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.
James and John discuss eBay Finds: 128k Mac with box, Alice reproduction floppy, and Newton dummy. They get Mission Starlight and Sky Shadow running, and news is all about the Apple Spring Loaded event.
Valerie (Atkinson) Manfull, Atari Game Research Group
Valerie Atkinson was a member of Atari's Game Research Group. Now named Valerie Manfull, she was on the team that designed and programmed the game Excalibur, along with Chris Crawford and Larry Summers. Excalibur was published by Atari Program Exchange in fall 1983. She is also one of the programmes of Ballsong, along with Douglas Crockford. Ballsong is a music and graphics demo program released by Atari, in which a ball bounces on the screen in response to an improvised tune. She was one of the programmers, with Ann Marion, of TV Fishtank, a demonstration of an artificially intelligent fish. (It's unclear if the fishtank program was released anywhere, though it apparently was shown at the 1984 SIGgraph conference.)
This interview took place on April 22, 2021.
ANTIC Episode 4 - Chris Crawford
ANTIC Interview 240 - Douglas Crockford
TV Fishtank at SIGgraph
Jim Leiterman describes TV Fishtank
Chris Crawford describes the development of Excalibur in The Art of Computer Game Design
Excalibur announced in Atari Program Exchange, fall 1983
Excalibur review in Atari Connection
Excalibur at AtariMania
Video of Ballsong
ANTIC Episode 77 - Jason Moore, PhD
In this episode of ANTIC The Atari 8-Bit Computer Podcast… Jason Moore joins us to discuss his atariprojects.org Web site and we discuss all the news rocking the Atari 8-bit world.
Interview index: here
James and John discuss eBay Finds: Test Drive a Mac brochure, Microloop 1100 Spirometer, Braun/Apple calculator. They look back at Macworld April 1991, and news includes upcoming Apple event rumors, faux Mac BBS, and chimes of death.
This was a hard episode to do. Because telling the story of Instagram is different than explaining the meaning behind it. You see, on the face of it - Instagram is an app to share photos. But underneath that it’s much more. It’s a window into the soul of the Internet-powered culture of the world. Middle schoolers have always been stressed about what their friends think. It’s amplified on Instagram. People have always been obsessed with and copied celebrities - going back to the ages of kings. That too is on Instagram. We love dogs and cute little weird animals. So does Instagram.
Before Instagram, we had photo sharing apps. Like Hipstamatic. Before Instagram, we had social networks - like Twitter and Facebook. How could Instagram do something different and yet, so similar? How could it offer that window into the world when the lens photos are snapped with are as though through rose colored glasses? Do they show us reality or what we want reality to be? Could it be that the food we throw away or the clothes we donate tell us more about us as humans than what we eat or keep? Is the illusion worth billions of dollars a year in advertising revenue while the reality represents our repressed shame?
Think about that as we go through this story.
If you build it, they will come. Everyone who builds an app just kinda’ automatically assumes that throngs of people will flock to the App Store, download the app, and they will be loved and adored and maybe even become rich. OK, not everyone thinks such things - and with the number of apps on the stores these days, the chances are probably getting closer to those that a high school quarterback will play in the NFL. But in todays story, that is exactly what happened.
And Kevin Systrom had already seen it happen. He was offered a job as one of the first employees at Facebook while still going to Stanford. That’ll never be a thing. Then while on an internship he was asked to be one of the first Twitter employees. That’ll never be a thing either. But they were things, obviously!
So in 2010, Systrom started working on an app he called Burbn and within two years sold the company, then called Instagram for one billion dollars. In doing so he and his co-founder Mike Krieger helped forever changing the deal landscape for mergers and acquisitions of apps, and more profoundly giving humanity lenses with which to see a world we want to see - if not reality.
Systrom didn’t have a degree in computer science. In fact, he taught himself to code after working hours, then during working hours, and by osmosis through working with some well-known founders.
Burbn was an app to check in and post plans and photos. It was written in HTML5 and in a Cinderella story, he was able to raise half a million dollars in funding from Baseline Ventures and Andreesen Horowitz, bringing in Mike Krieger as a co-founder.
At the time, Hipstamatic was the top photo manipulation and filtering app. Given that the iPhone came with a camera on-par (if not better) than most digital point and shoots at the time, the pair re-evaluated the concept and instead leaned further into photo sharing, while still maintaining the location tagging.
The original idea was to swipe right and left, as we do in apps like Tinder. But instead they chose to show photos in chronological order and used a now iconic 1:1 aspect ratio, or the photos were square, so there was room on the screen to show metadata and a taste of the next photo - to keep us streaming. The camera was simple, like the Holga camera Systrom had been given while stying abroad when at Stanford. That camera made pictures a little blurry and in an almost filtered way made them loo almost artistic.
After System graduated from Stanford in 2006, he worked at Google, then NextStop, and then got the bug to make his own app. And boy did he. One thing though, even his wife Nicole didn’t think she could take good photos having seen those from a friend of Systrom’s. He said the photos were so good because the filters. And so we got the first filter, X-Pro 2, so she could take great photos on the iPhone 3G.
Krieger shared the first post on Instagram on July 16, 2010 and Systrom followed up within a few hours with a picture of a dog. The first of probably a billion dog photos (including a few of my own). And they officially published Instagram on the App Store in October of 2010.
After adding more and more filters, Systrom and Krieger closed in on one of the greatest growth hacks of any app: they integrated with Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare so you could take the photo in Instagram and shoot it out to one of those apps - or all three.
At the time Facebook was more of a browser tool. Few people used the mobile app. And for those that did try and post photos on Facebook, doing so was laborious, using a mobile camera roll in the app and taking more steps than needed. Instagram became the perfect glue to stitch other apps together. And rather than always needing to come up with something witty to say like on Twitter, we could just point the camera on our phone at something and hit a button.
The posts had links back to the photo on Instagram. They hit 100,000 users in the first week and a million users by the end of the year. Their next growth hack was to borrow the hashtag concept from Twitter and other apps, which they added in January of 2011.
Remember how Systrom interned at Odeo and turned down the offer to go straight to Twitter after college? Twitter didn’t have photo sharing at the time, but Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey had showed System plenty of programming techniques and the two stayed in touch. He became an angel investor in a $7 million Series A and the first real influencer on the platform, sending that link to every photo to all of his Twitter followers every time he posted. The growth continued. June, 2011 they hit 5 million users, and doubled to 10 million by September of 2011. I was one of those users, posting the first photo to @krypted in the fall - being a nerd it was of the iOS 5.0.1 update screen and according to the lone comment on the photo my buddy @acidprime apparently took the same photo.
They spent the next few months just trying to keep the servers up and running and released an Android of the app in April of 2012, just a couple of days before taking on $50 million dollars in venture capital. But that didn’t need to last long - they sold the company to Facebook for a billion dollars a few days later, effectively doubling each investor in that last round of funding and shooting up to 50 million users by the end of the month.
At 13 employees, that’s nearly $77 million dollars per employee. Granted, much of that went to Systrom and the investors. The Facebook acquisition seemed great at first. Instagram got access to bigger resources than even a few more rounds of funding would have provided.
Facebook helped them scale up to 100 million users within a year and following Facebook TV, and the brief but impactful release of Vine at Twitter, Instagram added video sharing, photo tagging, and the ability to add links in 2013. Looking at a history of their feature releases, they’re slow and steady and probably the most user-centered releases I’ve seen. And in 2013, they grew to 150 million users, proving the types of rewards that come from doing so.
With that kind of growth it might seem that it can’t last forever - and yet on the back of new editing tools, a growing team, and advertising tools, they managed to hit a staggering 300 million users in 2014.
While they released thoughtful, direct, human sold advertising before, they opened up the ability to buy ads to all advertisers, piggy backing on the Facebook ad selling platform in 2015. That’s the same year they introduced Boomerang, which looped photos in forward and reverse. It was cute for a hot minute.
2016 saw the introduction of analytics that included demographics, impressions, likes, reach, and other tools for businesses to track performance not only of ads, but of posts. As with many tools, it was built for the famous influencers that had the ear of the founders and management team - and made available to anyone. They also introduced Instagram Stories, which was a huge development effort and they owned that they copied it from Snapchat - a surprising and truly authentic move for a Silicon Valley startup. And we could barely call them a startup any longer, shooting over half a billion users by the middle of the year and 600 million by the end of the year.
That year, they also brought us live video, a Windows client, and one of my favorite aspects with a lot of people posting in different languages, they could automatically translate posts.
But something else happened in 2016. Donald Trump was elected to the White House. This is not a podcast about politics but it’s safe to say that it was one of the most divisive elections in recent US history. And one of the first where social media is reported to have potentially changed the outcome. Disinformation campaigns from foreign actors combined with data illegally obtained via Cambridge Analytica on the Facebook network, combined with increasingly insular personal networks and machine learning-driven doubling down on only seeing things that appealed to our world view led to many being able to point at networks like Facebook and Twitter as having been party to whatever they thought the “other side” in an election had done wrong.
Yet Instagram was just a photo sharing site. They put the users at the center of their decisions. They promoted the good things in life. While Zuckerberg claimed that Facebook couldn’t have helped change any outcomes and that Facebook was just an innocent platform that amplified human thoughts - Systrom openly backed Hillary Clinton. And yet, even with disinformation spreading on Instagram, they seemed immune from accusations and having to go to Capital Hill to be grilled following the election. Being good to users apparently has its benefits.
However, some regulation needed to happen. 2017, the Federal Trade Commission steps in to force influencers to be transparent about their relationship with advertisers - Instagram responded by giving us the ability to mark a post as sponsored. Still, Instagram revenue spiked over 3 and a half billion dollars in 2017.
Instagram revenue grew past 6 billion dollars in 2018. Systrom and Krieger stepped away from Instagram that year. It was now on autopilot. Although I think all chief executives have a
Instagram revenue shot over 9 billion dollars in 2019. In those years they released IGTV and tried to get more resources from Facebook, contributing far more to the bottom line than they took.
2020 saw Instagram ad revenue close in on 13.86 billion dollars with projected 2021 revenues growing past 18 billion.
In The Picture of Dorian Gray from 1890, Lord Henry describes the impact of influence as destroying our genuine and true identity, taking away our authentic motivations, and as Shakespeare would have put it - making us servile to the influencer. Some are famous and so become influencers on the product naturally, like musicians, politicians, athletes, and even the Pope. . Others become famous due to getting showcased by the @instagram feed or some other prominent person. These influencers often stage a beautiful life and to be honest, sometimes we just need that as a little mind candy. But other times it can become too much, forcing us to constantly compare our skin to doctored skin, our lifestyle to those who staged their own, and our number of friends to those who might just have bought theirs. And seeing this obvious manipulation gives some of us even more independence than we might have felt before. We have a choice: to be or not to be.
The Instagram story is one with depth. Those influencers are one of the more visible aspects, going back to the first that posted sponsored photos from Snoop Dogg. And when Mark Zuckerberg decided to buy the company for a billion dollars, many thought he was crazy. But once they turned on the ad revenue machine, which he insisted Systrom wait on until the company had enough users, it was easy to go from 3 to 6 to 9 to over 13 and now likely over 18 billion dollars. That’s a greater than 30:1 return on investment, helping to prove that such lofty acquisitions aren’t crazy.
It’s also a story of monopoly, or at least of suspected monopolies. Twitter tried to buy Instagram and Systrom claims to have never seen a term sheet with a legitimate offer. Then Facebook swooped in and helped fast-track regulatory approval of the acquisition. With the acquisition of WhatsApp, Facebook owns four of the top 6 social media sites, with Facebook, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram all over a billion users and YouTube arguably being more of a video site than a true social network. And they tried to buy Snapchat - only the 17th ranked network.
More than 50 billion photos have been shared through Instagram. That’s about a thousand a second. Many are beautiful...
Linda Brownstein, Atari VP Special Projects
As I've researched Atari and it's 8-bit computer projects over the years, one name has come up over and over again, attached to the most interesting projects. Linda S. Gordon. Executive Director of Atari Computer Camps. Linda. Executive Producer of The Magic Room, Atari's movie about its camps. Atari's collaboration with Club Med to offer computer labs at vacation destinations — Linda again. Atari Club, the fan group that published Atari Age magazine - Linda launched that. More recently, in my interview with Ann Lewin-Benham of the Capital Children's Museum, Linda's name came up once again -- she was the liaison between Atari and the museum. Linda worked on the most interesting projects.
Today, her name is Linda Brownstein. Linda joined Atari in December 1980 as Vice President of Special Projects, where she worked on most of the projects that I mentioned before. In October 1983 she became Senior Vice President in Atari's Education group. She left the company in July 1984 after Jack Tramiel took over the company.
This interview took place on April 21, 2021.
ANTIC Interview 78 - Manny Gerard, The Man Who Fired Nolan
ANTIC Special Episode - Atari Summer Camp
ANTIC Interview 410 - Ann Lewin-Benham, Capital Children's Museum
ANTIC Interview 185 - Ted Kahn
Atari Computer Camps — The Magic Room
Video version of this interview
James and John discuss eBay Finds: JLPGA PowerBook 170, LaserWriter Plus, and Macintosh IIfx. They examine the Twentieth Anniversary Macintosh Experience CDROM, and news includes WWDC announced, OS 9.2 on Switch, and latest NanoRaptor creations.
Mark Simonson, Atari Artist and Font Designer
Mark Simonson used his Atari computers who create art that was published in magazines in the 1980s, including a portrait of Nolan Bushnell that was commissioned by TWA Ambassador, an inflight magazine; a colorful street scene for the cover of Minnesota Monthly, the magazine of Minnesota Public Radio; and a juggler for the cover of Credit Union Advantage magazine, among others.
Professionally, Mark is a font designer. He created Atari Classic, a free TrueType font family for modern computers that looks like the Atari 8-bit screen font. Today, you'll see Atari Classic used in many Atari emulators, web sites, the WUDSN IDE, and elsewhere.
This interview took place on April 15, 2021.
Mark's Atari reminisce blog post
A friend gets his first game published in Computers & Video Games! 6 other magazines this episode, and I try to dissect my first kernel game, Worm War I. Or is it 1? It’s a super important distinction.
The early days of Apple’s culture of secrecy. If you had people digging through the garbage bins outside your corporate headquarters, you would be paranoid too!
Original text from Macworld Magazine, November 1989.
Introductory news clip from The Computer Chronicles with bonus crazy background saxophone for some reason.
Hugo Fiennes quote from the Computer History Museum’s iPhone development team panel discussion.
Steve Jobs’ “Super Secret Apple Rumours” podcast from the MWSF 2006 GarageBand demo.
Alleged insider comments on the damage Apple’s internal secrecy has done to Mac OS X at Michael Tsai’s blog, one of the few Macintosh news sources worth reading these days.
James and John discuss eBay Finds: Elements of Design, PowerBook 180c, and Quadra 605. They look back at MacAddict April 2001, and news includes MacFilm, and the best and worst Apple products of all time.
Ann Lewin-Benham, Director of Capital Children's Museum
Ann Lewin-Benham was executive director of the Capital Children's Museum in Washington, D.C. The museum was home to the first public-access computer center in the nation’s capital, and indeed, one of the first in the United States. In 1981, Atari and Apple each donated dozens of computers to the museum. The exact number is unclear, but 30 is the number I've seen most often for Atari's contribution.
The computer lab was called The Future Center. There, the museum offered computer literacy classes for people of all ages, from Compu-Tots for preschoolers, to programming classes for adults, there was even a computer literacy session for members of Congress. It also used the lab for birthday parties. (Last year, I interviewed a woman who had her 8th birthday party at the museum.) The museum used more of its computers in its exhibit on communication. It established a software development laboratory, called Superboots, in which developers created custom softare for the museum, and one product that was released commercially: the graphics program PAINT!
In a 1982 article titled A Day At The Capital Children's Museum, Melanie Graves described the scene:
"My twelve-year-old friend Sarah and I went to the museum to explore the computers. There are several dozen computers scattered throughout the building which are used for exhibits, classroom teaching and the development of educational software...
A machine that calls itself "Wisecracker" is the noisest of the computers that beckon visitors to the Communication exhibit. "My-name- is-Wise-crack-er," it says in a monotone, "Come-type-to-me." This message repeats endlessly until someone types at the keyboard or turns off the computer. "Hello, how are you?" Sarah typed, and pressed the return key. "Hel-lo-how-are-you," the machine’s voice responded. Sarah typed for awhile longer and then proclaimed, "It sure is dumb, but its voice is kind of cute."
The computer next to Wisecracker has a data base program that asked Sarah her name, where she came from, and other questions. It informed her that she was the thirty-seventh person from Virginia to type in data that day... "Fifty-five percent of the people who came here were girls," she told me. Next to the data base, a computer is set up with a music program. Sarah pressed some random keys, causing notes to sound. At the same time, the letter names of the notes appeared on the keys of a piano that was displayed on the screen.
There is also a Teletext terminal that tells inquirers about weather predictions, and news releases, the latest acquisitions at the public library, local cultural events and whatever else has been entered into the data base for that day...
After playing with Teletext, Sarah and I went to the Future Center, a room equipped with twenty Atari 800s. On weekdays, the classroom is available to school groups ranging from prekindergarten to high school. On weekends, families arrive for courses in programming. Classes have also been created for working people, senior citizens, community groups, congressional spouses and other special interest groups. This summer more than sixty students from the Washington, D.C. public schools attended one of two free month-long computer camps at the museum."
This interview took place on April 2, 2021.
Ann's web site
Museum in Atari ConnectionVolume 1 Number 4
A Day At The Capital Children's Museum
C is easily one of the most influential programming languages in the world, and it's also one of the most popular languages in the world. Even after close to 50 years it remains in widespread and sustained use. In this series we are going to look at how C was developed, how it spread, and why it remains so relevant. To do that we need to start with background, and look at what exactly influenced C. This episode we are diving into some more ALGOL, CPL, BCPL, and eventually B.
Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and bonus content: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing
James and Steve from Mac84 discuss eBay Finds: lot of eight Macs, Mac 400K external floppy drive with box, and Apple Shinjuku store opening pin. Steve gives us an update on his Mac84 projects, and news includes the 20th anniversary of Mac OS X, and the Mac SE/30 logic board recreation.
Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1996. At the time, most people had a digital camera, like the Canon Elph that was released that year and maybe a digital video camera and probably a computer and about 16% of Americans had a cell phone at the time. Some had a voice recorder, a Diskman, some in the audio world had a four track machine. Many had CD players and maybe even a laser disk player.
But all of this was changing. Small, cheap microprocessors were leading to more and more digital products. The MP3 was starting to trickle around after being patented in the US that year. Netflix would be founded the next year, as DVDs started to spring up around the world. Ricoh, Polaroid, Sony, and most other electronics makers released digital video cameras. There were early e-readers, personal digital assistants, and even research into digital video recorders that could record your favorite shows so you could watch them when you wanted. In other words we were just waking up to a new, digital lifestyle. But the industries were fragmented.
Jobs and the team continued the work begun under Gil Amelio to reduce the number of products down from 350 to about a dozen. They made products that were pretty and functional and revitalized Apple. But there was a strategy that had been coming together in their minds and it centered around digital media and the digital lifestyle. We take this for granted today, but mostly because Apple made it ubiquitous.
Apple saw the iMac as the centerpiece for a whole new strategy. But all this new type of media and the massive files needed a fast bus to carry all those bits. That had been created back in 1986 and slowly improved on one the next few years in the form of IEEE 1394, or Firewire. Apple started it - Toshiba, Sony, Panasonic, Hitachi, and others helped bring it to device they made. Firewire could connect 63 peripherals at 100 megabits, later increased to 200 and then 400 before increasing to 3200. Plenty fast enough to transfer those videos, songs, and whatever else we wanted.
iMovie was the first of the applications that fit into the digital hub strategy. It was originally released in 1999 for the iMac DV, the first iMac to come with built-in firewire. I’d worked on Avid and SGI machines dedicated to video editing at the time but this was the first time I felt like I was actually able to edit video. It was simple, could import video straight from the camera, allow me to drag clips into a timeline and then add some rudimentary effects. Simple, clean, and with a product that looked cool. And here’s the thing, within a year Apple made it free. One catch. You needed a Mac.
This whole Digital Hub Strategy idea was coming together. Now as Steve Jobs would point out in a presentation about the Digital Hub Strategy at Macworld 2001, up to that point, personal computers had mainly been about productivity. Automating first the tasks of scientists, then with the advent of the spreadsheet and databases, moving into automating business and personal functions. A common theme in this podcast is that what drives computing is productivity, telemetry, and quality of life. The telemetry gains came with connecting humanity through the rise of the internet in the later 1990s. But these new digital devices were what was going to improve our quality of life. And for anyone that could get their hands on an iMac they were now doing so. But it still felt like a little bit of a closed ecosystem.
Apple released a tool for making DVDs in 2001 for the Mac G4, which came with a SuperDrive, or Apple’s version of an optical drive that could read and write CDs and DVDs. iDVD gave us the ability to add menus, slideshows (later easily imported as Keynote presentations when that was released in 2003), images as backgrounds, and more. Now we could take those videos we made and make DVDs that we could pop into our DVD player and watch. Families all over the world could make their vacation look a little less like a bunch of kids fighting and a lot more like bliss. And for anyone that needed more, Apple had DVD Studio Pro - which many a film studio used to make the menus for movies for years.
They knew video was going to be a thing because going back to the 90s, Jobs had tried to get Adobe to release Premiere for the iMac. But they’d turned him down, something he’d never forget. Instead, Jobs was able to sway Randy Ubillos to bring a product that a Macromedia board member had convinced him to work on called Key Grip, which they’d renamed to Final Cut. Apple acquired the source code and development team and released it as Final Cut Pro in 1999. And iMovie for the consumer and Final Cut Pro for the professional turned out to be a home run. But another piece of the puzzle was coming together at about the same time.
Jeff Robbin, Bill Kincaid, and Dave Heller built a tool called SoundJam in 1998. They had worked on the failed Copeland project to build a new OS at Apple and afterwards, Robbin made a great old tool (that we might need again with the way extensions are going) called Conflict Catcher while Kincaid worked on the drivers for a MP3 player called the Diamond Rio. He saw these cool new MP3 things and tools like Winamp, which had been released in 1997, so decided to meet back up with Robbin for a new tool, which they called SoundJam and sold for $50.
Just so happens that I’ve never met anyone at Apple that didn’t love music. Going back to Jobs and Wozniak. So of course they would want to do something in digital music. So in 2000, Apple acquired SoundJam and the team immediately got to work stripping out features that were unnecessary. They wanted a simple aesthetic. iMovie-esque, brushed metal, easy to use. That product was released in 2001 as iTunes.
iTunes didn’t change the way we consumed music.That revolution was already underway. And that team didn’t just add brushed metal to the rest of the operating system. It had begun with QuickTime in 1991 but it was iTunes through SoundJam that had sparked brushed metal.
SoundJam gave the Mac music visualizers as well. You know, those visuals on the screen that were generated by sound waves from music we were listening to. And while we didn’t know it yet, would be the end of software coming in physical boxes. But something else big. There was another device coming in the digital hub strategy. iTunes became the de facto tool used to manage what songs would go on the iPod, released in 2001 as well. That’s worthy of its own episode which we’ll do soon.
You see, another aspect about SoundJam is that users could rip music off of CDs and into MP3s. The deep engineering work done to get the codec into the system survives here and there in the form of codecs accessible using APIs in the OS. And when combined with spotlight to find music it all became more powerful to build playlists, embed metadata, and listen more insightfully to growing music libraries. But Apple didn’t want to just allow people to rip, find, sort, and listen to music. They also wanted to enable users to create music. So in 2002, Apple also acquired a company called Emagic. Emagic would become Logic Pro and Gerhard Lengeling would in 2004 release a much simpler audio engineering tool called Garage Band.
Digital video and video cameras were one thing. But cheap digital point and shoot cameras were everwhere all of a sudden. iPhoto was the next tool in the strategy, dropping in 2002 Here, we got a tool that could import all those photos from our cameras into a single library. Now called Photos, Apple gave us a taste of the machine learning to come by automatically finding faces in photos so we could easily make albums. Special services popped up to print books of our favorite photos. At the time most cameras had their own software to manage photos that had been developed as an after-thought. iPhoto was easy, worked with most cameras, and was very much not an after-thought.
Keynote came in 2003, making it easy to drop photos into a presentation and maybe even iDVD. Anyone who has seen a Steve Jobs presentation understands why Keynote had to happen and if you look at the difference between many a Power Point and Keynote presentation it makes sense why it’s in a way a bridge between the making work better and doing so in ways we made home better.
That was the same year that Apple released the iTunes Music Store. This seemed like the final step in a move to get songs onto devices. Here, Jobs worked with music company executives to be able to sell music through iTunes - a strategy that would evolve over time to include podcasts, which the moves effectively created, news, and even apps - as explored on the episode on the App Store. And ushering in an era of creative single-purpose apps that drove down the cost and made so much functionality approachable for so many.
iTunes, iPhoto, and iMovie were made to live together in a consumer ecosystem. So in 2003, Apple reached that point in the digital hub strategy where they were able to take our digital life and wrap them up in a pretty bow. They called that product iLife - which was more a bundle of these services, along with iDVD and Garage Band. Now these apps are free but at the time the bundle would set you back a nice, easy, approachable $49.
All this content creation from the consumer to the prosumer to the professional workgroup meant we needed more and more storage. According to the codec, we could be running at hundreds of megabytes per second of content. So Apple licensed the StorNext File System in 2004 to rescue a company called ADIC and release a 64-bit clustered file system over fibre channel. Suddenly all that new high end creative content could be shared in larger and larger environments. We could finally have someone cutting a movie in Final Cut then hand it off to someone else to cut without unplugging a firewire drive to do it. Professional workflows in a pure-Apple ecosystem were a thing.
Now you just needed a way to distribute all this content. So iWeb in 2004, which allowed us to build websites quickly and bring all this creative content in. Sites could be hosted on MobileMe or files uploaded to a web host via FTP. Apple had dabbled in web services since the 80s with AppleLink then eWorld then iTools, .Mac, and MobileMe, the culmination of the evolutions of these services now referred to as iCloud.
And iCloud now syncs documents and more. Pages came in 2005, Numbers came in 2007, and they were bundled with Keynote to become Apple iWork, allowing for a competitor of sorts to Microsoft Office. Later made free and ported to iOS as well. iCloud is a half-hearted attempt at keeping these synchronized between all of our devices.
Apple had been attacking the creative space from the bottom with the tools in iLife but at the top as well. Competing with tools like Avid’s Media Composer, which had been around for the Mac going back to 1989, Apple bundled the professional video products into a single suite called Final Cut Studio. Here, Final Cut Pro, Motion, DVD Studio Pro, Soundtrack Pro, Color (obtained when Apple acquired SiliconColor and renamed it from FinalTouch), Compressor, Cinema Tools, and Qmaster for distributing the processing power for the above tools came in one big old box. iMovie and Garage Band for the consumer market and Final Cut Studio and Logic for the prosumer to professional market. And suddenly I was running around the world deploying Xsan’s into video shops, corporate taking head editing studios, and ad agencies
Another place where this happened was with photos. Aperture was released in 2005 and offered the professional photographer tools to manage their large collection of images. And that represented the final pieces of the strategy. It continued to evolve and get better over the years. But this was one of the last aspects of the Digital Hub Strategy.
Because there was a new strategy underway. That’s the year Apple began the development of the iPhone. And this represents a shift in the strategy. Released in 2007, then followed up with the first iPad in 2010, we saw a shift from the growth of new products in the digital hub strategy to migrating them to the mobile platforms, making them stand-alone apps that could be sold on App Stores, integrated with iCloud, and killing off those that appealed to more specific needs in higher-end creative environments, like Aperture, which went ended in 2014, and integrating some into other products, like Color becoming a part of Final Cut Pro. But the income from those products has now been eclipsed by mobile devices. Because when we see the returns from one strategy begin to crest - you know, like when the entire creative industry loves you, it’s time to move to another, bolder strategy. And that mobile strategy opened our eyes to always online (or frequently online) synchronization between products and integration with products, like we get with Handoff and other technologies today.
In 2009 Apple acquired a company called Lala, which would later be added to iCloud - but the impact to the Digital Hub Strategy was that it paved the way for iTunes Match, a cloud service that allowed for syncing music from a local library to other Apple devices. It was a subscription and more of a stop-gap for moving people to a subscription to license music than a lasting stand-alone product. And other acquisitions would come over time and get woven in, such as Redmatia, Beats, and Swell.
Steve Jobs said exactly what Apple was going to do in 2001. In one of the most impressive implementations of a strategy, Apple had slowly introduced quality products that tactically ushered in a digital lifestyle since the late 90s and over the next few years. iMovie, iPhoto, iTunes, iDVD, iLife, and in a sign of the changing times - iPod, iPhone, iCloud. To signal the end of that era because it was by then ubiquitous. - then came the iPad. And the professional apps won over the creative industries. Until the strategy had been played out and Apple began laying the groundwork for the next strategy in 2005.
That mobile revolution was built in part on the creative influences of Apple. Tools that came after, like Instagram, made it even easier to take great photos, connect with friends in a way iWeb couldn’t - because we got to the point where “there’s an app for that”. And as the tools weren’t needed, Apple cancelled some one-by-one, or even let Adobe Premiere eclipse Final Cut in many ways. Because you know, sales of the iMac DV were enough to warrant building the product on the Apple platform and eventually Adobe decided to do that. Apple built many of these because there was a need and there weren’t great alternatives. Once there were great alternatives, Apple let those limited quantities of software engineers go work on other things they needed done. Like building frameworks to enable a new generation of engineers to build amazing tools for the platform!
I’ve always considered the release of the iPad to be the end of era where Apple was introducing more and more software. From the increased services on the server platform to tools that do anything and everything. But 2010 is just when we could notice what Jobs was doing. In fact, looking at it, we can easily see that the strategy shifted about 5 years before that. Because Apple was busy ushering in the next revolution in computing.
So think about this. Take an Apple, a Microsoft, or a Google. The developers of nearly every single operating system we use today. What changes did they put in place 5 years ago that are just coming to fruition today. While the product lifecycles are annual releases now, that doesn’t mean that when they have billions of devices out there that the strategies don’t unfold much, much slower. You see, by peering into the evolutions over the past few years, we can see where they’re taking computing in the next few years. Who did they acquire? What products will they release? What gaps does that create? How can we take those gaps and build products that get in front of them? This is where magic happens. Not when we’re too early like a General Magic was. But when we’re right on time. Unless we help set strategy upstream. Or, is it all chaos and not in the least bit predictable? Feel free to send me your thoughts!
And thank you…
ANTIC Episode 76 - The Bill Kendrick Show
In this episode of ANTIC The Atari 8-Bit Computer Podcast… Bill Kendrick gets more mentions than when he’s on the show, Kay discovers he owns more Atari disk drives than the rest of the Atari community combined, and we discuss all the news rocking the Atari 8-bit world.
Interview index: here
What We’ve Been Up To
YouTube videos this month
New at Archive.org
New at Github
James and John discuss eBay Finds: Original Mac Picasso box, Powerbook Duo 230 plus DuoDock, and Blue Dalmatian iMac. James recovers photos from an old Olympus digital camera, and news includes iMac Pro discontinued, classic icons on your iPhone, and Justin gets real.
ANTIC Interview 408 - David Maynard, Electronic Arts Worms?
David Maynard created the game/simulation "Worms?" Published by Electronic Arts in 1983, it was a launch title -- one of the five initial releases from the company. David, one of EA's first employees, wrote Worms? for the Atari 8-bit in FORTH. It was later ported to the Commodore 64.
Worms is an interactive version of Paterson's Worms, a family of cellular automata devised in 1971 by Mike Paterson and John Conway. It is an unusual program, in which the player teaches wormlike creatures how to move on a hexagonal grid -- what direction to move in various situations. The worm's goal is to to grow and survive, and to capture more space on the grid than its competitors. Up to four worms could play simultaneously, with any combination of human- and computer-controlled worms.
But the program's manual didn't tell you all that straight off. In fact, here's the first thing you saw after opening the package: "You will find detailed instructions enclosed. Do not read them. Instead, sit down and get started. Don't ask how. Just start. You know how these things work... Resist them. Do not read them for a very long time. In fact, do not read them until you know how the game works... Then never read the instructions. Innocence is bliss."
David also collaborated on Cut & Paste, a word processor published by Electronic Arts in 1984.
After our interview, David sent me a binder of Worms? development documentation and source code for Atari 8-bit and Commodore 64, all of which I have scanned and are available at Internet Archive and GitHub. The originals are going to the Strong Museum of Play, at David's request.
This interview took place on March 4, 2021.
Worms? source code for Atari 8-bit and Commodore 64
Scans of printed Worms? source code
Worms? Development Notes
Worms? at AtariMania
Michael Beeler's original Paterson's Worms paper
Martin Gardner's article in Scientific American
Darworms instructions and explanation
More Paterson's worm math
EA We See Farther poster
Can Kay and Carrington defeat the usurper king and restore peace to a fabled land? And more importantly, can they do it while turning into badgers and turtles and eels, oh my. Some claim there is more to being a knight than just eating ham and jam and Spam a lot. Surely you joust.
One of the great things about the modern Internet is the wide range of services and content available on it. You have news, email, games, even podcasts. And in each category you have a wide range of choices. This wide diversity makes the Internet so compelling and fun to explore. But what happens when you take away that freedom of choice? What would a network look like if there was only one news site, or one place to get eamil? Look no further than THE SOURCE. Formed in 1979 and marketed as the information utility for the information age, THE SOURCE looked remarkably like the Internet in a more closed-off format. The key word here is: looked.
Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and bonus content: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing
James and John discuss eBay Finds: TAM Experience CDROM, original iMac, and an oddly configured Macintosh SE. Mark and Frank join to discuss the MacEffects Apple //e keyboard Kickstarter and an upcoming project, and news includes HomePod discontinued, obscure Apple products, and startup sound history.
James and John discuss eBay Finds: Apple "Freedom of Expression" printer poster, Mac lot, and Tecmar serial hard drive. John makes 1-bit wallpaper, and news includes Throwboy towels and a 3D-printed retro Mac enclosure.
Atari at the Science Fair: Michael Fripp: Silent E
An article was published in the Daily Press newspaper of Newport News, Virginia on February 13 1985, titled "Best in Show at Science Fair: Computer program helps young readers conquer the 'silent e' challenge'.
Two years ago Michael Fripp wanted to make sure his younger brother didn't face a hard time learning how to deal with the "silent e" principle in reading lessons. Putting his own Atari computer to work, Michael developed a fun, educational computer program designed to teach then 6-year-old Daniel how to successfully pronounce words like "cap," "tub" and "man" when an "e" is added to each.
"I remember the trouble I had with 'silent e' and didn't want him to have that trouble," says 13-year-old Michael, an eighth grader at Queens Lake Intermediate School. "There are lots of math but few English programs for computers. I hope to bridge that gap."
Michael went on to expand the "silent e" program, complete with more detailed instruction and graphics, through his computer science class at school and entered it as an exhibit in the York County Science Fair. Michael's educational reading program — "Silent E: A Program for K-3" — was judged best in show.
"We were pleased and surprised a computer program was picked because usually the judges pick pure science," says Carolyn Gaertner, who teaches math and computer science at the intermediate school.
