This Day in Geek History: October 21
Thomas Edison perfects the first commercially practical incandescent light bulb using a filament of carbonized cotton sewing thread at his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey. His first new bulb lasts approximately 13½ hours before burning out, but in subsequent tests, the life of the bulb will be increased to forty hours. The idea of electric lighting isn’t new, several people had worked on and even developed forms of electric lighting, such the arc lamp. However, no current light method is practical for residential use. Edison set out to design a lamp with soft light that was lightweight and economical as simple to operate as gas lamps but without the foul smell. The discovery comes after Edison tested over six thousand vegetable fibers, including bamboo, baywood, boxwood, hickory, cedar, and flax, for suitability. It required eighteen months of work, US$40,000, and 1,200 experiments.
American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) and Western Electric Company (WE) transmit the first transatlantic message over radio telephone. The call is placed by B. Webb of AT&T from Arlington, Virginia, to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France through relay points in Canada. The test of radiotelephony represents a significant advance in technology brought about by the development of vacuum-tube transmitters and receivers, which had previously been limited to a range of roughly ten miles. In addition to conversation, the capabilities of the connection are also demonstrated with music.
Margaret Owen of New York City sets a world typing record of 170 words per minute on a manual typewriter.
The Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company publicly demonstrates the first photoelectric cell at the Electrical Show at Grand Central Palace in New York. The sensitivity of the photocell to light is used to count objects as they interrupt a beam of light. The device is also used to open doors as a person or car approaches in a more practical demonstration.
Chinese computer engineer An Wang files a patent for a magnetic ferrite core memory entitled “pulse transfer controlling devices.” Two years later An Wang will found Wang Laboratories.
The first trimline telephone in the US is installed by the Michigan Bell Telephone Company. It will be released commercially on August 2, 1965 for a monthly charge of US$1. A dial and hang-up button are integrated into the hand piece to makes it unnecessary to use the base to dial a call.
20th Century Fox releases the sci-fi film Damnation Alley, directed by Jack Smight and starring Jan-Michael Vincent, George Peppard, Dominique Sanda, and Paul Winfield, to US theaters. It is very loosely based on the Roger Zelazny book of the same name. In it, a small group of survivors at a military installation who survived World War 3 attempt to drive across the desolate wasteland to where they hope more survivors are living. The film is memorable for the Landmaster vehicle featured so prominently in it. The vehicle, which features a unique rotating twelve wheel assembly, was custom-built for the film at a cost of US$300,000. The film was repeatedly delayed in post-production due to difficulties superimposing optical effects on the sky to simulate post apocalyptic atmospheric conditions. Fox only pushed the film through after the enormous box office success of Star Wars. Read more about the Landmaster. IMDB listing (MPAA Rating: PG) Running time: 1 hr 35 min
The length of the meter is redefined by the international body Conférence Générale des Poids et Mesures (General Conference on Weights and Measures) to make the measure more accurate. Originally, the measure was one ten-millionth of the distance from the North Pole to the equator. Following the conference, the meter is re-defined as the distance that light travels in a vacuum in 1/299,792,458 of a second.
US President Ronald Reagan signs the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 into law. The act extends government restrictions on wire taps from telephone systems to electronic mail, but it the assumption that the law also protects the nation’s bulletin board systems (BBS’s) rapidly spreads. Soon sysops find themselves entangled in a whole new set of liabilities with little to no guidance.
At the COMDEX computer expo in Las Vegas, Apple Computer releases the PowerBook 100 subnotebook. Designed and manufactured by Sony for Apple, it’s the first portable Mac. It features a 16MHz Motorola 68000 processor, 2 to 8MB of RAM, a 9 inch monochrome LCD display, and the System 7.0.1 operating system. Price: US$2,300 Weight: 5.1lbs
The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Disaster” first airs. (No. 505) The Enterprise is without power, trapping Picard in a turbolift with three children. Command of the Enterprise falls to Counselor Troi, who is forced to make a difficult decision that may cost lives. Memory Alpha entry
Apple Computer introduces the Color Classic II, also known as the Performa 275, which features the case of the Macintosh Color Classic with twice the RAM and a LC 550 logicboard and twice the RAM.
