every aspect of our lives at the time like it has now.

The team at Fitbit didn’t invent wearables. George Atwood invented them in 1783. That was mostly pulleys and mechanics. Per V. Brüel first commercialized the piezoelectric accelerometer in 1943. It certainly took a long time to get packaged into an integrated circuit and from there it took plenty of time to end up on my belt loop. But from there it took less than a few years to go on my wrist and then once there were apps for all the things true innovation came way faster. Because it turns out that once we open up a bunch of APIs, we have no idea the amazing things people use with what then go from devices to platforms. But none of that would have happened had Fitbit not helped prove the market was ready for Weiser’s ubiquitous computing.

And now we get to wrestle with the fallout while innovation is moving even faster. Because telemetry is the opposite of privacy. And if we forget to protect just one of those API endpoints, like not implementing rate throttling or messing up the permissions, or leaving a micro-service open to all the things, we can certainly end up telling the world all about things. Because the world is watching, whether we think we’re important enough to watch or not.


- CAS vs WAV ; Review of Hewlett's Defender ; Tandy Assembly Retrospective

    The CoCo Crew Podcast 10/31/2021

Episode 77 Show Notes -- http://cococrew.org/cococrew-podcast-77.html


Zork

    Advent of Computing 10/31/2021

Make sure you have some extra batteries for your lamp, this episode we are delving into the depths of Zork. Written in 1977 Zork would quickly become the epitome of text based adventures, pushing aside all competitors. A lot of this comes down to it's simple gameplay, and the simple fact that Zork is fun to play. But lurking deeper into the game is a hidden treasure. Ya see, the other huge part of Zork's success was it's portability. That was made possible thanks to some sick programming tricks, and a virtual computer called the Z-machine.
Selected Sources:
 


Interview with Chris Espinosa (2000)

    Mac Folklore Radio 10/30/2021

Chris Espinosa on…

  • discovering computers in high school
  • the Homebrew Computer Club
  • unusual user group personalities
  • “after school Apple II demo time” at Apple headquarters
  • the mad dash to rewrite the Apple II manual
  • the product documentation conundrum
  • the open secret about the LaserWriter driver in early 1985
  • how Caroline Rose and others drove simplicity in Macintosh software development

Original text from the “Making the Macintosh” exhibit at Stanford University Library. Original tape available if you’re in the neighbourhood and feel like preserving it and uploading it to archive.org. :-)

More Chris Espinosa: on Twitter and Tumblr with some early Apple history tidbits [1, 2, 3].

My favourite: Chris gently walking you through an upgrade to System 7 while highlighting its advantages over Windows 3.0.


folklore.org: Calculator Construction Set (1982)

    Mac Folklore Radio 10/29/2021

Chris Espinosa tries to build a Steve Jobs-approved calculator.

Original text from folklore.org.

My favourite classic MacOS calculator was ProCalc. While trying to find ProCalc, I found PowerCalc by John Mauro who went on to co-invent Gorilla Glass, used in every iPhone and iPad.


FujiNet to Take Over the World!

    ANTIC The Atari 8-bit Podcast 10/29/2021

ANTIC Episode 82 -  FujiNet to Take Over the World!

In this episode of ANTIC The Atari 8-Bit Computer Podcast...we have special guest Thom Cherryhomes who tells us why FujiNet is aiming to take over the world, we discuss the recent VCF Midwest and VCF East, and of course tell you everything going on in the world of Atari.

READY!

Recurring Links 

Floppy Days Podcast 

AtariArchives.org 

AtariMagazines.com 

Kevin’s Book “Terrible Nerd” 

New Atari books scans at archive.org 

ANTIC feedback at AtariAge 

Atari interview discussion thread on AtariAge 

Interview index: here 

ANTIC Facebook Page 

AHCS 

Eaten By a Grue 

Next Without For 

What We’ve Been Up To

News 

Shows

YouTube videos this month

New at Archive.org

New at GitHub

Listener Feedback


Our Friend, The Commodore Amiga

    The History of Computing 10/28/2021

Jay Miner was born in 1932 in Arizona. He got his Bachelor of Science at the University of California at Berkeley and helped design calculators that used the fancy new MOS chips where he cut his teeth doing microprocessor design, which put him working on the MOS 6500 series chips.