Michael's computer program involves a simple story outline about an earthling named Tim and his spaceship landing on the planet EOP which is ruled by the Silent E's. There, Tim learns how the Silent E's simply and quickly turn words such as "pan" into "pane" with the addition of their favorite letter...
He has copyrighted the program and hopes to market it commercially. More than 100 hours of work have gone into the project...
"Computers are like a fever; they grow on you," says the young man. "I try to do a lot of programming at home but homework really limits me."
The large photograph accompanying the article shows young Michael, replete with calculator watch, in front of an Apple II computer, not an Atari.
I talked with Dr. Fripp to hear all about his program.
This interview took place on February 28, 2021.
Intro song: Silent E by Tom Lehrer
The Whole Earth ‘lectronic Link, or WELL, was started by Stewart Brand and Larry Brilliant in 1985, and is still available at well.com. We did an episode on Stewart Brand: Godfather of the Interwebs and he was a larger than life presence amongst many of the 1980s former hippies that were shaping our digital age. From his assistance producing The Mother Of All Demos to the Whole Earth Catalog inspiring Steve Jobs and many others to his work with Ted Nelson, there’s probably only a few degrees separating him from anyone else in computing.
Larry Brilliant is another counter-culture hero. He did work as a medical professional for the World Health Organization to eradicate smallpox and came home to teach at the University of Michigan. The University of Michigan had been working on networked conferencing since the 70s when Bob Parnes wrote CONFER, which would be used at Wayne State where Brilliant got his MD. But CONFER was a bit of a resource hog.
PicoSpan was written by Marcus Watts in 1983. Pico is a small text editor in many a UNIX variant and network is network. Why small, well, modems that dialed into bulletin boards were pretty slow back then.
Marcus worked at NETI, who then bought the rights for PicoSpan to take to market. So Brilliant was the chairman of NETI at the time and approached Brand about starting up a bulletin-board system (BBS). Brilliant proposed NETI would supply the gear and software and that Brand would use his, uh, brand - and Whole Earth following, to fill the ranks. Brand’s non-profit The Point Foundation would own half and NETI would own the other half.
It became an early online community outside of academia, and an important part of the rise of the splinter-nets and a holdout to the Internet. For a time, at least.
PicoSpan gave users conferences. These were similar to PLATO Notes files, where a user could create a conversation thread and people could respond. These were (and still are) linear and threaded conversations. Rather than call them Notes like PLATO did, PicSpan referred to them as “conferences” as “online conferencing” was a common term used to describe meeting online for discussions at the time. EIES had been around going back to the 1970s, so Brand had some ideas abut what an online community could be - having used it. Given the sharp drop in the cost of storage there was something new PicoSpan could give people: the posts could last forever. Keep in mind, the Mac still didn’t ship with a hard drive in 1984. But they were on the rise.
And those bits that were preserved were manifested in words. Brand brought a simple mantra: You Own Your Own Words. This kept the hands of the organization clean and devoid of liability for what was said on The WELL - but also harkened back to an almost libertarian bent that many in technology had at the time. Part of me feels like libertarianism meant something different in that era. But that’s a digression. Whole Earth Review editor Art Kleiner flew up to Michigan to get the specifics drawn up. NETI’s investment had about a quarter million dollar cash value. Brand stayed home and came up with a name. The Whole Earth ‘lectronic Link, or WELL.
The WELL was not the best technology, even at the time. The VAX was woefully underpowered for as many users as The WELL would grow to, and other services to dial into and have discussions were springing up. But it was one of the most influential of the time. And not because they recreated the extremely influential Whole Earth catalog in digital form like Brilliant wanted, which would have been similar to what Amazon reviews are like now probably. But instead, the draw was the people.
The community was fostered first by Matthew McClure, the initial director who was a former typesetter for the Whole Earth Catalog. He’d spent 12 years on a commune called The Farm and was just getting back to society. They worked out that they needed to charge $8 a month and another couple bucks an hour to make minimal a profit.
So McClure worked with NETI to get the Fax up and they created the first conference, General. Kevin Kelly from the Whole Earth Review and Brand would start discussions and Brand mentioned The WELL in some of his writings. A few people joined, and then a few more.
Others from The Farm would join him. Cliff Figallo, known as Cliff, was user 19 and John Coate, who went by Tex, came in to run marketing. In those first few years they started to build up a base of users.
It started with hackers and journalists, who got free accounts. And from there great thinkers joined up. People like Tom Mandel from Stanford Research Institute, or SRI. He would go on to become the editor of Time Online. His partner Nana. Howard Rheingold, who would go on to write a book called The Virtual Community. And they attracted more. Especially Dead Heads, who helped spread the word across the country during the heyday of the Grateful Dead.
Plenty of UNIX hackers also joined. After all, the community was finding a nexus in the Bay Area at the time. They added email in 1987 and it was one of those places you could get on at least one part of this whole new internet thing. And need help with your modem? There’s a conference for that. Need to talk about calling your birth mom who you’ve never met because you were adopted? There’s a conference for that as well. Want to talk sexuality with a minister? Yup, there’s a community for that. It was one of the first times that anyone could just reach out and talk to people. And the community that was forming also met in person from time to time at office parties, furthering the cohesion.
We take Facebook groups, Slack channels, and message boards for granted today. We can be us or make up a whole new version of us. We can be anonymous and just there to stir up conflict like on 4Chan or we can network with people in our industry like on LinkedIn. We can chat real time, which is similar to the Send option on The WELL. Or we can post threaded responses to other comments. But the social norms and trends were proving as true then as now. Communities grow, they fragment, people create problems, people come, people go. And sometimes, as we grow, we inspire.
Those early adopters of The WELL inspired Craig Newmark of Craigslist to the growing power of the Internet. And future developers of Apple. Hippies versus nerds but not really versus, but coming to terms with going from “computers are part of the military industrial complex keeping us down” philosophy to more of a free libertarian information superhighway that persisted for decades. The thought that the computer would set us free and connect the world into a new nation, as John Perry Barlow would sum up perfectly in “A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace”.
By 1990 people like Barlow could make a post on The WELL from Wyoming and have Mitch Kapor, the founder of Lotus, makers of Lotus 1-2-3 show up at his house after reading the post - and they could join forces with the 5th employee of Sun Microsystems and GNU Debugging Cypherpunk John Gilmore to found the Electronic Foundation. And as a sign of the times that’s the same year The WELL got fully connected to the Internet.
By 1991 they had grown to 5,000 subscribers. That was the year Bruce Katz bought NETI’s half of the well for $175,000. Katz had pioneered the casual shoe market, changing the name of his families shoe business to Rockport and selling it to Reebok for over $118 million.
The WELL had posted a profit a couple of times but by and large was growing slower than competitors. Although I’m not sure any o the members cared about that. It was a smaller community than many others but they could meet in person and they seemed to congeal in ways that other communities didn’t. But they would keep increasing in size over the next few years. In that time Fig replaced himself with Maurice Weitman, or Mo - who had been the first person to sign up for the service. And Tex soon left as well.
Tex would go to become an early webmaster of The Gate, the community from the San Francisco Chronicle. Fig joined AOL’s GNN and then became director of community at Salon.
But AOL. You see, AOL was founded in the same year. And by 1994 AOL was up to 1.25 million subscribers with over a million logging in every day. CompuServe, Prodigy, Genie, Dephi were on the rise as well. And The WELL had thousands of posts a day by then but was losing money and not growing like the others. But I think the users of the service were just fine with that. The WELL was still growing slowly and yet for many, it was too big. Some of those left. Some stayed. Other communities, like The River, fragmented off. By then, The Point Foundation wanted out so sold their half of The WELL to Katz for $750,000 - leaving Katz as the first full owner of The WELL.
I mean, they were an influential community because of some of the members, sure, but more because the quality of the discussions. Academics, drugs, and deeply personal information. And they had always complained about figtex or whomever was in charge - you know, the counter-culture is always mad at “The Management.” But Katz was not one of them. He honestly seems to have tried to improve things - but it seems like everything he tried blew up in his face.
So Katz further alienated the members and fired Mo and brought on Maria Wilhelm, but they still weren’t hitting that hyper-growth, with membership getting up to around 10,000 - but by then AOL was jumping from 5,000,000 to 10,000,000. But again, I’ve not found anyone who felt like The WELL should have been going down that same path. The subscribers at The WELL were looking for an experience of a completely different sort. By 1995 Gail Williams allowed users to create their own topics and the unruly bunch just kinda’ ruled themselves in a way. There was staff and drama and emotions and hurt feelings and outrage and love and kindness and, well, community.
By the late 90s, the buzz word at many a company were all about building communities, and there were indeed plenty of communities growing. But none like The WELL. And given that some of the founders of Salon had been users of The WELL, Salon bought The WELL in 1999 and just kinda’ let it fly under the radar. The influence continued with various journalists as members.
The web came. And the members of The WELL continued their community. Award winning but a snapshot in time in a way. Living in an increasingly secluded corner of cyberspace, a term that first began life in a present tense on The WELL, if you got it, you got it.
In 2012, after trying to sell The WELL to another company, Salon finally sold The WELL to a group of members who had put together enough money to buy it. And The WELL moved into the current, more modern form of existence.
To quote the site:
Welcome to a gathering that’s like no other. The WELL, launched back in 1985 as the Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link, continues to provide a cherished watering hole for articulate and playful thinkers from all walks of life.
For more about why conversation is so treasured on The WELL, and why members of the community banded together to buy the site in 2012, check out the story of The WELL.
If you like what you see, join us!
It sounds pretty inviting. And it’s member supported. Like National Public Radio kinda’. In what seems like an antiquated business model, it’s $15 per month to access the community. And make no mistake, it’s a community.
You Own Your Own Words. If you pay to access a community, you don’t sign the ownership of your words away in a EULA. You don’t sign away rights to sell your data to advertisers along with having ads shown to you in increasing numbers in a hunt for ever more revenue. You own more than your words, you own your experience. You are sovereign.
This episode doesn’t really have a lot of depth to it. Just as most online forums lack the kind of depth that could be found on the WELL. I am a child of a different generation, I suppose.
Through researching each episode of the podcast, I often read books, conduct interviews (a special thanks to Help A Reporter Out), lurk in conferences, and try to think about the connections, the evolution, and what the most important aspects of each are. There is a great little book from Katie Hafner called The Well: A Story Of Love, Death, & Real Life. I recommend it. There’s also Howard Rheingold’s The Virtual Community and John Seabrook’s Deeper: Adventures on the Net. Oh, and From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, And the Rise of Digital Utopianism from Fred Turner and Siberia by Douglas Rushkoff. At a minimum, I recommend reading Katie Hafner’s wired article and then her most excellent book!
Oh, and to hear about other ways the 60s Counterculture helped to shape the burgeoning technology industry, check out What the Dormouse Said by John Markoff.
And The WELL comes up in nearly every book as one of the early commercial digital communities. It’s been written about in Wired, in The Atlantic, makes appearances in books like Broad Band by Claire Evans, and The Internet A Historical Encyclopedia.
The business models out there to build and run and grow a company have seemingly been reduced to a select few. Practically every online community has become free with advertising and data being the currency we parlay in exchange for a sense of engagement with others.
As network effects set in and billionaires are created, others own our words. They think the lifestyle business is quaint - that if you aren’t outgrowing a market segment that you are shrinking. And a subscription site that charges a monthly access fee to cgi code with a user experience that predates the UX field on the outside might affirm that philosophy -especially since anyone can see your real name. But if we look deeper we see a far greater truth: that these barriers keep a small corner of cyberspace special - free from Russian troll farms and election stealing and spam bots. And without those distractions we find true engagement. We find real connections that go past the surface. We find depth. It’s not lost after all.
Thank you for being part of this little community. We are so lucky to have you. Have a great day.
Most early stage startups have, and so seemingly need, heroic efforts from brilliant innovators working long hours to accomplish impossible goals. Tesla certainly had plenty of these as an early stage startup and continues to - as do the other Elon Musk startups. He seems to truly understand and embrace that early stage startup world and those around him seem to as well.
As a company grows we have to trade those sprints of heroic output for steady streams of ideas and quality. We have to put development on an assembly line. Toyota famously put the ideas of Deming and other post-World War II process experts into their production lines and reaped big rewards - becoming the top car manufacturer in the process.
Not since the Ford Model T birthed the assembly line had auto makers seen as large an increase in productivity. And make no mistake, technology innovation is about productivity increases. We forget this sometimes when young, innovative startups come along claiming to disrupt industries. Many of those do, backed by seemingly endless amounts of cash to get them to the next level in growth. And the story of Tesla is as much about productivity in production as it is about innovative and disruptive ideas. And the story is as much about a cult of personality as it is about massive valuations and quality manufacturing.
The reason we’re covering Tesla in a podcast about the history of computers is at the heart of it, it’s a story about the startup culture clashing head-on with decades-old know-how in an established industry. This happens with nearly every new company: there are new ideas, an organization is formed to support the new ideas, and as the organization grows, the innovators are forced to come to terms with the fact that they have greatly oversimplified the world.
Tesla realized this. Just as Paypal had realized it before. But it took a long time to get there. The journey began much further back. Rather than start with the discovery of the battery or the electric motor, let’s start with the GM Impact. It was initially shown off at the 1990 LA Auto Show. It’s important because Alan Cocconi was able to help take some of what GM learned from the 1987 World Solar Challenge race using the Sunraycer and start putting it into a car that they could roll off the assembly lines in the thousands.
They needed to do this because the California Air Resources Board, or CARB, was about to require fleets to go 2% zero-emission, or powered by something other than fossil fuels, by 1998 with rates increasing every few years after that. And suddenly there was a rush to develop electric vehicles. GM may have decided that the Impact, later called the EV1, proved that the electric car just wasn’t ready for prime time, but the R&D was accelerating faster than it ever had before then.
That was the same year that NuvoMedia was purchased by Gemstar-TVGuide International for $187 million. They’d made the Rocket eBook e-reader. That’s important because the co-founders of that company were Martin Eberhard, a University of Illinois Champaign Urbana grad, and Marc Tarpenning.
Alan Cocconi was able to take what he’d learned and form a new company, called AC Propulsion. He was able to put together a talented group and they built a couple of different cars, including the tZero. Many of the ideas that went into the first Tesla car came from the tZero, and Eberhard and Tarpenning tried to get Tom Gage and Cocconi to take their tZero into production. The tZero was a sleek sportscar that began life powered by lead-acid batteries that could get from zero to 60 in just over four seconds and run for 80-100 miles. They used similar regenerative braking that can be found in the Prius (to oversimplify it) and the car took about an hour to charge. The cars were made by hand and cost about $80,000 each. They had other projects so couldn’t focus on trying to mass produce the car. As Tesla would learn later, that takes a long time, focus, and a quality manufacturing process.
While we think of Elon Musk as synonymous with Tesla Motors, it didn’t start that way. Tesla Motors was started in 2003 by Eberhard, who would serve as Tesla’s first chief executive officer (CEO) and Tarpenning, who would become the first chief financial officer (CFO), when AC Propulsion declined to take that tZero to market. Funding for the company was obtained from Elon Musk and others, but they weren’t that involved at first. Other than the instigation and support. It was a small shop, with a mission - to develop an electric car that could be mass produced.
The good folks at AC Propulsion gave Eberhard and Tarpenning test drives in the tZero, and even agreed to license their EV Power System and reductive charging patents. And so Tesla would develop a motor and work on their own power train so as not to rely on the patents from AC Propulsion over time. But the opening Eberhard saw was in those batteries. The idea was to power a car with battery packs made of lithium ion cells, similar to those used in laptops and of course the Rocket eBooks that NuvoMedia had made before they sold the company. They would need funding though. So Gage was kind enough to put them in touch with a guy who’d just made a boatload of money and had also recommended commercializing the car - Elon Musk.
This guy Musk, he’d started a space company in 2002. Not many people do that. And they’d been trying to buy ICBMs in Russia and recruiting rocket scientists. Wild. But hey, everyone used PayPal, where he’d made his money. So cool. Especially since Eberhard and Tarpenning had their own successful exit.
Musk signed on to provide $6.5 million in the Tesla Series A and they brought in another $1m to bring it to $7.5 million. Musk became the chairman of the board and they expanded to include Ian Wright during the fundraising and J.B. Straubel in 2004. Those five are considered the founding team of Tesla.
They got to work building up a team to build a high-end electric sports car. Why? Because that’s one part of the Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan. That’s the title of a blog post Musk wrote in 2006. You see, they were going to build a high-end hundred thousand dollar plus car. But the goal was to develop mass market electric vehicles that anyone could afford. They unveiled the prototype in 2006, selling out the first hundred in three weeks.
Meanwhile, Elon Musk’s cousins, Peter and Lyndon Rive started a company called SolarCity in 2006, which Musk also funded. They merged with Tesla in 2016 to provide solar roofs and other solar options for Tesla cars and charging stations. SolarCity, as with Tesla, was able to capitalize on government subsidies and growing to become the third most solar installations in homes with just a little over 6 percent of the market share.
But we’re still in 2006. You see, they won a bunch of awards, got a lot of attention - now it was time to switch to general production. They worked with Lotus, a maker of beautiful cars that make up for issues with quality production in status, beauty, and luxury. They started with the Lotus Elise, increased the wheelbase and bolstered the chassis so it could hold the weight of the batteries. And they used a carbon fiber composite for the body to bring the weight back down.
The process was slower than it seems anyone thought it would be. Everyone was working long hours, and they were burning through cash. By 2007, Eberhard stepped down as CEO. Michael Marks came in to run the company and later that year Ze’ev Drori was made CEO - he has been given the credit by many for tighting things up so they could get to the point that they could ship the Roadster. Tarpenning left in 2008. As did others, but the brain drain didn’t seem all that bad as they were able to ship their first car in 2008, after ten engineering prototypes.
The Roadster finally shipped in 2008, with the first car going to Musk. It could go for 245 miles a charge. 0 to 60 in less than 4 seconds. A sleek design language. But it was over $100,000. They were in inspiration and there was a buzz everywhere. The showmanship of Musk paired with the beautiful cars and the elites that bought them drew a lot of attention. As did the $1 million in revenue profit they earned in July of 2009, off 109 cars shipped.
But again, burning through cash. They sold 10% of the company to Daimler AG and took a $465 million loan from the US Department of Energy. They were now almost too big to fail.
They hit 1,000 cars sold in early 2010. They opened up to orders in Canada. They were growing. But they were still burning through cash. It was time to raise some serious capital. So Elon Musk took over as CEO, cut a quarter of the staff, and Tesla filed for an IPO in 2010, raising over $200 million. But there was something special in that S-1 (as there often is when a company opens the books to go public): They would cease production of the Roadster making way for the next big product.
Tesla cancelled the Roadster in 2012. By then they’d sold just shy of 2,500 Roadsters and been thinking through and developing the next thing, which they’d shown a prototype of in 2011. The Model S started at $76,000 and went into production in 2012. It could go 300 miles, was a beautiful car, came with a flashy tablet-inspired 17 inch display screen on the inside to replace buttons. It was like driving an iPad. Every time I’ve seen another GPS since using the one in a Model S, I feel like I’ve gotten in a time machine and gone back a decade.
But it had been announced in 2007to ship in 2009. And then the ship date dropped back to 2011 and 2012. Let’s call that optimism and scope creep. But Tesla has always eventually gotten there. Even if the price goes up. Such is the lifecycle of all technology. More features, more cost. There are multiple embedded Ubuntu operating systems controlling various parts of car, connected on a network in the car. It’s a modern marvel and Tesla was rewarded with tons of awards and, well, sales.
Charging a car that runs on batteries is a thing. So Tesla released the Superchargers in 2012, shipping 7 that year and growing slowly until now shipping over 2,500 per quarter. Musk took some hits because it took longer than anticipated to ship them, then to increase production, then to add solar. But at this point, many are solar and I keep seeing panels popping up above the cars to provide shade and offset other forms of powering the chargers. The more ubiquitous chargers become, the more accepting people will be of the cars.
Tesla needed to produce products faster. The Nevada Gigafactory was begun in 2013, to mass produce battery packs and components. Here’s one of the many reason for the high-flying valuation Tesla enjoys: it would take dozens if not a hundred factories like this to transition to sustanable energy sources. But it started with a co-investment between Tesla and Panasonic, with the two dumping billions into building a truly modern factory that’s now pumping out close tot he goal set back in 2014. As need increased, Gigafactories started to crop up with Gigafactory 5 being built to supposedly go into production in 2021 to build the Semi, Cybertruck (which should begin production in 2021) and Model Y. Musk first mentioned the truck in 2012 and projected a 2018 or 2019 start time for production. Close enough.
Another aspect of all that software is that they can get updates over the air. Tesla released Autopilot in 2014. Similar to other attempts to slowly push towards self-driving cars, Autopilot requires the driver to stay alert, but can take on a lot of the driving - staying within the lines on the freeway, parking itself, traffic-aware cruise control, and navigation. But it’s still the early days for self-driving cars and while we make think that because the number of integrated circuits doubles every year that it paves the way to pretty much anything, no machine learning project I’ve ever seen has gone as fast as we want because it takes years to build the appropriate algorithms and then rethink industries based on the impact of those. But Tesla, Google through Waymo, and many others have been working on it for a long time (hundreds of years in startup-land) and it continues to evolve.
By 2015, Tesla had sold over 100,000 cars in the life of the company. They released the Model X that year, also in 2015. This was their first chance to harness the power of the platform - which in the auto industry is when there are multiple cars of similar size and build. Franz von Holzhausen designed it and it is a beautiful car, with falcon-wing doors, up to a 370 mile range on the battery and again with the Autopilot. But harnessing the power of the platform was a challenge. You see, with a platform of cars you want most of the parts to be shared - the differences are often mostly cosmetic. But the Model X only shared a little less than a third of the parts of the Model S.
But it’s yet another technological marvel, with All Wheel Drive as an option, that beautiful screen, and check this out - a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds - for an electric automobile!
By the end of 2016, they’d sold over 25,000. To a larger automaker that might seem like nothing, but they’d sell over 10,000 in every quarter after that. And it would also become the platform for a mini-bus. Because why not. So they’d gone lateral in the secret plan but it was time to get back at it. This is where the Model 3 comes in.
The Model 3 was released in 2017 and is now the best-selling electric car in the history of the electric car. The Model 3 was first shown off in 2016 and within a week, Tesla had taken over 300,000 reservations. Everyone I talked to seemed to want in on an electric car that came in at $35,000. This was the secret plan. That $35,000 model wouldn’t be available until 2019 but they started cranking them out. Production was a challenge with Musk famously claiming Tesla was in “Production Hell” and sleeping on an air mattress at the factory to oversee the many bottlenecks that came. Musk thought they could introduce more robotics than they could and so they’ slowly increased production to first a few hundred per week then a few thousand until finally almost hitting that half a million mark in 2020.
This required buying Grohmann Engineering in 2017, now called Tesla Advanced Automation Germany - pumping billions into production. But Tesla added the Model Y in 2020, launching a crossover on the Model 3 platform, producing over 450,000 of them. And then of course they decided to the Tesla Semi, selling for between $150,000 and $200,000. And what’s better than a Supercharger to charge those things? A Megacharger. As is often the case with ambitious projects at Tesla, it didn’t ship in 2020 as projected but is now supposed to ship, um, later.
Tesla also changed their name from Tesla Motors to Tesla, Inc. And if you check out their website today, solar roofs and solar panels share the top bar with the Models S, 3, X, and Y. SolarCity and batteries, right?
Big money brings big attention. Some good. Some bad. Some warranted. Some not. Musk’s online and sometimes nerd-rockstar persona was one of the most valuable assets at Tesla - at least in the fundraising, stock pumping popularity contest that is the startup world. But on August 7, 2018, he tweeted “Am considering taking Tesla private at $420. Funding secured.” The SEC would sue him for that, causing him to step down as chairman for a time and limit his Twitter account. But hey, the stock jumped up for a bit.
But Tesla kept keeping on, slowly improving things and finally hit about the half million cars per year mark in 2020. Producing cars has been about quality for a long time. And it needs to be with people zipping around as fast as we drive - especially on modern freeways. Small batches of cars are fairly straight-forward. Although I could never build one.
The electric car is good for the environment, but the cost to offset carbon for Tesla is still far greater than, I don’t know, making a home more energy efficient. But the improvements in the technology continue to increase rapidly with all this money and focus being put on them. And the innovative designs that Tesla has deployed has inspired others, which often coincides with the rethinking of entire industries.
But there are tons of other reasons to want electric cars. The average automobile manufactured these days has about 30,000 parts. Teslas have less than a third of that. One hopes that will some day be seen in faster and higher quality production.
They managed to go from producing just over 18,000 cars in 2015 to over 26,000 in 2016 to over 50,000 in 2017 to the 190,000s in 2018 and 2019 to a whopping 293,000 in 2020. But they sold nearly 500,000 cars in 2020 and seem to be growing at a fantastic clip. Here’s the thing, though. Ford exceeded half a million cars in 1916. It took Henry Ford from 1901 to 1911 to get to producing 34,000 cars a year but only 5 more years to hit half a million. I read a lot of good and a lot of bad things about Tesla. Ford currently has a little over a 46 and a half billion dollar market cap. Tesla’s crested at nearly $850 billion and has since dropped to just shy of 600.
Around 64 million cars are sold each year. Volkswagen is the top, followed by Toyota. Combined, they are worth less than Tesla on paper despite selling over 20 times the number of cars. If Tesla was moving faster, that might make more sense. But here’s the thing. Tesla is about to get besieged by competitors at every side. Nearly every category of car has an electric alternative with Audi, BMW, Volvo, and Mercedes releasing cars at the higher ends and on multiple platforms. Other manufacturers are releasing cars to compete with the upper and lower tiers of each model Tesla has made available. And miniature cars, scooters, bikes, air taxis, and other modes of transportation are causing us to rethink the car. And multi-tenancy of automobiles using ride sharing apps and the potential that self driving cars can have on that are causing us to rethink automobile ownership.
All of this will lead some to rethink that valuation Tesla enjoyed. But watching the moves Tesla makes and scratching my head over some certainly makes me think to never under, or over-estimate Tesla or Musk. I don’t want anything to do with Tesla Stock. Far too weird for me to grok. But I do wish them the best. I highly doubt the state of electric vehicles and the coming generational shifts in transportation in general would be where they are today if Tesla hadn’t done all the good and bad that they’ve done. They deserve a place in the history books when we start looking back at the massive shifts to come. In the meantime, I’l’ just call this episode part 1 and wait to see if Tesla matches Ford production levels some day, crashes and burns, gets acquired by another company, or who knows, packs up and heads to Mars.
Is it too late for Apple’s lightweight laptops? Steven Levy’s summary of the awkward PowerBook Duo situation.
Original text from Macworld Magazine, December 1993.
We can look around at distributed banking, crypto-currencies, Special Purpose Acquisition Companies, and so many other innovative business strategies as new and exciting and innovative. And they are. But paving the way for them was simplifying online payments to what I’ve heard Elon Musk call just some rows in a database.
Peter Thiel, Max Levchin, and former Netscaper Luke Nosek had this idea in 1998. Levchin and Nosek has worked together on a startup called SponsorNet New Media while at the University of Illinois Champagne-Urbana where PLATO and Mosaic had come out of. And SponsorNet was supposed to sell online banner ads but would instead be one of four failed startups before zeroing in on this new thing, where they would enable digital payments for businesses and make it simple for consumers to buy things online. They called the company Confinity and setup shop in beautiful Mountain View, California.
It was an era when a number of organizations were doing things in taking payments online that weren’t so great. Companies would cache credit card numbers on sites, many had weak security, and the rush to sell everything in the bubble forming around dot-coms fueled a knack for speed over security, privacy, or even reliability.
Confinity would store the private information in its own banking vaults, keep it secure, and provide access to vendors - taking a small charge per-transaction. Where large companies had been able to build systems to take online payments, now small businesses and emerging online stores could compete with the big boys. Thiel and Levchin had hit on something when they launched a service called PayPal, to provide a digital wallet and enable online transactions. They even accepted venture funding, taking $3 million from banks like Deutsche Bank over Palm Pilots. One of those funders was Nokia, investing in PayPal expanding into digital services for the growing mobile commerce market. And by 2000 they were up to 1,000,000 users.
They saw an opening to make a purchase from a browser on a phone or a browser or app on a cell phone using one of those new smart phone ideas. And they were all rewarded with over 10 million people using the site in just three short years, processing a whopping $3 billion in transactions.
Now this was the heart of the dot-com bubble. In that time, Elon Musk managed to sell his early startup Zip2, which made city guides on the early internet, to Compaq for around $300 million, pocketing $22 million for himself. He parlayed that payday into X.com, another online payment company. X.com exploded to over 200,000 customers quickly and as happens frequently with rapid acceleration, a young Musk found himself with a new boss - Bill Harris, the former CEO of Intuit.
And they helped invent many of the ways we do business online at that time. One of my favorite of Levchin’s contributions to computing, the Gausebeck-Levchin test, is one of the earliest implementations of what we now call CAPTCHA - you know when you’re shown a series of letters and asked to type them in to eliminate bots.
Harris helped the investors de-risk by merging with Confinity to form X.com. Peter Thiel and Elon Musk are larger than life minds in Silicon Valley. The two were substantially different. Musk took on the CEO role but Musk and Thiel were at heads. Thiel believed in a Linux ecosystem and Musk believed in a Windows ecosystem. Thiel wanted to focus on money transfers, similar to the PayPal of today. Given that those were just rows in a database, it was natural that that kind of business would become a red ocean and indeed today there are dozens of organizations focused on it. But Paypal remains the largest. So Musk also wanted to become a full online banking system - much more ambitious. Ultimately Thiel won and assumed the title of CEO.
They remained a money transmitter and not a full bank. This means they keep funds that have been sent and not picked up, in an interest bearing account at a bank.
They renamed the company to PayPal in 2001 and focused on taking the company public, with an IPO as PYPL in 2002. The stock shot up 50% in the first day of trading, closing at $20 per share. Yet another example of the survivors of the dot com bubble increasing the magnitude of valuations. By then, most eBay transactions accepted PayPal and seeing an opportunity, eBay acquired PayPal for $1.5 billion later in 2002. Suddenly PayPal was the default option for closed auctions and would continue their meteoric rise. Musk is widely reported to have made almost $200 million when eBay bought PayPal and Thiel is reported to have made over $50 million.
Under eBay, PayPal would grow and as with most companies that IPO, see a red ocean form in their space. But they brought in people like Ken Howery, who serve as the VP of corporate development, would later cofound investment firm Founders Fund with Thiel, and then become the US Ambassador to Sweden under Trump. And he’s the first of what’s called the PayPal Mafia, a couple dozen extremely influential personalities in tech.
By 2003, PayPal had become the largest payment processor for gambling websites. Yet they walked away from that business to avoid some of the complicated regulations until various countries that could verify a license for online gambling venues.
In 2006 they added security keys and moved to sending codes to phones for a second factor of security validation. In 2008 they bought Fraud Sciences to gain access to better online risk management tools and Bill Me Later.
As the company grew, they setup a company in the UK and began doing business internationally. They moved their EU presence to Luxembourg 2007. They’ve often found themselves embroiled in politics, blocking the any political financing accounts, Alex Jones show InfoWars, and one of the more challenging for them, WikiLeaks in 2010. This led to them being attacked by members of Anonymous for a series of denial of service attacks that brought the PayPal site down.
OK, so that early CAPTCHA was just one way PayPal was keeping us secure. It turns out that moving money is complicated, even the $3 you paid for that special Golden Girls t-shirt you bought for a steal on eBay. For example, US States require reporting certain transactions, some countries require actual government approval to move money internationally, some require a data center in the country, like Turkey. So on a case-by-case basis PayPal has had to decide if it’s worth it to increase the complexity of the code and spend precious development cycles to support a given country. In some cases, they can step in and, for example, connect the Baidu wallet to PayPal merchants in support of connecting China to PayPal.
They were spun back out of eBay in 2014 and acquired Xoom for $1 billion in 2015, iZettle for $2.2 billion, who also does point of sales systems. And surprisingly they bought online coupon aggregator Honey for $4B in 2019. But their best acquisition to many would be tiny app payment processor Venmo for $26 million. I say this because a friend claimed they prefer that to PayPal because they like the “little guy.”
Out of nowhere, just a little more than 20 years ago, the founders of PayPal and they and a number of their initial employees willed a now Fortune 500 company into existence. While they were growing, they had to learn about and understand so many capital markets and regulations. This sometimes showed them how they could better invest money. And many of those early employees went on to have substantial impacts in technology. That brain drain helped fuel the Web 2.0 companies that rose.
One of the most substantial ways was with the investment activities. Thiel would go on to put $10 million of his money into Clarium Capital Management, a hedge fund, and Palantir, a big data AI company with a focus on the intelligence industry, who now has a $45 billion market cap. And he funded another organization who doesn’t at all use our big private data for anything, called Facebook. He put half a million into Facebook as an angel investor - an investment that has paid back billions. He’s also launched the Founders Fund, Valar Venture, and is a partner at Y Combinator, in capacities where he’s funded everyone from LinkedIn and Airbnb to Stripe to Yelp to Spotify, to SpaceX to Asana and the list goes on and on and on.
Musk has helped take so many industries online. Why not just apply that startup modality to space - so launched SpaceX and to cars, so helped launch (and backed financially) Tesla and solar power, so launched Solar City and building tunnels so launched The Boring Company. He dabbles in Hyperloops (thus the need for tunnels) and OpenAI and well, whatever he wants. He’s even done cameos in movies like Iron Man. He’s certainly a personality.
Max Levchin would remain the CTO and then co-found and become the CEO of Affirm, a public fintech company.
David Sacks was the COO at PayPal and founded Yammer. Roelof Botha is the former CFO at PayPal who became a partner at Sequoia Capital, one of the top venture capital firms. Yishan Wong was an engineering manager at PayPal who became the CEO of Reddit.
Steve Chen left to join Facebook but hooked back up with Jawed Karim for a new project, who he studied computer science at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana with. They were joined by Chad Hurley, who had created the original PayPal logo, to found YouTube. They sold it to Google for $1.65 billion in 2006. Hurley now owns part of the Golden State Warriors, the MLS Los Angeles team, and Leeds United.
Reid Hoffman was another COO at PayPal, who Thiel termed the “firefighter-in-chief” and left to found LinkedIn. After selling LinkedIn to Microsoft for over $26 billion he become a partner at venture capital firm, Greylock Partners.
Jeremy Stoppelman and Russel Simmons co-founded Yelp with $1 million in funding from Max Levchin, taking the company public in 2011. And the list goes on.
PayPal paved the way for small transactions on the Internet. A playbook repeated in different parts of the sector by the likes of Square, Stripe, Dwolla, Due, and many others - including Apple Pay, Amazon Payments, and Google Wallet. We live in an era now, where practically every industry has been taken online. Heck, even cars. In the next episode we’ll look at just that, exploring the next steps in Elon Musk’s career after leaving PayPal.
Heidi Brumbaugh, Antic and START Magazines
Heidi Brumbaugh worked at Antic Publishing, where she started off as editorial clerk, then was promoted to editorial assistant, for both Antic magazine and START magazine, then was programs editor for START Magazine. She wrote many articles for Antic and START, including three programs for the 8-bits published in Antic: Red, White and Blue, a board game; Hot and Cold, a Master Mind-type game; and Antic Prompter, a teleprompter application.
