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NIST-Logo_5The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is one of the nation’s oldest physical science laboratories in existence.  The United States Congress established the agency in 1901 as the National Bureau of Standards (NBS) because, at the time, the U.S. had a second-rate measurement infrastructure that lagged behind the capabilities of other countries.  For some reason, the word “national” was dropped from the name in 1903 and added back in 1934. In 1988, the agency name became the National Institute of Standards and Technology, or NIST.

NIST and High Tech History

According to the NIST website, “Before air conditioning, airplanes, and plastics were invented, and before science was changed forever by Albert Einstein’s special theory of relativity, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) began laying the technical foundation for the world’s most prosperous nation.  At that time, the United States had few, if any, authoritative national standards for any quantities or products.  It was difficult for Americans to conduct fair transactions or get parts to fit together properly. Construction materials were of uneven quality, and household products were unreliable. Few Americans worked as scientists, because most scientific work was based overseas.”

NIST Centenial photosWhen World War II began, science and technology rose in importance and so did NIST who was drawn into the new field of electronics.  NIST weapons research led to a contractor’s development of printed circuits, which substituted printed wiring, resistors, and coils for the conventional discrete components in electronic devices. This technology contributed to a new field of electronic miniaturization for which the Institute provided useful engineering data and components.

An automated electronic computing project was established at NIST in 1946, about the time that the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Automatic Computer (ENIAC), the first all-purpose electronic computer, began operating at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1948, the Air Force financed NIST to design and construct the Standards Eastern Automatic Computer (SEAC.)  The computer went into operation in May 1950 using a combination of vacuum tubes and solid-state diode logic.

About the same time, the Standards Western Automatic Computer, was built at the Los Angeles office of NIST and was used for research there.  In 1954, a mobile version, DYSEC,  (it was actually housed in a truck and might just be the first portable computer) went into operation.  NIST staff members also developed a mathematical algorithm, used to solve very large systems of linear equations, that nearly 50 years later would be named one of the top 10 algorithms of the century by a computing trade journal.

NIST Today

Today, NIST is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. Its official mission is “to promote U.S. innovation and industrial competitiveness by advancing measurement science, standards, and technology in ways that enhance economic security and improve our quality of life.”

NIST is involved with the following areas of technology:

Interested in learning more?  NIST provides many educational activities and is open for tours if you’re in Gaithersburg, MD or Boulder, CO.

— Carole Gunst

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original yahoo

Did you know that Yahoo is an acronym for Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle?  Most people just think of it as a search engine, an unsophisticated person, or both.

Yahoo!, the search engine, was founded in January 1994 by Stanford PhD candidates, David Filo and Jerry Yang.  It was originally called “Jerry and Dave’s Guide to the World Wide Web” and it  consisted of a directory of other websites.  The “yahoo.com” domain was created on January 18, 1995 and the company was incorporated on March 1, 1995.

john-briggs

In October 1995, one of my fellow product marketing managers at Lotus Development – John Briggs – left Lotus to join the founding team.  In John’s words, “then The Great Event happened. IBM bought Lotus and bought out my stock options. From then on, I was pretty much in job search mode while eagerly awaiting my bonus retention check”.  While at Yahoo!, he launched Yahoo News, Weather, Sports and Finance .  John also headed up their e-commerce unit (Yahoo Shopping, Auctions, Classifieds & Yellow Pages), and eventually became a VP & GM. He stayed until October 2002 and had quite a ride that included the IPO.

Yahoo! went public in April 1996 as YHOO.  The stock started $24.50 per share and hit a high of $43 before closing at $33.  It was the most closely watched IPO since Netscape Communications went public in December 1995.

With the influx of cash from the IPO, Yahoo began acquiring other companies.  Yahoo!’s first acquisition was the purchase of Net Controls, a web search engine company, in September 1997 for US$1.4 million. The acquisitions continued as Yahoo! competed against other companies and grew in company size and viewership.  As of May 2013, Yahoo! has acquired a total of 78 companies.

In February 2008, Yahoo! escaped becoming acquired, but not without some damage to the company.  Microsoft made an unsolicited bid to acquire Yahoo! for USD $44.6 billion. Yahoo! formally rejected the bid, claiming that it “substantially undervalues” the company and was not in the interest of its shareholders. Three years later, Yahoo! had a market capitalization of USD $22.24 billion.

Today, Yahoo! Inc. is a multinational Internet corporation headquartered in Sunnyvale, California.  Many of the original employees and executives have moved on to other adventures.  In July 2012, On July 16, 2012, Marissa Mayer, a former Google exec, was appointed President and CEO of Yahoo!.  The company has 11,500 employees in 25 countries, provinces, and territories.

