The Electronic Age – On rAMP to the Information Super Highway
The late 19th & early 20th century was a time of wonder and jaw-dropping new-fangled gadgets. The pioneers such as Tesla, Westinghouse, Edison & Bell… all jockeying for position as the latest inventor of the greatest innovation since sliced bread… which oddly would not be invented until much later. Gismos and gadgets of all manner were coming out almost daily. Many were wondrous. Many more were absurd. Most were either powered by electricity or required it to manufacture.
Of course, the gadgets we are interested in are those that advanced communications. The telegraph, certainly. The radio, definitely. The telephone, absolutely. The phonograph, not so much really. But it would actually come around to play a vital role in the form of data or media storage.
Our modern Web, after all, is really all about communication. And therefore all technical advances in communication led directly or indirectly to inspiring Al Gore to invent it… so he claims… along with fire, the wheel and, of course, sliced bread.
Necessity… Thanks Mom
Necessity is the mother of all invention… it is said. The 20th century, like many before it, was rife with people not playing nice… and many new things became… “necessary”. Radar, sonar, bomb-sights, coding machines, fire directors & targeting computers… all manner of fun new toys to help us all get along.
However, it took the single most scariest thing of all time to create the global panic that spurred the greatest & fastest era of technical advancement known to man. A thing so terrifying & horrific that we were all stunned beyond all ability to cope. When we learned of its existence, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Of course, I am speaking of the infamous & dreaded BEEPing Basketball.
In 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1 into a low earth orbit. About the size of a basketball, it orbited the earth while emitting a repeating radio beep. The world was horrified… even though the battery died in 22 days and it fell from the skies about 2 months later.
Still, America was so POed to have been preempted by the Soviets, that they dedicated the entire resources of the nation to out-do them by being first to put a man on the moon. The Space Race was on… and with it came many of the modern marvels we know and enjoy today… such as Velcro and Tang.
But also… computers. Apparently, flying in space is, well… complicated… and requires a lot of math. People just are not generally very good at that sort of thing… especially when surrounded by flames and hurdling towards Earth at 18,000 miles per hour. Some people can do that kind of math in their heads, but for most of us, all that screaming & vomiting is just too distracting.
So, to fly around space we needed a computer… which fortunately we had. Unfortunately, our spacecraft at that time were about the size of a steamer trunk… and the smallest computer we had was just a bit smaller than Yankee Stadium. Something needed to be done… and fast. We’re in a Race, remember?
Miniaturization was the thing… and the recent development of transistors to replace vacuum tubes was a big help. It allowed us to build smaller, lighter computers capable of doing the math without weighing more than a battleship and small enough to fit into a steamer trunk. Anyone younger than, say 50 or so, are now asking, “Vacuum Tube“?
But those of us over the limit have fond memories of trips with Dad to the drug store to find out why the vertical hold on the TV went berserk. And these were, indeed, found memories for most of us, as Dad usually bought us a double scoop to shut us up while he used the tube tester machine on all of the 20 tubes he yanked out of the back of the TV. Ahhh… Double scoop!! Good times…
Meanwhile, the Space Race continued and we answered the call. Both sides strove to be the first at everything; first to put a dog in space… then a monkey… and eventually a man. Then, first man to orbit the earth; first man to walk in Space. The bad guys may have developed more ICMBs, with multiple warheads, that were better than ours, but hey… we were first to have a man successfully pee in Space and return him safely to the Earth. It was all very competitive and bragging rights reigned supreme.
The Space Race continued and man set foot on the Moon on July 20th, 1969. Many questions were finally answered as to the composition of the Moon and any potential assets it might provide. Wisconsin was greatly relieved to learn that was not made of cheese and they still had a lock on that industry. But mostly, we learned that it was just a big rock of little value.
* Neil Armstrong was the first man to set foot on the moon. Yet. as he had the only camera, there are no photographs of him… except one where his reflection is visible in the face plate of Buzz Aldrin’s helmet. Opps.
* On the next mission, both astronauts were given cameras. However, the space suits were identical and no one could tell who was who. Opps. On subsequent missions, a red stripe was added to one of the suits.
Many complained about the immense cost to get to the Moon versus any potential return. However, they were not accounting for the incredible amount of new tech that was developed in such a short time and how that tech would revolutionize our world. The advancement in computer & communications tech, specifically, was staggering and all led directly to us now having the fundamental components to create a true, world wide communications network. Again… Thanks Mom. (Cont)