She met her husband through Antic publishing, START author and programmer Jim Kent, who also created the Cyber Paint program for Atari ST.
This interview took place on February 28, 2021.
List of Antic articles by Heidi Brumbaugh
List of START articles by Heidi Brumbaugh
Heidi's programs at Atarimania
Heidi's review of Linkword Languages
Cyber Paint by Jim Kent
2013 Interview with Jim Capparell, Founder of Antic Magazine
PLATO (Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations) was an educational computer system that began at the University of Illinois Champaign Urbana in 1960 and ran into the 2010s in various flavors.
Wait, that’s an oversimplification. PLATO seemed to develop on an island in the corn fields of Champaign Illinois, and sometimes precedes, sometimes symbolizes, and sometimes fast-follows what was happening in computing around the world in those decades.
To put this in perspective - PLATO began on ILLIAC in 1960 - a large classic vacuum tube mainframe. Short for the Illinois Automatic Computer, ILLIAC was built in 1952, around 7 years after ENIAC was first put into production. As with many early mainframe projects PLATO 1 began in response to a military need. We were looking for new ways to educate the masses of veterans using the GI Bill. We had to stretch the reach of college campuses beyond their existing infrastructures.
Computerized testing started with mechanical computing, got digitized with the introduction of Scantron by IBM in 1935, and a number of researchers were looking to improve the consistency of education and bring in new technology to help with quality teaching at scale. The post-World War II boom did this for industry as well. Problem is, following the launch of Sputnik by the USSR in 1957, many felt the US began lagging behind in education. So grant money to explore solutions flowed and CERL was able to capitalize on grants from the US Army, Navy, and Air Force. By 1959, physicists at Illinois began thinking of using that big ILLIAC machine they had access to. Daniel Alpert recruited Don Bitzer to run a project, after false starts with educators around the campus.
Bitzer shipped the first instance of PLATO 1 in 1960. They used a television to show images, stored images in Raytheon tubes, and a make-shift keyboard designed for PLATO so users could provide input in interactive menus and navigate. They experimented with slide projectors when they realized the tubes weren’t all that reliable and figured out how to do rudimentary time sharing, expanding to a second concurrent terminal with the release of PLATO II in 1961.
Bitzer was a classic Midwestern tinkerer. He solicited help from local clubs, faculty, high school students, and wherever he could cut a corner to build more cool stuff, he was happy to move money and resources to other important parts of the system. This was the age of hackers and they hacked away. He inspired but also allowed people to follow their own passions. Innovation must be decentralized to succeed.
They created an organization to support PLATO in 1966 - as part of the Graduate College. CERL stands for the Computer-Based Education Research Laboratory (CERL). Based on early successes, they got more and more funding at CERL. Now that we were beyond a 1:1 ratio of users to computers and officially into Time Sharing - it was time for Plato III.
There were a number of enhancements in PLATO III. For starters, the system was moved to a CDC 1604 that CEO of Control Data William Norris donated to the cause - and expanded to allow for 20 terminals. But it was complicated to create new content and the team realized that content would be what drove adoption. This was true with applications during the personal computer revolution and then apps in the era of the App Store as well. One of many lessons learned first on PLATO.
Content was in the form of applications that they referred to as lessons. It was a teaching environment, after all. They emulated the ILLIAC for existing content but needed more. People were compiling applications in a complicated language. Professors had day jobs and needed a simpler way to build content. So Paul Tenczar on the team came up with a language specifically tailored to creating lessons. Similar in some ways to BASIC, it was called TUTOR.
Tenczar released the manual for TUTOR in 1969 and with an easier way of getting content out, there was an explosion in new lessons, and new features and ideas would flourish. We would see simulations, games, and courseware that would lead to a revolution in ideas. In a revolutionary time.
The number of hours logged by students and course authors steadily increased. The team became ever more ambitious. And they met that ambition with lots of impressive achievements.
Now that they were comfortable with the CDC 1604 they new that the new content needed more firepower. CERL negotiated a contract with Control Data Corporation (CDC) in 1970 to provide equipment and financial support for PLATO. Here they ended up with a CDC Cyber 6400 mainframe, which became the foundation of the next iteration of PLATO, PLATO IV.
PLATO IV was a huge leap forward on many levels. They had TUTOR but with more resources could produce even more interactive content and capabilities. The terminals were expensive and not so scalable. So in preparation for potentially thousands of terminals in PLATO IV they decided to develop their own.
This might seem a bit space age for the early 1970s, but what they developed was a touch flat panel plasma display. It was 512x512 and rendered 60 lines per second at 1260 baud. The plasma had memory in it, which was made possible by the fact that they weren’t converting digital signals to analog, as is done on CRTs. Instead, it was a fully digital experience. The flat panel used infrared to see where a user was touching, allowing users some of their first exposure to touch screens. This was a grid of 16 by 16 rather than 512 but that was more than enough to take them over the next decade.
The system could render basic bitmaps but some lessons needed more rich, what we might call today, multimedia. The Raytheon tubes used in previous systems proved to be more of a CRT technology but also had plenty of drawbacks. So for newer machines they also included a microfiche machine that produced images onto the back of the screen.
The terminals were a leap forward. There were other programs going on at about the same time during the innovative bursts of PLATO, like the Dartmouth Time Sharing System, or DTSS, project that gave us BASIC instead of TUTOR. Some of these systems also had rudimentary forms of forums, such as EIES and the emerging BBS Usenet culture that began in 1973. But PLATO represented a unique look into the splintered networks of the Time Sharing age.
Combined with the innovative lessons and newfound collaborative capabilities the PLATO team was about to bring about something special. Or lots of somethings that culminated in more. One of those was Notes.
Talkomatic was created by Doug Brown and David R. Woolley in 1973. Tenczar asked the 17-year old Woolley to write a tool that would allow users to report bugs with the system. There was a notes file that people could just delete. So they added the ability for a user to automatically get tagged in another file when updating and store notes. He expanded it to allow for 63 responses per note and when opened, it showed the most recent notes. People came up with other features and so a menu was driven, providing access to System Announcements, Help Notes, and General Notes.
But the notes were just the start. In 1973, seeing the need for even more ways to communicate with other people using the system, Doug Brown wrote a prototype for Talkomatic. Talkomatic was a chat program that showed when people were typing. Woolley helped Brown and they added channels with up to five people per channel. Others could watch the chat as well. It would be expanded and officially supported as a tool called Term-Talk. That was entered by using the TERM key on a console, which allowed for a conversation between two people. You could TERM, or chat a person, and then they could respond or mark themselves as busy.
Because the people writing this stuff were also the ones supporting users, they added another feature, the ability to monitor another user, or view their screen. And so programmers, or consultants, could respond to help requests and help get even more lessons going. And some at PLATO were using ARPANET, so it was only a matter of time before word of Ray Tomlinson’s work on electronic mail leaked over, leading to the 1974 addition of personal notes, a way to send private mail engineered by Kim Mast.
As PLATO grew, the amount of content exploded. They added categories to Notes in 1975 which led to Group Notes in 1976, and comments and linked notes and the ability to control access.
But one of the most important innovations PLATO will be remembered for is games. Anyone that has played an educational game will note that school lessons and games aren’t always all that different. Since Rick Blomme had ported Spacewar! to PLATO in 1969 and added a two-player option, multi-player games had been on the rise. They made leader boards for games like Dogfight so players could get early forms of game rankings. Games like airtight and airace and Galactic Attack would follow those.
MUDs were another form of games that came to PLATO. Collosal Cave Adventure had come in 1975 for the PDP, so again these things were happening in a vacuum but where there were influences and where innovations were deterministic and found in isolation is hard to say. But the crawlers exploded on PLATO. We got Moria, Oubliette by Jim Schwaiger, Pedit5, crypt, dungeon, avatar, and drygulch. We saw the rise of intense storytelling, different game mechanics that were mostly inspired by Dungeons and Dragons, As PLATO terminals found their way in high schools and other universities, the amount of games and amount of time spent on those games exploded, with estimates of 20% of time on PLATO being spent playing games.
PLATO IV would grow to support thousands of terminals around the world in the 1970s. It was a utility. Schools (and even some parents) leased lines back to Champagne Urbana and many in computing thought that these timesharing systems would become the basis for a utility model in computing, similar to the cloud model we have today. But we had to go into the era of the microcomputer to boomerang back to timesharing first.
That microcomputer revolution would catch many, who didn’t see the correlation between Moore’s Law and the growing number of factories and standardization that would lead to microcomputers, off guard. Control Data had bet big on the mainframe market - and PLATO. CDC would sell mainframes to other schools to host their own PLATO instance. This is where it went from a timesharing system to a network of computers that did timesharing. Like a star topology.
Control Data looked to PLATO as one form of what the future of the company would be. Here, he saw this mainframe with thousands of connections as a way to lease time on the computers. CDC took PLATO to market as CDC Plato. Here, schools and companies alike could benefit from distance education. And for awhile it seemed to be working. Financial companies and airlines bought systems and the commercialization was on the rise, with over a hundred PLATO systems in use as we made our way to the middle of the 1980s. Even government agencies like the Depart of Defense used them for training. But this just happened to coincide with the advent of the microcomputer.
CDC made their own terminals that were often built with the same components that would be found in microcomputers but failed to capitalize on that market. Corporations didn’t embrace the collaboration features and often had these turned off. Social computing would move to bulletin boards And CDC would release versions of PLATO as micro-PLATO for the TRS-80, Texas Instruments TI-99, and even Atari computers. But the bureaucracy at CDC had slowed things down to the point that they couldn’t capitalize on the rapidly evolving PC industry. And prices were too high in a time when home computers were just moving from a hobbyist market to the mainstream.
The University of Illinois spun PLATO out into its own organization called University Communications, Inc (or UCI for short) and closed CERL in 1994. That was the same year Marc Andreessen co-founded Mosaic Communications Corporation, makers of Netscape -successor to NCSA Mosaic. Because NCSA, or The National Center for Supercomputing Applications, had also benefited from National Science Foundation grants when it was started in 1982. And all those students who flocked to the University of Illinois because of programs like PLATO had brought with them more expertise.
UCI continued PLATO as NovaNet, which was acquired by National Computer Systems and then Pearson corporation, finally getting shut down in 2015 - 55 years after those original days on ILLIAC. It evolved from the vacuum tube-driven mainframe in a research institute with one terminal to two terminals, to a transistorized mainframe with hundreds and then over a thousand terminals connected from research and educational institutions around the world. It represented new ideas in programming and programming languages and inspired generations of innovations.
That aftermath includes:
So PLATO gave us multi-player games, new programming languages, instant messaging, online and multiple choice testing, collaboration forums, message boards, multiple person chat rooms, early rudimentary remote screen sharing, their own brand of plasma display and all the research behind printing circuits on glass for that, and early research into touch sensitive displays. And as we’ve shown in just a few of the many people that contributed to computing after, they helped inspire an early generation of programmers and innovators.
If you like this episode I strongly suggest checking out The Friendly Orange Glow from Brian Dear. It’s a lovely work with just the right mix of dry history and flourishes of prose. A short history like this can’t hold a candle to a detailed anthology like Dear’s book.
Another well researched telling of the story can be found in a couple of chapters of A People’s History Of Computing In The United States, from Joy Rankin. She does a great job drawing a parallel (and sometimes direct line from) the Dartmouth Time Sharing System and others as early networks. And yes, terminals dialing into a mainframe and using resources over telephone and leased lines was certainly a form of bridging infrastructures and seemed like a network at the time. But no mainframe could have scaled to the ability to become a utility in the sense that all of humanity could access what was hosted on it.
Instead, the ARPANET was put online and growing from 1969 to 1990 and working out the hard scientific and engineering principals behind networking protocols gave us TCP/IP. In her book, Rankin makes great points about the BASIC and TUTOR applications helping shape more of our modern world in how they inspired the future of how we used personal devices once connected to a network. The scientists behind ARPANET, then NSFnet and the Internet, did the work to connect us. You see, those dial-up connections were expensive over long distances. By 1974 there were 47 computers connected to the ARPANET and by 1983 we had TCP/IPv4.And much like Bitzer allowing games, they didn’t seem to care too much how people would use the technology but wanted to build the foundation - a playground for whatever people wanted to build on top of it.
So the administrative and programming team at CERL deserve a lot of credit. The people who wrote the system, the generations who built features and code only to see it become obsolete came and went - but the compounding impact of their contributions can be felt across the technology landscape today. Some of that is people rediscovering work done at CERL, some is directly inspired, and some has been lost only to probably be rediscovered in the future. One thing is for certain, their contributions to e-learning are unparalleled with any other system out there. And their technical contributions, both in the form of those patented and those that were either unpatentable or where they didn’t think of patenting, are immense.
Bitzer and the first high schoolers and then graduate students across the world helped to shape the digital world we live in today. More from an almost sociological aspect than technical. And the deep thought applied to the system lives on today in so many aspects of our modern world. Sometimes that’s a straight line and others it’s dotted or curved. Looking around, most universities have licensing offices now, to capitalize on the research done. Check out a university near you and see what they have available for license. You might be surprised. As I’m sure many in Champagne were after all those years. Just because CDC couldn’t capitalize on some great research doesn’t mean we can’t.
Atari at the Science Fair: Scott Ryder: Atari-Controlled Robot
Here's an article from The Fresno Bee (Fresno, California) dated April 15, 1982: "Science proves Fair game to young minds".
"Joseph Paul Ogas, 17, has designed a cheaper way to manipulate material beneath a microscope. Garey Nishimura, 13, has evaluated the relative flammability of several household fabrics. Theirs were the big winners among the 693 projects that filled the Fresno Convention Center Exhibit Hall for this year’s California Central Valley Science and Engineering Fair.
"There were other interesting projects that didn’t win big [such as]
'The Effects of Birth Control Pills on Plants,' and 'Determining the Correlation Between Canine Howling, Cockroach Activity and Earthquake Prediction'."
And later -- in the article's final paragraph, the reason for this interview: "Runners up [included] Scott Ryder, a sixth-grader at Ayer Elementary School: "Can an Atari 800 Control a Robot With Software?"
Can an Atari 800 control a robot with software? And if so, why did an awesome Atari-controlled robot only earn a runner-up award at the Science and Engineering Fair? I talked with Scott to find out.
This interview took place on February 21, 2021.
ANTIC Episode 75 - Video Wars
In this episode of ANTIC The Atari 8-bit Computer Podcast… we discuss the merits of Sophia vs. VBXE for video upgrades, kick off the BASIC 10-liners contest, discuss some new games, and talk about numerous hardware upgrades that are coming.
Interview index: here
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We’ve covered Radioshack but there are a few other retail stores I’d like to cover as well. CompUSA, CircuitCity, and Fry’s to name a few. Not only is there something to be learned from the move from brick and mortar electronic chains to Ecommerce but there’s plenty to be learned about how to treat people and how people perceived computers and what we need and when, as well.
You see, Fry’s was one of the few places you could walk in, pick a CPU, find a compatible mother board, pick a sweet chassis to put it in, get a power supply, a video card, some memory, back then probably a network card, maybe some sweet fans, a cooling system for the CPU you were about to overclock, an SSD drive to boot a machine, a hard drive to store stuff, a DVD, a floppy just in case, pick up some velcro wrap to keep the cables at bay, get a TV, a cheap knockoff smart watch, a VR headset that would never work, maybe a safe since you already have a cart, a soundbar ‘cause you did just get a TV, some headphones for when you’ll keep everyone else up with the sounder, a couple of resistors for that other project, a fixed frequency video card for that one SGI in the basement, a couple smart plugs, a solar backpack, and a CCNA book that you realize is actually 2 versions out of date when you go to take the test. Yup, that was a great trip. And ya’ there’s also a big bag of chips and a 32 ounce of some weird soda gonna’ go in the front seat with me. Sweet. Now let’s just toss the cheap flashlight we just bought into the glove box in case we ever break down and we’re good to go home and figure out how to pay for all this junk on that new Fry’s Credit Card we just opened.
But that was then and this is now. Fry’s announced it was closing all of its stores on February 24th, 2021. The week we’re recording this episode. To quote the final their website:
“After nearly 36 years in business as the one-stop-shop and online resource for high-tech professionals across nine states and 31 stores, Fry’s Electronics, Inc. (“Fry’s” or “Company”), has made the difficult decision to shut down its operations and close its business permanently as a result of changes in the retail industry and the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Company will implement the shut down through an orderly wind down process that it believes will be in the best interests of the Company, its creditors, and other stakeholders.
The Company ceased regular operations and began the wind-down process on February 24, 2021. It is hoped that undertaking the wind-down through this orderly process will reduce costs, avoid additional liabilities, minimize the impact on our customers, vendors, landlords and associates, and maximize the value of the Company’s assets for its creditors and other stakeholders.”
Wow. Just wow. I used to live a couple of miles from a Fry’s and it was a major part of furthering my understanding of arcane, bizarre, sometimes emergent, and definitely dingy areas of computing. And if those adjectives don’t seem to have been included lovingly, they most certainly are. You see every trip to Fry’s was strange.
Donald Fry founded Fry’s Food and Drug in 1954. The store rose to prominence in the 50s and 60s until his brother Charles Fry sold it off in 1972. As a part of Kroger it still exists today, with 22,000 employees. But this isn’t the story of a supermarket chain. I guess I did initially think the two were linked because the logos look somewhat similar - but that’s where their connection ends.
Instead, let’s cover what happened to the $14 million the family got from the sale of the chain. Charles Fry gave some to his sons John, Randy, and David. They added Kathryn Kolder and leased a location in Sunnyvale, California to open the first Fry’s Electronics store in 1985.
This was during the rise of the microcomputer. The computing industry had all these new players who were selling boards and printers and floppy drives. They put all this stuff in bins kinda’ like you would in a grocery store and became a one-stop shop for the hobbyist and the professional alike. Unlike groceries, the parts didn’t expire so they were able to still have things selling 5 or 10 years later, albeit a bit dusty.
1985 was the era when many bought integrated circuits, mother boards, and soldering irons and built their own computers. They saw the rise of the microprocessor, the 80286 and x86s. And as we moved into an era of predominantly x86 clones of the IBM PC, the buses and cards became standard. Provided a power supply had a molex connector it was probably good to light up most mother boards and hard drives. The IDE became the standard then later SATA. But parts were pretty interchangeable.
Knowing groceries, they also sold those. Get some Oranges and a microprocessor. They stopped selling those but always sold snacks until the day they closed down. But services were always a thing at Fry’s. Those who didn’t want to spend hours putting spacers on a motherboard and puttin
They also sold other electronics. Sometimes the selection seemed totally random. I bought my first MP3 player at a Fry’s - the Diamond Rio. And funny LED lights for computer fans before that really became a thing. Screwdriver kits, thermal grease, RAM chips, unsoldered boards, weird little toys, train sets, coloring books, certification books for that MCSE test I took in 2002, and whatever else I could think of.
The stores were kitchy. Some had walls painted like circuit boards. Some had alien motifs. Others were decorated like the old west. It’s like whatever they could find weird stuff to adorn the joint. People were increasingly going online. In 1997 they bought Frys.com. To help people get online, they started selling Internet access in 2000. But by then there were so many vendors to help people get online that it wasn’t going to be successful. People were increasingly shopping online so they bought Cyberian Outpost in 2001 and moved it to outpost.com - which later just pointed to Frys.com.
The closing of a number of Radio Shack stores and Circuit City and CompUSA seemed to give them a shot in the arm for a bit. But you could buy computers at Gateway Country or through Dell. Building your own computer was becoming more and more a niche industry for gamers and others who needed specific builds.
They grew to 34 stores at their height. Northern California stores in Campbell, Concord, Fremont, Roseville, Sacramento, San Jose, and that original Sunnyvale (now across the street from the old original Sunnyvale) and Southern California stores in Burbank, City of Industry, Fountain Valley, Manhattan Beach, Oxnard, San Diego, San Marcos, and the little one in Woodland Hills - it seemed like everyone in California knew to go to Fry’s when you needed some doodad. In fact, they made the documentary about General Magic because they were constantly going back and forth to Fry’s to get parts to build their device.
But they did expand out of California with 8 stores in Texas, two in Airizona, one in Illinois, one in Indiana, one in Nevada, one in Oregon, and another in Washington. In some ways it looked as though they were about to have a chain that could rival the supermarket chain their dad helped build. But it wasn’t meant to be.
With the fall of Radio Shack, CompUSA, and Circuit City, I was always surprised Fry’s stayed around. Tandy started a concept similar called Incredible Universe but that didn’t last too long. But I loved them. The customer service wasn’t great. The stores were always a little dirty. But I never left empty-handed. Even when I didn’t find what I was looking for.
Generations of computer enthusiasts bought everything from scanners to printers at Frys. They were sued over how they advertised, for sexual harassment, during divorce settlements, and over how they labeled equipment. They lost money in embezzlements, and as people increasingly turned to Amazon and other online vendors for the best price for that MSI motherboard or a screen for the iPhone - keeping such a massive inventory was putting them out of business. So in 2019 amidst rumors they were about to go out of business, they moved to stocking the stores via consignment. Not all vendors upstream could do that, leading to an increasingly strange selection and finding what you needed less and less.
Then came COVID. They closed a few stores and between the last ditch effort of consignment and empty bins as hardware moved, they just couldn’t do it any more. As with the flashier and less selection but more complete systems Circuit City and CompUSA before them, they finally closed their doors in 2021, after 36 years. And so we live in an era where many computers, tablets, and phones are no longer serviceable or have parts that can be swapped out. We live in an era where when we can service a device with those parts, we often go online to source them. And we live in an era where if we need instant gratification to replace components there are plenty of retail chains like Target or Walmart that sell components and move far more than Fry’s so are more competitive on the price. We live in an era where we don’t need to go into a retailer for software and books, both sold at high margins. There are stores on the Apple and Microsoft and Google platforms for that. And of course 2020 was a year that many retail chains had to close their doors in order to keep their employees safe, losing millions in revenue.
All of that eventually became too much for other computer stores as each slowly eroded the business. And now it’s become too much for Fry’s. I will always remember the countless hours I strolled around the dingy store, palming this adapter and that cable and trying to figure out what components might fit together so I can get the equivalent of an AlienWare computer for half the cost. And I’ll even fondly remember the usually sub-par customer service, because it forced me to learn more. And I’ll always be thankful that they had crap sitting around for a decade because I always learned something new about the history of computers in their bins of arcane bits and bytes sitting around.
And their closing reminds us, as the closings of former competitors and even other stores like Borders does, that an incredible opportunity lies ahead of us. These shifts in society also shift the supply chain. They used to get a 50% markup on software and a hefty markup on the books I wrote. Now I can publish software on the App Stores and pay less of my royalties to the retailers. Now I don’t need a box and manual for software. Now books don’t have to be printed and can even be self-published in those venues if I see fit to do so. And while Microsoft, Apple, and Google’s “Services” revenue or revenue from Target once belonged to stores like Fry’s, the opportunities have moved to linking and aggregating and adding machine learning and looking to fields that haven’t yet been brought into a more digital age - or even to harkening back to simpler times and providing a more small town white glove approach to life. Just as the dot com crash created a field where companies like Netflix and Google could become early unicorns, so every other rise and fall creates new, uncharted green fields and blue oceans. Thank you for your contributions - both past and future.
The Intel 8086 may be the most important processor ever made. It's descendants are central to modern computing, while retaining an absurd level of backwards compatibility. For such an important chip it had an unexpected beginning. The 8086 was meant as a stopgap measure while Intel worked on bigger and better projects. This episode we are looking at how Intel was trying to modernize, how the 8086 fit into that larger plan, and it's pre-IBM life.
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James and John discuss eBay Finds: MacEffects Mac Portable 8MB card, computer lot, and PowerBook 550c. John talks about a SCSI hard drive replacement, and news includes Action Retro Libretto Hackintosh, System 7 Today return, Lisa X Fusion X 360 Project, Floppy Emu update, and recreating a Mac SE logic board.
Steve Jobs left Apple in 1985. He co-founded NeXT Computers and took Pixar public. He then returned to Apple as the interim CEO in 1997 at a salary of $1 per year. Some of the early accomplishments on his watch were started before he got there. But turning the company back around was squarely on him and his team.
By the end of 1997, Apple moved to a build-to-order manufacturing powered by an online store built on WebObjects, the NeXT application server. They killed off a number of models, simplifying the lineup of products and also killed the clone deals, ending licensing of the operating system to other vendors who were at times building sub-par products.
And they were busy. You could feel the frenetic pace. They were busy at work weaving the raw components from NeXT into an operating system that would be called Mac OS X. They announced a partnership that would see Microsoft invest $150 million into Apple to settle patent disputes but that Microsoft would get Internet Explorer bundled on the Mac and give a commitment to release Office for the Mac again. By then, Apple had $1.2 billion in cash reserves again, but armed with a streamlined company that was ready to move forward - but 1998 was a bottoming out of sorts, with Apple only doing just shy of $6 billion in revenue. To move forward, they took a little lesson from the past and released a new all-in-one computer. One that put the color back into that Apple logo. Or rather removed all the colors but Aqua blue from it.
The return of Steve Jobs invigorated many, such as Johnny Ive who is reported to have had a resignation in his back pocket when he met Jobs. Their collaboration led to a number of innovations, with a furious pace starting with the iMac. The first iMacs were shaped like gumdrops and the color of candy as well. The original Bondi blue had commercials showing all the cords in a typical PC setup and then the new iMac, “as unPC as you can get.” The iMac was supposed to be to get on the Internet. But the ensuing upgrades allowed for far more than that.
The iMac put style back into Apple and even computers. Subsequent releases came in candy colors like Lime, Strawberry, Blueberry, Grape, Tangerine, and later on Blue Dalmatian and Flower Power. The G3 chipset bled out into other more professional products like a blue and white G3 tower, which featured a slightly faster processor than the beige tower G3, but a much cooler look - and very easy to get into compared to any other machine on the market at the time. And the Clamshell laptops used the same design language. Playful, colorful, but mostly as fast as their traditional PowerBook counterparts.
But the team had their eye on a new strategy entirely. Yes, people wanted to get online - but these computers could do so much more. Apple wanted to make the Mac the Digital Hub for content. This centered around a technology that had been codeveloped from Apple, Sony, Panasonic, and others called IEEE 1394. But that was kinda’ boring so we just called it Firewire.
Begun in 1986 and originally started by Apple, Firewire had become a port that was on most digital cameras at the time. USB wasn’t fast enough to load and unload a lot of newer content like audio and video from cameras to computers. But I can clearly remember that by the year 1999 we were all living as Jobs put it in a “new emerging digital lifestyle.” This led to a number of releases from Apple. One was iMovie. Apple included it with the new iMac DV model for free. That model dumped the fan (which Jobs never liked even going back to the early days of Apple) as well as FireWire and the ability to add an AirPort card. Oh, and they released an AirPort base station in 1999 to help people get online easily. It is still one of the simplest router and wi-fi devices I’ve ever used. And was sleek with the new Graphite design language that would take Apple through for years on their professional devices.
iMovie was a single place to load all those digital videos and turn them into something else. And there was another format on the rise, MP3. Most everyone I’ve ever known at Apple love music. It’s in the DNA of the company, going back to Wozniak and Jobs and their love of musicians like Bob Dylan in the 1970s. The rise of the transistor radio and then the cassette and Walkman had opened our eyes to the democratization of what we could listen to as humans. But the MP3 format, which had been around since 1993, was on the rise. People were ripping and trading songs and Apple looked at a tool called Audion and another called SoundJam and decided that rather than Sherlock (or build that into the OS) that they would buy SoundJam in 2000. The new software, which they called iTunes, allowed users to rip and burn CDs easily. Apple then added iPhoto, iWeb, and iDVD. For photos, creating web sites, and making DVDs respectively. The digital hub was coming together.
But there was another very important part of that whole digital hub strategy. Now that we had music on our computers we needed something more portable to listen to that music on. There were MP3 players like the Diamond Rio out there, and there had been going back to the waning days of the Digital Equipment Research Lab - but they were either clunky or had poor design or just crappy and cheap. And mostly only held an album or two. I remember walking down that isle at Fry’s about once every other month waiting and hoping. But nothing good ever came.
That is, until Jobs and the Apple hardware engineering lead Job Rubinstein found Tony Fadell. He had been at General Magic, you know, the company that ushered in mobility as an industry. And he’d built Windows CE mobile devices for Philips in the Velo and Nino. But when we got him working with Jobs, Rubinstein, and Johnny Ive on the industrial design front, we got one of the most iconic devices ever made: the iPod.
And the iPod wasn’t all that different on the inside from a Newton. Blasphemy I know. It sported a pair of ARM chips and Ive harkened back to simpler times when he based the design on a transistor radio. Attention to detail and the lack thereof in the Sony Diskman propelled Apple to sell more than 400 million iPods to this day. By the time the iPod was released in 2001, Apple revenues had jumped to just shy of $8 billion but dropped back down to $5.3. But everything was about to change. And part of that was that the iPod design language was about to leak out to the rest of the products with white iBooks, white Mac Minis, and other white devices as a design language of sorts.
To sell all those iDevices, Apple embarked on a strategy that seemed crazy at the time. They opened retail stores. They hired Ron Johnson and opened two stores in 2001. They would grow to over 500 stores, and hit a billion in sales within three years. Johnson had been the VP of merchandising at Target and with the teams at Apple came up with the idea of taking payment without cash registers (after all you have an internet connected device you want to sell people) and the Genius Bar.
And generations of devices came that led people back into the stores. The G4 came along - as did faster RAM. And while Apple was updating the classic Mac operating system, they were also hard at work preparing NeXT to go across the full line of computers. They had been working the bugs out in Rhapsody and then Mac OS X Server, but the client OS, Codenamed Kodiak, went into beta in 2000 and then was released as a dual-boot option in Cheetah, in 2001. And thus began a long line of big cats, going to Puma then Jaguar in 2002, Panther in 2003, Tiger in 2005, Leopard in 2007, Snow Leopard in 2009, Lion in 2011, Mountain Lion in 2012 before moving to the new naming scheme that uses famous places in California.
Mac OS X finally provided a ground-up, modern, object-oriented operating system. They built the Aqua interface on top of it. Beautiful, modern, sleek. Even the backgrounds! The iMac would go from a gumdrop to a sleek flat panel on a metal stand, like a sunflower. Jobs and Ive are both named on the patents for this as well as many of the other inventions that came along in support of the rapid device rollouts of the day.
Jaguar, or 10.2, would turn out to be a big update. They added Address Book, iChat - now called Messages, and after nearly two decades replaced the 8-bit Happy Mac with a grey Apple logo in 2002. Yet another sign they were no longer just a computer company. Some of these needed a server and storage so Apple released the Xserve in 2002 and the Xserve RAID in 2003. The pro devices also started to transition from the grey graphite look to brushed metal, which we still use today.
Many wanted to step beyond just listening to music. There were expensive tools for creating music, like ProTools. And don’t get me wrong, you get what you pay for. It’s awesome. But democratizing the creation of media meant Apple wanted a piece of software to create digital audio - and released Garage Band in 2004. For this they again turned to an acquisition, EMagic, which had a tool called Logic Audio. I still use Logic to cut my podcasts. But with Garage Band they stripped it down to the essentials and released a tool that proved wildly popular, providing an on-ramp for many into the audio engineering space.
Not every project worked out. Apple had ups and downs in revenue and sales in the early part of the millennium. The G4 Cube was released in 2000 and while it is hailed as one of the greatest designs by industrial designers it was discontinued in 2001 due to low sales. But Steve Jobs had been hard at work on something new. Those iPods that were becoming the cash cow at Apple and changing the world, turning people into white earbud-clad zombies spinning those click wheels were about to get an easier way to put media into iTunes and so on the device.
The iTunes Store was released in 2003. Here, Jobs parlayed the success at Apple along with his own brand to twist the arms of executives from the big 5 record labels to finally allow digital music to be sold online. Each song was a dollar. Suddenly it was cheap enough that the music trading apps just couldn’t keep up. Today it seems like everyone just pays a streaming subscription but for a time, it gave a shot in the arm to music companies and gave us all this new-found expectation that we would always be able to have music that we wanted to hear on-demand.
Apple revenue was back up to $8.25 billion in 2004. But Apple was just getting started. The next seven years would see that revenue climb from to $13.9 billion in 2005, $19.3 in 2006, $24 billion in 2007, $32.4 in 2008, $42.9 in 2009, $65.2 in 2010, and a staggering $108.2 in 2011.
After working with the PowerPC chipset, Apple transitioned new computers to Intel chips in 2005 and 2006. Keep in mind that most people used desktops at the time and just wanted fast. And it was the era where the Mac was really open source friendly so having the ability to load in the best the Linux and Unix worlds had to offer for software inside projects or on servers was made all the easier. But Intel could produce chips faster and were moving faster. That Intel transition also helped with what we call the “App Gap” where applications written for Windows could be virtualized for the Mac. This helped the Mac get much more adoption in businesses.
Again, the pace was frenetic. People had been almost begging Apple to release a phone for years. The Windows Mobile devices, the Blackberry, the flip phones, even the Palm Treo. They were all crap in Jobs’ mind. Even the Rockr that had iTunes in it was crap. So Apple released the iPhone in 2007 in a now-iconic Jobs presentation. The early version didn’t have apps, but it was instantly one of the more saught-after gadgets. And in an era where people paid $100 to $200 for phones it changed the way we thought of the devices. In fact, the push notifications and app culture and always on fulfilled the General Magic dream that the Newton never could and truly moved us all into an always-on i (or Internet) culture.
The Apple TV was also released in 2007. I can still remember people talking about Apple releasing a television at the time. The same way they talk about Apple releasing a car. It wasn’t a television though, it was a small whitish box that resembled a Mac Mini - just with a different media-browsing type of Finder. Now it’s effectively an app to bootstrap the media apps on a Mac.
It had been a blistering 10 years. We didn’t even get into Pages, FaceTime, They weren’t done just yet. The iPad was released in 2010. By then, Apple revenues exceeded those of Microsoft. The return and the comeback was truly complete.
Similar technology used to build the Apple online store was also used to develop the iTunes Store and then the App Store in 2008. Here, rather than go to a site you might not trust and download an installer file with crazy levels of permissions.
One place where it’s still a work in progress to this day was iTools, released in 2000 and rebranded to .Mac or dot Mac in 2008, and now called MobileMe. Apple’s vision to sync all of our data between our myriad of devices wirelessly was a work in progress and never met the lofty goals set out. Some services, like Find My iPhone, work great. Others notsomuch. Jobs famously fired the team lead at one point. And while it’s better than it was it’s still not where it needs to be.
Steve Jobs passed away in 2011 at 56 years old. His first act at Apple changed the world, ushering in first the personal computing revolution and then the graphical interface revolution. He left an Apple that meant something. He returned to a demoralized Apple and brought digital media, portable music players, the iPhone, the iPad, the Apple TV, the iMac, the online music store, the online App Store, and so much more. The world had changed in that time, so he left, well, one more thing. You see, when they started, privacy and security wasn’t much of a thing. Keep in mind, computers didn’t have hard drives. The early days of the Internet after his return was a fairly save I or Internet world. But by the time he passed away there there were some troubling trends. The data on our phones and computers could weave together nearly every bit of our life to an outsider. Not only could this lead to identity theft but with the growing advertising networks and machine learning capabilities, the consequences of privacy breaches on Apple products could be profound as a society. He left an ethos behind to build great products but not at the expense of those who buy them. One his successor Tim Cook has maintained.