Atari decided to use those in the VCS gaming console and so he ended up going to work for Atari. Things were fine under Bushnell but once he was off to do Chuck E Cheese and Time-Warner was running Atari things started to change. There he worked on chip designs that would go into the Atari 400 and 800 computers, which were finally released in 1979. But by then, Miner was gone after he couldn’t get in step with the direction Atari was taking. So he floated around for a hot minute doing chip design for other companies until Larry Kaplan called.

Kaplan had been at Atari and founded Activision in 1979. He had half a dozen games under his belt by then, but was ready for something different by 1982. He and Doug Neubauer saw the Nintendo NES was still using the MOS 6502 core, although now a Ricoh 2A03. They knew they could do better. Miner’s company didn’t want in on it, so they struck out on their own.

Together they started a company called Hi-Toro, which they quickly renamed to Amiga. They originally wanted to build a new game console based on the Motorola 68000 chips, which were falling in price. They’d seen what Apple could do with the MOS 6502 chips and what Tandy did with the Z-80. These new chips were faster and had more options. Everyone knew Apple was working on the Lisa using the chips and they were slowly coming down in price.

They pulled in $6 million in funding and started to build a game console, codenamed Lorraine. But to get cash flow, they worked on joysticks and various input devices for other gaming platforms. But development was expensive and they were burning through cash. So they went to Atari and signed a contract to give them exclusive access to the chips they were creating. And of course, then came the video game crash of 1983. Amazing timing.

That created a shakeup around the industry. Jack Tramiel was out at Commodore, the company he founded originally to create calculators at the dawn of MOS chip technology. And Tramiel bought Atari from Time Warner. The console they were supposed to give Atari wasn’t done yet. Meanwhile Tramiel had cut most of the Atari team and was bringing in his trusted people from Commodore, so seeing they’d have to contend with a titan like Tramiel, the team at Amiga went looking for investors. That’s when Commodore bought Amiga to become their new technical team and next thing you know, Tramiel sues Commodore and that drags on from 1983 to 1987.

Meanwhile, the nerds worked away. And by CES of 1984 they were able to show off the power of the graphics with a complex animation of a ball spinning and bouncing and shadows rendered on the ball. Even if the OS wasn’t quite done yet, there was a buzz. By 1985, they announced The Amiga from Commodore - what we now know as the Amiga 1000. The computer was prone to crash, they had very little marketing behind them, but they were getting sales into the high thousands per month.

Not only was Amiga competing with the rest of the computer industry, but they were competing with the PET and VIC-20, which Commodore was still selling. So they finally killed off those lines and created a strategy where they would produce a high end machine and a low end machine. These would become the Amiga 2000 and 500. Then the Amiga 3000 and 500 Plus, and finally the 4000 and 1200 lines. The original chips evolved into the ECS then AGA chipsets but after selling nearly 5,000,000 machines, they just couldn’t keep up with missteps from Commodore after Irving Gould outside yet another CEO.

But those Amiga machines. They were powerful and some of the first machines that could truly crunch the graphics and audio. And those higher end markets responded with tooling built specifically for the Amiga. Artists like Andy Warhol flocked to the platform. We got LightWave used on shows like Max Headroom. I can still remember that Money For Nothing video from Dire Straits. And who could forget Dev. The graphics might not have aged well but they were cutting edge at the time.

When I toured colleges in that era, nearly every art department had a lab of Amigas doing amazing things. And while artists like Calvin Harris might have started out on an Amiga, many slowly moved to the Mac over the ensuing years. Commodore had emerged from a race to the bottom in price and bought themselves a few years in the wake of Jack Tramiel’s exit. But the platform wars were raging with Microsoft DOS and then Windows rising out of the ashes of the IBM PC and IBM-compatible clone makers were standardizing. Yet Amiga stuck with the Motorola chips, even as Apple was first in line to buy them from the assembly line.

