General Purpose Microprocessor

“…even though science and technology are wonderful, what really gets them out there for people to use is to have businesses built around them. It takes savvy businessmen as well as savvy technologists to make that work.” Tedd Hoff Background Ted Hoff had access to then state-of-the-art vacuum tube circuits in high school. In 1954, […]

Consumer Shared Computer Network (CompuServe)

CompuServe is the first computer network targeted towards ordinary people though it did not start out that way. Background Jeff Wilkins sold burglar alarms. His father-in-law ran a small insurance company and needed to buy a computer. However, the DEC model he wanted had far more computing power than his father required. Wilkins realized he […]

Reasonably Priced Business Computer (IBM/360)

The IBM/360 is the first mass computer, designed as a general-purpose computer affordable for mid-sized businesses yet powerful enough for large enterprises. Background In 1962, IBM’s revenue was $2.5 billion. CEO Thomas Watson Jr. believed in the vision of a general-purpose computer that supports timesharing, the ability of a computer to do multiple things at […]

Electronic Desktop Calculator

Desktop calculators led the idea of computers small and cheap enough to sit on an individual’s desk. Eventually, they also became the impetus for the general-purpose microchip. History The first desktop electronic calculator is the ANITA Mark VII and ANITA Mark VIIII, both launched late 1961. The Bell Punch Co. of Britain designed the ANITA. […]

Vacuum Tube (Diode)

Working for the Edison Electrical Light Company of England, Sir John Fleming invented the diode, a vacuum tube at the heart of all early electronics. Radios, television, telephones, computers – virtually every electronic we’re familiar with today – was first built with diodes. Diodes are typically vacuum tubes, though some have specialized gasses in them. […]

Stepping Switch

Stepping switches change the direction of a magnetic flow to one of multiple channels, stepping through them incrementally. Which sounds incredibly boring until we realize they enabled the modern phone system and powered the decryption machines which morphed into the modern computer. Stepping switches were literally a step from the industrial revolution to the modern […]

Slide Rule

Slide rules are the original mechanical calculators. They could quickly multiply and divide large numbers. Slide rules are based on logarithms. These are tables of the number another number is raised to produce a third number. Scales of roots do the opposite. John Napier realized sets of log scales placed next to one another easily […]

eLearning / Computer Based Training, PLATO

In 1960, Prof. Donald Bitzer introduced an educational computer system, the Programmed Logic for Automatic Teaching Operations, PLATO. In hindsight, PLATO is arguably one of the least known but most important technological advances ever. Countless elements of the world wide web were first introduced via PLATO. Background Bitzer was a professor of electrical engineering at […]

Time-Sharing/Multitasking Computer

Early Computers Early computers stored programs and data on punch cards. Most cards contained 80-characters, which is why early terminal programs were typically 80-characters per line. Punch cards are exactly what they sound like, physical cards. Each card is one line of a computer program or one piece of data. As users typed, a machine […]

Speech Recognition

Speech recognition is the ability of a computer to recognize the spoken word. “Alexa: read me something interesting from Innowiki.” “Duh human, everything on Innowiki is interesting or it wouldn’t be there.” Today, inexpensive pocket-sized phones connect to centralized servers and understand the spoken word in countless languages. Not so long ago, that was science […]