On the outside it may seem like the daunting 10 plus years of product releases has slowed. We still have the Macbook, the iMac, a tower, a mini, an iPhone, an iPad, an Apple TV. We now have HomeKit, a HomePod, new models of all those devices, Apple silicon, and some new headphones - but more importantly we’ve had to retreat a bit internally and direct some of those product development cycles to privacy, protecting users, shoring up the security model. Managing a vast portfolio of products in the largest company in the world means doing those things isn’t always altruistic. Big companies can mean big law suits when things go wrong. These will come up as we cover the history of the individual devices in greater detail.
The history of computing is full of stories of great innovators. Very few took a second act. Few, if any, had as impactful a first act as either that Steve Jobs had. It wasn’t just him in any of these. There are countless people from software developers to support representatives to product marketing gurus to the people that write the documentation. It was all of them, working with inspiring leadership and world class products that helped as much as any other organization in the history of computing, to shape the digital world we live in today.
Strap yourselves in for coverage of 11 magazine issues including a tiny bit on the large magazine Byte -- there’s an article on Star Raiders strategies that I can’t pass up. Game review is of Deluxe Invaders, which is a high quality Space Invaders clone. Oh, and there’s a discussion of a game called Hazard Run and its ties to a bad TV show and a worse flag.
QWERTY. It’s a funny word. Or not a word. But also not an acronym per se. Those are the top six letters in a modern keyboard. Why? Because the frequency they’re used allows for hammers on a traditional typewriter to travel to and fro and the effort allows us to be more efficient with our time while typing. The concept of the keyboard goes back almost as far back as moveable type - but it took hundreds of years to standardize where we are today.
Johannes Gutenberg is credited for developing the printing press in the 1450s. Printing using wooden blocks was brought to the Western world from China, which led him to replace the wood or clay characters with metal, thus giving us what we now think of as Moveable Type. This meant we were now arranging blocks of characters to print words onto paper. From there it was only a matter of time that we would realize that pressing a key could stamp a character onto paper as we went rather than developing a full page and then pressing ink to paper.
The first to get credit for pressing letters onto paper using a machine was Venetian Francesco Rampazzetto in 1575. But as with many innovations, this one needed to bounce around in the heads of inventors until the appropriate level of miniaturization and precision was ready. Henry Mill filed an English patent in 1714 for a machine that could type (or impress) letters progressively. By then, printed books were ubiquitous but we weren’t generating pages of printed text on the fly just yet.
Others would develop similar devices but from 1801 to 1810, Pellegrino Turri in Italy developed carbon paper. Here, he coated one side of paper with carbon and the other side with wax. Why did he invent that, other than to give us an excuse to say carbon copy later (and thus the cc in an email)?
Either he or Agostino Fantoni da Fivizzano invented a mechanical machine for pressing characters to paper for Countess Carolina Fantoni da Fivizzano, a blind friend of his. She would go on to send him letters written on the device, some of which exist to this day. More inventors tinkered with the idea of mechanical writing devices, often working in isolation from one another.
One was a surveyor, William Austin Burt. He found the handwritten documents of his field laborious and so gave us the typographer in 1829. Each letter was moved to where needed to print manually so it wasn’t all that much faster than the handwritten document, but the name would be hyphenated later to form type-writer. And with precision increasing and a lot of invention going on at the time there were other devices. But his patent was signed by Andrew Jackson.
James Pratt introduced his Pterotype in an article in the Scientific American in 1867. It was a device that more closely resembles the keyboard layout we know today, with 4 rows of keys and a split in the middle for hands. Others saw the article and continued their own innovative additions.
Frank Hall had worked on the telegraph before the Civil War and used his knowledge there to develop a Braille writer, which functioned similarly to a keyboard. He would move to Wisconsin, where he came in contact with another team developing a keyboard.
Christopher Latham Sholes saw the article in the Scientific American and along with Carlos Glidden and Samuel Soule out of Milwaukee developed the QWERTY keyboard we know of as the standard keyboard layout today from 1867 to 1868. Around the same time, Danish pastor Rasmus Malling-Hansen introduced the writing ball in 1870. It could also type letters onto paper but with a much more complicated keyboard layout. It was actually the first typewriter to go into mass production - but at this point new inventions were starting to follow the QWERTY layout. Because asdfjkl;. Both though were looking to increase typing speed with Malling-Mansen’s layout putting constanents on the right side and vowels on the left - but Sholes and Glidden mixed keys up to help reduce the strain on hardware as it recoiled, thus splitting common characters in words between the sides.
James Densmore encountered the Sholes work and jumped in to help. They had it relentlessly tested and iterated on the design, getting more and more productivity gains and making the device more and more hardy. When the others left the project, it was Densmore and Sholes carrying on. But Sholes was also a politician and editor of a newspaper, so had a lot going on. He sold his share of the patent for their layout for $12,000 and Densmore decided to go with royalties instead.
By the 1880s, the invention had been floating around long enough and given a standardized keyboard it was finally ready to be mass produced. This began with the Sholes & Glidden Type Writer introduced in America in 1874. That was followed by the Caligraph. But it was Remington that would take the Sholes patent and create the Remington Typewriter, removing the hyphen from the word typewriter and going mainstream - netting Densmore a million and a half bucks in 1800s money for his royalties. And if you’ve seen anything typed on it, you’ll note that it supported one font: the monospaced sans serif Grotesque style.
Characters had always been upper case. Remington added a shift key to give us the ability to do both upper and lower case in 1878 with the Remington Model 2. This was also where we got the ampersand, parenthesis, percent symbol, and question mark as shift characters for numbers. Remington also added tab and margins in 1897. Mark Twain was the first author to turn a manuscript in from a typewriter using what else but the Remington Typewriter. By then, we were experimenting with the sizes and spaces between characters, or kerning, to make typed content easier to read. Some companies moved to slab serif or Pica fonts and typefaces. You could really tell a lot about a company by that Olivetti with it’s modern, almost anti-Latin fonts.
The Remington Typewriter Company would later merge with the Rand Kardex company to form Remington Rand, making typewriters, guns, and then in 1950, acquiring the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation, who made ENIAC - arguably the first all-digital computer. Rand also acquired Engineering Research Associates (or ERA) and introduced the Univac. Electronics maker Sperry acquired them in 1955, and then merged with Burroughs to form Unisys in 1988, still a thriving company. But what’s important is that they knew typewriters. And keyboards.
But electronics had been improving in the same era that Remington took their typewriters mainstream, and before. Samuel Morse developed the recording telegraph in 1835 and David Hughes added the printed telegraph. Emile Baudot gave us a 5 bit code in the 1870s that enhanced that but those were still using keys similar to what you find on a piano. The typewriter hadn’t yet merged with digital communications just yet. Thomas Edison patented the electric typewriter in 1872 but didn’t produce a working model. And this was a great time of innovation. For example, Alexander Graham Bell was hard at work on patenting the telephone at the time.
James Smathers then gave us the first electronic typewriter in 1920 and by the 1930s improved Baudot, or baud was combined with a QUERTY keyboard by Siemens and others to give us typing over the wire. The Teletype Corporation was founded in 1906 and would go from tape punch and readers to producing the teletypes that allowed users to dial into mainframes in the 1970s timesharing networks. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. How did we eventually end up plugging a keyboard into a computer?
Herman Hollerith, the mind behind the original IBM punch cards for tabulating machines before his company got merged with others to form IBM, brought us text keypunches, which were later used to input data into early computers. The Binac computer used a similar representation with 8 keys and an electromechanical control was added to input data into the computer like a punch card might - for this think of a modern 10-key pad. Given that we had electronic typewriters for a couple of decades it was only a matter of time before a full keyboard worth of text was needed on a computer. That came in 1954 with the pioneering work done MIT. Here, Douglas Ross wanted to hookup a Flexowriter electric typewriter to a computer, which would be done the next year as yet another of the huge innovations coming out of the Whirlwind project at MIT. With the addition of core memory to computing that was the first time a real keyboard (and being able to write characters into a computer) was really useful. After nearly 400 years since the first attempts to build a moveable type machine and then and just shy of 100 years since the layout had been codified, the computer keyboard was born.
The PLATO team in late 60s University of Illinois Champaign Urbana were one of many research teams that sought to develop cheaper input output mechanisms for their computer Illiac and prior to moving to standard keyboards they built custom devices with fewer keys to help students select multiple choice answers. But eventually they used teletype-esque systems.
Those early keyboards were mechanical. They still made a heavy clanky sound when the keys were pressed. Not as much as when using a big mechanical typewriter, but not like the keyboards we use today. These used keys with springs inside them. Springs would be replaced with pressure pads in some machines, including the Sinclair ZX80 and ZX81. And the Timex Sinclair 1000. Given that there were less moving parts, they were cheap to make. They used conductive traces with a gate between two membranes. When a key was pressed electricity flowed through what amounted to a flip-flop. When the key was released the electricity stopped flowing. I never liked them because they just didn’t have that feel. In fact, they’re still used in devices like microwaves to provide for buttons under led lights that you can press.
By the late 1970s, keyboards were becoming more and more common. The next advancement was in Chiclet keyboards, common on the TRS-80 and the IBM PCjr. These were were like membrane keyboards but used moulded rubber. Scissor switch keyboards became the standard for laptops - these involve a couple of pieces of plastic under each key, arranged like a scissor. And more and more keyboards were produced.
With an explosion in the amount of time we spent on computers, we eventually got about as many designs of ergonomic keyboards as you can think of. Here, doctors or engineers or just random people would attempt to raise or lower hands or move hands apart or depress various keys or raise them. But as we moved from desktops to laptops or typing directly on screens as we do with tablets and phones, those sell less and less.
I wonder what Sholes would say if you showed him and the inventors he worked with what the QWERTY keyboard looks like on an iPhone today? I wonder how many people know that at least two of the steps in the story of the keyboard had to do with helping the blind communicate through the written word? I wonder how many know about the work Alexander Graham Bell did with the deaf and the impact that had on his understanding of the vibrations of sound and the emergence of phonautograph to record sound and how that would become acoustic telegraphy and then the telephone, which could later stream baud? Well, we’re out of time for today so that story will have to get tabled for a future episode.
In the meantime, look around for places where there’s no standard. Just like the keyboard layout took different inventors and iterations to find the right amount of productivity, any place where there’s not yet a standard just needs that same level of deep thinking and sometimes generations to get it perfected. But we still use the QWERTY layout today and so sometimes once we find the right mix, we’ve set in motion an innovative that can become a true game changer. And if it’s not ready, at least we’ve contributed to the evolutions that revolutionize the world. Even if we don’t use those inventions. Bell famously never had a phone installed in his office. Because distractions. Luckily I disabled notifications on my phone before recording this or it would never get out…
David Pogue reviews the PowerBook Duo 210/230 and the companion Duo Dock. NuBus and SCSI weren’t hot pluggable, meaning you had to shut down the machine every time you docked or undocked!
Original text from Macworld Magazine, March 1993.
Steve Jobs had an infamous split with the board of directors of Apple and left the company shortly after the release of the original Mac. He was an innovator who at 21 years old had started Apple in the garage with Steve Wozniak and at 30 years old while already plenty wealthy felt he still had more to give and do. We can say a lot of things about him but he was arguably one of the best product managers ever.
He told Apple he’d be taking some “low-level staffers” and ended up taking Rich Page, Bud Tribble, Dan'l Lewin, George Crow, and Susan Barnes to be the CFO. They also took Susan Kare and Joanna Hoffman. had their eyes on a computer that was specifically targeting higher education. They wanted to build computers for researchers and universities.
Companies like CDC and Data General had done well in Universities. The team knew there was a niche that could be carved out there. There were some gaps with the Mac that made it a hard sell in research environments. Computer scientists needed object-oriented programming and protected memory. Having seen the work at PARC on object-oriented languages, Jobs knew the power and future-proof approach.
Unix System V had branched a number of times and it was a bit more of a red ocean than I think they realized. But Jobs put up $7 million of his own money to found NeXT Computer. He’d add another $5 million and Ross Perot would add another $20 million. The pay bands were one of the most straight-forward of any startup ever founded. The senior staff made $75,000 and everyone else got $50,000. Simple.
Ironically, so soon after the 1984 Super Bowl ad where Jobs based IBM, they hired the man who designed the IBM logo, Paul Rand, to design a logo for NeXT. They paid him $100,000 flat. Imagine the phone call when Jobs called IBM to get them to release Rand from a conflict of interest in working with them.
They released the first computer in 1988. The NeXT Computer, as it was called, was expensive for the day, coming in at $6,500. It sported a Motorola 68030 CPU and clocked in at a whopping 25 MHz. And it came with a special operating system called NeXTSTEP.
NeXTSTEP was based on the Mach kernel with some of the source code coming from BSD. If we go back a little, Unix was started at Bell Labs in 1969 and by the late 70s had been forked from Unix System V to BSD, Unix version 7, and PWB - with each of those resulting in other forks that would eventually become OpenBSD, SunOS, NetBSD, Solaris, HP-UX, Linux, AIX, and countless others.
Mach was developed at Carnegie Mellon University and is one of the earliest microkernels. For Mach, Richard Rashid (who would later found Microsoft Research) and Avie Tevanian, were looking specifically to distributed computing. And the Mach project was kicked off in 1985, the same year Jobs left Apple.
Mach was backwards-compatible to BSD 4.2 and so could run a pretty wide variety of software. It allowed for threads, or units of execution and tasks or objects that enabled threads. It provided support for messages, which for object oriented languages are typed data objects that fall outside the scope of tasks and threads and then a protected message queue, to manage the messages between tasks and rights of access. They stood it up on a DEC VAX and released it publicly in 1987.
Here’s the thing, Unix licensing from Bell Labs was causing problems. So it was important to everyone that the license be open. And this would be important to NeXT as well. NeXT needed a next-generation operating system and so Avi Tevanian was recruited to join NeXT as the Vice President of Software Engineering. There, he designed NeXTSTEP with a handful of engineers.
The computers had custom boards and were fast. And they were a sleek black like nothing I’d seen before. But Bill Gates was not impressed claiming that “If you want black, I’ll get you a can of paint.” But some people loved the machines and especially some of the tools NeXT developed for programmers.
They got a factory to produce the machines and it only needed to crank out 100 a month as opposed to the thousands it was built to produce. In other words, the price tag was keeping universities from buying the machines. So they pivoted a little. They went up-market with the NeXTcube in 1990, which ran NeXTSTEP, OPENSTEP, or NetBSD and came with the Motorola 68040 CPU. This came machine in at $8,000 to almost $16,000. It came with a hard drive. For the lower end of the market they also released the NeXTstation in 1990, which shipped for just shy of $5,000.
The new models helped but by 1991 they had to lay off 5 percent of the company and another 280 by 1993. That’s when the hardware side got sold to Canon so NeXT could focus exclusively on NeXTSTEP. That is, until they got acquired by Apple in 1997.
By the end, they’d sold around 50,000 computers. Apple bought NeXT for $429 million and 1.5 million shares of Apple stock, trading at 22 cents at the time, which was trading at $17 a share so worth another $25 and a half million dollars. That makes the deal worth $454 million or $9,080 per machine NeXT had ever built. But it wasn’t about the computer business, which had already been spun down. It was about Jobs and getting a multi-tasking, object-oriented, powerhouse of an operating system, the grandparent of OS X - and the derivative macOS, iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, and tvOS forks.
The work done at NeXT has had a long-term impact on the computer industry as a whole. For one, the spinning pinwheel on a Mac. And the Dock. And the App Store. And Objective-C. But also Interface Builder as an IDE was revolutionary. Today we use Xcode. But many of the components go back all the way. And so much more.
After the acquisition, NeXT became Mac OS X Server in 1999 and by 2001 was Mac OS X. The rest there is history. But the legacy of the platform is considerable. Just on NeXTSTEP we had a few pretty massive successes.
Tim Berners-Lee developed the first web browser WorldWideWeb on NeXTSTEP for a NeXT . Other browsers for other platforms would come but his work became the web as we know it today. The machine he developed the web on is now on display at the National Museum of Science and Media in the UK.
We also got games like Quake, Heretic, Stife, and Doom from Interface Builder. And webobjects. And the people.
Tevanian came with NeXT to Apple as the Senior Vice President of Software Engineering. Jobs became an advisor, then CEO. Craig Federighi came with the acquisition as well - now Apple’s VP of software engineering. And I know dozens of others who came in from NeXT and helped reshape the culture at Apple.
Next.com still redirects to Apple.com. It took three years to ship that first computer at NeXT. It took 2 1/2 years to develop the iPhone. The Apple II, iPod, iPad, and first iMac were much less. Nearly 5 years for the original Mac. Some things take a little more time to flush out than others. Some need the price of components or new components to show up before you know it can be insanely great. Some need false starts like the Steve Jobs Steve Jobs famously said Apple wanted to create a computer in a book in 1983. That finally came out with the release of the iPad in 2010, 27 years later.
And so the final component of the Apple acquisition of NeXT to mention is Steve Jobs himself. He didn’t initially come in. He’d just become a billionaire off Pixar and was doing pretty darn well. His arrival back at Apple signified the end of a long draught for the company and all those products we mentioned and the iTunes music store and the App Store (both initially built on WebObjects) would change the way we consume content forever. His impact was substantial. For one, after factoring stock splits, the company might still be trading at .22 cents a share, which is what it would be today with all that. Instead they’re the most highly valued company in the world. But that pales in comparison to the way he and his teams and that relentless eye to product and design has actually changed the world. And the way his perspectives on privacy help protect us today, long after he passed.
The heroes journey (as described is a storytelling template that follows a hero from disgrace, to learn the mistakes of their past and reinvent themselves amidst a crisis throughout a grand adventure, and return home transformed. NeXT and Pixar represent part of that journey here. Which makes me wonder: what is my own Monomyth? Where will I return to? What is or was my abyss? These can be large or small. And while very few people in the world will have one like Steve Jobs did, we should all reflect on ours and learn from them. And yes that was plural because life is not so simple that there is one.
The past, and our understanding of it, predicts the future. Good luck on your journey.
James and John discuss eBay Finds: Mac Guided Tour audio cassette, Quadra 950, Apple umbrella. They look back at February 2001 in MacAddict magazine, and news includes mini vMac on your calculator, and a GameBoy as an Apple TV remote control.
I often think of companies in relation to their contribution to the next evolution in the forking and merging of disciplines in computing that brought us to where we are today. Many companies have multiple contributions. Few have as many such contributions as Apple. But there was a time when they didn’t seem so innovative.
This lost decade began about half way through the tenure of John Sculley and can be seen through the lens of the CEOs. There was Sculley, CEO from 1983 to 1993. Co-founders and spiritual centers of Apple, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, left Apple in 1985. Jobs to create NeXT and Wozniak to jump into a variety of companies like making universal remotes, wireless GPS trackers, and and other adventures.
This meant Sculley was finally in a position to be fully in charge of Apple. His era would see sales 10x from $800 million to $8 billion. Operationally, he was one of the more adept at cash management, putting $2 billion in the bank by 1993. Suddenly the vision of Steve Jobs was paying off. That original Mac started to sell and grow markets. But during this time, first the IBM PC and then the clones, all powered by the Microsoft operating system, completely took the operating system market for personal computers. Apple had high margins yet struggled for relevance.
Under Sculley, Apple released HyperCard, funded a skunkworks team in General Magic, arguably the beginning of ubiquitous computing, and using many of those same ideas he backed the Newton, coining the term personal digital assistant. Under his leadership, Apple marketing sent 200,000 people home with a Mac to try it out. Put the device in the hands of the people is probably one of the more important lessons they still teach newcomers that work in Apple Stores.
Looking at the big financial picture it seems like Sculley did alright. But in Apple’s fourth-quarter earnings call in 1993, they announced a 97 drop from the same time in 1992. This was also when a serious technical debt problem began to manifest itself.
The Mac operating system grew from the system those early pioneers built in 1984 to Macintosh System Software going from version 1 to version 7. But after annual releases leading to version 6, it took 3 years to develop system 7 and the direction to take with the operating system caused a schism in Apple engineering around what would happen once 7 shipped. Seems like most companies go through almost the exact same schism. Microsoft quietly grew NT to resolve their issues with Windows 3 and 95 until it finally became the thing in 2000. IBM had invested heavily into that same code, basically, with Warp - but wanted something new.
Something happened while Apple was building macOS 7. They lost Jean Lois Gasseé who had been head of development since Steve Jobs left. When Sculley gave everyone a copy of his memoir, Gasseé provided a copy of The Mythical Man-Month, from Fred Brooks’ experience with the IBM System 360. It’s unclear today if anyone read it. To me this is really the first big sign of trouble. Gassée left to build another OS, BeOS.
By the time macOS 7 was released, it was clear that the operating system was bloated, needed a massive object-oriented overhaul, and under Sculley the teams were split, with one team eventually getting spun off into its own company and then became a part of IBM to help with their OS woes. The team at Apple took 6 years to release the next operating system. Meanwhile, one of Sculley’s most defining decisions was to avoid licensing the Macintosh operating system. Probably because it was just too big a mess to do so. And yet everyday users didn’t notice all that much and most loved it.
But third party developers left. And that was at one of the most critical times in the history of personal computers because Microsoft was gaining a lot of developers for Windows 3.1 and released the wildly popular Windows 95.
The Mac accounted for most of the revenue of the company, but under Sculley the company dumped a lot of R&D money into the Newton. As with other big projects, the device took too long to ship and when it did, the early PDA market was a red ocean with inexpensive competitors. The Palm Pilot effectively ended up owning that pen computing market.
Sculley was a solid executive. And he played the part of visionary from time to time. But under his tenure Apple found operating system problems, rumors about Windows 95, developers leaving Apple behind for the Windows ecosystem, and whether those technical issues are on his lieutenants or him, the buck stocks there. The Windows clone industry led to PC price wars that caused Apple revenues to plummet. And so Markkula was off to find a new CEO.
Michael Spindler became the CEO from 1993 to 1996. The failure of the Newton and Copland operating systems are placed at his feet, even though they began in the previous regime. Markkula hired Digital Equipment and Intel veteran Spindler to assist in European operations and he rose to President of Apple Europe and then ran all international. He would become the only CEO to have no new Mac operating systems released in his tenure. Missed deadlines abound with Copland and then Tempo, which would become Mac OS 8.
And those aren’t the only products that came out at the time. We also got the PowerCD, the Apple QuickTake digital camera, and the Apple Pippin. Bandai had begun trying to develop a video game system with a scaled down version of the Mac. The Apple Pippin realized Markkula’s idea from when the Mac was first conceived as an Apple video game system.
There were a few important things that happened under Spindler though. First, Apple moved to the PowerPC architecture. Second, he decided to license the Macintosh operating system to companies wanting to clone the Macintosh. And he had discussions with IBM, Sun, and Philips to acquire Apple. Dwindling reserves, increasing debt. Something had to change and within three years, Spindler was gone.
Gil Amelio was CEO from 1996 to 1997. He moved from the board while the CEO at National Semiconductor to CEO of Apple. He inherited a company short on cash and high on expenses. He quickly began pushing forward OS 8, cut a third of the staff, streamline operations, dumping some poor quality products, and releasing new products Apple needed to be competitive like the Apple Network Server.
He also tried to acquire BeOS for $200 million, which would have Brough Gassée back but instead acquired NeXT for $429 million. But despite the good trajectory he had the company on, the stock was still dropping, Apple continued to lose money, and an immovable force was back - now with another decade of experience launching two successful companies: NeXT and Pixar.
The end of the lost decade can be seen as the return of Steve Jobs. Apple didn’t have an operating system. They were in a lurch soy-to-speak. I’ve seen or read it portrayed that Steve Jobs intended to take control of Apple. And I’ve seen it portrayed that he was happy digging up carrots in the back yard but came back because he was inspired by Johnny Ive. But I remember the feel around Apple changed when he showed back up on campus. As with other companies that dug themselves out of a lost decade, there was a renewed purpose. There was inspiration.
By 1997, one of the heroes of the personal computing revolution, Steve Jobs, was back. But not quite… He became interim CEO in 1997 and immediately turned his eye to making Apple profitable again. Over the past decade, the product line expanded to include a dozen models of the Mac. Anyone who’s read Geoffrey Moore’s Crossing the Chasm, Inside the Tornado, and Zone To Win knows this story all too well. We grow, we release new products, and then we eventually need to take a look at the portfolio and make some hard cuts.
Apple released the Macintosh II in 1987 then the Macintosh Portable in 1989 then the Iicx and II ci in 89 along with the Apple IIgs, the last of that series. By facing competition in different markets, we saw the LC line come along in 1990 and the Quadra in 1991, the same year three models of the PowerBook were released. Different printers, scanners, CD-Roms had come along by then and in 1993, we got a Macintosh TV, the Apple Newton, more models of the LC and by 1994 even more of those plus the QuickTake, Workgroup Server, the Pippin and by 1995 there were a dozen Performas, half a dozen Power Macintosh 6400s, the Apple Network Server and yet another versions of the Performa 6200 and we added the eMade and beige G3 in 1997. The SKU list was a mess. Cleaning that up took time but helped prepare Apple for a simpler sales process. Today we have a good, better, best with each device, with many a computer being build-to-order.
Jobs restructured the board, ending the long tenure of Mike Markkula, who’d been so impactful at each stage of the company so far. One of the forces behind the rise of the Apple computer and the Macintosh was about to change the world again, this time as the CEO.
There was a nexus of Digital Research and Xerox PARC, along with Stanford and Berkeley in the Bay Area. The rise of the hobbyists and the success of Apple attracted some of the best minds in computing to Apple. This confluence was about to change the world. One of those brilliant minds that landed at Apple started out as a technical writer.
Apple hired Jef Raskin as their 31st employee, to write the Apple II manual. He quickly started harping on people to build a computer that was easy to use. Mike Markkula wanted to release a gaming console or a cheap computer that could compete with the Commodore and Atari machines at the time. He called the project “Annie.”
The project began with Raskin, but he had a very different idea than Markkula’s. He summed it up in an article called “Computers by the Millions” that wouldn’t see publication until 1982. His vision was closer to his PhD dissertation, bringing computing to the masses. For this, he envisioned a menu driven operating system that was easy to use and inexpensive. Not yet a GUI in the sense of a windowing operating system and so could run on chips that were rapidly dropping in price. He planned to use the 6809 chip for the machine and give it a five inch display.
He didn’t tell anyone that he had a PhD when he was hired, as the team at Apple was skeptical of academia. Jobs provided input, but was off working on the Lisa project, which used the 68000 chip. So they had free reign over what they were doing.
Raskin quickly added Joanna Hoffman for marketing. She was on leave from getting a PhD in archaeology at the University of Chicago and was the marketing team for the Mac for over a year. They also added Burrell Smith, employee #282 from the hardware technician team, to do hardware. He’d run with the Homebrew Computer Club crowd since 1975 and had just strolled into Apple one day and asked for a job.
Raskin also brought in one of his students from the University of California San Diego who was taking a break from working on his PhD in neurochemistry. Bill Atkinson became employee 51 at Apple and joined the project. They pulled in Andy Hertzfeld, who Steve Jobs hired when Apple bought one of his programs as he was wrapping up his degree at Berkeley and who’d been sitting on the Apple services team and doing Apple III demos.
They added Larry Kenyon, who’d worked at Amdahl and then on the Apple III team. Susan Kare came in to add art and design. They, along with Chris Espinosa - who’d been in the garage with Jobs and Wozniak working on the Apple I, ended up comprising the core team.
Over time, the team grew. Bud Tribble joined as the manager for software development. Jerrold Manock, who’d designed the case of the Apple II, came in to design the now-iconic Macintosh case. The team would eventually expand to include Bob Belleville, Steve Capps, George Crow, Donn Denman, Bruce Horn, and Caroline Rose as well. It was still a small team. And they needed a better code name. But chronologically let’s step back to the early project.
Raskin chose his favorite Apple, the Macintosh, as the codename for the project. As far as codenames go it was a pretty good one. So their mission would be to ship a machine that was easy to use, would appeal to the masses, and be at a price point the masses could afford. They were looking at 64k of memory, a Motorola 6809 chip, and a 256 bitmap display. Small, light, and inexpensive.
Jobs’ relationship with the Lisa team was strained and he was taken off of that and he started moving in on the Macintosh team. It was quickly the Steve Jobs show.
Having seen what could be done with the Motorola 68000 chip on the Lisa team, Jobs had them redesign the board to work with that. After visiting Xerox PARC at Raskin’s insistence, Jobs finally got the desktop metaphor and true graphical interface design.
Xerox had not been quiet about the work at PARC. Going back to 1972 there were even television commercials. And Raskin had done time at PARC while on sabbatical from Stanford. Information about Smalltalk had been published and people like Bill Atkinson were reading about it in college. People had been exposed to the mouse all around the Bay Area in the 60s and 70s or read Engelbart’s scholarly works on it. Many of the people that worked on these projects had doctorates and were academics. They shared their research as freely as love was shared during that counter-culture time. Just as it had passed from MIT to Dartmouth and then in the back of Bob Albrecht’s VW had spread around the country in the 60s. That spirit of innovation and the constant evolutions over the past 25 years found their way to Steve Jobs.
He saw the desktop metaphor and mouse and fell in love with it, knowing they could build one for less than the $400 unit Xerox had. He saw how an object-oriented programming language like Smalltalk made all that possible. The team was already on their way to the same types of things and so Jobs told the people at PARC about the Lisa project, but not yet about the Mac. In fact, he was as transparent as anyone could be. He made sure they knew how much he loved their work and disclosed more than I think the team planned on him disclosing about Apple.
This is the point where Larry Tesler and others realized that the group of rag-tag garage-building Homebrew hackers had actually built a company that had real computer scientists and was on track to changing the world. Tesler and some others would end up at Apple later - to see some of their innovations go to a mass market. Steve Jobs at this point totally bought into Raskin’s vision. Yet he still felt they needed to make compromises with the price and better hardware to make it all happen.
Raskin couldn’t make the kinds of compromises Jobs wanted. He also had an immunity to the now-infamous Steve Jobs reality distortion field and they clashed constantly. So eventually Raskin the project just when it was starting to take off. Raskin would go on to work with Canon to build his vision, which became the Canon CAT.
With Raskin gone, and armed with a dream team of mad scientists, they got to work, tirelessly pushing towards shipping a computer they all believed would change the world. Jobs brought in Fernandez to help with projects like the macOS and later HyperCard. Wozniak had a pretty big influence over Raskin in the early days of the Mac project and helped here and there withe the project, like with the bit-serial peripheral bus on the Mac.
Steve Jobs wanted an inexpensive mouse that could be manufactured en masse. Jim Yurchenco from Hovey-Kelley, later called Ideo, got the task - given that trusted engineers at Apple had full dance cards. He looked at the Xerox mouse and other devices around - including trackballs in Atari arcade machines. Those used optics instead of mechanical switches. As the ball under the mouse rolled beams of light would be interrupted and the cost of those components had come down faster than the technology in the Xerox mouse. He used a ball from a roll-on deodorant stick and got to work. The rest of the team designed the injection molded case for the mouse. That work began with the Lisa and by the time they were done, the price was low enough that every Mac could get one.
Armed with a mouse, they figured out how to move windows over the top of one another, Susan Kare designed iconography that is a bit less 8-bit but often every bit as true to form today. Learning how they wanted to access various components of the desktop, or find things, they developed the Finder. Atkinson gave us marching ants, the concept of double-clicking, the lasso for selecting content, the menu bar, MacPaint, and later, HyperCard.
It was a small team, working long hours. Driven by a Jobs for perfection. Jobs made the Lisa team the enemy. Everything not the Mac just sucked. He took the team to art exhibits. He had the team sign the inside of the case to infuse them with the pride of an artist. He killed the idea of long product specifications before writing code and they just jumped in, building and refining and rebuilding and rapid prototyping. The team responded well to the enthusiasm and need for perfectionism.
The Mac team was like a rebel squadron. They were like a start-up, operating inside Apple. They were pirates. They got fast and sometimes harsh feedback. And nearly all of them still look back on that time as the best thing they’ve done in their careers.
As IBM and many learned the hard way before them, they learned a small, inspired team, can get a lot done. With such a small team and the ability to parlay work done for the Lisa, the R&D costs were minuscule until they were ready to release the computer. And yet, one can’t change the world over night. 1981 turned into 1982 turned into 1983.
More and more people came in to fill gaps. Collette Askeland came in to design the printed circuit board. Mike Boich went to companies to get them to write software for the Macintosh. Berry Cash helped prepare sellers to move the product. Matt Carter got the factory ready to mass produce the machine. Donn Denman wrote MacBASIC (because every machine needed a BASIC back then). Martin Haeberli helped write MacTerminal and Memory Manager. Bill Bull got rid of the fan. Patti King helped manage the software library. Dan Kottke helped troubleshoot issues with mother boards. Brian Robertson helped with purchasing. Ed Riddle designed the keyboard. Linda Wilkin took on documentation for the engineering team. It was a growing team. Pamela Wyman and Angeline Lo came in as programmers. Hap Horn and Steve Balog as engineers.
Jobs had agreed to bring in adults to run the company. So they recruited 44 years old hotshot CEO John Sculley to change the world as their CEO rather than selling sugar water at Pepsi. Scully and Jobs had a tumultuous relationship over time. While Jobs had made tradeoffs on cost versus performance for the Mac, Sculley ended up raising the price for business reasons.
Regis McKenna came in to help with the market campaign. He would win over so much trust that he would later get called out of retirement to do damage control when Apple had an antenna problem on the iPhone. We’ll cover Antenna-gate at some point. They spearheaded the production of the now-iconic 1984 Super Bowl XVIII ad, which shows woman running from conformity and depicted IBM as the Big Brother from George Orwell’s book, 1984.
Two days after the ad, the Macintosh 128k shipped for $2,495. The price had jumped because Scully wanted enough money to fund a marketing campaign. It shipped late, and the 128k of memory was a bit underpowered, but it was a success. Many of the concepts such as a System and Finder, persist to this day. It came with MacWrite and MacPaint and some of the other Lisa products were soon to follow, now as MacProject and MacTerminal. But the first killer app for the Mac was Microsoft Word, which was the first version of Word ever shipped.
Every machine came with a mouse. The machines came with a cassette that featured a guided tour of the new computer. You could write programs in MacBASIC and my second language, MacPascal.
They hit the initial sales numbers despite the higher price. But over time that bit them on sluggish sales. Despite the early success, the sales were declining. Yet the team forged on. They introduced the Apple LaserWriter at a whopping $7,000. This was a laser printer that was based on the Canon 300 dpi engine. Burrell Smith designed a board and newcomer Adobe knew laser printers, given that the founders were Xerox alumni. They added postscript, which had initially been thought up while working with Ivan Sutherland and then implemented at PARC, to make for perfect printing at the time.
The sluggish sales caused internal issues. There’s a hangover when we do something great. First there were the famous episodes between Jobs, Scully, and the board of directors at Apple. Scully seems to have been portrayed by many to be either a villain or a court jester of sorts in the story of Steve Jobs. Across my research, which began with books and notes and expanded to include a number of interviews, I’ve found Scully to have been admirable in the face of what many might consider a petulant child. But they all knew a brilliant one.
