211 episodes

Computers touch all most every aspect of our lives today. We take the way they work for granted and the unsung heroes who built the technology, protocols, philosophies, and circuit boards, patched them all together - and sometimes willed amazingness out of nothing. Not in this podcast. Welcome to the History of Computing. Let's get our nerd on!

The History of Computing Charles Edge

    • Technology
    • 4.4 • 19 Ratings

Computers touch all most every aspect of our lives today. We take the way they work for granted and the unsung heroes who built the technology, protocols, philosophies, and circuit boards, patched them all together - and sometimes willed amazingness out of nothing. Not in this podcast. Welcome to the History of Computing. Let's get our nerd on!

    Lotus: From Yoga to Software

    Lotus: From Yoga to Software

    Nelumbo nucifera, or the sacred lotus, is a plant that grows in flood plains, rivers, and deltas. Their seeds can remain dormant for years and when floods come along, blossom into a colony of plants and flowers. Some of the oldest seeds can be found in China, where they’re known to represent longevity. No surprise, given their level of nitrition and connection to the waters that irrigated crops by then. They also grow in far away lands, all the way to India and out to Australia. The flower is sacred in Hinduism and Buddhism, and further back in ancient Egypt.
    Padmasana is a Sanskrit term meaning lotus, or Padma, and Asana, or posture. The Pashupati seal from the Indus Valley civilization shows a diety in what’s widely considered the first documented yoga pose, from around 2,500 BCE. 2,700 years later (give or take a century), the Hindu author and mystic Patanjali wrote a work referred to as the Yoga Sutras. Here he outlined the original asanas, or sitting yoga poses. The Rig Veda, from around 1,500 BCE, is the oldest currently known Vedic text. It is also the first to use the word “yoga”. It describes songs, rituals, and mantras the Brahmans of the day used - as well as the Padma. Further Vedic texts explore how the lotus grew out of Lord Vishnu with Brahma in the center. He created the Universe out of lotus petals. Lakshmi went on to grow out of a lotus from Vishnu as well.
    It was only natural that humans would attempt to align their own meditation practices with the beautiful meditatios of the lotus. By the 300s, art and coins showed people in the lotus position. It was described in texts that survive from the 8th century. Over the centuries contradictions in texts were clarified in a period known as Classical Yoga, then Tantra and and Hatha Yoga were developed and codified in the Post-Classical Yoga age, and as empires grew and India became a part of the British empire, Yoga began to travel to the west in the late 1800s. By 1893, Swami Vivekananda gave lectures at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago. 
    More practicioners meant more systems of yoga. Yogendra brought asanas to the United States in 1919, as more Indians migrated to the United States. Babaji’s kriya yoga arrived in Boston in 1920. Then, as we’ve discussed in previous episodes, the United States tightened immigration in the 1920s and people had to go to India to get more training. Theos Bernard’s Hatha Yoga: The Report of a Personal Experience brought some of that knowledge home when he came back in 1947. Indra Devi opened a yoga studio in Hollywood and wrote books for housewives. She brought a whole system, or branch home. Walt and Magana Baptiste opened a studio in San Francisco. Swamis began to come to the US and more schools were opened. Richard Hittleman began to teach yoga in New York and began to teach on television in 1961. He was one of the first to seperate the religious aspect from the health benefits. By 1965, the immigration quotas were removed and a wave of teachers came to the US to teach yoga.
    The Beatles went to India in 1966 and 1968, and for many Transcendental Meditation took root, which has now grown to over a thousand training centers and over 40,000 teachers. Swamis opened meditation centers, institutes, started magazines, and even magazines. Yoga became so big that Rupert Holmes even poked fun of it in his song “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” in 1979. Yoga had become part of the counter-culture, and the generation that followed represented a backlash of sorts.
    A common theme of the rise of personal computers is that the early pioneers were a part of that counter-culture. Mitch Kapor graduated high school in 1967, just in time to be one of the best examples of that. Kapor built his own calculator in as a kid before going to camp to get his first exposure to programming on a Bendix. His high school got one of the 1620 IBM minicomputers and he got the bug. He went off to Yale at 16 and learned to program in APL

