Posts tagged: cyberculture history
Colin Berkshire writes:
The invention of email is widely credited to be Ray Tomlinson (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ray_Tomlinson) in 1971. In one especially oddball webpage, VA Shiva Ayyadurai claims to have actually invented email in 1978. (http://www.inventorofemail.com). Mr. Ayyadurai mostly substantiates his claim by playing games with the definition of what email is, basically arguing that email didn’t exist until his particular program was written, and that nothing beforehand actually amounted to what he defines as being email. I won’t play those games with you here. […]
And, the #1 ESS ADF was in full production service February 3, 1969…almost five years before Ray Tomlinson sent the first email message and well before ARPANet even existed. To clarify, that was full commercial service…not a research laboratory.
When the #1 ESS ADF system was cut into service in 1969, it was of a truly massive scale for the time. 1,250 terminals located in 720 locations across the country were connected. These were used by Western Electric and AT&T Long Lines to send administrative messages, traffic orders, commercial service orders, payroll, plant service results, and budgeting reports. There was no other system, including universities, with such widespread use.
Full Story: Cloudave: The Origin of Email
The system is described in the Bell System Technical Journal in 1970, and is also mentioned by Jim Haynes in an essay on Teletype Corporation.
My article for Wired on the 50th anniversary of the original graphical user interface:
Fifty years ago today, Ivan Sutherland introduced the first graphical computer application: a drafting program called Sketchpad.
At a time when computers were operated with punch cards and command lines — and the mouse had not yet been invented — Sutherland used a light pen to manipulate lines and shapes on a screen. With Sketchpad, you could draw perfectly straight lines, change the size of shapes without altering the proportions, and create “rubber band lines” you could bend and stretch — many of the things you can do today with programs like AutoCAD and Adobe Illustrator.
Sketchpad’s legacy can’t be overstated. It directly fed the creation of Douglas Englebart’s oN Line System (the subject of the “Mother of All Demos”), which would influence, well, every graphical computing system that came after it, from the Xerox PARC Alto to the Apple Macintosh to the iPhone.
First Minitel, now this:
The WELL is a virtual online community with user-generated content that was so influential, it was once featured on the cover of Wired magazine, and a top 80’s UK pop star created an account, to promote his brand there. (Sound familiar?) As you might have read last week, corporate owner Salon.com laid off the WELL staff and is now looking for a buyer. Now the WELL’s last users (it still has over 2,000 subscribers) are making a last-minute bid to buy the WELL from Salon: A thread called “Would you kick in $1,000 for The Well?” (subscriber account required), has already garnered over 120 members pledging $1000 (some less, many more, with at least one pledge of $10,000), for an estimated total of over $120,000. That’s a lot of money, especially coming from so few people, but it may not be enough. Many have pointed out that the Well.com domain name is probably quite attractive to organizations willing to pay a lot to own it. (For example, an HMO who wants turn well.com into a wellness resource.) So at the moment, it’s still unclear what this user-driven campaign will do, though I hope the WELL can survive in some form.
The BBC Reports:
Alan Turing, the British mathematical genius and codebreaker born 100 years ago on 23 June, may not have committed suicide, as is widely believed.
At a conference in Oxford on Saturday, Turing expert Prof Jack Copeland will question the evidence that was presented at the 1954 inquest.
He believes the evidence would not today be accepted as sufficient to establish a suicide verdict.
Indeed, he argues, Turing’s death may equally probably have been an accident.
He says none of this excuses the way Turing was treated in later life, he just argues that the investigation was handled poorly and the evidence to support the suicide theory are poor. Copeland argues that murder is another possibility.
The French are pulling the plug on Minitel, their national BBS system:
Thirty years ago, France led the world into the 21st century, but the world hardly noticed. In 1981-82, two French inventions offered a glimpse of the future. One was the Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) or high-speed train. The other was the Minitel. The what? […]
The Minitel was the world’s first large data base accessible to the public. The Minitel terminal – provided free to subscribers – was the first screen-and-keyboard combination widely available in any country. Minitel had chat lines where people could commentate on world events, or their own lives, long before the blogosphere. There was even an abbreviated Minitel language, rather like “text speak”, such as “slt, té ki?” (salut, qui es- tu; or hello, who are you?)
Gerome Nox, a veteran male French pop musician, admitted this week to the newspaper Libération that he had in a previous life been “Julie”, an “animatrice” or hostess on one of the first Minitel text-sex lines. Few women wanted the work, he said, so most of the “hostesses”, paid the equivalent of £2.50 an hour, were men.
“(The clients) were like a shoal of starving piranha fish,” he said. “No hello. No polite openings. It was to the point and crude.” After a while he realised that “my Julie” had become “disagreeable, wicked and odious”. He announced online that he was a man “whose job is to inflate all your phone bills. So you’ve all been screwed, just like you wanted to be”. He was fired the next day.
Above: an image from the Beyond Cyberpunk Hypercard stack
Ars Technica honors the 25 anniversary of Hypercard, a discontinued desktop hypertext application for Macs:
Even before its cancellation, HyperCard’s inventor saw the end coming. In an angst-filled 2002 interview, Bill Atkinson confessed to his Big Mistake. If only he had figured out that stacks could be linked through cyberspace, and not just installed on a particular desktop, things would have been different.