Amiga had designed many of their own chips and couldn’t compete with the clone makers at the lower end of the market or the Mac at the higher end. Nor the specialty systems running variants of Unix that were also on the rise. And while the platform had promised to sell a lot of games, the sales were a fourth or less of the other platforms and so game makers slowly stopped porting to the Amiga.

They even tried to build early set-top machines, with the CDTV model, which they thought would help them merge the coming set-top television control and the game market using CD-based games. They saw MPEG coming but just couldn’t cash in on the market. We were entering into an era of computing where it was becoming clear that the platform that could attract the most software titles would be the most popular, despite the great chipsets.

The operating system had started slow. Amiga had a preemptive multitasking kernel and the first version looked like a DOS windowing screen when it showed up iii 1985. Unlike the Mac or Windows 1 it had a blue background with oranges interspersed. It wasn’t awesome but it did the trick for a bit. But Workbench 2 was released for the Amiga 3000. They didn’t have a lot of APIs so developers were often having to write their own tools where other operating systems gave them APIs. It was far more object-oriented than many of its competitors at the time though, and even gave support for multiple languages and hypertext schemes and browsers. Workbench 3 came in 1992, along with the A4000. There were some spiffy updates but by then there were less and less people working on the project. And the tech debt piled up. Like a lack of memory protection in the Exec kernel meant any old task could crash the operating system.

By then, Miner was long gone. He again clashed with management at the company he founded, which had been purchased. Without the technical geniuses around, as happens with many companies when the founders move on, they seemed almost listless. They famously only built features people asked for. Unlike Apple, who guided the industry. Miner passed away in 1994.

Less than two years later, Commodore went bankrupt in 1996. The Amiga brand was bought and sold to a number of organizations but nothing more ever became of them. Having defeated Amiga, the Tramiel family sold off Atari in 1996 as well. The age of game consoles by American firms would be over until Microsoft released the Xbox in 2001. IBM had pivoted out of computers and the web, which had been created in 1989 was on the way in full force by then. The era of hacking computers together was officially over.


All About Amdahl

    The History of Computing 10/24/2021

Gene Amdahl grew up in South Dakota and as with many during the early days of computing went into the Navy during World War II. He got his degree from South Dakota State in 1948 and went on to the University of Wisconsin-Madison for his PhD, where he got the bug for computers in 1952, joining the ranks of IBM that year.

At IBM he worked on the iconic 704 and then the 7030 but found it too bureaucratic. And yet he came back to become the Chief Architect of the IBM S/360 project. They pushed the boundaries of what was possible with transistorized computing and along the way, Amdahl gave us Amdahl’s Law, which is an important aspect of parallel computing - how much latency tasks take when split across different CPUs. Think of it like the law of diminishing returns applied to processing. Contrast this with Fred Brook’s Brook’s Law - which says that adding incremental engineers don’t make projects happen faster by the same increment, or that it can cause a project to take even more time.

As with Seymour Cray, Amdahl had ideas for supercomputers and left IBM again in 1970 when they didn’t want to pursue them - ironically just a few years after Thomas Watson Jr admitted that just 34 people at CDC had kicked IBM out of their leadership position in the market.

First he needed to be able to build a computer, then move into supercomputers. Fully transistorized computing had somewhat cleared the playing field. So he developed the Amdahl 470V/6 - more reliable, more pluggable, and so cheaper than the IBM S/370. He also used virtual machine technology so customers could simulate a 370 and so run existing workloads cheaper. The first went to NASA and the second to the University of Michigan. During the rise of transistorized computing they just kept selling more and more machines.

The company grew fast, taking nearly a quart of the market share. As we saw in the CDC episode, the IBM antitrust case was again giving a boon to other companies. Amdahl was able to leverage the fact that IBM software was getting unbundled with the hardware as a big growth hack. As with Cray at the time, Amdahl wanted to keep to one CPU per workload and developed chips and electronics with Fujitsu to enable doing so.