    • 24 min
    Section 230 and the Concept of Internet Exceptionalism

    Section 230 and the Concept of Internet Exceptionalism

    We covered computer and internet copyright law in a previous episode. That type of law began with interpretations that tried to take the technology out of cases so they could be interpreted as though what was being protected was a printed work, or at least it did for a time. But when it came to the internet, laws, case law, and their knock-on effects, the body of jurisprudence work began to diverge. 
    Safe Harbor mostly refers to the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act, or OCILLA for short, was a law passed in the late 1980s that  shields online portals and internet service providers from copyright infringement. Copyright infringement is one form of immunity, but more was needed. Section 230 was another law that protects those same organizations from being sued for 3rd party content uploaded on their sites. That’s the law Trump wanted overturned during his final year in office but given that the EU has Directive 2000/31/EC, Australia has the Defamation Act of 2005, Italy has the Electronic Commerce Directive 2000, and lots of other countries like England and Germany have had courts find similarly, it is now part of being an Internet company. Although the future of “big tech” cases (and the damage many claim is being done to democracy) may find it refined or limited.
    That’s because the concept of Internet Exceptionalism itself is being reconsidered now that the internet is here to stay. Internet Exceptionalism is a term that notes that laws that diverge from precedents for other forms of media distribution. For example, a newspaper can be sued for liable or defamation, but a website is mostly shielded from such suits because the internet is different. Pages are available instantly, changes be made instantly, and the reach is far greater than ever before. The internet has arguably become the greatest tool to spread democracy and yet potentially one of its biggest threats. Which some might have argued about newspapers, magazines, and other forms of print media in centuries past.
    The very idea of Internet Exceptionalism has eclipsed the original intent. Chris Cox and Ron Widen initially intended to help fledgling Internet Service Providers (ISPs) jumpstart content on the internet. The internet had been privatized in 1995 and companies like CompuServe, AOL, and Prodigy were already under fire for the content on their closed networks. Cubby v CompuServe in 1991 had found that online providers weren’t considered publishers of content and couldn’t be held liable for free speech practiced on their platforms in part because they did not exercise editorial control of that content. Stratton Oakmont v Prodigy found that Prodigy did have editorial control (and in fact advertised themselves as having a better service because of it) and so could be found liable like a newspaper would. Cox and Widen were one of the few conservative and liberal pairs of lawmakers who could get along in the decisive era when Newt Gingrich came to power and tried to block everything Bill Clinton tried to do. 
    Yet there were aspects of the United States that were changing outside of politics. Congress spent years negotiating a telecommunications overhaul bill that came to be known as The Telecommunications Act of 1996. New technology led to new options. Some saw content they found to be indecent and so the Communications Decency Act (or Title V of the Telecommunications Act) was passed in 1996, but in Reno v ACLU found to be a violation of the first amendment, and struck down by the Supreme Court in 1997. Section 230 of that act was specifically about the preservation of free speech and so severed from the act and stood alone. It would be adjudicated time and time and eventually became an impenetrable shield that protects online providers from the need to scan every message posted to a service to see if it would get them sued. Keep in mind that society itself was changing quickly in the early 1990s. Tipper Gore wanted to sla

    • 19 min
    Bluetooth: From Kings to Personal Area Networks

    Bluetooth: From Kings to Personal Area Networks

    Bluetooth The King
    Ragnar Lodbrok was a legendary Norse king, conquering parts of Denmark and Sweden. And if we’re to believe the songs, he led some of the best raids against the Franks and the the loose patchwork of nations Charlemagne put together called the Holy Roman Empire. 
    We use the term legendary as the stories of Ragnar were passed down orally and don’t necessarily reconcile with other written events. In other words, it’s likely that the man in the songs sung by the bards of old are likely in fact a composite of deeds from many a different hero of the norse.
     
