This Day in Geek History: November 16
John Ambrose Fleming invents the vacuum tube, otherwise known as the thermionic valve. The valve consists of a carbon or tungsten filament lamp with a metal plate insulated from the filament and a wire through the glass wall of the bulb to a third terminal outside. When battery current is applied to the filament, the space between the filament and the insulated plate will conduct electrons in just one direction. Vacuum tubes are used to amplify, switch, or otherwise modify, a signal by controlling the movement of electrons in an evacuated space, and they will remain the basis of electronic technology for decades to come.
Construction of an experimental atomic pile begins. The pile will be used to investigate the world’s first artificial nuclear chain reaction under Stagg Field at the University of Chicago. The later research will be an important contribution to the Manhattan Project, a project to develop nuclear weapons.
The International Business Machines (IBM) Data Processing Division (DPD) announces the IBM 1062 teller terminal and the IBM 7710 data communication unit.
The touch-tone telephone is introduced.
NASA launches the Skylab 4 with a crew of three astronauts from Cape Canaveral on an eighty-four day mission that will remain the longest American space flight in history for over two decades. The Skylab crew includes Gerald P. Carr, William R. Pogue, and Edward C. Gibson. The three crew members will conduct thousands of experiments during the course of the mission, including the observation and photographing of Comet Kohoutek on Christmas Day. After 1,214 orbits, the crew will return to Earth on February 8, 1974.
Columbia Pictures releases the science fiction film Close Encounters of the Third Kind, directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Richard Dreyfuss, Franc¸ois Truffaut, Bob Balaban, Melinda Dillon, Teri Garr, and Cary Guffey to 272 U.S. theaters. In it, a line worker, feels irresistibly drawn to an isolated area in the wilderness where, after an encounter with a UFO, he is convinced that something spectacular is about to happen. Close Encounters is a landmark film for it ground-breaking special effects, as well as for its portrayal of benign rather than hostile extraterrestrials. The portrayal is a significant departure from past science fiction films, which nearly unanimously cast aliens as monsters and villains. Produced on a budget of US$20 million, it will gross US$5,379,460 domestically in its opening weekend. IMDB listing (MPAA Rating: PG) Running Time: 2 hrs 17 mins
Steven Jobs writes a letter to Gordon Gow, the president of McIntosh Labs, a producer of high-end stereo equipment, requesting the right to use “Macintosh” as a brand name. Jef Raskin had chosen the “Macintosh” as the project name under which Apple Computer’s signature line of computers was developed. In the letter Jobs explained, “We have become very attached to the name Macintosh. Much like one’s own child, our product has developed a very definite personality.” Gow will visit Apple’s headquarters for a product demonstration shortly after receiving the letter, but he will initially reject the request on the advice of legal council. Apple Computer will finally receive a license for the name Macintosh in March 1983, and then, in 1986, the company will wholly acquire the trademark for “substantially” more than one hundred thousand dollars.
Atlantic Releasing Corporation releases the science fiction horror film Night of the Comet, directed by Thom Eberhardt and starring Catherine Mary Stewart, Kelli Maroney, and Robert Beltran, to 1,098 U.S. theaters. In it, two girls from the Valley wake up to find that a passing comet has destroyed all life as they knew it and left behind a mysterious red-dust and packs of mutant cannibals. Produced on a budget of US$3 million, it will gross US$3,580,578 domestically in its opening weekend. IMDB listing (MPAA Rating: PG-13) Running Time: 1 hr 35 mins
USA Today launches one of the first electronic news syndication services, USA Today Update, for business news summaries through Datatimes, GEnie, Minitel, The Source, and Trintex, among others.
The first comedic television miniseries ever to air in the U.S., Fresno, premieres on CBS. The miniseries is a parody of the prime time soap opera format, lampooning such popular series as Falcon Crest, Dallas and Dynasty.
The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “The Battle” first airs. (No. 109) In it, a Ferengi captain returns the abandoned Stargazer to its former captain, Jean-Luc Picard, free of charge. Soon after, Picard begins to relive the so-called “Battle of Maxia.” Memory Alpha entry
The Fall COMDEX trade show is held in Las Vegas, Nevada. The event features two thousand company booths and is attended by 145,000 people. At the event, Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) demonstrates its 50MHz 80486 processors. International Business Machines (IBM) demonstrates its 100MHz “Blue Lightning” 486 processor. Trident announces the Storm graphics accelerator chips for ISA, MCA, or VL-Bus graphics cards. The chips support up to 2 MB of video memory, allowing resolutions up to 1280×1024.
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