By the end of the 70s they had grown to 6,000 employees on the back of a billion dollars in sales. And having built a bureaucratic organization like the one he just left, he left his namesake company much as Seymour Cray had left CDC after helping build it (and would later leave Cray to start yet another Cray). That would be Trilogy systems, which failed shortly after an IPO. I guess we can’t always bet on the name. Then Andor International. Then Commercial Data Servers, now a part of Xbridge systems.

Meanwhile the 1980s weren’t kind to the company with his name on the masthead. The rise of Unix and first minicomputers then standard servers meant people were building all kinds of new devices. Amdahl started selling servers, given the new smaller and pluggable form factors. They sold storage. They sold software to make software, like IDEs. The rapid proliferation of networking and open standards let them sell networking products.

Fujitsu ended up growing faster and when Gene Amdahl was gone, in the face of mounting competition with IBM, Amdahl tried to merge with Storage Technology Corporation, or StorageTek as it might be considered today. CDC had pushed some of its technology to StorageTek during their demise and StorageTek in the face of this new competition ended up filing Chapter 11 and getting picked up by Sun for just over $4 billion.

But Amdahl was hemorrhaging money as we moved into the 90s. They sold off half the shares to Fujitsu, laid off over a third of their now 10,000 plus workforce, and by the year 2000 had been lapped by IBM on the high end market. They sold off their software division, and Fujitsu acquired the rest of the shares. Many of the customers then moved to the then-new IBM Z series servers that were coming out with 64 bit G3 and G4 chips. As opposed to the 31-bit chips Amdahl, now Fujitsu under the GlobalServer mainframe brand, sells.

Amdahl came out of the blue, or Big Blue. On the back of Gene Amdahl’s name and a good strategy to attack that S/360 market, they took 8% of the mainframe market from IBM at one point. But they sold to big customers and eventually disappeared as the market shifted to smaller machines and a more standardized lineup of chips. They were able to last for awhile on the revenues they’d put together but ultimately without someone at the top with a vision for the future of the industry, they just couldn’t make it as a standalone company.

The High Performance Computing server revenues steadily continue to rise at Fujitsu though - hitting $1.3 billion in 2020. In fact, in a sign of the times, the 20 million Euro PRIMEHPC FX700 that’s going to the Minho Advanced Computing Centre in Portugal is a petascale computer built on an ARM plus x86 architecture. My how the times have changed. But as components get smaller, more precise, faster, and more mass producible we see the same types of issues with companies being too large to pivot quickly from the PC to the post-PC era. Although at this point, it’s doubtful they’ll have a generations worth of runway from a patron like Fujitsu to be able to continue in business. Or maybe a patron who sees the benefits downmarket from the new technology that emerges from projects like this and takes on what amounts to nation-building to pivot a company like that. Only time will tell.


ANTIC Interview 428 - Dave Johnson: Demon Attack, Atlantis; APX Lookahead; Atari Personal Financial Management System

    ANTIC The Atari 8-bit Podcast 10/23/2021

Dave Johnson: Demon Attack, Atlantis; APX Lookahead; Personal Financial Management

Dave Johnson programmed software for the little-known Interact Model One computer, and later worked as  a programmer for Atari, where he created the game Lookahead, which was published by Atari Program Exchange. Lookahead is a fun little strategy board game that you can play against the computer or another human.

We think Dave Johnson programmed the Atari Personal Financial Management System, a slick-looking but buggy home finance package that Atari kept delaying, finally released a year late, then quickly discontinued. Read Bill Lange's blog post for the full story about that program.

After Atari, Dave worked at Imagic, where he programmed the Atari 8-bit versions of the games Demon Attack and Atlantis. There, he also created the game Quick Step! for the Atari 2600.

This interview took place on October 12, 2021. A video version is also available.

AtariMania's list of Dave's Atari 8-bit games

Play or download Lookahead

Lookahead in the fall 1981 APX catalog

Bill Lange research on Atari Personal Financial Management System

Personal Financial Management System at AtariWiki

Interact Model One computer

Dave on Twitter

This interview on YouTube


folklore.org: Do It (1982)

    Mac Folklore Radio 10/22/2021

Testing software on real world users often yields surprising results.

