Marty! You’ve gotta come back with me!

Like any good plan, you should always start with the intention to build a time machine. That way if your future self succeeds, your current self doesn’t have to worry about actually doing it!

Well, unfortunately it hasn’t quite worked out for hosts of [Toymaker], but they have managed to make a pretty authentic Telecom Time Machine instead!

What they’ve created is something called a “dumb terminal”. Back in the days of yore before personal computers existed, if you wanted to get “online” you would have to do so at a dumb terminal. It’s essentially a monochrome monitor, a keyboard, and a serial port. You would have to actually connect to the mainframe to do anything — but back then, you couldn’t just hook up a modem — oh no, you had to use an acoustic coupler to connect. You had to play sounds through your telephone in order to communicate with the mainframe. How’s that for a bit of history with your morning coffee!?

Continue reading “Marty! You’ve gotta come back with me!”

Retrotechtacular: The mother of all tech demos

Most bits of a computer we take for granted today – the mouse, hypertext, video conferencing, and word processing – were all invented by one team of researchers at Stanford in the late 60s. When the brains behind the operation, [Douglas Engelbart], showed this to 1000 computer researchers, the demo became known as The Mother of all Demos. Luckily, you can check out this demo in its entirety on YouTube.

Even though [Englebart]’s demo looks incredibly dated today, it was revolutionary at the time. This was the first demonstration of the computer mouse (side note: they call the cursor a ‘bug’), a chorded keyboard, and so many other technologies we take for granted today. During the presentation, [Englebart] was connected to the SDS 940 computer via the on-line system 30 miles away from Stanford. Yes, this pre-ARPANET, what is normally cited as the precursor to the Internet.

Sadly, most of [Englebart]’s researchers became disillusioned with the time sharing /mainframe paradigm shown in this demo. Those researchers wanted a more decentralized means of computing, so they went off to Xerox PARC where they helped create the first personal computers. Still, most of the ideas from 1968, such as the mouse, hypertext, and word processing, were in those little Xerox boxes.

On a more philosophical note, [Englebart] began his demo with the question, “If, in your office, you as an intellectual worker were supplied with a computer display, backed up by a computer that was alive for you all day and was instantly responsive to every action you had, how much value could you derive from that?” In the 44 years since this Mother of all Demos, we’ve gotten to the point where we already have a computer on our desks all day that is able to do any task imaginable, and it certainty improved our quality of life.

There are a few great resources covering the Mother of all Demos, including the Douglas Engelbart Institute’s history page and the Stanford Mousesite. Looking back, it’s not only amazing how far we’ve come, but also how little has actually changed.

Happy birthday internet: 5 history videos


National Geographic has pegged September 2, 2009 as the 40th anniversary of the Internet. They do not cite their source and our source doesn’t make the same claim. But, August 30, 1969 is the date the first Interface Message Processor was delivered to the Arpanet. The IMP is what allowed different computer networks to talk to each other and so it follows that September 2 is probably an acceptable date to celebrate.

To commemorate this glorious day we’re sharing some of our favorite History of the Internet videos. Start with the National Geographic video and then take in the geeky, the new, the old, and the simple. Continue reading “Happy birthday internet: 5 history videos”