But amidst Apple’s first quarterly loss, Scully and Jobs had a falling out. Jobs tried to lead an insurrection and ultimately resigned. Wozniak had left Apple already, pointing out that the Apple II was still 70% of the revenues of the company. But the Mac was clearly the future.
They had reached a turning point in the history of computers. The first mass marketed computer featuring a GUI and a mouse came and went. And so many others were in development that a red ocean was forming. Microsoft released Windows 1.0 in 1985. Acorn, Amiga, IBM, and others were in rapid development as well.
I can still remember the first time I sat down at a Mac. I’d used the Apple IIs in school and we got a lab of Macs. It was amazing. I could open a file, change the font size and print a big poster. I could type up my dad’s lyrics and print them. I could play SimCity. It was a work of art. And so it was signed by the artists that brought it to us:
Peggy Alexio, Colette Askeland, Bill Atkinson, Steve Balog, Bob Belleville, Mike Boich, Bill Bull, Matt Carter, Berry Cash, Debi Coleman, George Crow, Donn Denman, Christopher Espinosa, Bill Fernandez, Martin Haeberli, Andy Hertzfeld, Joanna Hoffman, Rod Holt, Bruce Horn, Hap Horn, Brian Howard, Steve Jobs, Larry Kenyon, Patti King, Daniel Kottke, Angeline Lo, Ivan Mach, Jerrold Manock, Mary Ellen McCammon, Vicki Milledge, Mike Murray, Ron Nicholson Jr., Terry Oyama, Benjamin Pang, Jef Raskin, Ed Riddle, Brian Robertson, Dave Roots, Patricia Sharp, Burrell Smith, Bryan Stearns, Lynn Takahashi, Guy "Bud" Tribble, Randy Wigginton, Linda Wilkin, Steve Wozniak, Pamela Wyman and Laszlo Zidek.
Steve Jobs left to found NeXT. Some, like George Crow, Joanna Hoffman, and Susan Care, went with him. Bud Tribble would become a co-founder of NeXT and then the Vice President of Software Technology after Apple purchased NeXT.
Bill Atkinson and Andy Hertzfeld would go on to co-found General Magic and usher in the era of mobility. One of the best teams ever assembled slowly dwindled away. And the oncoming dominance of Windows in the market took its toll.
It seems like every company has a “lost decade.” Some like Digital Equipment don’t recover from it. Others, like Microsoft and IBM (who has arguably had a few), emerge as different companies altogether. Apple seemed to go dormant after Steve Jobs left. They had changed the world with the Mac. They put swagger and an eye for design into computing. But in the next episode we’ll look at that long hangover, where they were left by the end of it, and how they emerged to become to change the world yet again.
In the meantime, Walter Isaacson weaves together this story about as well as anyone in his book Jobs. Steven Levy brilliantly tells it in his book Insanely Great. Andy Hertzfeld gives some of his stories at folklore.org. And countless other books, documentaries, podcasts, blog posts, and articles cover various aspects as well. The reason it’s gotten so much attention is that where the Apple II was the watershed moment to introduce the personal computer to the mass market, the Macintosh was that moment for the graphical user interface.
Saga II was a program developed in 1960 that automatically wrote screenplays for TV westerns. Outwardly it looks like artificial intelligence, but that's not entirely accurate. Saga has much more in common with CNC software than AI. This episode we take a look at how the same technology that automated manufacturing found it's way into digital westerns, and how numerically controlled mills are remarkably similar to stage plays.
Clips drawn from The Thinking Machine: https://techtv.mit.edu/videos/10268-the-thinking-machine-1961---mit-centennial-film
James and John discuss eBay Finds: Macintosh TV remote control, Think Different crystal, and Apple 1. James opens his Apple VideoPhone Kit, and news includes Apple's quarterly report and Spotify iPod.
James, John and Steve discuss eBay Finds: Power Computing 100, SuperMac C600, and Power Computing Field Vest. Steve from Mac84 introduces his series, "The Rise and Fall of the Macintosh Clones" and news includes the Macintosh birthday.
James & John discuss eBay Finds: Power Mac G4 Cube prototype shell, Mac Classic II, and classic Mac lot . They turn on James's Macintosh TV, and news includes new iMac rumors, Baking an Apple Pi, and Mac84's new series on Apple clones.
Humanity is searching for meaning. We binge tv shows. We get lost in fiction. We make up amazing stories about super heroes. We hunt for something deeper than what’s on the surface. We seek conspiracies or... aliens.
I finally got around to reading a book that had been on my list for a long time, recently. Not because I thought I would agree with its assertions - but because it came up from time to time in my research.
Chariots of the Gods? is a book written in 1968 by German Erich Von Daniken. He goes through a few examples to, in his mind, prove that aliens not only had been to Earth but that they destroyed Sodom with fire and brimstone which he said was a nuclear explosion. He also says the Ark of the Covenant was actually a really big walkie-talkie for calling space.
Ultimately, the thesis centers around the idea than humans could not possibly have made the technological leaps we did and so must have been given to us from the gods. I find this to be a perfectly satisfactory science fiction plot. In fact, various alien conspiracy theories seemed to begin soon after Orson Welles 1938 live adaption of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds and like a virus, they mutated. But did this alien virus start in a bat in Wuhan or in Roman Syria.
The ancient Greeks and then Romans had a lot of gods. Lucian of Samosata thought they should have a couple more. He wove together a story, which he called “A True Story.” In it, he says it’s all make-believe. Because they believed in multiple pantheons of gods in modern day Syria in the second century AD. In the satire, Lucian and crew get taken to the Moon where they get involved in a war between the Moon and the Sun kings for the rights to colonize the Morning Star. They then get eaten by a whale and escape and travel meeting great Greeks through time including Pythagoras, Homer, and Odysseus. And they find the new world. Think of how many modern plots are wrapped up in that book from the second century, made to effectively make fun of storytellers like Homer?
The 1800s was one of the first centuries where humanity began to inherit a rapid merger and explosion of scientific understanding and Edgar Allan Poe again took us to the moon in "The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall" in 1835. Jules Verne, Mary Shelley, and then H.G. Welles with that War of the Worlds in 1898. By then we’d mapped the surface of the moon with telescopes, so they wrote of Mars and further. H.P. Lovecraft gave us the Call of Cthulhu. These authors predicted the future - but science fiction became a genre that did more. It helped us create satire or allegory or just comparisons to these rapid global changes in ways that called out the social impact to consider before or after we invent. And to just cope with evolving social norms. The magazine Amazing Stories came in 1926 and the greatest work of science fiction premiered in 1942 with Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. Science fiction was opening our eyes to what was possible and opened the minds of scientists to study what we might create in the future. But it wasn’t real.
Von Daniken and French author Robert Charroux seemed to influence one another in taking history and science and turning them into pseudohistory and pseudoscience. And both got many of their initial ideas from the 1960 book, The Morning of the Magicians. But Chariots of the Gods? was a massive success and a best seller. And rather than be dismissed it has now spread to include conspiracy and other theories. Which is fine as fiction, not as non-fiction.
Let’s look at some other specific examples from Chariots of the Gods? Von Daniken claims that Japanese Dogu figures were carvings of aliens. He claims there were alien helicopter carvings in an Egyptian temple. He claims the Nazca lines in Peru were a way to call aliens and that a map from 1513 actually showed the earth from space rather than thinking it possible that cartography was capable of showing a somewhat accurate representation of the world in the Age of Discovery. He claimed stories in the Bible were often inspired by alien visits much as some First Nation peoples and cargo cults thought people in ships visiting their lands for the first time might be gods.
The one thing I’ve learned researching these episodes is that technology has been a constant evolution. Many of our initial discoveries like fire, agriculture, and using the six simple machines could be observed in nature. From the time we learned to make fire, it was only a matter of time before humanity discovered that stones placed in or around fire might melt in certain ways - and so metallurgy was born. We went through population booms as we discovered each of these.
We used the myths and legends that became religions to hand down knowledge, as I was taught to use mnemonics to memorize the seven layers of the OSI model. That helped us preserve knowledge of astronomy across generations so we could explore further and better maintain our crops.
The ancient Sumerians then Babylonians gave us writing. But we had been drawing on caves for thousands of years. Which seems more likely, that we were gifted this advance or that as we began to settle in more dense urban centers that we out of a need to scale operations tracked the number of widgets we had with markings that, over time evolved into a written language? First through pictures and then through words that evolved into sentences and then epics? We could pass down information more reliably across generation.
Trade and commerce and then ziggurats and pyramids help hone our understanding of mathematics. The study of logic and automata allowed us to build bigger and faster and process more raw materials. Knowledge of all of these discoveries spread across trade routes.
So ask yourself this. Which is more likely, the idea that humans maintained a constant, ever-evolving stream of learned ingenuity that was passed down for tens of thousands of years until it accelerated when we learned to write, or do you think aliens from outer space instead gave us technology?
I find it revokes our very agency to assert anything but the idea that humans are capable of the fantastic feats we have reached and believe it insulting to take away from the great philosophers, discoverers, scientists, and thinkers that got us where we are today.
Our species has long made up stories to explain that which the science of the day cannot. Before we understand the why, we make up stories about the how. This allowed us to pass knowledge down between generations. We see this in ancient explanations of the movements of stars before we had astrolabes. We see humans want to leave something behind that helps the next generations, or burial sites like with Stonehenge - not summon Thor from an alien planet as Marvel has rewritten their own epics to indicate. In part based on rethinking these mythos in the context of Chariots of the Gods?
Ultimately the greater our gaps in understanding, the more disconnected with ourselves I find that most people are. We listen to talking heads rather than think for ourselves. We get lost in theories of cabals. We seek a deeper, missing knowledge because we can’t understand everything in front of us.
Today, if we know where to look, and can decipher the scientific jargon, all the known knowledge of science and history are at our fingertips. But it can take a lifetime to master one of thousands of fields of scientific research. If we don’t have that specialty then we can perceive it as unreachable and think maybe this pseudohistorical account of humanity is true and maybe aliens gave us
If we feel left behind then it becomes easier to blame others when we can’t get below the surface of complicated concepts. Getting left behind might mean that jobs don’t pay what they paid our parents. We may perceive others as getting attention or resources we feel we deserve. We may feel isolated and alone. And all of those are valid feelings. When they’re heard then maybe we can look to the future instead of accepting pseudoscience and pseudohistory and conspiracies. Because while they make for fun romps on the big screen, they’re dangerous when taken as fact.
Apple found massive success on the back of the Apple II. They went public like many of the late 70s computer companies and the story could have ended there, as it did for many computer companies of the era who were potentially bigger, had better technology, better go to market strategies, and/or even some who were far more innovative.
But it didn’t. The journey to the next stage began with the Apple IIc, Apple IIgs, and other incrementally better, faster, or smaller models. Those funded the research and development of a number of projects. One was a new computer: the Lisa. I bet you thought we were jumping into the Mac next. Getting there. But twists and turns, as the title suggests.
The success of the Apple II led to many of the best and brightest minds in computers wanting to go work at Apple. Jobs came to be considered a visionary. The pressure to actually become one has been the fall of many a leader. And Jobs almost succumbed to it as well.
Some go down due to a lack of vision, others because they don’t have the capacity for executional excellence. Some lack lieutenants they can trust. The story isn’t clear with Jobs. He famously sought perfection. And sometimes he got close.
The Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, or PARC for short, had been a focal point of raw research and development, since 1970. They inherited many great innovations, outlandish ideas, amazing talent, and decades of research from academia and Cold War-inspired government grants. Ever since Sputnik, the National Science Foundation and the US Advanced Research Projects Agency had funded raw research. During Vietnam, that funding dried up and private industry moved in to take products to market.
Arthur Rock had come into Xerox in 1969, on the back of an investment into Scientific Data Systems. While on the board of Xerox, he got to see the advancements being made at PARC. PARC hired some of the oNLine System (NLS) team who worked to help ship the Xerox Alto in 1973, shipping a couple thousand computers. They followed that up with the Xerox Star in 1981, selling about 20,000. But PARC had been at it the whole time, inventing all kinds of goodness.
And so always thinking of the next computer, Apple started the Lisa project in 1978, the year after the release of the Apple II, when profits were just starting to roll in.
Story has it that Steve Jobs secured a visit to PARC and made out the back with the idea for a windowing personal computer GUI complete with a desktop metaphor. But not so fast. Apple had already begun the Lisa and Macintosh projects before Jobs visited Xerox. And after the Alto was shown off internally at Xerox in 1977, complete with Mother of All Demo-esque theatrics on stages using remote computers. They had the GUI, the mouse, and networking - while the other computers released that year, the Apple II, Commodore, and TRS-80 were still doing what Dartmouth, the University of Illinois, and others had been doing since the 60s - just at home instead of on time sharing computers.
In other words, enough people in computing had seen the oNLine System from Stanford. The graphical interface was coming and wouldn’t be stopped. The mouse had been written about in scholarly journals. But it was all pretty expensive. The visits to PARC, and hiring some of the engineers, helped the teams at Apple figure out some of the problems they didn’t even know they had. They helped make things better and they helped the team get there a little quicker. But by then the coming evolution in computing was inevitable.
Still, the Xerox Star was considered a failure. But Apple said “hold my beer” and got to work on a project that would become the Lisa. It started off simply enough: some ideas from Apple executives like Steve Jobs and then 10 people, led by Ken Rothmuller, to develop a system with windows and a mouse. Rothmuller got replaced with John Couch, Apple’s 54th employee. Trip Hawkins got a great education in marketing on that team. He would later found Electronic Arts, one of the biggest video game publishers in the world.
Larry Tesler from the Stanford AI Lab and then Xerox PARC joined the team to run the system software team. He’d been on ARPANet since writing Pub an early markup language and was instrumental in the Gypsy Word Processor, Smalltalk, and inventing copy and paste. Makes you feel small to think of some of this stuff.
Bruce Daniels, one of the Zork creators from MIT, joined the team from HP as the software manager.
Wayne Rosing, formerly of Digital and Data General, was brought in to design the hardware. He’d later lead the Sparc team and then become a VP of Engineering at Google.
The team grew. They brought in Bill Dresselhaus as a principal product designer for the look and use and design and even packaging. They started with a user interface and then created the hardware and applications.
Eventually there would be nearly 100 people working on the Lisa project and it would run over $150 million in R&D. After 4 years, they were still facing delays and while Jobs had been becoming more and more involved, he was removed from the project. The personal accounts I’ve heard seem to be closer to other large out of control projects at companies that I’ve seen though.
The Apple II used that MOS 6502 chip. And life was good. The Lisa used the Motorola 68000 at 5 MHz. This was a new architecture to replace the 6800. It was time to go 32-bit.
The Lisa was supposed to ship with between 1 and 2 megabytes of RAM. It had a built-in 12 inch screen that was 720 x 364.
They got to work building applications, releasing LisaWrite, LisaCalc, LisaDraw, LisaGraph, LisaGuide, LisaList, LisaProject, and LisaTerminal. They translated it to British English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish.
All the pieces were starting to fall into place. But the project kept growing. And delays. Jobs got booted from the Lisa project amidst concerns it was bloated, behind schedule, wasting company resources, and that Jobs’ perfectionism was going to result in a product that could never ship. The cost of the machine was over $10,000.
Thing is, as we’ll get into later, every project went over budget and ran into delays for the next decade. Great ideas could then be capitalized on by others - even if a bit watered down. Some projects need to teach us how not to do projects - improve our institutional knowledge about the project or product discipline. That didn’t exactly happen with Lisa.
We see times in the history of computing and technology for that matter, when a product is just too far advanced for its time. That would be the Xerox Alto. As costs come down, we can then bring ideas to a larger market. That should have been the Lisa. But it wasn’t. While nearly half the cost of a Xerox Star, less than half the number of units were sold.
Following the release of the Lisa, we got other desktop metaphors and graphical interfaces. Agat out of the Soviet Union, SGI, Visi (makers of Visicalc), GEM from Digital Research, DeskMate from Tandy, Amiga Intuition, Acorn Master Compact, the Arthur for the ARM, and the initial releases of Microsoft Windows. By the late 1980s the graphical interface was ubiquitous and computers were the easiest to use for the novice than they’d ever been before.
But developers didn’t flock to the system as they’d done with the Apple II. You needed a specialized development workstation so why would they? People didn’t understand the menuing system yet. As someone who’s written command line tools, sometimes they’re just easier than burying buttons in complicated graphical interfaces.
“I’m not dead yet… just… badly burned. Or sick, as it were.” Apple released the Lisa 2 in 1984. It went for about half the price and was a little more stable. One reason was that the Twiggy disk drives Apple built for the Lisa were replaced with Sony microfloppy drives. This looked much more like what we’d get with the Mac, only with expansion slots.
The end of the Lisa project was more of a fizzle. After the original Mac was released, Lisa shipped as the Macintosh XL, for $4,000. Sun Remarketing built MacWorks to emulate the Macintosh environment and that became the main application of the Macintosh XL.
Sun Remarketing bought 5,000 of the Mac XLs and improved them somewhat. The last of the 2,700 Lisa computers were buried in a landfill in Utah in 1989. As the whole project had been, they ended up being a write-off. Apple traded them out for a deep discount on the Macintosh Plus. By then, Steve Jobs was long gone, Apple was all about the Mac and the next year General Magic would begin ushering in the era of mobile devices.
The Lisa was a technical marvel at the time and a critical step in the evolution of the desktop metaphor, then nearly twenty years old, beginning at Stanford on NASA and ARPA grants, evolving further at PARC when members of the team went there, and continuing on at Apple. The lessons learned in the Lisa project were immense and helped inform the evolution of the next project, the Mac. But might the product have actually gained traction in the market if Steve Jobs had not been telling people within Apple and outside that the Mac was the next thing, while the Apple II line was still accounting for most of the revenue of the company? There’s really no way to tell. The Mac used a newer Motorola 68000 at nearly 8 megahertz so was faster, the OS was cleaner, the machine was prettier. It was smaller, boxier like the newer Japanese cars at the time. It was just better. But it probably couldn’t have been if not for the Lisa.
Lisa was slower than it was supposed to be. The operating system tended to be fragile. There were recalls. Steve Jobs was never afraid to cannibalize a product to make the next awesome thing. He did so with Lisa. If we step back and look at the Lisa as an R&D project, it was a resounding success. But as a public company, the shareholders didn’t see it that way at the time.
So next time there’s an R&D project running amuck, think about this. The Lisa changed the world, ushering in the era of the graphical interface. All for the low cost of $50 million after sales of the device are taken out of it. But they had to start anew with the Mac and only bring in the parts that worked. They built out too much technical debt while developing the product to do anything else. While it can be painful - sometimes it’s best to start with a fresh circuit board and a blank command line editor. Then we can truly step back and figure out how we want to change the world.
James & John discuss eBay Finds: Macintosh TV, Color Classic, and Macintosh 128k. They look back at MacAddict from January 2001, and news includes Apple car rumors, G5 Minecraft server, and more NanoRaptor creations. Join our Facebook page, watch us on YouTube, and visit us at RetroMacCast.
I’ve been struggling with how to cover a few different companies, topics, or movements for awhile. The lack of covering their stories thus far has little to do with their impact but just trying to find where to put them in the history of computing. One of the most challenging is Apple. This is because there isn’t just one Apple. Instead there are stages of the company, each with their own place in the history of computers.
Today we can think of Apple as one of the Big 5 tech companies, which include Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. But there were times in the evolution of the company where things looked bleak. Like maybe they would get gobbled up by another tech company. To oversimplify the development of Apple, we’ll break up their storied ascent into four parts:
We’ll start with the early days, which I think of as one of the four key Apple stages of development. And those early days go back far past the days when Apple was hocking the Apple I. They go to high school.
Jobs and Woz
Bill Fernandez and Steve Wozniak built a computer they called “The Cream Soda Computer” in 1970 when Bill was 16 and Woz was 20. It was a crude punch card processing machine built from some parts Woz got from the company he was working for at the time.
Fernandez introduced Steve Wozniak to a friend from middle school because they were both into computers and both had a flare for pranky rebelliousness. That friend was Steve Jobs.
By 1972, the pranks turned into their first business. Wozniak designed Blue Boxes, initially conceived by Cap’n Crunch John Draper, who got his phreaker name from a whistle in a Cap’n Crunch box that made a tone in 2600 Hz that sent AT&T phones into operator mode. Draper would actually be an Apple employee for a bit. They designed a digital version and sold a few thousand dollars worth.
Jobs went to Reed College. Wozniak went to Berkely. Both dropped out.
Woz got a sweet gig at HP designing calculators, where Jobs had worked a summer job in high school. India to find enlightenment. When Jobs became employee number 40 at Atari, he got Wozniak to help create Breakout. That was the year The Altair 8800 was released and Wozniak went to the first meeting of a little club called the Homebrew Computer Club in 1975 when they got an Altair so the People’s Computer Company could review it. And that was the inspiration. Having already built one computer with Fernandez, Woz designed schematics for another. Going back to the Homebrew meetings to talk through ideas and nerd out, he got it built and proud of his creation, returned to Homebrew with Jobs to give out copies of the schematics for everyone to play with. This was the age of hackers and hobbyists. But that was about to change ever so slightly.
The Apple I
Jobs had this idea. What if they sold the boards. They came up with a plan. Jobs sold his VW Microbus and Wozniak sold his HP-65 calculator and they got to work. Simple math. They could sell 50 boards for $40 bucks each and make some cash like they’d done with the blue boxes. But you know, a lot of people didn’t know what to do with the board. Sure, you just needed a keyboard and a television, but that still seemed a bit much.
Then a little bigger plan - what if they sold 50 full computers. They went to the Byte Shop and talked them into buying 50 for $500. They dropped $20,000 on parts and netted a $5,000 return. They’d go on to sell about 200 of the Apple Is between 1976 and 1977.
It came with a MOS 6502 chip running at a whopping 1 MHz and with 4KB of memory, which could go to 8. They provided Apple BASIC, as most vendors did at the time. That MOS chip was critical. Before it, many used an Intel or the Motorola 6800, which went for $175. But the MOS 6502 was just $25. It was an 8-bit microprocessor designed by a team that Chuck Peddle ran after leaving the 6800 team at Motorola. Armed with that chip at that price, and with Wozniak’s understanding of what it needed to do and how it interfaced with other chips to access memory and peripherals, the two could do something new.
They started selling the Apple 1 and to quote an ad “the Apple comes fully assembled, tested & burned-in and has a complete power supply on-board, initial set-up is essentially “hassle free” and you can be running in minutes.” This really tells you something about the computing world at the time. There were thousands of hobbyists and many had been selling devices. But this thing had on-board RAM and you could just add a keyboard and video and not have to read LEDs to get output. The marketing descriptions were pretty technical by modern Apple standards, telling us something of the users. It sold for $666.66.
They got help from Patty Jobs building logic boards. Jobs’ friend from college Daniel Kottke joined for the summer, as did Fernandez and Chris Espinosa - now Apple’s longest-tenured employee. It was a scrappy garage kind of company. The best kind.
They made the Apple I until a few months after they released the successor. But the problem with the Apple I was that there was only one person who could actually support it when customers called: Wozniak. And he was slammed, busy designing the next computer and all the components needed to take it to the mass market, like monitors, disk drives, etc. So they offered a discount for anyone returning the Apple I and destroyed most returned. Those Apple I computers have now been auctioned for hundreds of thousands of dollars all the way up to $1.75 million.
The Apple II
They knew they were on to something. But a lot of people were building computers. They needed capital if they were going to bring in a team and make a go at things. But Steve Jobs wasn’t exactly the type of guy venture capitalists liked to fund at the time.
Mike Markkula was a product-marketing manager at chip makers Fairchild and Intel who retired early after making a small fortune on stock options. That is, until he got a visit from Steve Jobs. He brought money but more importantly the kind of assistance only a veteran of a successful corporation who’d ride that wave could bring. He brought in Michael "Scotty" Scott, employee #4, to be the first CEO and they got to work on mapping out an early business plan. If you notice the overlapping employee numbers, Scotty might have had something to do with that…
As you may notice by Wozniak selling his calculator, at the time computers weren’t that far removed from calculators. So Jobs brought in a calculator designer named Jerry Manock to design a plastic injection molded case, or shell, for the Apple II. They used the same chip and a similar enough motherboard design. They stuck with the default 4KB of memory and provided jumpers to make it easier to go up to 48. They added a cassette interface for IO. They had a toggle circuit that could trigger the built-in speaker. And they would include two game paddles. This is similar to bundles provided with the Commodore and other vendors of the day. And of course it still worked with a standard TV - but now that TVs were mostly color, so was the video coming out of the Apple II. And all of this came at a starting price of $1,298.
The computer initially shipped with a version of BASIC written by Wozniak but Apple later licensed the Microsoft 6502 BASIC to ship what they called Applesoft BASIC, short for Apple and Micorosft. Here, they turned to Randy Wiggington who was Apple’s employee #6 and had gotten rides to the Homebrew Computer Club from Wozniak as a teenager (since he lived down the street). He and others added features onto Microsoft BASIC to free Wozniak to work on other projects. Deciding they needed a disk operating system, or DOS. Here, rather than license the industry standard CP/M at the time, Wigginton worked with Shepardson, who did various projects for CP/M and Atari.
The motherboard on the Apple II remains an elegant design. There were certain innovations that Wozniak made, like cutting down the number of DRAM chips by sharing resources between other components. The design was so elegant that Bill Fernandez had to join them as employee number four, in order to help take the board and create schematics to have it silkscreened. The machines were powerful.
All that needed juice. Jobs asked his former boss Al Alcorn for someone to help out with that. Rod Holt, employee number 5, was brought in to design the power supply. By implementing a switching power supply, as Digital Equipment had done in the PDP-11, rather than a transformer-based power supply, the Apple II ended up being far lighter than many other machines.
The Apple II was released in 1977 at the West Coast Computer Fair. It, along with the TRS-80 and the Commodore PET would become the 1977 Trinity, which isn’t surprising. Remember Peddle who ran the 6502 design team - he designed the PET. And Steve Leininger was also a member of the Homebrew Computer Club who happened to work at National Semiconductor when Radio Shack/Tandy started looking for someone to build them a computer.
The machine was stamped with an Apple logo. Jobs hired Rob Janoff, a local graphic designer, to create the logo. This was a picture of an Apple made out of a rainbow, showing that the Apple II had color graphics. This rainbow Apple stuck and became the logo for Apple Computers until 1998, after Steve Jobs returned to Apple, when the Apple went all-black, but the silhouette is now iconic, serving Apple for 45 years and counting.
The computers were an instant success and sold quickly. But others were doing well in the market. Some incumbents and some new. Red oceans mean we have to improve our effectiveness. So this is where Apple had to grow up to become a company. Markkula made a plan to get Apple to $500 million in sales in 10 years on the backs of his $92,000 investment and another $600,000 in venture funding.
They did $2.7 million dollars in sales in 1977. This idea of selling a pre-assembled computer to the general public was clearly resonating. Parents could use it to help teach their kids. Schools could use it for the same. And when we were done with all that, we could play games on it. Write code in BASIC. Or use it for business. Make some documents in Word Star, spreadsheets in VisiCalc, or use one of the thousands of titles available for the Mac. Sales grew 150x until 1980.
Given that many thought cassettes were for home machines and floppies were for professional machines, it was time to move away from tape. Markkela realized this and had Wozniak design a floppy disk for the Apple II, which went on to be known as the Drive II. Wozniak had experience with disk controllers and studied the latest available. Wozniak again managed to come up with a value engineered design that allowed Apple to produce a good drive for less than any other major vendor at the time. Wozniak would actually later go on to say that it was one of his best designs (and many contemporaries agreed).
Markkula filled gaps as well as anyone. He even wrote free software programs under the name of Johnny Appleseed, a name also used for years in product documentation. He was a classic hacker type of entrepreneur on their behalf, sitting in the guerrilla marketing chair some days or acting as president of the company others, and mentor for Jobs in other days.
From Hobbyists to Capitalists
Here’s the thing - I’ve always been a huge fan of Apple. Even in their darkest days, which we’ll get to in later episodes, they represented an ideal. But going back to the Apple 1, they were nothing special. Even the Apple II. Osborne, Commodore, Vector Graphics, Atari, and hundreds of other companies were springing up, inspired first by that Altair and then by the rapid drop in the prices of chips.
The impact of the 1 megahertz barrier and cost of those MOS 6502 chips was profound. The MOS 6502 chip would be used in the Apple II, the Atari 2600, the Nintendo NES, the BBY Micro. And along with the Zylog Z80 and Intel 8080 would spark a revolution in personal computers. Many of those companies would disappear in what we’d think of as a personal computer bubble if there was more money in it. But those that survived, took things to an order of magnitude higher. Instead of making millions they were making hundreds of millions. Many would even go to war in a race to the bottom of prices. And this is where Apple started to differentiate themselves from the rest.
For starters, due to how anemic the default Altair was, most of the hobbyist computers were all about expansion. You can see it on the Apple I schematics and you can see it in the minimum of 7 expansion slots in the Apple II lineup of computers. Well, all of them except the IIc, marketed as a more portable type of device, with a handle and an RCA connection to a television for a monitor.
The media seemed to adore them. In an era of JR Ewing of Dallas, Steve Jobs was just the personality to emerge and still somewhat differentiate the new wave of computer enthusiasts. Coming at the tail end of an era of social and political strife, many saw something of themselves in Jobs. He looked the counter-culture part. He had the hair, but this drive. The early 80s were going to be all about the yuppies though - and Jobs was putting on a suit. Many identified with that as well.
Fueled by the 150x sales performance shooting them up to $117M in sales, Apple filed for an IPO, going public in 1980, creating hundreds of millionaires, including at least 40 of their own employees. It was the biggest IPO since Ford in 1956, the same year Steve Jobs was born. The stock was filed at $14 and shot up to $29 on the first day alone, leaving Apple sitting pretty on a $1.778 valuation.
Scotty, who brought the champagne, made nearly a $100M profit. One of the Venture Capitalists, Arthur Rock, made over $21M on a $57,600 investment. Rock had been the one to convince the Shockley Semiconductor team to found Fairchild, a key turning point in putting silicon into the name of Silicon Valley. When Noyce and Moore left there to found Intel, he was involved. And he would stay in touch with Markkula, who was so enthusiastic about Apple that Rock invested and began a stint on the board of directors at Apple in 1978, often portrayed as the villain in the story of Steve Jobs. But let’s think about something for a moment. Rock was a backer of Scientific Data Systems, purchased by Xerox in 1969, becoming the Xerox 500. Certainly not Xerox PARC and in fact, the anti-PARC, but certainly helping to connect Jobs to Xerox later as Rock served on the board of Xerox.
The IPO Hangover
Money is great to have but also causes problems. Teams get sidetracked trying to figure out what to do with their hauls. Like Rod Holt’s $67M haul that day. It’s a distraction in a time when executional excellence is critical. We have to bring in more people fast, which created a scenario Mike Scott referred to as a “bozo explosion.” Suddenly more people actually makes us less effective.
Growing teams all want a seat at a limited table. Innovation falls off as we rush to keep up with the orders and needs of existing customers. Bugs, bigger code bases to maintain, issues with people doing crazy things.
Taking our eyes off the ball and normalizing the growth can be hard. By 1981, Scotty was out after leading some substantial layoffs. Apple stock was down. A big IPO also creates investments in competitors. Some of those would go on a race to the bottom in price.
Apple didn’t compete on price. Instead, they started to plan the next revolution, a key piece of Steve Jobs emerging as a household name. They would learn what the research and computer science communities had been doing - and bring a graphical interface and mouse to the world with Lisa and a smaller project brought forward at the time by Jef Raskin that Jobs tried to kill - but one that Markkula not only approved, but kept Jobs from killing, the Macintosh.
Fernandez, Holt, Wigginton, and even Wozniak just drifted away or got lost in the hyper-growth of the company, as is often the case. Some came back. Some didn’t. Many of us go through the same in rapidly growing companies.
Next (but not yet NeXT)
But a new era of hackers was on the way. And a new movement as counter to the big computer culture as Jobs. But first, they needed to take a trip to Xerox. In the meantime, the Apple III was an improvement but proved that the Apple computer line had run its course. They released it in 1980 and recalled the first 14,000 machines and never peaked 75,000 machines sold, killing off the line in 1984. A special year.
Sometimes an idea is so good it keeps showing up. Electronic ping-pong games are one of those ideas. The game was independently invented at least twice, in 1958 and then in 1966. But, here's the thing, PONG didn't come around until the 70s. What were theses earlier tennis games? Did Atari steel the idea for their first hit? Today we go on an analog journey to find some answers.
Dan Kramer, Atari Trak-Ball Controllers
Dan Kramer worked at Atari from 1980 to 1984 in the consumer engineering group where he created products for the home computers and home video games. He championed the creation of the Trak-Ball accessories for the Atari game consoles and computers, and received a patent for his digital-to-analog interface for the Atari 5200 trak-ball. He also worked on the French (SECAM) version of the Atari XL computers, the Atari 2700, and various other projects.
This interview took place on December 18, 2020.
Playing Catch-Up: Dan Kramer (2005 interview): https://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/97175/Playing_CatchUp_Dan_Kramer.php
Patent: Digital-analog conversion for shaft encoders: https://patents.justia.com/patent/4496936
Video version of this interview at YouTube: https://youtu.be/l0E6BCrhka0
Happy Birthday, Macintosh! Andy Hertzfeld and company rush to complete the first release of the Macintosh system software, then cobble together a demo before launch day.
We mentioned John Locke in the episode on the Scientific Revolution. And Leibniz. They not only worked in the new branches of science, math, and philosophy, but they put many of their theories to use and were engineers.
Computing at the time was mechanical, what we might now think of as clockwork. And clockwork was starting to get some innovative new thinking. As we’ve covered, clockworks go back thousands of years. But with a jump in more and more accurate machining and more science, advances in timekeeping were coming. Locke and Huygens worked on pendulum clocks and then moved to spring driven clocks. Both taught English patents and because they didn’t work that well, neither were granted. But more somethings needed to happen to improve the accuracy of time.
Time was becoming increasingly important. Not only to show up to appointments and computing ever increasing math problems but also for navigation. Going back to the Greeks, we’d been estimating our position on the Earth relative to seconds and degrees. And a rapidly growing maritime power like England at the time needed to use clocks to guide ships. Why?
The world is a sphere. A sphere has 360 degrees which multiplied by 60 minutes is 21,600. The North South circumference is 21603 nautical miles. Actually the world isn’t a perfect sphere so the circumference around the equator is 21,639 nautical miles. Each nautical mile is 6,076 feet. When traveling by sea, trying to do all that math in feet and inches is terribly difficult and so we came up with 180 lines each of latitude, running east-west and longitude running north-south. That’s 60 nautical miles in each line, or 60 minutes. The distance between each naturally goes down as one gets closer to the poles - and goes down a a percentage relative to the distance to those poles. Problem was that the most accurate time to check your position relative to the sun was at noon or to use the Polaris North Star at night.
Much of this went back to the Greeks and further. The Sumerians developed the sexagesimal system, or base 60 and passed it down to the Babylonians in the 3rd millennium BCE and by 2000 BCE gave us the solar year and the sundial. As their empire grew rich with trade and growing cities by 1500 BCE the Egyptians had developed the first water clocks timers, proved by the Karnak water clock, beginning as a controlled amount of water filling up a vessel until it reached marks. Water could be moved - horizontal water wheels were developed as far back as the 4th millennium BCE.