    Ragnar supposedly died in a pit of snakes at the hands of the Northumbrian king and his six sons formed a Great Heathen Army to avenge their father. His sons ravaged modern England int he wake of their fathers death before becoming leaders of various lands they either inherited or conquered. One of those sons, Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye, returned home to rule his lands and had children, including Harthacnut. He in turn had a son named Gorm. 
    Gorm the Old was a Danish king who lived to be nearly 60 in a time when life expectancy for most was about half that. Gorm raised a Jelling stone in honor of his wife Thyra. As did his son, in the honor of his wife. That stone is carved with runes that say:
    “King Haraldr ordered this monument made in memory of Gormr, his father, and in memory of Thyrvé, his mother; that Haraldr who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway and made the Danes Christian.”
    That stone was erected by a Danish king named Herald Gormsson. He converted to Christianity as part of a treaty with the Holy Roman Emperor of the day. He united the tribes of Denmark into a kingdom. One that would go on to expand the reach and reign of the line. Just as Bluetooth would unite devices. Even the logo is a combination of runes that make up his initials HB. Once united, their descendants would go on to rule Denmark, Norway, and England. For a time. Just as Bluetooth would go on to be an important wireless protocol. For a time. 
    Personal Area Networks
    Many early devices shipped with infrared so people could use a mouse or keyboard. But those never seemed to work so great. And computers with a mouse and keyboard and drawing pad and camera and Zip drive and everything else meant that not only did devices have to be connected to sync but they also had to pull a lot of power and create an even bigger mess on our desks. 
    What the world needed instead was an inexpensive chip that could communicate wirelessly and not pull a massive amount of power since some would be in constant communication. And if we needed a power cord then might as well just use USB or those RS-232 interfaces (serial ports) that were initially developed in 1960 - that were slow and cumbersome. And we could call this a Personal Area Network, or PAN. 
    The Palm Pilot was popular, but docking and pluging in that serial port was not exactly optimal. Yet every ATX motherboard had a port or two. So a Bluetooth Special Interest Group was formed to conceive and manage the standard in 1988 and while initially had half a dozen companies now has over 30,000. The initial development started in the late 1990s with Ericcson. It would use short-range UHF radio waves in the 2.402 GHz and 2.48 GHz bands to exchange data with computers and cell phones, which were evolving into mobile devices at the time.
    The technology was initially showcased at COMDEX in 1999. Within a couple of years there were phones that could sync, kits for cars, headsets, and chips that could be put into devices - or cards or USB adapters, to get a device to sync 721 Kbps. We could add 2 to 8 Bluetooth secondary devices that paired to our primary. They then frequency hopped using their Bluetooth device address provided by the primary, which sends a radio signal to secondaries with a range of addresses to use. The secondaries then respond with the frequency and clock state. And unlike a lot of other wireless technolo

    • 13 min
    One History Of 3D Printing

    One History Of 3D Printing

    One of the hardest parts of telling any history, is which innovations are significant enough to warrant mention. Too much, and the history is so vast that it can't be told. Too few, and it's incomplete. Arguably, no history is ever complete. Yet there's a critical path of innovation to get where we are today, and hundreds of smaller innovations that get missed along the way, or are out of scope for this exact story.
    Children have probably been placing sand into buckets to make sandcastles since the beginning of time. Bricks have survived from round 7500BC in modern-day Turkey where humans made molds to allow clay to dry and bake in the sun until it formed bricks. Bricks that could be stacked. And it wasn’t long before molds were used for more. Now we can just print a mold on a 3d printer.
     
    A mold is simply a block with a hollow cavity that allows putting some material in there. People then allow it to set and pull out a shape. Humanity has known how to do this for more than 6,000 years, initially with lost wax casting with statues surviving from the Indus Valley Civilization, stretching between parts of modern day Pakistan and India. That evolved to allow casting in gold and silver and copper and then flourished in the Bronze Age when stone molds were used to cast axes around 3,000 BCE. The Egyptians used plaster to cast molds of the heads of rulers. So molds and then casting were known throughout the time of the earliest written works and so the beginning of civilization.
    The next few thousand years saw humanity learn to pack more into those molds, to replace objects from nature with those we made synthetically, and ultimately molding and casting did its part on the path to industrialization. As we came out of the industrial revolution, the impact of all these technologies gave us more and more options both in terms of free time as humans to think as well as new modes of thinking. And so in 1868 John Wesley Hyatt invented injection molding, patenting the machine in 1872. And we were able to mass produce not just with metal and glass and clay but with synthetics. And more options came but that whole idea of a mold to avoid manual carving and be able to produce replicas stretched back far into the history of humanity.
    So here we are on the precipice of yet another world-changing technology becoming ubiquitous. And yet not. 3d printing still feels like a hobbyists journey rather than a mature technology like we see in science fiction shows like Star Trek with their replicators or printing a gun in the Netflix show Lost In Space. In fact the initial idea of 3d printing came from a story called Things Pass By written all the way back in 1945!
    I have a love-hate relationship with 3D printing. Some jobs just work out great. Others feel very much like personal computers in the hobbyist era - just hacking away until things work. It’s usually my fault when things go awry. Just as it was when I wanted to print things out on the dot matrix printer on the Apple II. Maybe I fed the paper crooked or didn’t check that there was ink first or sent the print job using the wrong driver. One of the many things that could go wrong. 
    But those fast prints don’t match with the reality of leveling and cleaning nozzles and waiting for them to heat up and pulling filament out of weird places (how did it get there, exactly)! Or printing 10 add-ons for a printer to make it work the way it probably should have out of the box. 
    Another area where 3d printing is similar to the early days of the personal computer revolution is that there are a few different types of technology in use today. These include color-jet printing (CJP), direct metal printing (DMP), fused deposition modeling (FDM), Laser Additive Manufacturing (LAM, multi-jet printing (MJP), stereolithography (SLA), selective laser melting (SLM), and selective laser sintering (SLS). Each could be better for a given type of print job to be done. Some forms have flourished while

