This Day in Geek History: April 16
The first zoom lens for a television camera is demonstrated by the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) in New York City. Prior to its invention, the entire camera had to be moved toward away from the subject of a shot in order to change the composition of the picture. The same effect can be accomplished using the Zoomar lens, revolutionizing live events, such as sports. The device was patented as a “varifocal lens for cameras” on November 23, 1948 by Dr. Frank Gerard Back of New York City. His company, Zoomar, will continue to develop lens technology well into the seventies.
The first radio made to run off either batteries or a solar-cells is first sold in the U.S. The Sun Power Pak is manufactured by the Admiral Corporation, in Chicago, Illinois. Operating on transistors rather than vacuum tubes, the radio requires so little electricity that six ordinary batteries power it for between 700 to 1,000 hours. The US$60 radio is small and weighs only five and a quarter pounds.
Lisp, the programming language that will provide the basis for most significant work in the field of artificial intelligence, is first unveiled. Created by John McCarthy, Lisp is the second high-level programming language to pass into mainstream use, following the FORTRAN programming language. Lisp was designed to provide a practical mathematical notation for computer programming. It’s name is derived an amalgam of “LISt Processing language”. Read more about the History of Lisp at Standford University.
The first edition of The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White is first published. It was adapted by White from the work of his former Cornell University professor. The first edition will sell over two million copies.
Sony announces the launch of the Betamax videocassette format in Japan. The format uses 12.7mm width tape, derived from the professional 19.1mm U-matic format. The “Betamax” name comes from the fact that the tape looks like the Greek letter “Beta” when it runs through the transport. It will be launched in the U.S. later in the year.
The Helios-B deep-space probe passes within twenty-seven million miles (43 million km) or 0.3 AU of the Sun. It’s the closest any manmade probe has ever come to the Sun. The mission of the Helios-B is to measure the material found in space between Earth’s orbit and the Sun. The vehicle carries a fluxgate magnetometer to measure magnetic fields, for electric and magnetic wave experiments, charged particle experiments, and a micrometeoroid experiment.
Commodore International unveils the Commodore PET 2001, Commodore’s first full-featured computer, at the West Coast Computer Faire. The PET (Personal Electronic Transactor) includes a MOS Technology 6502 processor, 4KB RAM, 14KB ROM, a built-in keyboard, a 9-inch monochrome display, and a cassette tape drive. The model on exhibition is a one of a kind prototype. Price: US$595
Just a few days after the company’s one year anniversary, Apple Computer introduces the Apple II, Apple’s first popular microcomputer, at the West Coast Computer Faire. The computer features a 6502 CPU, 4KB RAM, 16KB ROM, a built-in keyboard, an 8-slot motherboard, game paddles, a color display, and built-in BASIC. Initial models feature cassette tape drives, but later models will include 5¼-inch floppy disk. It stands out from its major competitors by being the first personal computer to feature color graphics, and it is also the first product to carry the soon-to-be-famous rainbow striped Apple logo. Many historians will later mark this release as the beginning of the popularity of the personal computer, as the Apple II would be the first computer to boast a “killer app,” Dan Bricklin’s VisiCalc spreadsheet software. Price: US$1,298