Saturday, February 21, 2009

Newspapers: Back to the Future

This is not a parody. This is a real TV news report from 1981, and, and I was there, in a sense, and maybe you were too.

In college, I used to try to write fiction on a Mainframe in a program called "Doctor." Then the old "Trash 80" came out, but I skipped over that as my father (generous man!) bought me an Osborne 1, and then a KayPro II. Then at work we had dedicated Burroughs word processors, and then later the association put up $110,000 (a staggering sum!) for an "IBM Series I" which is a computer with a 386 chip which could run a membership data base. This was all before Bill Gates, and everything was run on CPM not DOS.

The first graphics-based browser came along (Spry Mosaic), and then Apple kicked up the jam, even if they did not kick down the door in the world of business.

In the world of real jobs and real pay checks, we all went with IBM which embraced DOS, but the IBM machine was far more expensive than it should have been, and I remember going to little Vietnamese "screw driver shops" to get knock-off computers built for home use.

In the world of memory storage, we went from tape drives to big floppies and even big Bernoulli Disks. These traversed to small floppies and interal hard drives, and then external zip drives. Pretty soon everyone had email, and then list-servs and bulletin boards were developed, exploded, and then died away like the electronic weeds that they were.

Compaq computers soared like a rocket and then fell like a rock, and Dell Computers began its march into the mail order marketplace, while Best Buy colonized the mall. Small floppies traversed to CD Roms which have now traversed to thumb drives and online get-it-anywhere viritually unlimited free data storage.

Larrry Page and Sergey Brin created Google, which created Blogger and GMail and Google Reader, and .. well it just keeps going doesn't it?

Pierre Omidyar created Ebay, naming it after the Ebola virus (didn't know that did you?), while Jimmy Wales created Wikipedia, and Jeff Bezos created Amazon.

Today, my cell phone has more computer capacity and cool features than anything we could image or afford in 1981. Not only can it get the print news, it can get the weather, doppler radar, and many live television channels, such as CNN, and ABC and Fox. My cell phone can also play the radio, has an MP3 player in it, and can browse the Internet. It has a camera and a small video recorder. It has voice-recognition software in it, and also Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technology, so if I am far from home and need a veterinarian, I just have to speak to it ("Veterinarian"), and not only will it find the vet, it will figure out where I am, map the travel route, and give me audio and visual turn-by-turn directions on how to get there. Of course, it also gets email and instant messages. And the whole thing is so small that when it's in my pocket I have to check to make sure it is even there. Cost? Less than $100 for the phone, and my unlimited service for everything costs less than what I paid for voice service alone just four years ago.

So is the world still going straight to hell in a handbasket?

No. Now it's going straight to hell in an electronic wastebasket!


Patti said...

Ah, yes. Wordstar! I remember Hollerith cards, IBM 1130s with no operating system and 8K of memory, Winchester disks, DEC10 with time sharing, DOS the first time on a mainframe, Wang word processors, bubble memory and 10Mbps Ethernet cards the size of a magazine that cost $5,000.

At least the hand basket has enough memory and processor to run our bloated software from Redmond.

Joe and Patti

btoellner said...

That's great stuff. I loved that the guy was saying in the future we would be able to "copy" the electronic articles and print them off to save them in the future -- when the reality is, move people do the exact opposite now and will scan print edition things in to save them electronically rather than vice verse. Great stuff.

foxstudio said...

My husband started in IT in 1964. His first program was written for an IBM 1401 in machine language. He became a systems programmer/manager and worked with the MVS operating system on IBM System 360 mainframes for Kaiser Permanente. He's now the Executive Director for the Calendaring and Scheduling Consortium (CalConnect).

We hooked up in 1983 and I watched the whole PC revolution from a front row seat, attending SHARE, the IBM mainframe user group, meetings with him. A high point was a General Session with Lou Gerstner, Jr. as the keynote speaker. Forty minutes in front of 4000 IT people, no notes and a great joke about coming to IBM from Nabisco, which meant that one of IBM's customers was now running the show. Heh. Heh.

It's been quite a ride, hasn't it. Y'all and he could trade some interesting stories.

Caveat said...

A trip down memory lane.

I was using standalone word processors in '78 (Wang ha ha)programming on mainframes by 1980. Assembler 360, now there's a blast from the past. A friend of mine was using punch cards in the early '70s at an insurance giant.

John came into the office one day lugging about 100 lbs of 'portable' computer, the Osborne. (It was portable because it had a handle, like those huge TVs). "This is the wave of the future!" he trumpeted. We gathered around and looked at the tiny grey screen which was displaying strings of numbers. A year or so later, our brilliant technical architect, Al, was going PC in a big way for the bank where we all worked in the computer devt division. We worked on the system that replaced the old clunky 2970, a typewriter-like machine, with mini-computers and input screens for the tellers.

And yeah, the power keeps increasing, the size doesn't and the price is decreasing, which totally works for me!

Now, about calculators....

Gregory Kohs said...

So, I'm curious. If Jimmy Wales "created" Wikipedia, what did Larry Sanger do?

Now, after you've explored the answer to that question, isn't it time to ask how this theme of "Wales as creator" became so pervasive on the Internet?

PBurns said...

Neither Jimmy Wales nor Larry Sanger invented Web 2.0 or the Wiki concept -- a term first coined by Ward Cunningham, who created the first wiki in 1995. It was another 4 or 5 years before Sanger or Wales even *heard* of the idea.

Wikipedia grew out of Nupedia, which was founded and funded by Jimmy Wales, CEO of Bomis. Wales hired Sanger as editor-in-chief of Nupedia, which was not Wiki-based, but simply a peer-reviewed online encyclopedia which failed to catch on (after 6 months it only had two articles).

Sanger was still an employee of Bomis when Wikipedia was created using Ward Cunningham's wiki software. Sanger was let go from Wikipedia after 15 months, and he has been a critic of Wikipedia ever since, going on to found a rival service called *Citizendium* which he hopes will be a more scholarly and credible online encyclopedia than Wikipedia.

Sanger maintains he should be counted as a co-founder of Wikipedia, but it is hard to see what he founded. He did not create the first Wiki, and he has gone on to reject the utlity of Wiki software. Sanger is, in effect, demanding that he get credit for being a co-creator of a product that he says is inherently defective (and never mind its popularity).

One can reasonably argue that, as the guy who wrote the checks and made all the final decisions, credit goes to Jimmy Wales. Or perhaps Ward Cunningham.

That said Wikipedia does not ignores the role of Larry Sanger, nor does it stress the fact that Sanger was not at Wikipedia during most of Wikipedia's growth.

As to why Jimmy Wales gets credit for Wikipedia, it's because the hat fits his head pretty well. Sorry, no conspiracy.