    • 30 min
    Adobe: From Pueblos to Fonts and Graphics to Marketing

    Adobe: From Pueblos to Fonts and Graphics to Marketing

    The Mogollon culture was an indigenous culture in the Western United States and Mexico that ranged from New Mexico and Arizona to Sonora, Mexico and out to Texas. They flourished from around 200 CE until the Spanish showed up and claimed their lands. The cultures that pre-existed them date back thousands more years, although archaeology has yet to pinpoint exactly how those evolved. Like many early cultures, they farmed and foraged. As they farmed more, their homes become more permanent and around 800 CE they began to create more durable homes that helped protect them from wild swings in the climate. We call those homes adobes today and the people who lived in those peublos and irrigated water, often moving higher into mountains, we call the Peubloans - or Pueblo Peoples.
    Adobe homes are similar to those found in ancient cultures in what we call Turkey today. It’s an independent evolution.
    Adobe Creek was once called Arroyo de las Yeguas by the monks from Mission Santa Clara and then renamed to San Antonio Creek by a soldier Juan Prado Mesa when the land around it was given to him by the governor of Alto California at the time, Juan Bautista Alvarado. That’s the same Alvarado as the street if you live in the area. The creek runs for over 14 miles north from the Black Mountain and through Palo Alto, California. The ranchers built their adobes close to the creeks. American settlers led the Bear Flag Revolt in 1846, and took over the garrison of Sonoma, establishing the California Republic - which covered much of the lands of the Peubloans. There were only 33 of them at first, but after John Fremont (yes, he of whom that street is named after as well) encouraged the Americans, they raised an army of over 100 men and Fremont helped them march on Sutter’s fort, now with the flag of the United States, thanks to Joseph Revere of the US Navy (yes, another street in San Francisco bears his name). 
    James Polk had pushed to expand the United States. Manfiest Destiny. Remember The Alamo. Etc. The fort at Monterey fell, the army marched south. Admiral Sloat got involved. They named a street after him. General Castro surrendered - he got a district named after him. Commodore Stockton announced the US had taken all of Calfironia soon after that. Manifest destiny was nearly complete. He’s now basically the patron saint of a city, even if few there know who he was. The forts along the El Camino Real that linked the 21 Spanish Missions, a 600-mile road once walked by their proverbial father, Junípero Serra following the Portolá expedition of 1769, fell. Stockton took each, moving into Los Angeles, then San Diego. Practically all of Alto California fell with few shots. This was nothing like the battles for the independence of Texas, like when Santa Anna reclaimed the Alamo Mission. 
    Meanwhile, the waters of Adobe Creek continued to flow. The creek was renamed in the 1850s after Mesa built an adobe on the site. Adobe Creek it was. Over the next 100 years, the area evolved into a paradise with groves of trees and then groves of technology companies. The story of one begins a little beyond the borders of California. 
    Utah was initialy explored by Francisco Vázquez de Coronado in 1540 and settled by Europeans in search of furs and others who colonized the desert, including those who established the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Mormons - who settled there in 1847, just after the Bear Flag Revolt. The United States officially settled for the territory in 1848 and Utah became a territory and after a number of map changes wher ethe territory got smaller, was finally made a state in 1896. The University of Utah had been founded all the way back in 1850, though - and re-established in the 1860s. 
    100 years later, the University of Utah was a hotbed of engineers who pioneered a number of graphical advancements in computing. John Warnock went to grad school there and then went on to co-found Adobe and help brin

    • 22 min
    The Evolution of Fonts on Computers

    The Evolution of Fonts on Computers

    Gutenburg shipped the first working printing press around 1450 and typeface was born. Before then most books were hand written, often in blackletter calligraphy. And they were expensive. 
     
