The Minitel app store

I’m more familiar with the America-centric history of networked computing, so I’m always fascinated to read about things that were happening in other parts of the world. Jeremy Rossman takes a look at France’s Minitel system and how it provided one of the first app stores.

In the early eighties the French government vaulted its country’s tech industry a decade ahead of the rest of the world by introducing a computer terminal called the Minitel. Rolled out as a beta product in 1980 and launched to the French public in 1983, every household with a landline subscription was eligible for a free Minitel. Its killer launch app was a digital version of the yellow pages — to encourage adoption the government cancelled the production of [the] paper [version].


History of the Star Wars logo

Anatomy of a Logo: Star Wars takes a look at the evolution of the iconic logo.

“I’d been reading a book the night before the meeting with George Lucas,” she says, “a book about German type design and the historical origins of some of the popular typefaces used today—how they developed into what we see and use in the present.” After Lucas described the kind of visual element he was seeking, “I returned to the office and used what I reckoned to be the most ‘fascist’ typeface I could think of: Helvetica Black.”

Inspired by the typeface, Rice developed a hand-drawn logo that translated well to the poster campaign, and ultimately to the movie itself. “I did have the screen in mind when I drew the logo originally,” explains Rice, who “stacked and squared” the words to better fit the brochure cover. It was an aesthetic choice that has lasted nearly three decades.


Mariner 1 brought down by hyphen

Mariner 1, a NASA probe, crashed into the ocean not long after takeoff. The cause was a source of confusion for a long time, but seems to have been the result of a missing hypen.

One of the official reports, issued by the Mariner 1 Post-Flight Review Board, concluded that a dropped hyphen in coded computer instructions resulted in incorrect guidance signals being sent to the spacecraft. The review board specifically refers to a “hyphen,” although other sources also refer to an “overbar transcription error” and even to a misplaced decimal point.


The first computer art

First computer art

From Benj Edwards at The Atlantic comes the story of the world’s first computer art.

The pin-up image itself was programmed as a series of short lines, or vectors, encoded on a stack of about 97 Hollerith type punched cards, Tipton recalls. Hollerith punched cards were 7.375 x 3.25 inch paper cards that stored binary data via holes cut through a matrix printed on its surface. Like other 1950s computers, the AN/FSQ-7 used the cards extensively for program input.

Update: Some old computer based artwork.



World’s oldest working digital computer

Harwell Dekatron Witch Computer

The Harwell Dekatron WITCH has been rebuilt and rebooted at The National Museum of Computing in England, making it the world’s oldest working digital computer.

The 2.5 tonne, 1951 computer from Harwell with its 828 flashing Dekatron valves, 480 relays and a bank of paper tape readers will clatter back into action in the presence of two of the original designers, one of its first users and many others who have admired it at different times during its remarkable history.

If you’re a computer geek and get the chance to visit Bletchley Park, make sure you don’t overlook the museum. I had the opportunity to visit a couple years ago — I had no idea it was there, and probably could’ve devoted another day to it.


The newsgroup post announcing the WorldWideWeb app

An excerpt from Tim Berners-Lee’s post to comp.sys.next.announce concerning the release of the WorldWideWeb app:

This project is experimental and of course comes without any warranty whatsoever. However, it could start a revolution in information access. We are currently using WWW for user support at CERN. We would be very interested in comments from anyone trying WWW, and especially those making other data available, as part of a truly world-wide web.

A revolution in information access indeed.

You also might be interested in this post from the eightface archive: The oldest page on the internet.


The Deleted City

The Deleted City

The Deleted City is a digital archaeology of the world wide web as it exploded into the 21st century. At that time the web was often described as an enormous digital library that you could visit or contribute to by building a homepage. The early citizens of the net (or netizens) took their netizenship serious, and built homepages about themselves and subjects they were experts in. These pioneers found their brave new world atGeocities, a free webhosting provider that was modelled after a city and where you could get a free “piece of land” to build your digital home in a certain neighbourhood based on the subject of your homepage. Heartland was – as a neigbourhood for all things rural – by far the largest, but there were neighbourhoods for fashion, arts and far east related topics to name just a few.

 



Engelbart’s Chord

At the famed “Mother of All Demos, Douglas Engelbart presented the mouse and keyboard that we know, as well as an input device called a chorded keyboard.

A computer input device that allows the user to enter characters or commands formed by pressing several keys together, like playing a “chord” on a piano. The large number of combinations available from a small number of keys allows text or commands to be entered with one hand, leaving the other hand free.

Ah, it’s similar to playing piano chords, that’s probably why the thing never caught on… raise your hand if you bombed out of piano lessons in spectacular fashion. I’m sure with years of practice on a chorded keyboard, you could become a machine. For now, I’ll stick with my keyboard. It may be inelegant, but so is marching around the apartment naked while banging pots and pans together. Sometimes you just need to make music.

If you want to try a simulation of the device, check out Engelbart’s Chord by Paul Tarjan.