— Carole Gunst

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Have you ever owned a computer that made you want to pull your hair out? Wondering if your computer would be on the top 10 list of worst computers of all time? You might be in luck. Chassis Plans, a rugged computer manufacturer, has created this interesting infographic outlining some of the worst computers of all time. From the Commodore VIC 20 to the Netbook, this visual takes you through some of the most loathed computers and the features that drove their owners mad. Name a computer problem and one of these computers probably had it. From slow processor speeds to computers that would turn on in the middle of the night to computers that would melt discs, the problems go on and on. Surprisingly some of these computers, despite their problems set records like “the first commercial computer to be used in space” or “the first personal computer to sell more than one million units.”

The Worst Computers of All Time [Infographic]

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Thirty-five years ago today, Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne signed a partnership agreement that established the company that will become Apple Computer, Inc. on January 3, 1977. (Wayne left the company eleven days later, relinquishing his ten percent share for US$2300). Steve Jobs told Stephen Segaller in Nerds 2.0.1:  (more…)

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In the annals of high tech, Google hasn’t been around for very long (1998); but as the successor to such World Wide Web search engines as Yahoo! and AltaVista, Google has in these few short years established itself as the pre-eminent organizer and purveyor of the web’s information.

According to Siva Vaidhyanathan, author of The Googlization of Everything (and why we should worry) and cultural historian and media scholar at the University of Virginia, there are numerous benefits of and many potential negatives with Google’s domination of the web’s infrastructure. As Siva notes, there is a certain “audacity of Google” insofar as it provides ease and pleasure of use; is free (we don’t have to write checks to it, unlike, say, Comcast), and it appeared to “solve the problem of the web”: it made the web infinitely more manageable and removed its “chaos” factor.

An over-arching symbol of Google’s might in The Googlization of Everything is Julius Caesar. Google is compared repeatedly to this Roman emperor who in many ways brought order to chaos in ancient Rome. In Siva’s words, “Chaos on the web demanded governance; it was said to be ungovernable, but we know better. Google (Caesar) came into a vacuum of chaos and declared ‘I will rule benevolently.’”

Siva suggested that he used the word “worry” in his book’s title and not “panic” because when one worries, he or she is capable of thinking; whereas with panic, irrationality is typical. He noted first that in undertaking the book, he found it difficult because of the company’s constantly evolving technology; that is, almost weekly, Google was adding a new attraction (or distraction) to its growing menu of services. Speaking to this point, Siva quoted Harvard Law School professor Yochai Benkler, author of The Wealth of Networks:

Google could become so powerful on the desktop, in the email utility, and on the Web that it will effectively become a super node that will indeed raise the prospect of a re-emergence of a mass-media model.

Google, for its part, says that its mission is “To organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible.” This causes Siva to worry because it appears so all-encompassing and grandiose. I myself would term this phenomenon a kind of “secular divinity.” The feeling that Google manipulates the world’s information as opposed to the web’s is a “game changer.” Having at one’s fingertips a pipeline to the world’s information makes Google seem omniscient, omnipotent and all-benevolent all at once. Sort of like the “man behind the curtain” in the movie The Wizard of Oz. This, as Siva observes, has resulted in an unhealthy “blind faith” in Google’s ability to solve almost any problem. The public has lovingly embraced them with a deep trust in and a suspension of disbelief of their ability – in a technological sense, we’re being cradled in the arms of Morpheus.

A question of regulation

Eric Schmidt, the company’s Chief Executive Officer, when asked if Google should be regulated, offered a predictable denial by saying that the wrong question was being asked, and that Google was “regulated” in a number of ways – including multiple levels of responsibility. He asserted that Google is

Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google. Courtesy, SocialMediaSEO.net

run on a set of values and principles upon which the company was founded. Siva noted that this was not a case of “Ayn Rand versus Joseph Stalin”; Google presents a more complex conundrum than just one political extreme or another’s approach toward regulation and responsibility.

According to Siva, Google acts within three different models of content processing: 1) Rank and link; 2) Host and delivery (i.e. YouTube), and 3) Data capture/publishing/content creation (i.e. Google Earth, Google Books and Street View). The integration of these three types of content processing gives Google a roadmap to the whims, desires, interests, and yes, consumer habits of its users, which it uses to sell advertising. As Siva asserts, we are Google’s “customers.” They take our information and provide advertisements that are very specifically targeted to our individual tastes. Google’s algorithm – their method of ranking search results – has made this a reality.

SEO Arms Race

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, has been a battleground on Google’s site where largely commercial websites have employed questionable tactics to achieve greater ranking in searches. Sites like JC Penney and Overstock.com have been specifically cited for inserting content in their sites (such as .edu hyperlinks) that deems them, in Google parlance, a “high-quality” site. Siva also cites the Huffington Post as a site that has mastered SEO techniques. They engage in “repurposing” original material from other websites in such a way that it will give them priority in any search.

