Posts Tagged ‘technology’

On January 22, 1984, the famous “1984” television commercial introducing the Macintosh personal computer ran during the third quarter of the Super Bowl.  Many people think that this is the only time it ever ran.  But, it was also run by the Chiat/Day, the ad agency that created it, on December 31, 1983 right before the 12:00 midnight sign-off on KMVT in Twin Falls, Idaho, so that it could qualify for the 1983 advertising awards. The ad was so successful, that it never really needed to be run again as the media coverage it got generated a lot of free airtime.  And, people are still talking about it 30 years later.

The ad is based on the book, “1984” by George Orwell which introduced the concept of “Big Brother”.  The ad refers to IBM as “Big Brother” and the Apple Macintosh computer as the individual challenging a society of people who don’t behave as individuals.  Interestingly, the estate of George Orwell and the television rights holder to the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four considered the commercial to be a copyright infringement and sent a cease-and-desist letter to Apple and Chiat/Day after the ad ran which generated even more publicity.



Here’s Director Ridley Scott discussing the making of the famous 1984 Macintosh commercial.  [This is excerpted from an Apple promotional video.]



The “1984” ad was shown at the 20th anniversary celebration of the Macintosh in 2004  There was also an updated version of it created for the iPod launch.  Was it one of the best ads ever?  That’s up for debate.  But, as a marketer, I’d give it an award for one of the top 10 product launches ever.

— Carole Gunst

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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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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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Courtesy, thehackernews.com

There was a time when “hackers” were seen as indispensable, if not plodding and exacting foot soldiers in the arcane world of computer programming. Certainly, many in their own ranks saw themselves that way. Their almost tunnel-visioned fascination with code, debugging and programming generally bordered on the obsessive. A previous post I wrote here on Nathan Ensmenger’s book The Computer Boys Take Over, included the opinion of one management consultant, Herbert Grosch (himself a former programmer) who referred to them as the “Cosa Nostra” of the computer industry for their ungovernable yet highly intellectual and analytical natures.

Grace Hopper, who I’ve also written about here on High Tech History, was an early programmer (many of earliest of the profession were women) who was devoted to honorable goals. In her case, it was helping to win World War II at Harvard’s computer lab under the leadership of Howard Aiken – which proved invaluable to the U.S. naval effort in the field of ballistics. The idea of hacking for illicit or otherwise mischievous objectives would have been unthinkable at the time.

Now, fast-forward fifty years and you have the curious case of Kevin Mitnick, a brilliant yet devious programmer who almost single-handedly reversed the connotation of “hacker” from relatively unknown, yet positive  – to malicious, dangerous and, at its worst, criminal. He’s now attempting to set the record straight in a new book, Ghost in the Wires, which he co-wrote with technology writer William L. Simon. Mitnick and Simon had collaborated on a previous book, The Art of Deception: Controlling the Human Element of Security (2003), which also has significant bearing on his current book. Mitnick offers several examples of where he was able to breach the security of a company through the unwitting assistance of its own personnel. Mitnick euphemistically refers to this as “social engineering.” As Mitnick himself claimed, “People, as I had learned at a very young age, are just too trusting.”

But what sets Mitnick apart from more diabolical “hackers” is that he never used the information he acquired for financial or other gain. He repeatedly asserts he simply did what he did because he could. In other words, it was the challenge rather than the information he ultimately gained access to. This is a point of intersection between himself and Apple, Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak, who in his youth likewise hacked the local phone company out of an intense curiosity in its switches and circuits. Called “phone phreaking,” this procedure involved the manipulation of telephones and related infrastructure, as well as telephone company employees themselves. Wozniak, who is friendly with Mitnick and has written introductions for both of Mitnick’s books, credits him with finally getting the previously reclusive Wozniak out on the lecture circuit.

Kevin Mitnick's "Wanted" poster issued by U.S. Marshals, 1992. Flickr.com

Such relatively innocuous stunts led eventually to Mitnick’s pilfering of proprietary code to hack into companies like Sun Microsystems and Novell – as well as eavesdropping on the National Security Agency’s telephone calls. As authorities closed in on him, he went on the run until he was caught in February, 1995 and subsequently imprisoned (he was released in 2000 and has since formed his own company, Mitnick Security Consulting, LLC., which advises businesses on computer security strategies).

Mitnick also uses much of his book to debunk some of the more incredible rumors manufactured by authorities about the nefarious extent of his activities – such as his ability to “whistle into a telephone and launch a nuclear missile from NORAD.” He also asserts that he ignored the credit card numbers and other financial information he routinely encountered in his pursuit of code – the hacker’s manna.

Kevin Mitnick. Courtesy, pocketberry.com

But all told, Mitnick, an equally brilliant and cheeky sort, relished invading the intricacy of technology and bending both it and its human element to his will. As one savvy reviewer humorously noted in his appraisal of The Art of Deception: “After Mitnick’s first dozen examples [of security breaches], anyone responsible for organizational security is going to lose the will to live.” But Mitnick’s chief defense, as he claimed he told the former Wall Street insider-trader Ivan Boesky when they were both in prison together, was that “I didn’t do it for the money; I did it for the entertainment.” And the record appears to confirm this. For this and other reasons, Ghost in the Wires is a valuable book that computer enthusiasts and historians alike can enjoy – combining both humor and insight as it delves into a comparatively innocent period of computer science – one that existed before hacking did truly turn malicious and financially motivated.

-Chris Hartman

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