This Day in Geek History: November 15
Gowan Knight presents his research on permanently magnetizing steels to the Royal Society. The use of steel instead of soft iron represents a significant improvement in the compass needles used by England’s Royal Navy, but Knight won’t apply for a patent on his compass until 1766.
The first college magazine in the U.S., the Yale Literary Government, publishes its first issue.
German scientist, Dr. Carl Gassner, is issued a patent for the first “dry” cell battery. (US No. 373,064)
Gaumont Chronochrome, the first practical three-color film process, is demonstrated to the French Photographic Society in Paris. A three-lens camera with different color filters is used, compared with the two-color approach of Kinemacolor.
National Broadcasting Company (NBC) becomes the first radio network in history when it is incorporated in the U.S. as a subsidiary of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) with twenty-four radio stations.
NBC affiliate W2XBT in New York broadcasts the first live telecast of an unscheduled event (also the first live coverage of an accident or a disaster) ever broadcast in the U.S., a fire on Wards Island in New York.
The first regularly scheduled commercial flights over North Pole begin.
Soviet Premier Khrushchev asserts Soviet superiority in missile technology, challenging the U.S. to a rocket-range shooting match. Soviet advances in ballistic technology will eventually lead to the Soviet Union launching the first man-made object into orbit around the Earth, Sputnik 1, which will ignite the space race.
The first submarine equipped with nuclear missiles, the USS George Washington, is launched from Charleston, South Carolina on a mission to test fire Polaris missiles.
A patent is issued to P.A. Marsal, Karl Kordesch, and Lewis F. Urry for an alkaline dry-cell battery, and they assigned the patent to the Union Carbide Corporation, the manufacturer of Eveready batteries. (US No. 2,960,558)
Intel releases the Model 4004 microprocessor, the world’s first commercial single-chip microprocessor. It contains the equivalent of 2,300 transistors, and it is capable of around 60,000 Interactions per second (0.06 MIPs), running at a clock rate of 108KHz with a 4-bit bus. The chief designers of the chip were Marcian “Ted” Hoff and Federico Faggin of Intel and Masatoshi Shima of Busicom. The chip is introduced to the public in Las Vegas by Wayne Pickette, and the first advertisement for it appears in the Electronic News journal. It was developed for Busicom, a Japanese calculator manufacturer, as an alternative to traditional circuitry. Along with Intel’s RAM chip, the microprocessor will allow a fourth generation of computers to developed even smaller and faster than previous generations. Documentation manuals were written by Adam Osborne. Price: US$200
International Business Machines (IBM) Data Processing Division (DPD) rolls out the IBM Health Care Support Electrocardiogram Analysis program, a computer program for cardiologists.
The first Spanish satellite, Intasat, is launched.
A research assistant at the University of Michigan is injured when a package sent by the Unabomber explodes. The Unabomber, later revealed to be Theodore John Kaczynski, sent sixteen bombs in total to various airlines and universities to protest “the erosion of human freedom necessitated by modern technologies requiring large-scale organization.”
The Lehigh virus is discovered at and named for Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. It’s the first virus that causes direct damage to data. It does so by attacking a file called COMMAND.COM, which is present on all MS-DOS formatted disks and drives. It doesn’t increase the size of the file, it simply overwrites the stack space at its end. When the file is activated, usually by booting from an infected floppy disk, the virus remains in the resident memory. It is loaded into the memory during each boot, and once the infection count reaches four, it begins overwriting the boot and FAT areas of the disk with data from the BIOS. Fortunately, however, there are several computer experts at Lehigh University who were skilled at analyzing viruses, and the virus never leaves the university or is detected in the wild. The fact that the virus never spread is also due, in part, to its own ineffectiveness. The virus destroys itself along with its host after only four reproductions, proving to be highly ineffectual. In addition, the virus changes the date of COMMAND.COM, providing a method for discovering whether or not a file had been infected. The virus can be defeated by either making COMMAND.COM read-only, or with a simple program that returns the file’s stack space to zeros, over-writing the virus.
One of the world’s largest scientific instruments, the 300 foot Green Bank radio telescope dish in West Virginia collapses under its own weight following twenty-six years of heavy use.
The Soviet Union launches its first space shuttle, Buran (“Snowstorm”), without a crew, on what will be its first and only orbital flight, at 3:00 UTC. The craft’s flight is unmanned due to the fact that the life support system hasn’t been completed and the instrument panels’ software has not yet been installed, and the mission’s flight is limited to two orbits because of the shuttle’s limited computer memory. Upon its return to Baikonur Cosmodrome, the shuttle performs an automated landing, and, despite a lateral wind speed of 17 meters per second, it makes a successful landing just 3 meters laterally and 10 meters longitudinally from its intended target.
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