Both the sundial and the water clock became more precise in the ensuing centuries, taking location and the time of the year into account. Due to water reacting differently in various climates we also got the sandglass, now referred to as the hourglass.
The sundial became common in Greece by the sixth century BCE, as did the water clock, which they called the clepsydra. By then it had a float that would tell the time. Plato even supposedly added a bowl full of balls to his inflow water clock that would dump them on a copper plate as an alarm during the day for his academy.
We still use the base 60 scale and the rough solar years from even more ancient times. But every time sixty seconds ticks by something needs to happen to increment a minute and every 60 minutes needs to increment an hour. From the days of Thales in the 600s BCE and earlier, the Greeks had been documenting and studying math and engineering. And inventing. All that gathered knowledge was starting to come together.
Ctesibius was potentially the first to head the Library of Alexandria and while there, developed the siphon, force pumps, compressed air, and so the earliest uses of pneumatics. He is accredited for adding a scale and float thus mechanics. And expanding the use to include water powered gearing that produced sound and moved dials with wheels.
The Greek engineer Philo of Byzantium in the 240s BCE, if not further back, added an escapement to the water clock. He started by simply applying a counterweight to the end of a spoon and as the spoon filled, a ball was released. He also described a robotic maid who, when Greeks put a cup in her hand, poured wine.
Archimedes added the idea that objects displaced water based on their volume but also mathematical understanding of the six simple machines. He then gets credited for being the first to add a gear to a water clock. We now have gears and escapements. Here’s a thought, given their lifetimes overlapping, Philo, Archimedes, and Ctesibius could have all been studying together at the library. Archimedes certainly continued on with earlier designs, adding a chime to the early water clocks. And Archimedes is often credited for providing us with the first transmission gears.
The Antikythera device proves the greeks also made use of complex gearing. Transferring energy in more complex gearing patterns. It is hand cranked but shows mathematical and gearing mastery by choosing a day and year and seeing when the next eclipse and olympiad would be. And the Greeks were all to happy to use gearing for other devices, such as an odometer in the first century BCE and to build the Tower of the Winds, an entire building that acted as a detailed and geared water clock as well as perhaps a model of the universe.
And we got the astrolabe at the same time, from Apollonius or Hipparchus. But a new empire had risen. The astrolabe was a circle of metal with an arm called an alidade that users sighted to the altitude of a star and based on that, you could get your location. The gearing was simple but the math required to get accurate readings was not. These were analog computers of a sort - you gave them an input and they produced an output. At this point they were mostly used by astronomers and continued to be used by Western philosophers at least until the Byzantines.
The sundial, water clocks, and many of these engineering concepts were brought to Rome as the empire expanded, many from Greece. The Roman Vitruvius is credited with taking that horizontal water wheel and flipping it vertical in 14 CE. Around the same time, Augustus Caesar built a large sundial in Campus Martius. The Romans also added a rod to cranks giving us sawmills in the third century. The larger the empire the more time people spent in appointments and the more important time became - but also the more people could notice the impact that automata had. Granted much of it was large, like a windmill at the time, but most technology starts huge and miniaturizes as more precision tooling becomes available to increasingly talented craftspeople and engineers.
Marcus Vitruvius Pollio was an architect who wrote 10 books in the 20s BCE about technology. His works link aqueducts to water-driven machinations that could raise water from mines, driven by a man walking on a wheel above ground like a hamster does today but with more meaning. They took works from the Hellenistic era and put them in use on an industrial scale. This allowed them to terraform lands and spring new cities into existence. Sawing timber with mills using water to move saws allowed them to build faster. And grinding flour with mills allowed them to feed more people.
Heron of Alexandria would study and invent at the Library of Alexandria, amongst scrolls piled to the ceilings in halls with philosophers and mechanics. The inheritor of so much learning, he developed vending machines, statues that moved, and even a steam engine. If the Greeks and early Roman conquered of Alexandria could figure out how a thing work, they could automate it.
Many automations were to prove the divine. Such as water powered counterweights to open doors when priests summoned a god, and blew compressed air through trumpets. He also used a wind mill to power an organ and a programmable cart using a weight to turn a drive axle. He also developed an omen machine, with ropes and pulleys on a gear that caused a bird to sing, the song driven by a simple whistle being lowered into water. His inventions likely funding more and more research.
But automations in Greek times were powered by natural forces, be it hand cranked, fire, or powered by water. Heron also created a chain driven automatic crossbow, showing the use of a chain-driven machine and he used gravity to power machines, automating devices as sand escaped from those sand glasses.
He added pegs to pulleys so the distance travelled could be programmed. Simple and elegant machines. And his automata extended into the theater. He kept combining simple machines and ropes and gravity into more and more complex combinations, getting to the point that he could run an automated twenty minute play. Most of the math and mechanics had been discovered and documented in the countless scrolls in the Library of Alexandria.
And so we get the term automated from the Greek word for acting of oneself. But automations weren’t exclusive to the Greeks. By the time Caligula was emperor of the Roman Empire, bronze valves could be used to feed iron pipes in his floating ships that came complete with heated floors. People were becoming more and more precise in engineering and many a device was for telling time. The word clock comes from Latin for bell or clogga. I guess bells should automatically ring at certain times. Getting there...
Technology spreads or is rediscovered. By Heron the Greeks and Romans understood steam, pistons, gears, pulleys, programmable automations, and much of what would have been necessary for an industrial or steampunk revolution. But slaves were cheap and plentiful in the empire. The technology was used in areas where they weren’t. Such as at Barbegal to feed Arles in modern France, the Romans had a single hillside flour grinding complex with automated hoppers, capable of supplying flour to thousands of Romans. Constantine, the first Christian Roman emperor, was based there before founding Constantinople.
And as Christianity spread, the gimmicks that enthralled the people as magic were no longer necessary. The Greeks were pagans and so many of their works would be cleansed or have Christian writings copied over them. Humanity wasn’t yet ready. Or so we’ve been led to believe.
The inheritors of the Roman Empire were the Byzantines, based where Europe meets what we now think of as the Middle East. We have proof of geared portable sundials there, fewer gears but showing evidence of the continuation of automata and the math used to drive it persisting in the empire through to the 400s. And maybe confirming written accounts that there were automated lions and thrones in the empire of Constantinople. And one way geared know-how continued and spread was along trade routes which carried knowledge in the form of books and tradespeople and artifacts, sometimes looted from temples. One such trade route was the ancient Silk Road (or roads).
Water clocks were being used in Egypt, Babylon, India, Persia, Greece, Rome, and China. The Tang Dynasty in China took or rediscovered the escapement to develop a water powered clockwork escapement in the 700s and then in the Song Dynasty developed astronomical clock towers in the 900s. By now the escapements Su Sung is often credited for the first mechanical water clock in 1092. And his Cosmic Engine would mark the transition from water clocks to fully mechanical clocks, although still hydromechanical. The 1100s saw Bhoja in the Paramara dynasty of India emerge as a patron of the arts and sciences and write a chapter on mechanical bees and birds. These innovations could have been happening in a vacuum in each - or word and works could have spread through trade.
That technology disappeared in Europe, such as plumbing in towns that could bring tap water to homes or clockworks, as the Roman Empire retreated. The specialists and engineers lacked the training to build new works or even maintain many that existed in modern England, France, and Germany. But the heads of rising eastern empires were happy to fund such efforts in a sprint to become the next Alexander. And so knowledge spread west from Asia and was infused with Greek and Roman knowhow in the Middle East during the Islamic conquests. The new rulers expanded quickly, effectively taking possession of Egypt, Mesopotamia, parts of Asia, the Turkish peninsula, Greece, parts of Southern Italy, out towards India, and even Spain. In other words, all of the previous centers of science. And they were tolerant, not looking to convert conquered lands to Islam. This allowed them to learn from their subjects in what we now think of as the Arabic translation movement in the 7th century when Arabic philosophers translated but also critiqued and refined works from the lands they ruled.
This sparked the Muslim golden age, which became the new nexus of science at the time. Over time we saw the Seljuks, ruling out of Baghdad, and Abbasids as Islamic empires who funded science and philosophy. They brought caravans of knowledge into their capitals. The Abbasids even insisted on a specific text from Ptolemy (the Almagest) when doing a treaty so they could bring it home for study. They founding of schools of learning known as Madrasas in every town. This would be similar to a university system today.
Over the centuries following, they produced philosophers like Muhammad Ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi, who solved quadratic equations, giving us algebra. This would become important to make clockwork devices became more programmable (and for everything else algebra is great at helping with). They sent clockworks as gifts, such as a brass automatic water clock sent to Charlemagne between 802 and 807, complete with chimes. Yup, the clogga rang the bell.
They went far past where Heron left off though. There was Ibn-Sina, Al-Razi, Al-Jazari, Al Kindi, Thābit ibn Qurra, Ridwan, and countless other philosophers carrying on the tradition. The philosophers took the works of the Greeks, copied, and studied them. They evolved the technology to increasing levels of sophistication. And many of the philosophers completed their works at what might be considered the Islamic version of the Library of Alexandria, The House of Wisdom in Baghdad. In fact, when Baghdad was founded about 50 miles north of ancient Babylon, the Al-Mansur Palace Library was part of the plan and over subsequent Caliphs was expanded adding an observatory that would then be called the House of Wisdom.
The Banu Musa brothers worked out of there and wrote twenty books including the first Book of Ingenious Devices. Here, they took the principles the Greeks and others had focused on and got more into the applications of those principles. On the way to their compilation of devices, they translated books from other authors, including A Book on Degrees on the Nature of Zodiacal Signs from China and Greek works.The three brothers combined pneumatics and aerostatics. They added plug valves, taps, float valves, and conical valves. They documented the siphon and funnel for pouring liquids into the machinery and thought to put a float in a chamber to turn what we now think of as the first documented crank shaft. We had been turning circular motion into linear motion with wheels, but we were now able to turn linear motion into circular motion as well.
They used all of this to describe in engineering detail, if not build and invent, marvelous fountains. Some with multiple jets alternating. Some were wind powered and showed worm-and-pinion gearing.
Al-Biruni, around the turn of the first millennia, came out of modern Uzbekistan and learned the ancient Indian Sanskrit, Persian, Hebrew, and Greek. He wrote 95 books on astronomy and math. He studied the speed of light vs speed of sound, the axis of the earth and applied the scientific method to statics and mechanics. This moved theories on balances and weights forward. He produced geared mechanisms that are the ancestor of modern astrolabes.
The Astrolabe was also brought to the Islamic world. Muslim astronomers added newer scales and circles. As with in antiquity, they used it in navigation but they had another use, to aid in prayer by showing the way to Mecca.
Al-Jazari developed a number of water clocks and is credited with others like developed by others due to penning another Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices. Here, he describes a camshaft, crank dive and reciprocating pumps, two way valves, and expanding on the uses of pneumatic devices. He developed programmable humanoid robots in the form of automatic musicians on a boat. These complex automata included cams and pegs, similar to those developed by Heron of Alexandria, but with increasing levels of sophistication, showing we were understanding the math behind the engineering and it wasn’t just trial and error.
All golden ages must end. Or maybe just evolve and migrate. Fibonacci and Bacon quoted then, showing yet another direct influence from multiple sources around the world flowing into Europe following the Holy Wars.
Pope Urban II began inspiring European Christian leaders to wage war against the Muslims in 1095. And so the Holy Wars, or Crusades would begin and rage until 1271. Here, we saw manuscripts copied and philosophy flow back into Europe. Equally as important, Muslim Caliphates in Spain and Sicily and trade routes. And another pair of threats were on the rise. The plague and the Mongols.
The Mongol invasions began in the 1200s and changed the political makeup of the known powers of the day. The Mongols sacked Baghdad and burned the House of Wisdom. After the mongols and Mughals, the Islamic Caliphates had warring factions internally, the empires fractured, and they turned towards more dogmatic approaches. The Ottomon empire rose and would last until World War I, and while they continued to sponsor scientists and great learners, the nexus of scientific inquiry and the engineering that inspired shifted again and the great works were translated with that shift, including into Latin - the language of learning in Europe. By 1492 the Moors would be kicked out of Spain. That link from Europe to the Islamic golden age is a critical aspect of the transfer of knowledge.
The astrolabe was one such transfer. As early as the 11th century, metal astrolabes arrive in France over the Pyrenees to the north and to the west to Portugal . By the 1300s it had been written about by Chaucer and spread throughout Europe. Something else happened in the Iberian peninsula in 1492. Columbus sailed off to discover the New World. He also used a quadrant, or a quarter of an astrolabe. Which was first written about in Ptolemy’s Almagest but later further developed at the House of Wisdom as the sine quadrant.
The Ottoman Empire had focused on trade routes and trade. But while they could have colonized the New World during the Age of Discovery, they didn’t. The influx of wealth coming from the Americas caused inflation to spiral and the empire went into a slow decline over the ensuing centuries until the Turkish War of Independence, which began in 1919.
In the meantime, the influx of money and resources and knowledge from the growing European empires saw clockworks and gearing arriving back in Europe in full force in the 14th century.
In 1368 the first mechanical clock makers got to work in England. Innovation was slowed due to the Plague, which destroyed lives and property values, but clockwork had spread throughout Europe. The Fall of Constantinople to the Ottomons in 1453 sends a wave of Greek Scholars away from the Ottoman Empire and throughout Europe. Ancient knowledge, enriched with a thousand years of Islamic insight was about to meet a new level of precision metalwork that had been growing in Europe.
By 1495, Leonardo da Vinci showed off one of the first robots in the world - a knight that could sit, stand, open its visor independently. He also made a robotic lion and repeated experiments from antiquity on self driving carts. And we see a lot of toys following the mechanical innovations throughout the world. Because parents.
We think of the Renaissance as coming out of Italy but scholars had been back at it throughout Europe since the High Middle Ages. By 1490, a locksmith named Peter Hele is credited for developing the first mainspring in Nurnburg. This is pretty important for watches. You see, up to this point nearly every clockwork we’ve discussed was powered by water or humans setting a dial or fire or some other force. The mainspring stores energy as a small piece of metal ribbon is twisted around an axle, called an abror, into a spiral and then wound tighter and tighter, thus winding a watch.
The mainspring drove a gear train of increasingly smaller gears which then sent energy into the escapement but without a balance wheel those would not be terribly accurate just yet. But we weren’t powering clocks with water.
At this point, clocks started to spread as expensive decorations, appearing on fireplace mantles and on tables of the wealthy. These were not small by any means. But Peter Henlein would get the credit in 1510 for the first real watch, small enough to be worn as a necklace.
By 1540, screws were small enough to be used in clocks allowing them to get even smaller. The metals for gears were cut thinner, clock makers and toy makers were springing up all over the world. And money coming from speculative investments in the New World was starting to flow, giving way to fuel even more investment into technology.
Jost Burgi invented the minute hand in 1577. But as we see with a few disciplines he decided to jump into, Galileo Galilei has a profound impact on clocks. Galileo documents the physics of the pendulum in 1581 and the center of watchmaking would move to Geneva later in that decade. Smaller clockworks spread with wheels and springs but the 1600s would see an explosion in hundreds of different types of escapements and types of gearing. He designed an escapement for a pendulum clock but died before building it.
1610 watches got glass to protect the dials and 1635 French inventor Paul Viet Blois added enamel to the dials. Meanwhile, Blaise Pascal developed the Pascaline in 1642, giving the world the adding machine.
But it took another real scientist to pick up Galileo’s work and put it into action to propel clocks forward. To get back to where we started, a golden age of clockwork was just getting underway. In 1657 Huygens created a clock driven by the pendulum, which by 1671 would see William Clement add the suspension spring and by 1675 Huygens would give us the balance wheel, mimicking the back and forth motion of Galileo’s pendulum. The hairspring, or balance spring, then controlled the speed making it smooth and more accurate. And the next year, we got the concentric minute hand.
I guess Robert Hooke gets credit for the anchor escapement, but the verge escapement had been in use for awhile by then. So who gets to claim inventing some of these devices is debatable. Leibniz then added a stepped reckoner to the mechanical calculator in 1672 going from adding and subtracting to multiplication and division. Still calculating and not really computing as we’d think of it today.
At this point we see a flurry of activity in a proton-industrial revolution. Descartes puts forth that bodies are similar to complex machines and that various organs, muscles, and bones could be replaced with gearing similar to how we can have a hip or heart replaced today. Consider this a precursor to cybernetics. We see even more mechanical toys for the rich - but labor was still cheap enough that automation wasn’t spreading faster.
And so we come back to the growing British empire. They had colonized North America and the empire had grown wealthy. They controlled India, Egypt, Ireland, the Sudan, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Cyprus, Hong Kong, Burma, Australia, Canada, and so much more. And knowing the exact time was critical for a maritime empire because we wouldn’t get radar until World War II.
There were clocks but still, the clocks built had to be corrected at various times, based on a sundial. This is because we hadn’t yet gotten to the levels of constant power and precise gearing and the ocean tended to mess with devices. The growing British Empire needed more reliable ways than those Ptolemy used to tell time. And so England would offer prizes ranging from 10,000 to 20,000 pounds for more accurate ways to keep time in the Maritime Act in 1714. Crowdsourcing.
It took until the 1720s. George Graham, yet another member of the Royal Society, picked up where Thomas Tompion left off and added a cylinder escapement to watches and then the deadbeat escapement. He chose not to file patents for these so all watch makers could use them. He also added mercurial compensation to pendulum clocks. And John Harrison added the grid-iron compensation pendulum for his H1 marine chronometer. And George Graham added the cylinder escapement.
1737 or 1738 sees another mechanical robot, but this time Jacques de Vaucanson brings us a duck that can eat, drink, and poop. But that type of toy was a one-off. Swiss Jaquet-Droz built automated dolls that were meant to help sell more watches, but here we see complex toys that make music (without a water whistle) and can even write using programmable text. The toys still work today and I feel lucky to have gotten to see them at the Museum of Art History in Switzerland. Frederick the Great became entranced by clockwork automations. Magicians started to embrace automations for more fantastical sets.
At this point, our brave steampunks made other automations and their automata got cheaper as the supply increased. By the 1760s Pierre Le Roy and Thomas Earnshaw invented the temperature compensated balance wheel. Around this time, the mainspring was moved into a going barrel so watches could continue to run while the mainspring was being wound. Many of these increasingly complicated components required a deep understanding of the math about the simple machine going back to Archimedes but with all of the discoveries made in the 2,000 years since.
And so in 1785 Josiah Emery made the lever escapement standard. The mechanical watch fundamentals haven’t changed a ton in the past couple hundred years (we’ll not worry about quartz watches here). But the 1800s saw an explosion in new mechanical toys using some of the technology invented for clocks. Time brings the cost of technology down so we can mass produce trinkets to keep the kiddos busy. This is really a golden age of dancing toys, trains, mechanical banks, and eventually bringing in spring-driven wind-up toys.
Another thing happened in the 1800s. With all of this knowhow on building automations, and all of this scientific inquiry requiring increasingly complicated mathematics, Charles Babbage started working on the Difference Engine in 1822 and then the Analytical Engine in 1837, bringing in the idea of a Jacquard loom punched card. The Babbage machines would become the precursor of modern computers, and while they would have worked if built to spec, were not able to be run in his lifetime.
Over the next few generations, we would see his dream turn into reality and the electronic clock from Frank Hope-Jones in 1895. There would be other innovations such as in 1945 when the National Institute of Standards and technology created the first atomic clock. But in general parts got smaller, gearing more precise, and devices more functional. We’d see fits and starts for mechanical computers, with Percy Ludgate’s Analytical Machine in 1909, the Marchant Calculator in 1918, the electromechanical Enigma in the 1920s, the Polish Enigma double in 1932, the Z1 from Konrad Zuse in 1938, and the Mark 1 Fire Control Computer for the US Navy in the World War II era, when computers went electro-mechanical and electric, effectively ending the era of clockwork-driven machinations out of necessity, instead putting that into what I consider fun tinkerations.
Aristotle dreamed of automatic looms freeing humans from the trappings of repetitive manual labors so we could think. A Frenchman built them. Long before Aristotle, Pre-Socratic Greek legends told of statues coming to life, fire breathing statues, and tables moving themselves. Egyptian statues were also known to have come to life to awe and inspire the people. The philosophers of the Thales era sent Pythagoras and others to Egypt where he studied with Egyptian priests. Why priests? They led ascetic lives, often dedicated to a branch of math or science. And that’s in the 6th century BCE. The Odyssey was written about events from the 8th century BCE.
We’ve seen time and time again in the evolutions of science that we often understood how to do something before we understood why. The legendary King Solomon and King Mu of the Zhao dynasty are said to have automata, or clockwork, or moving statues, or to have been presented with these kinds of gifts, going back thousands of years. And there is the chance that they were. Since then, we’ve seen a steady advent of this back and forth between engineering and science.
Sometimes, we understand how to do something through trial and error or random discovery. And then we add the math and science to catch up to it. Once we do understand the science behind a discovery we uncover better ways and that opens up more discoveries. Aristotle’s dream was realized and extended to the point we can now close the blinds, lock the doors, control the lights, build cars, and even now print cars. We mastered time in multiple dimensions, including Newton’s relative time. We mastered mechanics and then the electron and managed to merge the two. We learned to master space, mapping them to celestial bodies. We mastered mechanics and the math behind it.
Which brings us to today. What do you have to do manually? What industries are still run by manual labor? How can we apply complex machines or enrich what those can do with electronics in order to free our fellow humans to think more? How can we make Aristotle proud? One way is to challenge and prove or disprove any of his doctrines in new and exciting ways. Like Newton and then Einstein did. We each have so much to give. I look forward to seeing or hearing about your contributions when its time to write their histories!
Lars Brinkhoff has been spearheading the effort to keep the incompatible Timesharing System alive. Today we sit down to talk about the overall ITS restoration project, software preservation, and how emulation can help save the past.
You can find the full restoration project at github: https://github.com/PDP-10/its
And follow Lars on twitter: @larsbrinkhoff
James & John discuss eBay Finds: Mac icons mug, collection of Steve Jobs magazines, and Chiat/Day newspaper congratulations. James unveils The Macintosh Office, and news includes a tiny all-in-one Macintosh LC, Captain's Quarters II, and NanoRaptor creations.
Let’s oversimplify something in the computing world. Which is what you have to do when writing about history. You have to put your blinders on so you can get to the heart of a given topic without overcomplicating the story being told. And in the evolution of technology we can’t mention all of the advances that lead to each subsequent evolution. It’s wonderful and frustrating all at the same time. And that value judgement of what goes in and what doesn’t can be tough.
Let’s start with the fact that there are two main types of processors in our devices. There’s the x86 chipset developed by Intel and AMD and then there’s the RISC-based processors, which are ARM and for the old school people, also include PowerPC and SPARC. Today we’re going to set aside the x86 chipset that was dominant for so long and focus on how the RISC and so ARM family emerged.
First, let’s think about what the main difference is between ARM and x86. RISC and so ARM chips have a focus on reducing the number of instructions required to perform a task to as few as possible, and so RISC stands for Reduced Instruction Set Computing. Intel, other than the Atom series chips, with the x86 chips has focused on high performance and high throughput. Big and fast, no matter how much power and cooling is necessary.
The ARM processor requires simpler instructions which means there’s less logic and so more instructions are required to perform certain logical operations. This increases memory and can increase the amount of time to complete an execution, which ARM developers address with techniques like pipelining, or instruction-level parallelism on a processor. Seymour Cray came up with this to split up instructions so each core or processor handles a different one and so Star, Amdahl and then ARM implemented it as well.
The X86 chips are Complex Instruction Set Computing chips, or CISC. Those will do larger, more complicated tasks, like computing floating point integers or memory searches, on the chip. That often requires more consistent and larger amounts of power.
ARM chips are built for low power. The reduced complexity of operations is one reason but also it’s in the design philosophy. This means less heat syncs and often accounting for less consistent streams of power. This 130 watt x86 vs 5 watt ARM can mean slightly lower clock speeds but the chips can cost more as people will spend less in heat syncs and power supplies. This also makes the ARM excellent for mobile devices.
The inexpensive MOS 6502 chips helped revolutionize the personal computing industry in 1975, finding their way into the Apple II and a number of early computers. They were RISC-like but CISC-like as well. They took some of the instruction set architecture family from the IBM System/360 through to the PDP, General Nova, Intel 8080, Zylog, and so after the emergence of Windows, the Intel finally captured the personal computing market and the x86 flourished.
But the RISC architecture actually goes back to the ACE, developed in 1946 by Alan Turing. It wasn’t until the 1970s that Carver Mead from Caltech and Lynn Conway from Xerox PARC saw that the number of transistors was going to plateau on chips while workloads on chips were growing exponentially. ARPA and other agencies needed more and more instructions, so they instigated what we now refer to as the VLSI project, a DARPA program initiated by Bob Kahn to push into the 32-bit world. They would provide funding to different universities, including Stanford and the University of North Carolina.
Out of those projects, we saw the Geometry Engine, which led to a number of computer aided design, or CAD efforts, to aid in chip design. Those workstations, when linked together, evolved into tools used on the Stanford University Network, or SUN, which would effectively spin out of Stanford as Sun Microsystems. And across the bay at Berkeley we got a standardized Unix implementation that could use the tools being developed in Berkely Software Distribution, or BSD, which would eventually become the operating system used by Sun, SGI, and now OpenBSD and other variants.
And the efforts from the VLSI project led to Berkely RISC in 1980 and Stanford MIPS as well as the multi chip wafer.The leader of that Berkeley RISC project was David Patterson who still serves as vice chair of the RISC-V Foundation. The chips would add more and more registers but with less specializations. This led to the need for more memory. But UC Berkeley students shipped a faster ship than was otherwise on the market in 1981. And the RISC II was usually double or triple the speed of the Motorola 68000.
That led to the Sun SPARC and DEC Alpha. There was another company paying attention to what was happening in the RISC project: Acorn Computers. They had been looking into using the 6502 processor until they came across the scholarly works coming out of Berkeley about their RISC project. Sophie Wilson and Steve Furber from Acorn then got to work building an instruction set for the Acorn RISC Machine, or ARM for short. They had the first ARM working by 1985, which they used to build the Acorn Archimedes.
The ARM2 would be faster than the Intel 80286 and by 1990, Apple was looking for a chip for the Apple Newton. A new company called Advanced RISC Machines or Arm would be founded, and from there they grew, with Apple being a shareholder through the 90s. By 1992, they were up to the ARM6 and the ARM610 was used for the Newton. DEC licensed the ARM architecture to develop the StrongARMSelling chips to other companies. Acorn would be broken up in 1998 and parts sold off, but ARM would live on until acquired by Softbank for $32 billion in 2016. Softbank is currently in acquisition talks to sell ARM to Nvidia for $40 billion.
Meanwhile, John Cocke at IBM had been working on the RISC concepts since 1975 for embedded systems and by 1982 moved on to start developing their own 32-bit RISC chips. This led to the POWER instruction set which they shipped in 1990 as the RISC System/6000, or as we called them at the time, the RS/6000. They scaled that down to the Power PC and in 1991 forged an alliance with Motorola and Apple. DEC designed the Alpha. It seemed as though the computer industry was Microsoft and Intel vs the rest of the world, using a RISC architecture.
But by 2004 the alliance between Apple, Motorola, and IBM began to unravel and by 2006 Apple moved the Mac to an Intel processor. But something was changing in computing. Apple shipped the iPod back in 2001, effectively ushering in the era of mobile devices. By 2007, Apple released the first iPhone, which shipped with a Samsung ARM.
You see, the interesting thing about ARM is they don’t fab chips, like Intel - they license technology and designs. Apple licensed the Cortex-A8 from ARM for the iPhone 3GS by 2009 but had an ambitious lineup of tablets and phones in the pipeline. And so in 2010 did something new: they made their own system on a chip, or SoC. Continuing to license some ARM technology, Apple pushed on, getting between 800MHz to 1 GHz out of the chip and using it to power the iPhone 4, the first iPad, and the long overdue second-generation Apple TV. The next year came the A5, used in the iPad 2 and first iPad Mini, then the A6 at 1.3 GHz for the iPhone 5, the A7 for the iPhone 5s, iPad Air. That was the first 64-bit consumer SoC.
In 2014, Apple released the A8 processor for the iPhone 6, which came in speeds ranging from 1.1GHz to the 1.5 GHz chip in the 4th generation Apple TV. By 2015, Apple was up to the A9, which clocked in at 1.85 GHz for the iPhone 6s. Then we got the A10 in 2016, the A11 in 2017, the A12 in 2018, A13 in 2019, A14 in 2020 with neural engines, 4 GPUs, and 11.8 billion transistors compared to the 30,000 in the original ARM.
And it’s not just Apple. Samsung has been on a similar tear, firing up the Exynos line in 2011 and continuing to license the ARM up to Cortex-A55 with similar features to the Apple chips, namely used on the Samsung Galaxy A21. And the Snapdragon. And the Broadcoms.
In fact, the Broadcom SoC was used in the Raspberry Pi (developed in association with Broadcom) in 2012. The 5 models of the Pi helped bring on a mobile and IoT revolution.
And so nearly every mobile device now ships with an ARM chip as do many a device we place around our homes so our digital assistants can help run our lives. Over 100 billion ARM processors have been produced, well over 10 for every human on the planet. And the number is about to grow even more rapidly. Apple surprised many by announcing they were leaving Intel to design their own chips for the Mac.
Given that the PowerPC chips were RISC, the ARM chips in the mobile devices are RISC, and the history Apple has with the platform, it’s no surprise that Apple is going back that direction with the M1, Apple’s first system on a chip for a Mac. And the new MacBook Pro screams. Even software running in Rosetta 2 on my M1 MacBook is faster than on my Intel MacBook. And at 16 billion transistors, with an 8 core GPU and a 16 core neural engine, I’m sure developers are hard at work developing the M3 on these new devices (since you know, I assume the M2 is done by now). What’s crazy is, I haven’t felt like Intel had a competitor other than AMD in the CPU space since Apple switched from the PowerPC. Actually, those weren’t great days. I haven’t felt that way since I realized no one but me had a DEC Alpha or when I took the SPARC off my desk so I could play Civilization finally.
And this revolution has been a constant stream of evolutions, 40 years in the making. It started with an ARPA grant, but various evolutions from there died out. And so really, it all started with Sophie Wilson. She helped give us the BBC Micro and the ARM. She was part of the move to Element 14 from Acorn Computers and then ended up at Broadcom when they bought the company in 2000 and continues to act as the Director of IC Design. We can definitely thank ARPA for sprinkling funds around prominent universities to get us past 10,000 transistors on a chip. Given that chips continue to proceed at such a lightning pace, I can’t imagine where we’ll be at in another 40 years. But we owe her (and her coworkers at Acorn and the team at VLSI, now NXP Semiconductors) for their hard work and innovations.
ANTIC Episode 74 - Name Wars
In this episode of ANTIC The Atari 8-bit Computer Podcast… Kevin (er... Kay) and Randy have a name fight and, as usual, we bring you all the Atari 8-bit news that’s fit to print.
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Robert Taylor was one of the true pioneers in computer science. In many ways, he is the string (or glue) that connected the US governments era of supporting computer science through ARPA to innovations that came out of Xerox PARC and then to the work done at Digital Equipment Corporation’s Systems Research Center. Those are three critical aspects of the history of computing and while Taylor didn’t write any of the innovative code or develop any of the tools that came out of those three research environments, he saw people and projects worth funding and made sure the brilliant scientists got what they needed to get things done.
The 31 years in computing that his stops represented were some of the most formative years for the young computing industry and his ability to inspire the advances that began with Vannevar Bush’s 1945 article called “As We May Think” then ended with the explosion of the Internet across personal computers.
Bob Taylor inherited a world where computing was waking up to large crusty but finally fully digitized mainframes stuck to its eyes in the morning and went to bed the year Corel bought WordPerfect because PCs needed applications, the year the Pentium 200 MHz was released, the year Palm Pilot and eBay were founded, the year AOL started to show articles from the New York Times, the year IBM opened a we web shopping mall and the year the Internet reached 36 million people. Excite and Yahoo went public. Sometimes big, sometimes small, all of these can be traced back to Bob Taylor - kinda’ how we can trace all actors to Kevin Bacon. But more like if Kevin Bacon found talent and helped them get started, by paying them during the early years of their careers…
How did Taylor end up as the glue for the young and budding computing research industry? Going from tween to teenager during World War II, he went to Southern Methodist University in 1948, when he was 16. He jumped into the US Naval Reserves during the Korean War and then got his masters in psychology at the University of Texas at Austin using the GI Bill. Many of those pioneers in computing in the 60s went to school on the GI Bill. It was a big deal across every aspect of American life at the time - paving the way to home ownership, college educations, and new careers in the trades. From there, he bounced around, taking classes in whatever interested him, before taking a job at Martin Marietta, helping design the MGM-31 Pershing and ended up at NASA where he discovered the emerging computer industry.
Taylor was working on projects for the Apollo program when he met JCR Licklider, known as the Johnny Appleseed of computing. Lick, as his friends called him, had written an article called Man-Computer Symbiosis in 1960 and had laid out a plan for computing that influenced many. One such person, was Taylor. And so it was in 1962 he began and in 1965 that he succeeded in recruiting Taylor away from NASA to take his place running ARPAs Information Processing Techniques Office, or IPTO.
Taylor had funded Douglas Engelbart’s research on computer interactivity at Stanford Research Institute while at NASA. He continued to do so when he got to ARPA and that project resulted in the invention of the computer mouse and the Mother of All Demos, one of the most inspirational moments and a turning point in the history of computing.
They also funded a project to develop an operating system called Multics. This would be a two million dollar project run by General Electric, MIT, and Bell Labs. Run through Project MAC at MIT there were just too many cooks in the kitchen. Later, some of those Bell Labs cats would just do their own thing. Ken Thompson had worked on Multics and took the best and worst into account when he wrote the first lines of Unix and the B programming language, then one of the most important languages of all time, C.
Interactive graphical computing and operating systems were great but IPTO, and so Bob Taylor and team, would fund straight out of the pentagon, the ability for one computer to process information on another computer. Which is to say they wanted to network computers. It took a few years, but eventually they brought in Larry Roberts, and by late 1968 they’d awarded an RFQ to build a network to a company called Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN) who would build Interface Message Processors, or IMPs. The IMPS would connect a number of sites and route traffic and the first one went online at UCLA in 1969 with additional sites coming on frequently over the next few years. That system would become ARPANET, the commonly accepted precursor to the Internet.
There was another networking project going on at the time that was also getting funding from ARPA as well as the Air Force, PLATO out of the University of Illinois. PLATO was meant for teaching and had begun in 1960, but by then they were on version IV, running on a CDC Cyber and the time sharing system hosted a number of courses, as they referred to programs. These included actual courseware, games, convent with audio and video, message boards, instant messaging, custom touch screen plasma displays, and the ability to dial into the system over lines, making the system another early network.
Then things get weird. Taylor is sent to Vietnam as a civilian, although his rank equivalent would be a brigadier general. He helped develop the Military Assistance Command in Vietnam. Battlefield operations and reporting were entering the computing era. Only problem is, while Taylor was a war veteran and had been deep in the defense research industry for his entire career, Vietnam was an incredibly unpopular war and seeing it first hand and getting pulled into the theater of war, had him ready to leave. This combined with interpersonal problems with Larry Roberts who was running the ARPA project by then over Taylor being his boss even without a PhD or direct research experience. And so Taylor joined a project ARPA had funded at the University of Utah and left ARPA.