Google is constantly innovating and evolving. It concentrates on speed (they say 1/10th of a second matters to consumers), and has begun to take on Bing.com as the conduit to shopping. Siva declared that Bing has consistently been the search engine for shoppers; but that Google has made significant inroads. And as a result, information and learning have both been subjugated. In this manner, according to Siva, consumer satisfaction has been used to short-circuit political involvement and awareness. Google has combined this with an overt appeal to “corporate social responsibility” – an essential component of both libertarianism and neo-liberalism, which hold that market forces and consumer choice are instrumental to the exercise of social responsibility. Siva quotes the late economist Milton Friedman, who said “The social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.”

Siva Vaidhyanathan, courtesy Univ. of California Press

In the lightning-quick evolution of the World Wide Web, stemming from its origins with MIT’s Tim Berners-Lee, it’s important to recognize and understand that Google’s influence as a start-up company was vastly different than it is today – a global institution. And the functions that comprise it today will likely considerably evolve in the next ten years. With the rate at which Google has penetrated both the consciousness and information consumption habits of the world’s computer users, there is always room for healthy concern. Siva, though predominantly an optimist who acknowledges Google has positively revolutionized the way we access information, also believes we should temper that by looking at the company more closely and realistically than our rose-colored glasses might ordinarily allow us to.

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Here’s a great clip from a January, 1994 episode of the Today Show, where co-hosts Bryant Gumbel, Katie Couric and Elizabeth Vargas appear completely flummoxed about just what the Internet is. Shows you just how far and how quickly we’ve come. Hey, maybe they should have asked High Tech History – after all, we did an entire post on the history of the “@” symbol!

Bryant Gumbel: "I wasn't prepared to translate that. You know ... that little mark with the 'a' and the little ring around it? ... Katie said she thought it was 'about.'"

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In his book “The Tyranny of E-Mail,” author, John Freeman, has researched how 4,000 years of communication and technological breakthroughs have lead us to e-mail, a form of electronic communication that we can’t get away from.  Once broadband communication arrived, e-mail became the world’s most convenient communication tool.

Here are some facts about e-mail from Freeman’s book:

* The first e-mail was sent less than 40 years ago
* In 2007, 35 trillion messages were shot back and forth through 1 billion PCs
*  By 2011, there will be 3.2 billion e-mail users
* The average corporate worker receives > 200 e-mails per day and spends 40% of his/her time on e-mail each day
* Information overload is a $650 billion drag on the U.S. economy every year
* The tone of an e-mail is misunderstood 50% of the time

The History of E-Mail

Freeman quotes J.C.R. Licklider, an engineering professor at MIT and first director of the Pentagon’s Advanced Research Projects Agency from a paper entitled “Man-Computer Symbiosis” where he wrote ” The hope is that in not too many years, human brians and computing machines will be coupled…tightly, and that the resulting partnership will think as no human brain has ever thought and process data in a way not approached by the information-handling machines we know today.”  Fifty years later, Freeman concludes that the day has arrived because to read an e-mail you have to be joined to a machine.

When Samuel Morse sent the first telegram in May 1844, the message was “What hath God  wrought.”  When the first e-mail was sent out by Ray Tomlinson using the @ symbol, it contained a random series of letters and numbers.  Or as Freeman writes: “In other words:  gibberish.  He just wanted to see if it would arrive and didn’t bother to type anything providential.”

The Affect on E-Mail on Us

Freeman proves in his book that we have “started reverse engineering our brains for speed, as opposed to mindfullness.”  He goes on to write that “Empirical evidence is flooding in regarding the ways that screen-based reading, which has grown from e-mail, is changing the way we read generally.  Eye-tracking studies have shown that people increasingly tend to leapfrog over long blocks of text.”

With handheld devices that give us 24/7 access to e-mail, there is pretty much no where that people do not pause to check it.  There is no downtime any more.  In fact, the word “crackberry” was Webster’s New World College Dictionary’s 2006 word of the year.  Freeman writes that we work in a climate of constant interruption.  Multi-tasking is a way of life that probably isn’t going to change back to the way things used to be when messages were sent by carrier pigeon.  In his last chapter “Don’t Send” Freeman offers some tips on how you can take back control of your in-box and your life.

Conclusion

This book was written to make you pause and think about what has happened to your life since you became continously available to others via e-mail.  It’s worth a read.  Especially the last chapter.  Think about this quote that begins the “Don’t Send” chapter.

“I’ve been a happy man ever since January 1, 1990, when I no longer had an e-mail address.  I’d used e-mail since about 1975, and it seems to me that 15 years of e-mail is plenty for one lifetime.”  — Don Knuth, Stanford University

About This Book

Published by Scribner in October 2009.  It’s hardcover – 256 pages.  Cost is $25.00 (U.S.)

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