“I missed the mark with HyperCard,” Atkinson lamented. “I grew up in a box-centric culture at Apple. If I’d grown up in a network-centric culture, like Sun, HyperCard might have been the first Web browser. My blind spot at Apple prevented me from making HyperCard the first Web browser.” […]
Programmers for the Cyan software company originally wrote their hugely popular puzzle/adventure game Myst as a HyperCard stack. That explains the game’s beautiful graphics and slow motion quality, punctuated by ambient sounds or an unexpected video. But even in 1987, when Macs displayed in black and white, HyperCard developers and graphics artists produced subtle, fascinating landscapes that often escape the Web to this day.
We do, in fact, now constantly inhabit a sort of blended VR, but we now assume that we don’t need the goggles as long as whatever’s on the screen is sufficiently engrossing. And the distinction between real and virtual continues to blur. The virtual is colonizing the real, but generally in ways we don’t notice. VR was predicated on a notion of real/virtual that now seems very last-century. Our grandchildren won’t be able to readily imagine where we were at, with that one!
Whatever Happened to Virtual Reality? - Virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier interviewed by R.U. back in 2002.
Notes from a William Gibson Q&A Session (9/08/10), which covers a little of the same ground.
Here’s an old Mondo 2000 interview from 1993 with both Genesis P-Orridge and Hakim Bey conducted by Electronic Frontier Foundation co-founder John Perry Barlow:
JOHN: Right, Taoism has no truck with good and evil at all.
HAKIM: Taoism seems to be the one religion that doesn’t have the Gnostic trace.
JOHN: In our culture, the problem arose with the Romans.
HAKIM: I think it goes further back. It’s Babylon. It’s just like the Rastas say, “It happened in Babylon.” It’s Marduk and Tiamat. It’s Mr. Hard-on God up against Sloppy Mom. In China, chaos is a benevolent property. Huntun is the gourd or the egg out of which everything comes. He’s a wonton. Huntun and wonton are the same words. He’s like this little dumpling and everything good comes out of him. In Babylon, chaos is the disgusting monster vagina that has to be ripped up by Marduk into myriad blobs of shit and slime. And we are those globs of slime. That’s how the human race came into being. What is the purpose of the human race? To serve Marduk, to serve the masculine principle, to store up grain in the granary for the priests, to pay for the priests for their sacrifice so they get the free hamburgers. That’s the whole Western myth. It’s St. George and the Dragon. St. George pins the dragon down.
In China, the dragon is the free expression of creativity. He’s the mixture of Yin and Yang, the principle of power. But here’s evil, plain and simple. This is why chaos has kicked off, for me, for Ralph Abraham, and others, an interest in making a critique of this Western mythology, and saying, “Let’s put Humpty Dumpty back together.”
JOHN: There’s been an interesting co-evolution lately of a lot of apparently disconnected things, like chaos mathematics and neo-tribalism, a sudden interest in Taoism and what I perceive to be a deep feminization of Western culture.
GEN: Some philosophers feel that there’s a risk in absolute unconditional surrender of that male-God power, even though it’s obviously failed miserably. Should we seek out every possible male trait and subordinate it to a female principle?
HAKIM: I didn’t like the rule of Dad, but I don’t think I’m going to like the rule of Mom either.
Theremin saw little of the $100,000 he was paid, Glinsky says, which most likely went straight into Soviet coffers. But he stayed in the US for a while working on other projects, and engaging in industrial espionage.
“His very reason for being sent over was his espionage mission,” says Glinsky. Demonstrating the theremin instrument was just a distraction, a Trojan Horse, as it were.
“He had special access to firms like RCA, GE, Westinghouse, aviation companies and so on, and shared his latest technical know how with representatives from these companies to get them to open up to him about their latest discoveries. […]
Later that year he returned suddenly to the Soviet Union, leaving his wife behind. Some people suggested he’d been kidnapped by Soviet officials, but Glinsky says a combination of debt and homesickness led to Theremin returning voluntarily.
He returned to a Soviet Union in the grip of Stalin’s purges. He was arrested and falsely accused of being a counter-revolutionary, for which he received an eight year sentence in 1939.
Owsley “Bear” Stanley, the original sound engineer for the Greatful Dead who was also credited with kickstarting the 60s by manufacturing massive amounts of LSD, died in a car accident in Australia last weekend.
The Dead get a bad rap these days. Many have forgotten the band’s contributions outside of hippie music. Jerry Garcia, a lifelong science fiction fan, was actually a technology advocate with an interest fringe science ideas like cryogenics. Lyricist John Perry Barlow went on to co-found the EFF. The Dead forum was a core part of the important BBS The WELL, an early force bringing together counter-culture and high technology. In the history of cyberculture, the Dead is up there with Stewart Brand and Timothy Leary in terms of importance.
A couple years ago Uriah Zebadiah hipped me to the Dead’s contributions to audio technology via Stanley. In addition to being an LSD manufacturer, Stanley wanted to experiment with audio technology - and the Grateful Dead were his lab. He funded the band just so he could experiment with their equipment.
Less well known are Bear’s contributions to rock concert sound. As the original sound mixer for the Grateful Dead, he was responsible for fundamental advances in audio technology, things as basic now as monitor speakers that allow vocalists to hear themselves onstage. […]
“We’d never thought about high-quality PAs,” says the Dead’s Weir. “There was no such thing until Bear started making one.”
The Chronicle profile includes a rare interview with Stanley about his all-meat diet and his belief in a coming Ice Age.
For more history of LSD, check out the Skilluminati article Ronald Hadley Stark: The Man Behind the LSD Curtain.