Apple Computer introduces the Macintosh Quadra 605, featuring a 25MHz Motorola 68LC040 processor, 4 – 132MB RAM, a 160 or 230MB hard drive, and a 1.4MB SuperDrive. The systems will also feature the thin “pizza box” style case, which stands under three-inches tall. Because Apple uses the low-cost 68LC040 CPU, this is the first Quadra to sell for under a thousand dollars.
The same day that Apple Computer introduces a number of new computers, John Sculley announces that he will accept a position as chairman and CEO of Spectrum Information Technologies for a salary of US$1 million. Sculley made the decision to join to thirty-eight employee firm after a demonstration of its AXCELL cellular modem. However, Sculley will leave the company and file a lawsuit after discovering that Spectrum is entangled in both a class-action lawsuit brought by its shareholders and a Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigation.
The 1996 Microprocessor Forum is held, over four days in San Jose, California.
The United States Justice Department files a motion in federal court to hold Microsoft in contempt of court for allegedly violating a July 1994 consent decree by continuing to force computer manufacturers to distribute Internet Explorer with Windows ’95. The Justice department asks the court to hold Microsoft in contempt and to impose a one million dollar a day fine on the company until it stops bundling the browser into the operating system. Microsoft responds by arguing that the browser has become an integral part of the operating system.
Nintendo releases the Game Boy Color portable video game system in Japan. The system features a 2.1 MHz processor and 32KB RAM. It can display 10, 32, or 56 colors simultaneously from a palette of 32,000 colors. Weight: 6.7oz
At approximately 4:45pm, an estimated six thousand computers launch a type of distributed denial-of-service attack (DDoS attack) known as an ICMP flood on thirteen root servers that control the majority of the Internet’s traffic over the course of an hour in what some will later call “the biggest ever hacking attack on the Internet.” During the attack, the servers are bombarded with thirty-to-forty times their usual amount of traffic, causing periods of zero-response in seven of the thirteen servers and severely diminish capacity in an eighth server. Many of the internet’s top sites are temporarily rendered unresponsive by the attack, including Amazon.com, eBay, and Yahoo! The incident come to be considered the most damaging DDOS attack in history.
Scientists with the US National Human Genome Research Institute announce that they have reduced the number of genes previously estimated to be contained in the human genome by about thirty percent, to somewhere between twenty and twenty-five thousand. Just a decade prior, scientists had estimated that the genome contained roughly one hundred thousand genes.
Universal Pictures releases the sci-fi horror film Doom, directed by Andrzej Bartkowiak and starring Karl Urban, The Rock, Ben Daniels, Rosamund Pike, and Yao Chin, to 3,044 US theaters. It is based on the video game series of the same title. In it, something has gone wrong in a research facility on Mars, and the staff are transforming into something unimaginable. All research has ceased and the facility has been quarantined. Dr. Samantha Grimm has called in an elite squad of soldiers led by Sarge that includes Samantha’s twin brother, John Grimm. As the team advance through the facility, they are picked off one-by-one. Produced on a budget of US$60 million, the film will gross US$15,488,870 domestically in its opening weekend. Visit the film’s official website. IMDB listing (MPAA Rating: R) Running Time: 1 hr 40 min
The first version of Simple Instant Messenger (SIM), version 0.9.4.1, is released for Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows. SIM is a free software multiprotocol instant messaging application. based on the Qt library. It supports five protocols, including: Oscar (for AIM and ICQ), Jabber, LiveJournal, MSN, and Yahoo!. Visit the application’s official website.
eBay announces that it will institute a global ban on the sale of any and all ivory products beginning January 1. The policy change comes after a conservation group discovered that over four thousand pieces of elephant ivory were listed for sale on the site, in violation of the US Endangered Species Act and the international Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Visit the official eBay website.