Origin of the Apple Human Interface Guidelines video with Chris Espinosa reading Bruce Tognazzini’s “Apple Presents Apple” user testing post-mortem.

Original text from folklore.org.


Ep. 30: 8-bit vs 5200 Part 1: 1982

    Player/Missile 10/20/2021

In a special multi-part series comparing the 8-bit computers to the 5200 console, this first episode focuses on 1982. Scanning the regular magazines for mentions of the 5200, I also scour other magazines for both 8-bit and 5200 coverage. Only in this special series will you hear article summaries from these periodicals: Electronic Games, JoyStik, Video Games, Video Games Player and Atari Age Magazine.

Magazine Chronology

Production Notes


Debug!

    Advent of Computing 10/17/2021

This episode I face my greatest fears: computer bugs. We are going to dive into the origin of the term, and examine the origins of debugging. The simple fact is that as soon as computers hit the scene we start finding bugs. Debugging follows very soon after. That part's not too surprising, it's the specifics that get interesting. Modern debugging methods we still use today were first developed on ENIAC, a machine that's anything but modern.


ANTIC Interview 427 - Margaret (Akin) Guilbault, Atari Camper

    ANTIC The Atari 8-bit Podcast 10/17/2021

Margaret (Akin) Guilbault, Atari Camper

Margaret Akin was one of the children who attended Atari's computer camps, and one of the kids who was featured in The Magic Room, Atari's movie about the camps. Her name is now Margaret Guilbault.

Atari ran its summer camps from 1982 through 1984 at several locations around the United States. That first year, Atari commissioned a film about its summer camps, which was filmed at the San Diego location. Margaret attended Atari camp that first year in San Diego, then again in 1983 the Minnesota location.

It turns out Margaret's first year at a computer camp was in 1981, the summer before Atari's first camps. Her first computer camp experience was at Zaca Lake -- near Santa Barbara, California -- hosted by a company called Computer Camp Inc., which used Atari computers.

I talked with Margaret about her experiences at those camps, and taking part in the filming of The Magic Room, on September 12, 2021.

You can watch The Magic room at YouTube and Internet Archive. In previous interviews I've talked with filmmaker Bob Elfstrom; Linda (Gordon) Brownstein, the Atari vice president who oversaw the camp project; and other Atari computer campers.

The Magic Room (18-minute version)

Newspaper article about Computer Camp Inc.'s Zaca Lake camp

ANTIC Interview 419 - Bob Elfstrom, The Magic Room

ANTIC Special Episode - Atari Summer Camp


The Dartmouth Time Sharing System and Time Sharing

    The History of Computing 10/14/2021

DTSS, or The Dartmouth Time Sharing System, began at Dartmouth College in 1963. That was the same year Project MAC started at MIT, which is where we got Multics, which inspired Unix. Both contributed in their own way to the rise of the Time Sharing movement, an era in computing when people logged into computers over teletype devices and ran computing tasks - treating the large mainframes of the era like a utility.

The notion had been kicking around in 1959 but then John McCarthy at MIT started a project on an IBM 704 mainframe. And PLATO was doing something similar over at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. 1959 is also when John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz at Dartmouth College bought Librascope General Purpose computer, then being made in partnership with the Royal Typewriter Company and Librascope - whichwould later be sold off to Lockheed Martin.

Librascope had Stan Frankel - who had worked on both the Manhattan Project and the ENIAC. And he architected the LGP-30 in 1956, which ended up at Dartmouth. At this point, the computer looked like a desk with a built-in typewriter.

Kurtz had four students that were trying to program in ALGOL 58. And they ended up writing a language called DOPE in the early 60s. But they wanted everyone on campus to have access to computing - and John McCarthy said why not try this new time sharing concept. So they went to the National Science Foundation and got funding for a new computer, which to the chagrin of the local IBM salesman, ended up being a GE-225.