There, he worked with Ivan Sutherland, who wrote Sketchpad and is known as the Father of Computer Graphics, until he got another offer. This time, from Xerox to go to their new Palo Alto Research Center, or PARC. One rising star in the computer research world was pretty against the idea of a centralized mainframe driven time sharing system. This was Alan Kay. In many ways, Kay was like Lick. And unlike the time sharing projects of the day, the Licklider and Kay inspiration was for dedicated cycles on processors. This meant personal computers.
The Mansfield Amendment in 1973 banned general research by defense agencies. This meant that ARPA funding started to dry up and the scientists working on those projects needed a new place to fund their playtime. Taylor was able to pick the best of the scientists he’d helped fund at ARPA. He helped bring in people from Stanford Research Institute, where they had been working on the oNLineSystem, or NLS.
This new Computer Science Laboratory landed people like Charles Thacker, David Boggs, Butler Lampson, and Bob Sproul and would develop the Xerox Alto, the inspiration for the Macintosh. The Alto though contributed the very ideas of overlapping windows, icons, menus, cut and paste, word processing. In fact, Charles Simonyi from PARC would work on Bravo before moving to Microsoft to spearhead Microsoft Word.
Bob Metcalfe on that team was instrumental in developing Ethernet so workstations could communicate with ARPANET all over the growing campus-connected environments. Metcalfe would leave to form 3COM.
SuperPaint would be developed there and Alvy Ray Smith would go on to co-found Pixar, continuing the work begun by Richard Shoup.
They developed the Laser Printer, some of the ideas that ended up in TCP/IP, and the their research into page layout languages would end up with Chuck Geschke, John Warnock and others founding Adobe.
Kay would bring us the philosophy behind the DynaBook which decades later would effectively become the iPad. He would also develop Smalltalk with Dan Ingalls and Adele Goldberg, ushering in the era of object oriented programming.
They would do pioneering work on VLSI semiconductors, ubiquitous computing, and anything else to prepare the world to mass produce the technologies that ARPA had been spearheading for all those years. Xerox famously did not mass produce those technologies. And nor could they have cornered the market on all of them. The coming waves were far too big for one company alone.
And so it was that PARC, unable to bring the future to the masses fast enough to impact earnings per share, got a new director in 1983 and William Spencer was yet another of three bosses that Taylor clashed with. Some resented that he didn’t have a PhD in a world where everyone else did. Others resented the close relationship he maintained with the teams. Either way, Taylor left PARC in 1983 and many of the scientists left with him.
It’s both a curse and a blessing to learn more and more about our heroes. Taylor was one of the finest minds in the history of computing. His tenure at PARC certainly saw the a lot of innovation and one of the most innovative teams to have ever been assembled. But as many of us that have been put into a position of leadership, it’s easy to get caught up in the politics. I am ashamed every time I look back and see examples of building political capital at the expense of a project or letting an interpersonal problem get in the way of the greater good for a team. But also, we’re all human and the people that I’ve interviewed seem to match the accounts I’ve read in other books.
And so Taylor’s final stop was Digital Equipment Corporation where he was hired to form their Systems Research Center in Palo Alto. They brought us the AltaVista search engine, the Firefly computer, Modula-3 and a few other advances. Taylor retired in 1996 and DEC was acquired by Compaq in 1998 and when they were acquired by HP the SRC would get merged with other labs at HP.
From ARPA to Xerox to Digital, Bob Taylor certainly left his mark on computing. He had a knack of seeing the forest through the trees and inspired engineering feats the world is still wrestling with how to bring to fruition. Raw, pure science. He died in 2017. He worked with some of the most brilliant people in the world at ARPA. He inspired passion, and sometimes drama in what Stanford’s Donald Knuth called “the greatest by far team of computer scientists assembled in one organization.”
In his final email to his friends and former coworkers, he said “You did what they said could not be done, you created things that they could not see or imagine.” The Internet, the Personal Computer, the tech that would go on to become Microsoft Office, object oriented programming, laser printers, tablets, ubiquitous computing devices. So, he isn’t exactly understating what they accomplished in a false sense of humility. I guess you can’t do that often if you’re going to inspire the way he did.
So feel free to abandon the pretense as well, and go inspire some innovation. Heck, who knows where the next wave will come from. But if we aren’t working on it, it certainly won’t come.
Thank you so much and have a lovely, lovely day. We are so lucky to have you join us on yet another episode.
Modern operating systems adhere to a pretty rigid formula. They all have users with password-protected accounts and secure files. They all have restrictions to keep programs from breaking stuff. That design has been common for a long time, but that doesn't make it the best solution. In the late 60s ITS, the Incompatible Timesharing System, was developed as a more exciting alternative. ITS was built for hackers to play, there were no passwords, any anyone who could find ITS was welcome to log in.
We’ve covered Xerox PARC a few times - and one aspect that’s come up has been the development of the Bravo word processor from Butler Lampson, Charles Simonyi, and team. Simonyi went on to work at Microsoft and spearheaded the development of Microsoft Word. But Bravo was the first WYSIWYG tool for creating documents, which we now refer to as a word processor. That was 1974.
Something else we’ve covered happened in 1974, the release of the Altair 8800. One aspect of the Altair we didn’t cover is that Michael Shrayer was a tinkerer who bought an Alatir and wrote a program that allowed him to write manuals. This became the Electric Pencil. It was text based though and not a WYSIWYG like Bravo was. It ran in 8k of memory and would be ported to Intel 8080, Zylog Z-80, and other processors over the years leading into the 80s. But let’s step back to the 70s for a bit. Because bell bottoms.
The Altair inspired a clone called the IMSAI 8080 in 1975. The direct of marketing, Seymour Rubenstein started tinkering with the idea of a word processor. He left IMSAI and by 1978, put together $8,500 and started a company called MicroPro International. He convinced Rob Barnaby, the head programmer at IMSAI, to join him.
They did market research into the tools being used by IBM and Xerox. They made a list of what was needed and got to work. The word processor grew. They released their word processor, which they called WordStar, for CP/M running on the Intel 8080. By then it was 1979 and CP/M was a couple years old but already a pretty dominant operating system for microcomputers. Software was a bit more expensive at the time and WordStar sold for $495.
At the time, you had to port your software to each OS running on each hardware build. And the code was in assembly so not the easiest thing in the world. This meant they wanted to keep the feature set slim so WordStar could run on as many platforms as possible. They ran on the Osborne 1 portable and with CP/M support they became the standard. They could wrap words automatically to the next line. Imagine that.
They ported the software to other platforms. It was clear there was a new OS that they needed to run on. So they brought in Jim Fox, who ported WordStar to run on DOS in 1981. They were on top of the world. Sure, there was Apple Write, Word, WordPerfect, and Samna, but WordStar was it.
Arthur C Clarke met Rubenstein and Barnaby and said they "made me a born-again writer, having announced my retirement in 1978, I now have six books in the works, all through WordStar." He would actually write dozens more works.
They released the third version in 1982 and quickly grew into the most popular, dominant word processor on the market. The code base was getting a little stale and so they brought in Peter Mierau to overhaul it for WordStar 4. The refactor didn’t come at the best of times. In software, you’re the market leader until… You thought I was going to say Microsoft moved into town? Nope, although Word would eventually dominate word processing. But there was one more step before computing got there.
Next, along with the release of the IBM PC, WordPerfect took the market by storm. They had more features and while WordStar was popular, it was the most pirated piece of software at the time. This meant less money to build features. Like using the MS-DOS keyboard to provide more productivity tools. This isn’t to say they weren’t making money. They’d grown to $72M in revenue by 1984. When they filed for their initial public offering, or IPO, they had a huge share of the word processing market and accounted for one out of every ten dollars spent on software.
WordStar 5 came in 1989 and as we moved into the 90s, it was clear that WordStar 2000 had gone nowhere so WordStar 6 shipped in 1990 and 7 in 1991. The buying tornado had slowed and while revenues were great, copy-protecting disks were slowing the spread of the software.
Rubinstein is commonly credited with creating the first end-user software licensing agreement, common with nearly every piece of proprietary software today. Everyone was pirating back then so if you couldn’t use WordStar, move on to something you could steal. You know, like WordPerfect. MultiMate, AmiPro, Word, and so many other tools. Sales were falling. New features weren’t shipping.
One pretty big one was support for Windows. By the time Windows support shipped, Microsoft had released Word, which had a solid two years to become the new de facto standard. SoftKey would acquire the company in 1994, and go on to acquire a number of other companies until 2002 when they were acquired. But by then WordStar was so far forgotten that no one was sure who actually owned the WordStar brand.
I can still remember using WordStar. And I remember doing work when I was a consultant for a couple of authors to help them recover documents, which were pure ASCII files or computers that had files in WordStar originally but moved to the WSD extension later. And I can remember actually restoring a BAK file while working at the computer labs at the University of Georgia, common in the DOS days. It was a joy to use until I realized there was something better.
Rubinstein went on to buy another piece of software, a spreadsheet. He worked with another team, got a little help from Barnaby and and Fox and eventually called it Surpass, which was acquired by Borland, who would rename it to Quattro Pro. That spreadsheet borrowed the concept of multiple sheets in tabs from Boeing Calc, now a standard metaphor. Amidst lawsuits with Lotus on whether you could patent how software functions, or the UX of software, Borland sold Lotus to Novell during a time when Novell was building a suite of products to compete with Microsoft.
We can thank WordStar for so much. Inspiring content creators and creative new features for word processing. But we also have to remember that early successes are always going to inspire additional competition. Any company that grows large enough to file an initial public offering is going to face barbarian software vendors at their gates. When those vendors have no technical debt, they can out-deliver features. But as many a software company has learned, expanding to additional products by becoming a portfolio company is one buffer for this. As is excellent execution.
The market was WordStar’s to lose. And there’s a chance that it was lost the second Microsoft pulled in Charles Simonyi, one of the original visionaries behind Bravo from Xerox PARC. But when you have 10% of all PC software sales it seems like maybe you got outmaneuvered in the market. But ultimately the industry was so small and so rapidly changing in the early 1980s that it was ripe for disruption on an almost annual basis. That is, until Microsoft slowly took the operating system and productivity suite markets and .doc, .xls, and .ppt files became the format all other programs needed to support.
And we can thank Rubinstein and team for pioneering what we now call the software industry. He started on an IBM 1620 and ended his career with WebSleuth, helping to usher in the search engine era. Many of the practices he put in place to promote WordStar are now common in the industry. These days I talk to a dozen serial entrepreneurs a week. They could all wish to some day be as influential as he.
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1.Gone in a Flash
2. A mini 486
3. A Pure Dos experience
4. Nox Archaist is the new retro Ultima you’ve been waiting for
A weekly roundup of the hottest stories from the world of retro gaming and computing, voted on by you, the listener! Hosted by Neil Thomas from RMC and John Shawler from Amigos Retro Gaming.
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Topic: Preserving the Fleeting Now
Things people post, preserving the past, themselves vanish. eBay images, images in blogs that eventually go offline. Respositories like Pinterest morph into something less useful for preservation and searching. Are the things we find and post now going to be there in the future? (And, since no, they're not, what should we be doing?)
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Vintage Computer-related commercials:
Retro Computing Gift Idea:
James & John discuss eBay Finds: Bicycle for the Mind watch, Apple III, and Macintosh IIx. They share holiday gift ideas, and news includes AirPods Max, another clear case Mac prototype, and using a Quadra 700.
James & John discuss eBay Finds: Macintosh Hello banner, Macintosh modem, and framed Mac Plus logic board. James provides an update on the big move, and news includes M1 reception, rainbow glasses, Apples Cork campus anniversary, Apple Archivist job listing, and NanoRaptor creations.
StuffIt Deluxe 2.0 review. Yes, people were already complaining about software bloat in 1991.
Raymond’s PhD Dissertation: “Subword Lexical Modelling for Speech Recognition”
Wikipedia claims PackIt III development stopped after Harry Chesley went to work at Apple.
Rumor Monger, part of Harry Chesley’s output in Apple’s Advanced Technology Group
Welcome back for the second half of our DOS Prompt series on Betrayal at Krondor, where I discuss the development history of the game.
You'll need swords, seamanship, political guile, but most of all inline hints to tackle Infocom's ill-conceived first foray into graphical adventures. Kay and Carrington find their patience tested in a game where, ironically, the most frequently used command is 'wait'.
You'll need swords, seamanship, political guile, but most of all inline hints to tackle Infocom's ill-conceived first foray into graphical adventures. Kay and Carrington find their patience tested in a game where, ironically, the most frequently used command is 'wait'.
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1. A DOScember to Remember
Neil’s Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9swHDYrB7Cc
2.A dev kit discovery
3. The Oliver Twins return to Dizzy after 26 years!
4. The Apple schematics that are worth a fortune
A weekly roundup of the hottest stories from the world of retro gaming and computing, voted on by you, the listener! Hosted by Neil Thomas from RMC and John Shawler from Amigos Retro Gaming.
Submit your favorite retro stories on TWIR's Subreddit.
Follow your hosts!
Once upon a time, we put a quarter in a machine and played a game for awhile. And life was good. The rise of personal computers and subsequent fall in the cost of microchips allowed some of the same chips found in early computers, such as the Zylog Z80, to bring video game consoles into homes across the world. That one chip could be found in the ColecoVision, Nintendo Game Boy, and the Sega Genesis. Given that many of the cheaper early computers came with joysticks or gaming at the time, the line between personal computer and video game console seemed natural.
Then came the iPhone, which brought an explosion of apps. Apps were anywhere from a buck to a hundred. We weren't the least surprised by the number of games that exploded onto the platform. Nor by the creativity of the developers. When the Apple App Store and Google Play added in-app purchasing and later in-app subscriptions it all just seemed natural. But it has profoundly changed the way games are purchased, distributed, and the entire business model of apps.
The Evolving Business Model of Gaming
Video games were originally played in arcades, similar to pinball. The business model was each game was a quarter or token. With the advent of PCs and video game consoles, games were bought in stores, as were records or cassettes that included music. The business model was that the store made money (40-50%), the distributor who got the game into a box and on the shelf in the store made money, and the company that made the game got some as well. And discounts to sell more inventory usually came out of someone not called the retailer. By the time everyone involved got a piece, it was common for the maker of the game to get between $5 and $10 dollars per unit sold for a $50 game.
No one was surprised that there was a whole cottage industry of software piracy. Especially given that most games could be defeated in 40 to 100 hours. This of course spawned a whole industry to thwart piracy, eating into margins but theoretically generating more revenue per game created.
Industries evolve. Console and computer gaming split (although arguably consoles have always just been computers) and the gamer-verse further schism'd between those who played various types of games. Some games were able to move to subscription models and some companies sprang up to deliver games through subscriptions or as rentals (game rentals over a modem was the business model that originally inspired the AOL founders). And that was ok for the gaming industry, which slowly grew to the point that gaming was a larger industry than the film industry.
Enter Mobile Devices and App Stores
Then came mobile devices, disrupting the entire gaming industry. Apple began the App Store model, establishing that the developer got 70% of the sale - much better than 5%. Steve Jobs had predicted the coming App Store in a 1985 and then when the iPhone was released tried to keep the platform closed but eventually capitulated and opened up the App Store to developers.
Those first developers made millions. Some developers were able to port games to mobile platforms and try to maintain a similar pricing model to the computer or console versions. But the number of games created a downward pressure that kept games cheap, and often free.
The number of games in the App Store grew (today there are over 5 million apps between Apple and Google). With a constant downward pressure on price, the profits dropped. Suddenly, game developers forgot they used to get 10 percent of the sale of a game a lot of times and started to blame the stores the games were distributed in on the companies that owned the App Stores: Apple, Google, and in some cases, Steam.
The rise and subsequent decrease in popularity of Pokémon Go was the original inspiration for this article in 2016 but since a number of games have validated the perspectives. These free games provide a valuable case study into how the way we design a game to be played (known as game mechanics) impacts our ability to monetize the game in various ways. And there are lots and lots of bad examples in games (and probably legislation on the way to remedy abuses) that also tells us what not to do.
The Microtransaction-Based Economy
These days, game developers get us hooked on the game early, get us comfortable with the pace of the game and give us an early acceleration. But then that slows down. Many a developer then points us to in-app purchases in order to unlock items that allow us to maintain the pace of a game, or even to hasten the pace. And given that we're playing against other people a lot of the time, they try and harness our natural competitiveness to get us to buy things. These in-app purchases are known as microtransactions. And the aggregate of these in-app purchases can be considered as a microtransaction-based economy.
As the microtransaction-based economy has arrived in full force, there are certain standards emerging as cultural norms for these economies. And violating these rules cause vendors to get blasted on message boards and more importantly lose rabid fans of the game. As such, I’ve decided to codify my own set of laws for these, which are follows:
All items that can be purchased with real money should be available for free.
For example, when designing a game that has users building a city and we develop a monument that users can pay $1 for and place in their city to improve morale of those that live in the city, that monument should be able to be earned in the game as well. Otherwise, you’re able to pay for an in-app purchase that gives some players an advantage for doing nothing more than spending money.
In-app purchases do not replace game play, but hasten the progression through the game.
For example, when designing a game that has users level up based on earning experience points for each task they complete, we never want to just gift experience points based on an in-app purchase. Instead, in-app purchases should provide a time-bound amplification to experience (such as doubling experience for 30 minutes in Pokémon Go or keeping anyone else from attacking a player for 24 hours in Clash of Clans so we can save enough money to buy that one Town Hall upgrade we just can’t live without).
The amount paid for items in a game should correlate to the amount of time saved in game play.
For example, get stuck on a level in Angry Birds. We could pay a dollar for a pack of goodies that will get us past that level (and probably 3 more), so we can move on. Or we could keep hammering away at that level for another hour. Thus, we saved an hour, but lost pride points in the fact that we didn’t conquer that level. Later in the game, we can go back and get three stars without paying to get past it.
Do not allow real-world trading.
This is key. If it’s possible to build an economy outside the game, players can then break your game mechanics. For example, in World of Warcraft, you can buy gold, and magic items online for real money and then log into the game only to have another shady character add those items to your inventory. This leads to people writing programs known as bots (short for robots) to mine gold or find magic items on their behalf so they can sell it in the real world. There are a lot of negative effects to such behavior, including the need to constantly monitor for bots (which wastes a lot of developer cycles), bots cause the in-game economy to practically crash when the game updates (e.g. a map) and breaks the bots, and make games both more confusing for users and less controllable by the developer.
Establish an in-game currency.
You don’t want users of the game buying things with cash directly. Instead, you want them to buy a currency, such as gold, rubies, gems, karma, or whatever you’d like to call that currency. Disassociating purchases from real world money causes users to lose track of what they’re buying and spend more money. Seems shady, and it very well may be, but I don’t write games so I can’t say if that’s the intent or not. It’s a similar philosophy to buying poker chips, rather than using money in a casino (just without the free booze).
Provide multiple goals within the game.
Players will invariably get bored with the critical path in your game. When they do, it’s great for players to find other aspects of the game to keep them engaged. For example, in Pokémon Go, you might spend 2 weeks trying to move from level 33 to level 34. During that time, you might as well go find that last Charmander so you can evolve to a Charzard. That’s two different goals: one to locate a creature, the other to gain experience. Or you can go take over some gyms in your neighborhood. Or you can power level by catching hundreds of Pidgeys. The point is, to keep players engaged during long periods with no progression, having a choose your own adventure style game play is important. For massive multiplayers (especially role playing games) this is critical, as players will quickly tire of mining for gold and want to go, for example, jump into the latest mass land war. To place a little context around this, there are also 28 medals in Pokémon Go (that I’m aware of), which keep providing more and more goals in the game.
Allow for rapid progression early in the game in order to hook users, so they will pay for items later in the game.
We want people to play our games because they love them. Less than 3% of players will transact an in-app purchase in a given game. But that number skyrockets as time is invested in a game. Quickly progressing through levels early in a game keeps users playing. Once users have played a game for 8 or 9 hours, if you tell them they can go to bed and for a dollar and it will seem like they kept playing for another 8 or 9 hours, based on the cool stuff they’ll earn, they’re likely to give up that dollar and keep playing for another couple of hours rather than get that much needed sleep! We should never penalize players that don't pay up. In fact, players often buy things that simply change the look of their character in games like Among Us. There is no need to impact game mechanics with purchase if we build an awesome enough game.
Create achievable goals in discrete amounts of time.
Boom Beach villages range from level 1 to level 64. As players rise through the ability to reach the next stage becomes logarithmically more difficult given other players are paying to play. Goals against computers players (or NPCs or AI according to how we want to think of it) are similar. All should be achievable though. The game Runeblade for the Apple Watch was based on fundamentally sound game mechanics that could enthrall a player for months; however, there’s no way to get past a certain point. Therefore, players lose interest, Eric Cartman-style, and went home.
Restrict the ability to automate the game.
If we had the choice to run every day to lose weight or to eat donuts and watch people run and still lose weight, which would most people choose? Duh. Problem is that when players automate your game, they end up losing interest as their time investment in the game diminishes, as does the necessary skill level to shoot up through levels in games. Evony Online was such a game; and I’m pretty sure I still get an email every month chastising me for botting the game 8-10 years after anyone remembers that the game existed. As a game becomes too dependent on resources obtained by gold mining bots in World of Warcraft, the economy of the game could crash when they were knocked off-line. Having said this, such drama adds to the intrigue - which can be a game inside a game for many.
Pit players against one another.
Leaderboards. Everyone wants to be in 1st place, all the time. Or to see themselves moving up in rankings. By providing a ranking system, we increase engagement, and drive people towards making in-app purchases. Those just shouldn't be done to directly get a leg up. It's a slippery slope to allow a player to jump 30 people in front of them to get to #1,000 in the rankings only to see those people do an in-app purchase and create an addiction to the in-app purchases in order to maintain their position in the rankings. It's better to make smaller amounts and keep players around than have them hate a developer once they're realized the game was making money off addiction. Sounds a bit like
Don’t pit weak players against strong players unnecessarily.
In Clash of Clans a player builds a village. As they build more cool stuff in the village, the village levels up. The player can buy rubies to complete buildings faster, and so you can basically buy the village levels. But, since a player can basically buy levels, the levels can exceed the players skill. Therefore, in order to pit matched players in battles, a second metric was introduced to match battles that is based on won/lost ratios of battles. By ensuring that players of similar skill duel one another, the skill of players is more likely to progress organically and therefore they remain engaged with the game. The one exception to this rule that I’ve seen actually work well so far has been in Pokémon Go where a player needs to be physically close to a gym rather than just close to the gym while sitting in their living room playing on a console. That geographical alignment really changes this dynamic, as does the great way that gym matches heavily favor attackers, driving fast turnover in gyms and keeping the game accessible to lower level players.
Add time-based incentives.
If a player logs into a game every day, they should get a special incentive for the day that amplifies the more days they log in in a row. Or if they don’t log in, another player can steal all the stuff. Players get a push alert when another player attacks them. There are a number of different ways to incentivize players to keep logging into an app. The more we keep players in an app, the more likely they are to make a purchase. Until they get so many alerts that they delete your app. Don’t do that.
Incentivize pure gameplay.
It might seem counter-intuitive to incentivize players to not use in-app purchases. But not allowing for a perfect score on an in-app purchase (e.g. not allowing for a perfect level in Angry Birds if you used an in-app purchase) will drive more engagement in a game, while likely still allowing for an in-app purchase and then a late-game strategy of finding perfection to unlock that hidden extra level, or whatever the secret sauce is for your game.
Apply maximum purchasing amounts.
Games can get addictive for players. We want dolphins, not whales. This is to say that we want people to spend what they would have spent on a boxed game, say $50, or even that per month. But when players get into spending thousands per day, they're likely to at some point realize their error in judgement and contact Apple or Google for a refund. And they should get one. Don't take advantage of people.
Make random returns on microtransactions transparent.
There has been talk of regulating randomized loot boxes. Why? Because the numbers don't add up. Rampant abuse of in-app purchases for random gear means that developers who publish the algorithm or source code for how those rewards are derived will have a certain level of non-repudiation when the law suits start. Again, if those rewards can be earned during the game as well (maybe at a lower likelihood) then we're not abusing game mechanics.
The above list might seem manipulative at times. Especially to those who don't write code for a living. And to some degree it is. But it can be done ethically and when it is the long-term returns are greater. If nothing else, these laws are a code of ethics of sorts.
These are lessons that hundreds of companies are out there learning by trial and error, and hopefully documenting them can help emergent companies not have to repeat some of the same mistakes of others.
We could probably get up to 100 of these (with examples) if we wanted to! What laws have you noticed?
Welcome all you Northwarden Piggies! Today's episode is a first: we're dropping down to a DOS Prompt to talk about Betrayal at Krondor.
The BBC Micro, Part 3 with Daniel Jameson
Hello, and welcome to episode 102 of the Floppy Days Podcast for December, 2020. I just love these old machines and love to learn and talk about them. The year is 1981 and we are talking about the legendary BBC Micro or Beeb as it’s affectionately known. This is the final episode on this incredible machine, where we will be covering Ads and Appearances, Modern Upgrades, Emulators, Buying One Today, Community, and current Web Sites.
Again, as with the last episode, since the BBC Micro is a British machine I thought it only right that my co-host for these episodes should be someone from the UK. Daniel Jameson, a prominent member of the stardot forums, graciously agreed to help me with this and provide the “color” commentary during this episode. I think he adds a lot to the show.
Before getting into the details of the Beeb, I will talk a bit about new acquisitions and what I’ve been up to, a very brief mention of any upcoming shows, and then right into the meat of the episode.
Ads and Appearances
Current Web Sites
The Famous Computer Cafe
This is a podcast episode featuring three interviews with people who created a radio show that did hundreds of interviews.
The Famous Computer Cafe was -- not a restaurant -- but a radio program that aired from 1983 through the first quarter of 1986. The program included computer news, product reviews, and interviews.
The program was created by three people — who were not only the on-air voices, but did all the work around the program: getting advertisers, buying air time, researching each day's computer news, booking interviews -- everything. Those three people were Andrew Velcoff, Michael Walker (now Michael FireWalker), and Ellen Fead Hansen (later Ellen Walker, now Ellen Fields.) For this episode of Antic, I got to talk with all three of The Famous Computer Cafe's proprietors.
There were several versions of the show, which aired on several radio stations, primarily in California. A live, daily half-hour version allowed phone calls from listeners. Taped versions (running a half-hour and up to two hours) also aired daily. The show started in 1983 on two stations in the Los Angeles area: KFOX 93.5 FM and KIEV 870 AM. In 1985 it began airing in the California Bay Area: on KXLR 1260 AM in San Francisco and KCSM 91.1 FM in San Matro, and KSDO 1130 AM in San Diego.
Also in 1985 a nationally syndicated, half-hour non-commercial version of The Famous Computer Cafe was available via satellite to National Public Radio stations around the United States, though it's not clear today which stations ran it.
To me, the most exciting thing about the show was the interviews. The list of people that the show interviewed is a who's-who of tech luminaries of the early 1980s. But not just computer people: they interviewed anyone whose work was touched by personal computer technology. musicians, professors, publishers, philosophers, journalists, astrologers.
The cafe aired interviews with Philip Estridge, the IBM vice president who was responsible for developing the PC; Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates; Atari Chairman Jack Tramiel; Bill Atkinson, developer of MacPaint; Infocom's Joel Berez; Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek; musician Herbie Hancock; Trip Hawkins, founder of Electronic Arts; author Douglas Adams; Stewart Brand, editor of the Whole Earth Catalog; psychologist Timothy Leary; science fiction writer Ray Bradbury; synthesizer pioneer Robert Moog; and pop star Donny Osmond. The list goes on and on and on. By mid-1985, the show had run more than 300 half-hour interviews.
Here's the bad news. Those episodes, those interviews, are lost. Today, a recording of only one Cafe episode is known to exist. That show, which aired January 2, 1986, includes an interview with Rich Gold, creator of the Activision simulation Little Computer People; a call-in from tech journalist John Dvorak; and commercials for Elephant Floppy Disks and Microsoft Word. The entire 29-minute episode is available at Internet Archive, with the gracious permission of the show's creators. It's an amazing time capsule -- which survived because Rich Gold, interviewed on the program, saved a cassette of that show. Perhaps, somewhere, there are hundreds more episodes waiting to be re-discovered — if someone has the recordings. If you do, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The good news is that transcripts of six interviews do exist (and are now online): Timothy Leary, Donny Osmond, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy's Douglas Adams and Steve Meretzky; Frank Herbert, author of the Dune series; Tom Mahon, author of Charged Bodies; and Jack Nilles, head of the University of Southern California Center for Futures Research.
Check this episode's show notes, at AtariPodcast.com, for links to the one episode, the six transcripts, and the cool Famous Computer Cafe logo.
You'll hear the interviews in the order in which I recorded them. First up is Michael FireWalker, then Ellen Fields, then Andrew Velcoff.
The interview with Michael FireWalker took place on May 27, 2020. The interview with Ellen Fields took place on June 1, 2020. The interview with Andrew Velcoff took place on July 3, 2020.
Special thanks to fellow researcher Devin Monnens, and the Department of Special Collections at Stanford University.
This podcast used excerpts from the one The Famous Computer Cafe episode that is known to exist. That episode, now available at Internet Archive, was digitized by Stanford University (the physical tape is in their special collections located in the Stanford Series 9 of the Rich Gold Collection (M1510), Box 2.)
If you have any other recordings of any Famous Computer Cafe episodes, please contact me at email@example.com.
The Famous Computer Cafe 1986-01-02 episode
The Famous Computer Cafe interview transcripts
The Famous Computer Cafe ads, photos, articles
Months before the first node of ARPANET went online, the intrepid easy engineers were just starting to discuss the technical underpinnings of what would evolve into the Internet some day. Here, we hear how hosts would communicate to the IMPs, or early routing devices (although maybe more like a Paleolithic version of what's in a standard network interface today).
It's nerdy. There's discussion of packets and what bits might do what and later Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn would redo most of this early work as the protocols evolved towards TCP/IP. But reading their technical notes and being able to trace those through thousands of RFCs that show the evolution into the Internet we know today is an amazing look into the history of computing.
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A weekly roundup of the hottest stories from the world of retro gaming and computing, voted on by you, the listener! Hosted by Neil Thomas from RMC and John Shawler from Amigos Retro Gaming.
1. EA buying Codemasters?
2. Play your classic computer games the right way...with a control pad?
3. How Commander Keen changed PC gaming
4. Nintendo Land gets an Opening Date
Submit your favorite retro stories on TWIR's Subreddit.
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Panelists: Paul Hagstrom (hosting), Quinn Dunki, Blake Patterson, and Carrington Vanston
Topic: Not cassettes, not floppies
Software distributed in some way other than on cassette or floppy.
Retro Computing News:
Vintage Computer-related commercials:
Retro Computing Gift Idea:
BASIC is a strange language. During the early days of home computing it was everywhere you looked, pretty much every microcomputer in the 70s and early 80s ran BASIC. For a time it filled a niche almost perfectly, it was a useable language that anyone could learn. That didn't happen by accident. Today we are looking at the development of BASIC, how two mathematicians started a quest to expose more students to computers, and how their creation got away from them.
James & John discuss eBay Finds: 1984 ad button, Think Different watch, and Woz's Apple sunglasses. They share their favorite "One More Thing" announcements, and news includes Apple 2 lid and blue box circuit board auctions.
Humanity realized we could do more with stone tools some two and a half million years ago. We made stone hammers and cutting implements made by flaking stone, sharpening deer bone, and sticks, sometimes sharpened into spears. It took 750,000 years, but we figured out we could attach those to sticks to make hand axes and other cutting tools about 1.75 million years ago. Humanity had discovered the first of six simple machines, the wedge.
During this period we also learned to harness fire. Because fire frightened off animals that liked to cart humans off in the night the population increased, we began to cook food, and the mortality rate increased.
More humans. We learned to build rafts and began to cross larger bodies of water. We spread. Out of Africa, into the Levant, up into modern Germany, France, into Asia, Spain, and up to the British isles by 700,000 years ago. And these humanoid ancestors traded. Food, shell beads, bone tools, even arrows.
By 380,000-250,000 years ago we got the first anatomically modern humans. The oldest of those remains has been found in modern day Morocco in Northern Africa. We also have evidence of that spread from the African Rift to Turkey in Western Asia to the Horn of Africa in Ethiopia, Eritraea, across the Red Sea and then down into Israel, South Africa, the Sudan, the UAE, Oman, into China, Indonesia, and the Philopenes.
200,000 years ago we had cored stone on spears, awls, and in the late Stone Age saw the emergence of craftsmanship and cultural identity. This might be cave paintings or art made of stone. We got clothing around 170,000 years ago, when the area of the Sahara Desert was still fertile ground and as people migrated out of there we got the first structures of sandstone blocks at the border of Egypt and modern Sudan. As societies grew, we started to decorate, first with seashell beads around 80,000, with the final wave of humans leaving Africa just in time for the Toba Volcano supereruption to devastate human populations 75,000 years ago.
And still we persisted, with cave art arriving 70,000 years ago. And our populations grew.
Around 50,000 years ago we got the first carved art and the first baby boom. We began to bury our dead and so got the first religions. In the millennia that followed we settled in Australia, Europe, Japan, Siberia, the Arctic Circle, and even into the Americas. This time period was known as the Great Leap Forward and we got microliths, or small geometric blades shaped into different forms. This is when the oldest settlements have been found from Egypt, the Italian peninsula, up to Germany, Great Britain, out to Romania, Russia, Tibet, and France. We got needles and deep sea fishing. Tuna sashimi anyone?
By 40,000 years ago the neanderthals went extinct and modern humans were left to forge our destiny in the world. The first aboriginal Australians settled the areas we now call Sydney and Melbourne. We started to domesticate dogs and create more intricate figurines, often of a Venus. We made ivory beads, and even flutes of bone. We slowly spread. Nomadic peoples, looking for good hunting and gathering spots. In the Pavolv Hills in the modern Czech Republic they started weaving and firing figurines from clay. We began to cremate our dead. Cultures like the Kebaran spread, to just south of Haifa. But as those tribes grew, there was strength in numbers.
The Bhimbetka rock shelters began in the heart of modern-day India, with nearly 800 shelters spread across 8 square miles from 30,000 years ago to well into the Bronze Age. Here, we see elephants, deer, hunters, arrows, battles with swords, and even horses. A snapshot into the lives of of generation after generation. Other cave systems have been found throughout the world including Belum in India but also Germany, France, and most other areas humans settled. As we found good places to settle, we learned that we could do more than forage and hunt for our food.
Our needs became more complex. Over those next ten thousand years we built ovens and began using fibers, twisting some into rope, making clothing out of others, and fishing with nets. We got our first semi-permanent settlements, such as Dolce Vestonice in the modern day Czech Republic, where they had a kiln that could be used to fire clay, such as the Venus statue found there - and a wolf bone possibly used as a counting stick. The people there had woven cloth, a boundary made of mammoth bones, useful to keep animals out - and a communal bonfire in the center of the village.
A similar settlement in modern Siberia shows a 24,000 year old village. Except the homes were a bit more subterranean.