    The next few decades saw Nicolas Jensen develop the Roman typeface, Aldus Manutius and Francesco Griffo create the first italic typeface. This represented a period where people were experimenting with making type that would save space.
    The 1700s saw the start of a focus on readability. William Caslon created the Old Style typeface in 1734. John Baskerville developed Transitional typefaces in 1757. And Firmin Didot and Giambattista Bodoni created two typefaces that would become the modern family of Serif. Then slab Serif, which we now call Antique, came in 1815 ushering in an era of experimenting with using type for larger formats, suitable for advertisements in various printed materials. These were necessary as more presses were printing more books and made possible by new levels of precision in the metal-casting.
    People started experimenting with various forms of typewriters in the mid-1860s and by the 1920s we got Frederic Goudy, the first real full-time type designer. Before him, it was part of a job. After him, it was a job. And we still use some of the typefaces he crafted, like Copperplate Gothic. And we saw an explosion of new fonts like Times New Roman in 1931.
    At the time, most typewriters used typefaces on the end of a metal shaft. Hit a kit, the shaft hammers onto a strip of ink and leaves a letter on the page. Kerning, or the space between characters, and letter placement were often there to reduce the chance that those metal hammers jammed. And replacing a font would have meant replacing tons of precision parts. Then came the IBM Selectric typewriter in 1961. Here we saw precision parts that put all those letters on a ball. Hit a key, the ball rotates and presses the ink onto the paper. And the ball could be replaced. A single document could now have multiple fonts without a ton of work.
    Xerox exploded that same year with the Xerox 914, one of the most successful products of all time. Now, we could type amazing documents with multiple fonts in the same document quickly - and photocopy them. And some of the numbers on those fancy documents were being spat out by those fancy computers, with their tubes. But as computers became transistorized heading into the 60s, it was only a matter of time before we put fonts on computer screens.
    Here, we initially used bitmaps to render letters onto a screen. By bitmap we mean that a series, or an array of pixels on a screen is a map of bits and where each should be displayed on a screen. We used to call these raster fonts, but the drawback was that to make characters bigger, we needed a whole new map of bits. To go to a bigger screen, we probably needed a whole new map of bits. As people thought about things like bold, underline, italics, guess what - also a new file. But through the 50s, transistor counts weren’t nearly high enough to do something different than bitmaps as they rendered very quickly and you know, displays weren’t very high quality so who could tell the difference anyways. 
    Whirlwind was the first computer to project real-time graphics on the screen and the characters were simple blocky letters. But as the resolution of screens and the speed of interactivity increased, so did what was possible with drawing glyphs on screens. 
    Rudolf Hell was a German, experimenting with using cathode ray tubes to project a CRT image onto paper that was photosensitive and thus print using CRT. He designed a simple font called Digital Grotesk, in 1968. It looked good on the CRT and the paper. And so that font would not only be used to digitize typesetting, loosely based on Neuzeit Book.
    And we quickly realized bitmaps weren’t efficient to draw fonts to screen and by 1974 moved to outline, or vector, fonts. Here a Bézier curve was drawn onto the screen using an algorithm

    • 20 min

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5
19 Ratings

19 Ratings

JPBell ,

Found the podcast after bingeing Halt and Catch Fire

I found this podcast after binge watching Halt and Catch Fire. The podcast helps me fill in the blanks of the story of the information age. I remember some of it from coming up in the 80s, but I realized I don’t know much of the full story. This podcast is well produced and well researched. The episodes are not overly indulgent on run time as many podcasts are these days. I appreciate the 12 to 60 minute times. Keep at it. Thank you.

NatashaPHoHoHo ,

Feels complete but concise

I’ve really been enjoying the variety of topics covered, and I feel like the host gives a great intro to each. I got interested in computer history because of the show Halt and Catch Fire, and now I’ve learned about a broader range of topics.

Music0987a ,

Really interesting!

And concise to boot. The presenter offers an excellent balance of tech and business, and puts everything nicely in the context of what came before and after. We’re lucky to have you.

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