This baby was transistorized. It sported 10,0000 transistors and double that number of diodes. It could do floating-point arithmetic, used a 20-bit word, and came with 186,000 magnetic cores for memory. It was so space aged that one of the developers, Arnold Spielberg, would father one of the greatest film directors of all time. Likely straight out of those diodes.

Dartmouth also picked up a front-end processor called a DATANET-30 from GE. This only had an 18-bit word size but could do 4k to 16k words and supported hooking up 128 terminals that could transfer data to and from the system at 3,000 bits a second using the Bell 103 modem. Security wasn’t a thing yet, so these things had direct memory access to the 225, which was a 235 by the time they received the computer.

They got to work in 1963, installing the equipment and writing the code. The DATANET-30 received commands from the terminals and routed them to the mainframe. They scanned for commands 110 times per second from the terminals and ran them when the return key was pressed on a terminal. If the return key was a command they queued it up to run, taking into account routine tasks the computer might be doing in the background.

Keep in mind, the actual CPU was only doing one task at a time, but it seemed like it was multi-tasking! Another aspect of democratizing computing across campus was to write a language that was more approachable than a language like Algol. And so they released BASIC in 1964, picking up where DOPE left off, and picking up a more marketable name.

Here we saw a dozen undergraduates develop a language that was as approachable as the name implies. Some of the students went to Phoenix, where the GE computers were built. And the powers at GE saw the future.

After seeing what Dartmouth had done, GE ended up packaging the DATANET-30 and GE-235 as one machine, which they marketed as the GE-265 the next year. And here we got the first commercially viable time-sharing system, which started a movement. One so successful that GE decided to get out of making computers and focus instead on selling access to time sharing systems. By 1968 they actually ended up shooting up to 40% of the market of the day.

Dartmouth picked up a GE Mark II in 1966 and got to work on DTSS version 2. Here, they added some of the concepts coming out of the Multics project that was part of Project MAC at MIT and built on previous experiences. They added pipes and communication files to promote inter-process communications - thus getting closer to the multiple user conferencing like what was being done on PLATO with Notes.

Things got more efficient and they could handle more and more concurrent sessions. This is when they went from just wanting to offer computing as a basic right on campus to opening up to schools in the area. Nearby Hanover High School started first and by 1967 they had over a dozen. Using further grants from NSF they added another dozen schools to what by then they were calling the Kiewit Network. Then added other smaller colleges and by 1971 supported a whopping 30,000 users. And by 73 supported leased line connections all the way to Ohio, Michigan, New York, and even Montreal.

The system continued on in one form or another, allowing students to code in FORTRAN, COBOL, LISP, and yes… BASIC. It became less of a thing as Personal Computers started to show up here and there. But BASIC didn’t. Every computer needed a BASIC. But people still liked to connect on the system and share information. At least, until the project was finally shut down in 1999. Turns out we didn’t need time sharing once the Internet came along.

Following the early work done by pioneers, companies like Tymshare and CompuServe were born. Tymshare came out of two of the GE team, Thomas O’Rourke and David Schmidt. They ran on SDS hardware and by 1970 had over 100 people, focused on time sharing with their Tymnet system and spreading into Europe by the mid-70s, selling time on their systems until the cost of personal computing caught up and they were acquired by McDonnell Douglas in 1984.

CompuServe began on a PDP-10 and began similarly but by the time they were acquired by H&R Block had successfully pivoted into a dial-up online services company and over time focused on selling access to the Internet. And they survived through to an era when they migrated their own proprietary tooling to HTML in the late 90s - although they were eventually merged into AOL and are now a part of Verizon media. So the pivot bought them an extra decade or so.

Time sharing and BASIC proliferated across the country and then the world from Dartmouth. Much of this - and a lot of personal stories from the people involved can be found in Dr Joy Rankin’s “A People’s History of Computing in the United States.” Published in 2018, it’s a fantastic read that digs in deep on the ways that many of these systems evolved. There are other works, but she does a phenomenal job tying events into one another.