Most parts of the world began to cultivate agriculture between 20,000 and 15,000 years ago according to location. During this period we solved the age old problem of food supplies, which introduced new needs. And so we saw the beginnings of pottery and textiles. Many of the cultures for the next 15,000 years are now often referred to based on the types of pottery they would make.
These cultures settled close to the water, surrounding seas or rivers. And we built large burial mounds. Tools from this time have been found throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, and in modern Mumbai in India. Some cultures were starting to become sedentary, such as the Natufian culture we collected grains, started making bread, cultivating cereals like rye, we got more complex socioeconomics, and these villages were growing to support upwards of 150 people.
The Paleolithic time of living in caves and huts, which began some two and a half million years ago was ending. By 10,000 BCE, Stone Age technology evolved to include axes, chisels, and gouges. This is a time many parts of the world entered the Mesolithic period. The earth was warming and people were building settlements. Some were used between cycles of hunting. As the plants we left in those settlements grew more plentiful, people started to stay there more, some becoming permanent inhabitants. Settlements like in Nanzhuangtou, China. Where we saw dogs and stones used to grind and the cultivation of seed grasses.
The mesolithic period is when we saw a lot of cave paintings and engraving. And we started to see a division of labor. A greater amount of resources led to further innovation. Some of the inventions would then have been made in multiple times and places again and again until we go them right. One of those was agriculture.
The practice of domesticating barley, grains, and wheat began in the millennia leading up to 10,000 BCE and spread up from Northeast Africa and into Western Asia and throughout. There was enough of a surplus that we got the first granary by 9500 BCE. This is roughly the time we saw the first calendar circles emerge. Tracking time would be done first with rocks used to form early megalithic structures.
Domestication then spread to animals with sheep coming in around the same time, then cattle, all of which could be done in a pastoral or somewhat nomadic lifestyle. Humans then began to domesticate goats and pigs by 8000 BCE, in the Middle East and China. Something else started to appear in the eight millennium BCE: a copper pendant was found in Iraq.
Which brings us to the Neolithic Age. And people were settling along the Indus River, forming larger complexes such as Mehrgarh, also from 7000 BCE. The first known dentistry dates back to this time, showing drilled molars. People in the Timna Valley, located in modern Israel also started to mine copper. This led us to the second real crafting specialists after pottery. Metallurgy was born.
Those specialists sought to improve their works. Potters started using wheels, although we wouldn’t think to use them vertically to pull a cart until somewhere between 6000 BCE and 4000 BCE. Again, there are six simple machines. The next is the wheel and axle.
Humans were nomadic, or mostly nomadic, up until this point but settlements and those who lived in them were growing. We starting to settle in places like Lake Nasser and along the river banks from there, up the Nile to modern day Egypt. Nomadic people settled into areas along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean and between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers with Maghzaliyah being another village supporting 150 people. They began to building using packed earth, or clay, for walls and stone for foundations. This is where one of the earliest copper axes has been found. And from those early beginnings, copper and so metallurgy spread for nearly 5,000 years.
Cultures like the Yangshao culture in modern China first began with slash and burn cultivation, or plant a crop until the soil stops producing and move on. They built rammed earth homes with thatched, or wattle, roofs. They were the first to show dragons in artwork. In short, with our bellies full, we could turn our attention to the crafts and increasing our standard of living. And those discoveries were passed from complex to complex in trade, and then in trade networks.
Still, people gotta’ eat. Those who hadn’t settled would raid these small villages, if only out of hunger. And so the cultural complexes grew so neolithic people could protect one another. Strength in numbers. Like a force multiplier.
By 6000 BCE we got predynastic cultures flourishing in Egypt. With the final remnants of the ice age retreating, raiders moved in on the young civilization complexes from the spreading desert in search of food. The area from the Nile Valley in northern Egypt, up the coast of the Mediterranean and into the Tigris and Euphrates is now known as the Fertile Crescent - and given the agriculture and then pottery found there, known as the cradle of civilization. Here, we got farming. We weren’t haphazardly putting crops we liked in the grounds but we started to irrigate and learn to cultivate.
Generations passed down information about when to plant various crops was handed down. Time was kept by the season and the movement of the stars. People began settling into larger groups in various parts of the world. Small settlements at first. Rice was cultivated in China, along the Yangtze River. This led to the rise of the Beifudi and Peiligang cultures, with the first site at Jaihu with over 45 homes and between 250 and 800 people. Here, we see raised altars, carved pottery, and even ceramics.
We also saw the rise of the Houli culture in Neolithic China. Similar to other sites from the time, we see hunting, fishing, early rice and millet production and semi-subterranean housing. But we also see cooked rice, jade artifacts, and enough similarities to show technology transfer between Chinese settlements and so trade. Around 5300 BCE we saw them followed by the Beixin culture, netting fish, harvesting hemp seeds, building burial sites away from settlements, burying the dead with tools and weapons. The foods included fruits, chicken and eggs, and lives began getting longer with more nutritious diets.
Cultures were mingling. Trading. Horses started to be tamed, spreading from around 5000 BCE in Kazakstan. The first use of the third simple machine came around 5000 BCE when the lever was used first, although it wouldn’t truly be understood until Archimedes.
Polished stone axes emerged in Denmark and England. Suddenly people could clear out larger and larger amounts of forest and settlements could grow. Larger settlements meant more to hunt, gather, or farm food - and more specialists to foster innovation. In todays Southern Iraq this led to the growth of a city called Eridu.
Eridu was the city of the first Sumerian kings. The bay on the Persian Gulf allowed trading and being situated at the mouth of the Euphrates it was at the heart of the cradle of civilization. The original neolithic Sumerians had been tribal fishers and told stories of kings from before the floods, tens of thousands of years before the era. They were joined by the Samarra culture, which dates back to 5,700 BCE, to the north who brought knowledge of irrigation and nomadic herders coming up from lands we would think of today as the Middle East. The intermixing of skills and strengths allowed the earliest villages to be settled in 5,300 BCE and grow into an urban center we would consider a city today.
This was the beginning of the Sumerian Empire Going back to 5300, houses had been made of mud bricks and reed. But they would build temples, ziggurats, and grow to cover over 25 acres with over 4,000 people. As the people moved north and gradually merged with other cultural complexes, the civilization grew.
Uruk grew to over 50,000 people and is the etymological source of the name Iraq. And the population of all those cities and the surrounding areas that became Sumer is said to have grown to over a million people. They carved anthropomorphic furniture. They made jewelry of gold and created crude copper plates. They made music with flutes and stringed instruments, like the lyre. They used saws and drills. They went to war with arrows and spears and daggers. They used tablets for writing, using a system we now call cuneiform. Perhaps they wrote to indicate lunar months as they were the first known people to use 12 29-30 day months. They could sign writings with seals, which they are also credited with. How many months would it be before Abraham of Ur would become the central figure of the Old Testament in the Bible?
With scale they needed better instruments to keep track of people, stock, and other calculations. The Sumerian abacus - later used by the Egyptians and then the device we know of as an abacus today entered widespread use in the sixth century in the Persian empire. More and more humans were learning larger precision counting and numbering systems.
They didn’t just irrigate their fields; they built levees to control floodwaters and canals to channel river water into irrigation networks. Because water was so critical to their way of life, the Sumerian city-states would war and so built armies.
Writing and arithmetic don’t learn themselves. The Sumerians also developed the concept of going to school for twelve years. This allowed someone to be a scribe or writer, which were prestigious as they were as necessary in early civilizations as they are today.
In the meantime, metallurgy saw gold appear in 4,000 BCE. Silver and lead in 3,000 BCE, and then copper alloys. Eventually with a little tin added to the copper. By 3000 BCE this ushered in the Bronze Age. And the need for different resources to grow a city or empire moved centers of power to where those resources could be found.
The Mesopotamian region also saw a number of other empires rise and fall. The Akkadians, Babylonians (where Hammurabi would eventually give the first written set of laws), Chaldeans, Assyrians, Hebrews, Phoenicians, and one of the greatest empires in history, the Persians, who came out of villages in Modern Iran that went back past 10,000 BCE to rule much of the known world at the time. The Persians were able to inherit all of the advances of the Sumerians, but also the other cultures of Mesopotamia and those they traded with. One of their trading partners that the Persians conquered later in the life of the empire, was Egypt.
Long before the Persians and then Alexander conquered Egypt they were a great empire. Wadi Halfa had been inhabited going back 100,000 years ago. Industries, complexes, and cultures came and went. Some would die out but most would merge with other cultures. There is not much archaeological evidence of what happened from 9,000 to 6,000 BCE but around this time many from the Levant and Fertile Crescent migrated into the area bringing agriculture, pottery, then metallurgy.
These were the Nabta then Tasian then Badarian then Naqada then Amratian and in around 3500 BCE we got the Gerzean who set the foundation for what we may think of as Ancient Egypt today with a drop in rain and suddenly people moved more quickly from the desert like lands around the Nile into the mincreasingly metropolitan centers. Cities grew and with trade routes between Egypt and Mesopotamia they frequently mimicked the larger culture.
From 3200 BCE to 3000 BCE we saw irrigation begin in protodynastic Egypt. We saw them importing obsidian from Ethiopia, cedar from Lebanon, and grow. The Canaanites traded with them and often through those types of trading partners, Mesopotamian know-how infused the empire. As did trade with the Nubians to the south, who had pioneered astrological devices. At this point we got Scorpion, Iry-Hor, Ka, Scorpion II, Double Falcon. This represented the confederation of tribes who under Narmer would unite Egypt and he would become the first Pharaoh. They would all be buried in Umm El Qa’ab, along with kings of the first dynasty who went from a confederation to a state to an empire.
The Egyptians would develop their own written language, using hieroglyphs. They took writing to the next level, using ink on papyrus. They took geometry and mathematics. They invented toothpaste. They built locked doors. They took the calendar to the next level as well, giving us 364 day years and three seasons. They’d of added a fourth if they’d of ever visited Minnesota, don’tchaknow. And many of those Obelisks raided by the Romans and then everyone else that occupied Egypt - those were often used as sun clocks. They drank wine, which is traced in its earliest form to China.
Imhotep was arguably one of the first great engineers and philosophers. Not only was he the architect of the first pyramid, but he supposedly wrote a number of great wisdom texts, was a high priest of Ra, and acted as a physician. And for his work in the 27th century BCE, he was made a deity, one of the few outside of the royal family of Egypt to receive such an honor.
Egyptians used a screw cut of wood around 2500 BCE, the fourth simple machine. They used it to press olives and make wine. They used the fifth to build pyramids, the inclined plane. And they helped bring us the last of the simple machines, the pulley. And those pyramids. Where the Mesopotamians built Ziggurats, the Egyptians built more than 130 pyramids from 2700 BCE to 1700 BCE. And the Great Pyramid of Giza would remain the largest building in the world for 3,800 years. It is built out of 2.3 million blocks, some of which weigh as much as 80 tonnes. Can you imagine 100,000 people building a grave for you?
The sundial emerged in 1,500 BCE, presumably in Egypt - and so while humans had always had limited lifespans, our lives could then be divided up into increments of time.
The Chinese cultural complexes grew as well. Technology and evolving social structures allowed the first recorded unification of all those neolithic peoples when You the Great and his father brought flood control, That family, as the Pharos had, claimed direct heritage to the gods, in this case, the Yellow Emperor. The Xia Dynasty began in China in 2070 BCE. They would flourish until 1600 BCE when they were overthrown by the Shang who lasted until 1046 when they were overthrown by the Zhou - the last ancient Chinese dynasty before Imperial China.
Greek civilizations began to grow as well. Minoan civilization from 1600 to 1400 BCE grew to house up to 80,000 people in Knossos. Crete is a large island a little less than half way from Greece to Egypt. There are sites throughout the islands south of Greece that show a strong Aegean and Anatolian Cycladic culture emerging from 4,000 BCE but given the location, Crete became the seat of the Minoans, first an agricultural community and then merchants, facilitating trade with Egypt and throughout the Mediterranean. The population went from less than 2,000 people in 2500 BCE to up to 100,000 in 1600 BCE. They were one of the first to be able to import knowledge, in the form of papyrus from Egypt.
The Mycenaeans in mainland Greece, along with earthquakes that destroyed a number of the buildings on Crete, contributed to the fall of the Minoan civilization and alongside the Hittites, Assyrians, Egyptians, and Babylonians, we got the rise of the first mainland European empire: Mycenaean Greece. Sparta would rise, Athens, Corinth, Thebes. After conquering Troy in the Trojan War the empire went into decline with the Bronze Age collapse. We can read about the war in the Iliad and the return home in the Odyssey, written by Homer nearly 400 years later.
The Bronze Age ended in around 1,200 BCE - as various early empires outgrew the ability to rule ancient metropolises and lands effectively, as climate change forced increasingly urbanized centers to de-urbanize, as the source of tin dried up, and as smaller empires banded together to attack larger empires. Many of these empires became dependent on trade. Trade spread ideas and technology and science. But tribalism and warfare disrupted trade routes and fractured societies. We had to get better at re-using copper to build new things. The fall of cultures caused refugees, as we see today. It’s likely a conflagration of changing cultures and what we now call Sea People caused the collapse. These Sea People include refugees, foreign warlords, and mercenaries used by existing empires. These could have been the former Philistines, Minoans, warriors coming down from the Black Sea, the Italians, people escaping a famine on the Anatolian peninsula, the Mycenaeans as they fled the Dorian invasion, Sardinians, Sicilians, or even Hittites after the fall of that empire. The likely story is a little bit of each of these. But the Neo-Assyrians were weakened in order to take Mesopotamia and then the Neo-Babylonians were. And finally the Persian Empire would ultimately be the biggest winners.
But at the end of the Bronze Age, we had all the components for the birth of the Iron Age. Humans had writing, were formally educating our young, we’d codified laws, we mined, we had metallurgy, we tamed nature with animal husbandry, we developed dense agriculture, we architected, we warred, we destroyed, we rebuilt, we healed, and we began to explain the universe. We started to harness multiple of the six simple machines to do something more in the world. We had epics that taught the next generation to identify places in the stars and pass on important knowledge to the next generation.
And precision was becoming more important. Like being able to predict an eclipse. This led Chaldean astronomers to establish Saros, a period of 223 synodic months to predict the eclipse cycle. And instead of humans computing those times, within just a few hundred years, Archimedes would document the use of and begin putting math behind many of the six simple devices so we could take interdisciplinary approaches to leveraging compound and complex machines to build devices like the Antikythera mechanism. We were computing. We also see that precision in the way buildings were created.
After the collapse of the Bronze Age there would be a time of strife. Warfare, famines, disrupted trade. The great works of the Pharaohs, Mycenaeans and other world powers of the time would be put on hold until a new world order started to form. As those empires grew, the impacts would be lasting and the reach would be greater than ever.
We’ll add a link to the episode that looks at these, taking us from the Bronze Age to antiquity. But humanity slowly woke up to proto-technology. And certain aspects of our lives have been inherited over so many generations from then.
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1. The Owlet BBC Micro Emulator
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ANTIC Episode 73 - Randy’s Personality Board
In this episode of ANTIC The Atari 8-bit Computer Podcast… we have a ton of Christmas gift ideas for that Atari nerd in your life (even if that nerd is you); we find out Randy has a broken personality board; and we bring you the Atari 8-bit news to fill out your life.
Interview index: here
What We’ve Been Up To
Christmas Gift Ideas
YouTube videos this month
New at GitHub
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Possible side effects of listening to the Antic podcast include stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat; drowsiness, dizziness, feeling nervous; mild nausea, upset stomach, constipation; increased appetite, weight changes; insomnia, decreased sex drive, impotence, or difficulty having an orgasm; dry mouth, intense hate of Commodore, and Amiga lust. Certain conditions apply. Offer good for those with approved credit. Member FDIC. An equal housing lender.
The written word allowed us to preserve human knowledge, or data, from generation to generation. We know only what we can observe from ancient remains from before writing, but we know more and more about societies as generations of people literate enough to document their stories spread. And the more documented, the more knowledge to easily find and build upon, thus a more rapid amount of innovation available to each generation...
The Sumerians established the first written language in the third millennium BCE. They carved data on clay. Written languages spread and by the 26th century BCE the Diary of Merer was written to document building the Great Pyramid of Giza. They started with papyrus, made from the papyrus plant. They would extract the pulp and make thin sheets from it. The sheets of papyrus ranged in color and how smooth the surface was. But papyrus doesn’t grow everywhere.
People had painted on pots and other surfaces and ended up writing on leather at about the same time. Over time, it is only natural that they moved on to use parchment, or stretched and dried goat, cow, and sheep skins, to write on. Vellum is another material we developed to write on, similar, but made from calfskin. The Assyrians and Babylonians started to write on vellum in the 6th century BCE.
The Egyptians wrote what we might consider data that was effectively included into pictograms we now call hieroglyphs on papyrus and parchment with ink. For example, per the Unicode Standard 13.0 my cat would be the hieroglyph 130E0. But digital representations of characters wouldn’t come for a long time. It was still carved in stone or laid out in ink back then.
Ink was developed by the Chinese thousands of years ago, possibly first by mixing soot from a fire and various minerals. It’s easy to imagine early neolithic peoples stepping in a fire pit after it had cooled and realizing they could use first their hands to smear it on cave walls and then a stick and then a brush to apply it to other surfaces, like pottery. By the time the Egyptians were writing with ink, they were using iron and ocher for pigments.
India ink was introduced in the second century in China. They used it to write on bamboo, wooden tablets, and even bones. It was used in India in the fourth century BCE and used burned bits of bone, powders made of patroleum called carbon black, and pigments with hide glue then ground and dried. This allowed someone writing to dip a wet brush into the mixture in order to use it to write. And these were used up through the Greek and then Roman times.
More innovative chemical compounds would be used over time. We added lead, pine soot, vegetable oils, animal oils, mineral oils, and while the Silk Road is best known for bringing silks to the west, Chinese ink was the best and another of the luxuries transported across it, well into the 17th century.
Ink wasn’t all the Silk Road brought. Paper was first introduced in the first century in China. During the Islamic Golden Age, the islamic world expanded the use in the 8th century, and adding the science to build larger mills to make pulp and paper. Paper then made it to Europe in the 11th century.
So ink and paper laid the foundation for the mass duplication of data. But how to duplicate?
We passed knowledge down verbally for tens of thousands of years. Was it accurate with each telling? Maybe. And then we preserved our stories in a written form for a couple thousand years in a one to one capacity. The written word was done manually, one scroll or book at a time. And so they were expensive. But a family could keep them from generation to generation and they were accurate across the generations.
Knowledge passed down in written form and many a manuscript was copied ornately, with beautiful pictures drawn on the page. But in China they were again innovating. Woodblock printing goes back at least to the second century to print designs on cloth. But had grown to include books by the seventh century. The Diamond Sutra was a Tang Dynasty book from 868 that may be the first printed book, using wood blocks that had been carved in reverse.
And moveable type came along in 1040, from Bi Sheng in China. He carved letters into clay. Wang Chen in China then printed a text on farming practices called Nung Shu in 1297 and added a number of innovations to the Chinese presses. And missionaries and trade missions from Europe to China likely brought reports home, including copies of the books.
Intaglio printing emerged where lines were cut, etched, or engraved into metal plates, dipped into ink and then pressed onto paper. Similar tactics had been used by goldsmiths for some time.
But then a goldsmith named Johannes Gutenberg began to experiment using similar ideas just adding the concept of moveable type. He used different alloys to get the letter pressing just right - including antimony, lead, and tin. He created a matrix to mold new type blocks, which we now refer to as a hand mould. He experimented with different kinds of oil and water-based inks. And vellum and paper.
And so Gutenberg would get credit for inventing the printing press in 1440. This took the basic concept of the screw press, which the Romans introduced in the first century to press olives and wine and added moveable type with lettering made of metal. He was at it for a few years. Just one problem, he needed to raise capital in order to start printing at a larger scale. So he went Johann Fust and took out a loan for 800 guilders. He printed a few projects and then thought he should start printing Bibles. So he took out another loan from Fust for 800 more guilders to print what we now call the Gutenberg Bible and printed indulgences from the church as well.
By 1455 he’d printed 180 copies of the Bible and seemed on the brink of finally making a profit. But the loan from Fust at 6% interest had grown to over 2,000 guilders and once Fust’s son-in-law was about to run the press, he sued Gutenberg, ending up with Gutenberg’s workshop and all of the Bibles basically bankrupting Gutenberg by 1460. He would die in 1468.
The Mainz Psalter was commissioned by the Mainz archbishop in 1457 and Fust along with Peter Schöffer, a Gutenberg assistant, would use the press to become the first book to be printed with the mark of the printer. They would continue to print books and Schöffer added putting dates in books, colored ink, type-founding, punch cutting, and other innovations. And Schöffer’s sons would carry on the art, as did his grandson.
As word spread of the innovation, Italians started printing presses by 1470. German printers went to the Sorbonne and by 1476 they set up companies to print. Printing showed up in Spain in 1473, England in 1476, and Portugal by 1495. In a single generation, the price of books plummeted and the printed word exploded, with over 20 million works being printed by 1500 and 10 times that by 1600.
Before Gutenberg, a single scribe could spend years copying only a few editions of a book before the printing press and with a press, up to 3,600 pages a day could be printed. The Catholic Church had the market on bibles and facing a cash crunch, Pope Alexander VI threatened to excommunicate printing manuscripts. In two decades, John Calvin and Martin Luther changed the world with their books - and Copernicus followed quickly by other scientists published works, even with threats of miscommunication or the Inquisition.
As presses grew, new innovative uses also grew. We got the first newspaper in 1605. Literacy rates were going up, people were becoming more educated and science and learning were spreading in ways it had never done before. Freedom to learn became freedom of thought and Christianity became fragmented as other thinkers had other ideas of spirituality. We were ready for the Enlightenment.
Today we can copy and paste text from one screen to the next on our devices. We can make a copy of a single file and have tens of thousands of ancient or modern works available to us in an instant. In fact, plenty of my books are available to download for free on sites with or without mine or my publisher’s consent. Or we can just do a quick Google search and find most any book we want. And with the ubiquity of literacy we moved from printed paper to disks to online and our content creation has exploded. 90% of the data in the world was created in the past two years. We are producing over 2 quintillion bytes of data daily. Over 4 and a half billion people are connected, What’s crazy is that’s nearly 3 and a half billion people who aren’t online.
Imagine having nearly double the live streamers on Twitch and dancing videos on TikTok! I have always maintained a large physical library. And while writing many of these episodes and the book it’s only grown. Because some books just aren’t available online, even if you’re willing to pay for them.
So here’s a parting thought I’d like to leave you with today: history is also full of anomalies or moments when someone got close to a discovery but we would have to wait thousands of years for it to come up again. The Phaistos Disc is a Minoan fired clay tablet from Greece. It was made by stamping Minoan hieroglyphs onto the clay.
And just like sometimes it seems something may have come before its time, we also like to return to the classics here and there. Up until the digital age, paper was one of the most important industries in the world. Actually, it still is. But this isn’t to say that we haven’t occasionally busted out parchment for uses in manual writing. The Magna Carta and the US Constitution were both written on parchment.
So think about what you see that is before its time, or after. And keep a good relationship with your venture capitalists so they don’t take the printing presses away.
Following the Renaissance, Europe had an explosion of science. The works of the Greeks had been lost during the Dark Ages while civilizations caught up to the technical progress. Or so we were taught in school. Previously, we looked at the contributions during the Golden Age of the Islamic Empires and the Renaissance when that science returned to Europe following the Holy Wars.
The great thinkers from the Renaissance pushed boundaries and opened minds. But the revolution coming after them would change the very way we thought of the world. It was a revolution based in science and empirical thought, lasting from the middle of the 1500s to late in the 1600s.
There are three main aspects I’d like to focus on in terms of taking all the knowledge of the world from that point and preparing it to give humans enlightenment, what we call the age after the Scientific Revolution. These are new ways of reasoning and thinking, specialization, and rigor. Let’s start with rigor.
My cat jumps on the stove and burns herself. She doesn’t do it again. My dog gets too playful with the cat and gets smacked. Both then avoid doing those things in the future.
Early humans learn that we can forage certain plants and then realize we can take those plants to another place and have them grow. And then we realize they grow best when planted at certain times of the year. And watching the stars can provide guidance on when to do so. This evolved over generations of trial and error.
Yet we believed those stars revolved around the earth for much of our existence. Even after designing orreries and mapping the heavens, we still hung on to this belief until Copernicus. His 1543 work “On The Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres” marks the beginning of the Scientific Revolution. Here, he almost heretically claimed that the stars in fact revolved around the sun, as did the Earth.
This wasn’t exactly new. Aristarchus had theorized this heliocentric model in Ancient Greece. Ptolemy had disagreed in Almagest, where he provided tables to compute location and dates using the stars. Tables that had taken rigor to produce. And that Ptolemaic system came to be taken for granted. It worked fine.
The difference was, Copernicus had newer technology. He had newer optics, thousands more years of recorded data (some of which was contributed by philosophers during the golden age of Islamic science), the texts of ancient astronomers, and newer ecliptical tables and techniques with which to derive them.
Copernicus didn’t accept what he was taught but instead looked to prove or disprove it with mathematical rigor. The printing press came along in 1440 and 100 years later, Luther was lambasting the church, Columbus discovered the New World, and the printing press helped disseminate information in a way that was less controllable by governments and religious institutions who at times felt threatened by that information. For example, Outlines of Pyrrhonism from first century Sextus Empiricus was printed in 1562, adding skepticism to the growing European thought. In other words, human computers were becoming more sentient and needed more input.
We couldn’t trust what the ancients were passing down and the doctrine of the church was outdated. Others began to ask questions.
Johannes Keppler published Mysterium Cosmographicum in 1596, in defense of Copernicus. He would go on to study math, such as the relationship between math and music, and the relationship between math and the weather. And in 1604 published Astronomiae Pars Optica, where he proposed a new method to measure eclipses of the moon. He would become the imperial mathematician to Emperor Rudolf II, where he could work with other court scholars. He worked on optical theory and wrote Astronomiae Pars Optica, or The Optical Part of Astronomy. He published numerous other works that pushed astronomy, optics, and math forward. His Epitome of Copernican Astronomy would go further than Copernicus, assigning ellipses to the movements of celestial bodies and while it didn’t catch on immediately, his inductive reasoning and the rigor that followed, was enough to have him conversing with Galileo.
Galileo furthered the work of Copernicus and Kepler. He picked up a telescope in 1609 and in his lifetime saw magnification go from 3 to 30 times. This allowed him to map Jupiter’s moons, proving the orbits of other celestial bodies. He identified sunspots. He observed the strength of motions and developed formulas for inertia and parabolic trajectories.
We were moving from deductive reasoning, or starting our scientific inquiry with a theory - to inductive reasoning, or creating theories based on observation. Galileos observations expanded our knowledge of Venus, the moon, and the tides. He helped to transform how we thought, despite ending up in an Inquisition over his findings.
The growing quantity and types of systematic experimentation represented a shift in values. Emiricism, observing evidence for yourself, and the review of peers - whether they disagreed or not. These methods were being taught in growing schools but also in salons and coffee houses and, as was done in Athens, in paid lectures.
Sir Francis Bacon argued about only basing scientific knowledge on inductive reasoning. We now call this the Baconian Method, which he wrote about in 1620 when he published his book, New method, or Novum Organum in latin. This was the formalization of eliminative induction. He was building on if not replacing the inductive-deductive method in Aristotle’s Organon. Bacon was the Attorney General of England and actually wrote Novum while sitting as the Lord Chancellor of England, who presides over the House of Lords and also is the highest judge, or was before Tony Blair.
Bacon’s method built on ancient works from not only Aristotle but also Al-Biruni, al-Haytham, and many others. And has influenced generations of scientists, like John Locke.
René Descartes helped lay the further framework for rationalism, coining the term “I think therefore I am.” He became by many accounts the father of modern Western Philosophy and asked what can we be certain of, or what is true? This helped him rethink various works and develop Cartesian geometry. Yup, he was the one who developed standard notation in 1637, a thought process that would go on to impact many other great thinkers for generations - especially with the development of calculus. As with many other great natural scientists or natural philosophers of the age, he also wrote on the theory of music, anatomy, and some of his works could be considered a protopsychology.
Another method that developed in the era was empiricism, which John Locke proposed in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding in 1689. George Berkeley, Thomas Hobbes, and David Hume would join that movement and develop a new basis for human knowledge in that empirical tradition that the only true knowledge accessible to our minds was that based on experience.
Optics and simple machines had been studied and known of since antiquity. But tools that deepened the understating of sciences began to emerge during this time. We got the steam digester, new forms of telescopes, vacuum pumps, the mercury barometer. And, most importantly for this body of work - we got the mechanical calculator.
Robert Boyle was influenced by Galileo, Bacon, and others. He gave us Boyle’s Law, explaining how the pressure of gas increases as the volume of a contain holding the gas decreases. He built air pumps. He investigated how freezing water expands, he experimented with crystals. He experimented with magnetism, early forms of electricity. He published the Skeptical Chymist in 1660 and another couple of dozen books. Before him, we had alchemy and after him, we had chemistry.
One of his students was Robert Hooke. Hooke. Hooke defined the law of elasticity, He experimented with everything. He made music tones from brass cogs that had teeth cut in specific proportions. This is storing data on a disk, in a way. Hooke coined the term cell. He studied gravitation in Micrographia, published in 1665.
And Hooke argued, conversed, and exchanged letters at great length with Sir Isaac Newton, one of the greatest scientific minds of all time. He gave the first theory on the speed of sound, Newtonian mechanics, the binomials series. He also gave us Newton’s Rules for Science which are as follows:
These appeared in Principia, which gave us the laws of motion and a mathematical description of gravity leading to universal gravitation. Newton never did find the secret to the Philosopher’s Stone while working on it, although he did become the Master of the Royal Mint at a pivotal time of recoining, and so who knows. But he developed the first reflecting telescope and made observations about prisms that led to his book Optics in 1704. And ever since he and Leibniz developed calculus, high school and college students alike have despised him.
Leibniz also did a lot of work on calculus but was a great philosopher as well. His work on logic
This would ultimately lead to the algebra of concepts and after a century and a half of great mathematicians and logicians would result in Boolean algebra, the zero and one foundations of computing, once Claude Shannon gave us information theory a century after that.
Blaise Pascal was another of these philosopher mathematician physicists who also happened to dabble in inventing. I saved him for last because he didn’t just do work on probability theory, do important early work on vacuums, give us Pascal’s Triangle for binomial coefficients, and invent the hydraulic press. Nope. He also developed Pascal’s Calculator, an early mechanical calculator that is the first known to have worked. He didn’t build it to do much, just help with the tax collecting work he was doing for his family.
The device could easily add and subtract two numbers and then loop through those tasks in order to do rudimentary multiplication and division. He would only build about 50, but the Pascaline as it came to be known was an important step in the history of computing. And that Leibniz guy, he invented the Leibniz wheels to make the multiplication automatic rather than just looping through addition steps. It wouldn’t be until 1851 that the Arithmometer made a real commercial go at mechanical calculators in a larger and more business like way. While Tomas, the inventor of that device is best known for his work on the calculator today, his real legacy is the 1,000 families who get their income from the insurance company he founded, which is still in business as GAN Assurances, and the countless families who have worked there or used their services.
That brings us to the next point about specializations. Since the Egyptians and Greeks we’ve known that the more specialists we had in fields, the more discoveries they made. Many of these were philosophers or scientists. They studied the stars and optics and motions and mathematics and geometry for thousands of years, and an increasingly large amount of information was available to generations that followed starting with the written words first being committed to clay tablets in Mesopotamia.
The body of knowledge had grown to the point where one could study a branch of science, such as mathematics, physics, astronomy, biology, and chemistry for their entire lives - improving each field in their own way. Every few generations, this transformed societal views about nature. We also increased our study of anatomy, with an increase in or return to the dissection of human corpses, emerging from the time when that was not allowed.
And these specialties began to diverge into their own fields in the next generations. There was certainly still collaboration, and in fact the new discoveries only helped to make science more popular than ever.
Given the increased popularity, there was more work done, more theories to prove or disprove, more scholarly writings, which were then given to more and more people through innovations to the printing press, and a more and more literate people. Seventeenth century scientists and philosophers were able to collaborate with members of the mathematical and astronomical communities to effect advances in all fields.
All of this rapid change in science since the end of the Renaissance created a groundswell of interest in new ways to learn about findings and who was doing what. There was a Republic of Letters, or a community of intellectuals spread across Europe and America. These informal networks sprang up and spread information that might have been considered heretical before transmitted through secret societies of intellectuals and through encrypted letters. And they fostered friendships, like in the early days of computer science.
There were groups meeting in coffee houses and salons. The Royal Society of London sprang up in 1600. Then the British Royal Society was founded in 1660. They started a publication called Philosophical Transactions in 1665. There are over 8,000 members of the society, which runs to this day with fellows of the society including people like Robert Hooke and fellows would include Newton, Darwin, Faraday, Einstein, Francis Crick, Turing, Tim Berners-Lee, Elon Musk, and Stephen Hawking. And this inspired Colbert to establish the French Academy of Sciences in 1666.
They swapped papers, read one another’s works, and that peer review would evolve into the journals and institutions we have today. There are so many more than the ones mentioned in this episode. Great thinkers like Otto von Guericke, Otto Brunfels, Giordano Bruno, Leonard Fuchs, Tycho Brahe, Samuel Hartlib, William Harvey, Marcello Malpighi, John Napier, Edme Mariotte, Santorio Santorio, Simon Stevin, Franciscus Sylvius, John Baptist van Helmont, Andreas Vesalius, Evangelista Torricelli, Francois Viete, John Wallis, and the list goes on.
Now that scientific communities were finally beyond where the Greeks had left off like with Plato’s Academy and the letters sent by ancient Greeks. The scientific societies had emerged similarly, centuries later. But the empires had more people and resources and traditions of science to build on.
This massive jump in learning then prepared us for a period we now call the Enlightenment, which then opened minds and humanity was ready to accept a new level of Science in the Age of Enlightenment. The books, essays, society periodicals, universities, discoveries, and inventions are often lost in the classroom where the focus can be about the wars and revolutions they often inspired. But those who emerged in the Scientific Revolution acted as guides for the Enlightenment philosophers, scientists, engineers, and thinkers that would come next. But we’ll have to pick that back up in the next episode!
Suzanne Ciani, pioneer in electronic music
Suzanne Ciani is a pioneer in electronic music, Grammy-nominated composer, and recording artist. In the 1980's, she created music for television commercials, corporate tags, and audio logos for Atari as well as many other companies. She also created the soundtrack for the 1980 Bally pinball machine, Xenon. In addition to being an early adopter of electronic music, she educated the world about it, demonstrating sound design techniques on The David Letterman Show, 3-2-1 Contact, and other popular media.
This interview took place on November 5, 2020.
Suzanne Ciani's web site
Suzanne Ciani Creates The Soundtrack For A Pinball Machine
A Life In Waves trailer
Suzanne Ciani interview in ANP Quarterly Vol 2/No 7
2012 Suzanne Ciani interview in LA Times Music Blog
Suzanne Ciani on Letterman
Suzanne Ciani on 3-2-1 Contact
Atari Video Game Summer commercial
This interview at YouTube
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