One consistent point across her book is around societal impact. These pioneers democratized access to computing. Many of those who built businesses around time sharing missed the rapidly falling price of chips and the ready access to personal computers that were coming. They also missed that BASIC would be monetized by companies like Microsoft. But they brought computing to high schools in the area, established blueprints for teaching that are used through to this day, and as Grace Hopper did a generation before - made us think of even more ways to make programming more accessible to a new generation with BASIC.

One other author of note here is John Kemeny. His book “Man and the computer” is a must read. He didn’t have the knowledge of the upcoming personal computing - but far more prophetic than not around cloud operations as we get back to a time sharing-esque model of computing. And we do owe him, Kurtz, and everyone else involved a huge debt for their work. Many others pushed the boundaries of what was possible with computers. They pushed the boundaries of what was possible with accessibility. And now we have ubiquity.

So when we see something complicated. Something that doesn’t seem all that approachable. Maybe we should just wonder if - by some stretch - we can make it a bit more BASIC. Like they did.


folklore.org: Inside Macintosh (1982)

    Mac Folklore Radio 10/8/2021

Early Macintosh developer documentation had a bit of a rocky start.

Caroline Rose also did some technical documentation work for NeXT. Caroline’s website is hosted by Andy Hertzfeld/differnet.com.

Outro clip from Joanna Hoffman’s delightful interview with the Computer History Museum which you should at least read through, if only for the story of her sneaking into and out of Russia without official clearance. [video 1/2/3, transcript 1/2/3]

Original text from folklore.org.


eBay, Pez, and Immigration

    The History of Computing 10/7/2021

We talk about a lot of immigrants in this podcast. There’s the Hungarian mathemeticians and scientists that helped usher in the nuclear age and were pivotal in the early days of computing. There are the Germans who found a safe haven in the US following World War II. There are a number of Jewish immigrants who fled persecution, like Jack Tramiel - a Holocaust survivor who founded Commodore and later took the helm at Atari. An Wang immigrated from China to attend Harvard and stayed. And the list goes on and on. Georges Doriot, the father of venture capital came to the US from France in 1899, also to go to Harvard.

We could even go back further and look at great thinkers like Nikolai Tesla who emigrated from the former Austrian empire. And then there’s the fact that many Americans, and most of the greats in computer science, are immigrants if we go a generation or four back.

Pierre Omidyar’s parents were Iranian. They moved to Paris so his mom could get a doctorate in linguistics at the famous Sorbonne. While in Paris, his dad became a surgeon, and they had a son. They didn’t move to the US to flee oppression but found opportunity in the new land, with his dad becoming a urologist at Johns Hopkins.

He learned to program in high school and got paid to do it at a whopping 6 bucks an hour. Omidyar would go on to Tufts, where he wrote shareware to manage memory on a Mac. And then the University of California, Berkeley before going to work on the MacDraw team at Apple.

He started a pen-computing company, then a little e-commerce company called eShop, which Microsoft bought. And then he ended up at General Magic in 1994. We did a dedicated episode on them - but supporting developers at a day job let him have a little side hustle building these newish web page things.

In 1995, his girlfriend, who would become his wife, wanted to auction off (and buy) Pez dispensers online. So Omidyar, who’d been experimenting with e-commerce since eShop, built a little auction site. He called it auction web. But that was a little boring. They lived in the Bay Area around San Francisco and so he changed it to electronic Bay, or eBay for short. The first sale was a broken laser printer he had laying around that he originally posted for a dollar and after a week, went for $14.83.

The site was hosted out of his house and when people started using the site, he needed to upgrade the plan. It was gonna’ cost 8 times the original $30. So he started to charge a nominal fee to those running auctions. More people continued to sell things and he had to hire his first employee, Chris Agarpao.

Within just a year they were doing millions of dollars of business. And this is when they hired Jeffrey Skoll to be the president of the company. By the end of 1997 they’d already done 2 million auctions and took $6.7 million in venture capital from Benchmark Capital. More people, more weird stuff. But no guns, drugs, booze, Nazi paraphernalia, or legal documents. And nothing that was against the law.

They were growing fast and by 1998 brought in veteran executive Meg Whitman to be the CEO. She had been a VP of strategy at Disney, then the CEO of FTD, then a GM for Playskool before that. By then, eBay was making $4.7 million a year with 30 employees.

Then came Beanie Babies. And excellent management. They perfected the online auction model, with new vendors coming into their space all the time, but never managing to unseat the giant.

Over the years they made onboarding fast and secure. It took minutes to be able to sell and the sellers are the ones where the money is made with a transaction fee being charged per sale, in addition to a nominal percentage of the transaction. Executives flowed in from Disney, Pepsi, GM, and anywhere they were looking to expand.

Under Whitman’s tenure they weathered the storm of the dot com bubble bursting, grew from 30 to 15,000 employees, took the company to an IPO, bought PayPal, bought StubHub, and scaled the company up to handle over $8 billion in revenue. The IPO made Omidyar a billionaire.

John Donahoe replaced Whitman in 2008 when she decided to make a run at politics, working on Romney and then McCain’s campaigns. She then ran for the governor of California and lost. She came back to the corporate world taking on the CEO position at Hewlett-Packard.

Under Donahoe they bought Skype, then sold it off. They bought part of Craigslist, then tried to develop a competing product. And finally sold off PayPal, which is now a public entity of its own right.

Over the years since, revenues have gone up and down. Sometimes due to selling off companies like they did with PayPal and later with StubHub in 2019. They now sit at nearly $11 billion in revenues, over 13,000 employees, and are a mature business. There are still over 300,000 listings for Beanie Babies. And to the original inspiration over 50,000 listings for the word Pez.

Omidyar has done well, growing his fortune to what Forbes estimated to be just over $13 billion dollars. Much of which he’s pledged to give away during his lifetime, having joined the Bill Gates and Warren Buffet giving pledge. So far, he’s given away well over a billion with a focus in education, governance, and citizen engagement. Oh and this will come as no surprise, helping fund consumer and mobile access to the Internet. Much of this giving is funneled through the Omidyar Network.

The US just evacuated over 65,000 Afghans following the collapse of that government. Many an oppressive government runs off the educated, those who are sometimes capable of the most impactful dissent. Some of the best and most highly skilled of an entire society leaves a vacuum in regions that further causes a collapse. And yet finding a home in societies known for inclusion and opportunity, and being surrounded by inspiring stories of other immigrants who made a home and took advantage of opportunity. Or whose children could. Those melting pots in the history of science are when diversity of human and discipline combine to make society for everyone better. Even in the places they left behind. Anyone who’s been to Hungary or Poland or Germany - places where people once fled - can see it in the street every time people touch a mobile device and are allowed to be whomever they want to be.

Thank you to the immigrants, past and future, for joining us to create a better world. I look forward to welcoming the next wave with open arms.


Viruses and the PC

    Advent of Computing 10/3/2021

It's Spook Month on Advent of Computing! Every October we cover the more spooky, scary, and frustrating side of computers. To kick off this year we are looking at viruses again, this time with a special eye to the first infections for IBM PCs and compatible systems.
Besides the technical changes, this drops us into an interesting transitionary period. Up to this point viruses had been something of an in-joke amongst hackers and computer nerds, but with the creation of viruses like Brain and VirDem we see them start to enter public awareness.
Selected Sources:
https://archive.org/details/computervirusesh0000burg - Computer Viruses: A High-Tech Disease


VCF Midwest with Mac84

    RetroMacCast 10/3/2021

James, John and Steve (Mac84) discuss eBay Finds: Lisa 2 in Australia, G3 AIO, and 90s Macintosh advertisement brochure. Steve shares his experiences from Vintage Computer Festival Midwest, and news includes more Flappy Mac from Action Retro and an update on Mac84.

Join our Facebook page, watch us on YouTube, and visit us at RetroMacCast.


(OldComputerPods) ©Sean Haas, 2020