Sometimes technologies appear, develop and disappear for very strange reasons. The most interesting incidents “on the topic” are collected in our selection.
Wi-Fi technology appeared thanks to the Hollywood star
Hedy Lamarr is a famous Hollywood film star of the classical era. She is also a gifted mathematician and an expert on defense systems (she figured it out thanks to her first husband, a weapons manufacturer). Hedy was friends with the same versatile gifted person as herself – the avant-garde composer and author of a book on endocrinology, George Antheil.
During World War II, friends patented a seemingly purely military technology – it allowed torpedoes going on the enemy to “jump” from one radio frequency to another in order to avoid enemy interference and deviation from the target. Initially, the US military was not interested in the development, but after 20 years, during the Cuban missile crisis, they changed their mind. And rightly so – after all, today a patent originating from the 40s of the last century appears in the documentation of a variety of radio data transmission standards, including Wi-Fi and GPS.
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The killer escaped responsibility thanks to Firefox
In 2011, newspapers around the world wrote about the “trial of the century” over Casey Anthony – she was supposed to have killed her two-year-old daughter (you can read more about this story here). After the defendant was acquitted, her lawyer admitted that Casey’s computer really had search queries on the topic of poisoning and strangulation. They just weren’t found during the investigation – the investigators studied the story in Internet Explorer, and the girl was using Firefox.
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A bug in the program cost the lives of dozens of American soldiers during the Gulf War
In 1991, the US Army fought Iraq. One of her biggest setbacks was the incident near Dharan, Saudi Arabia, where an Iraqi Scud missile hit an American barracks, killing 28 soldiers at once. This should not have happened: after all, there was a new Patriot anti-aircraft missile system nearby, which, in theory, should have prevented the threat without any problems.
During the subsequent debriefing, it turned out that the Patriot software was working with errors: one part of the software calculated the current time in decimal notation, and the other in binary. As a result, the longer the entire system worked without rebooting, the worse the situation with combat readiness became – and during the war, of course, no one was going to reboot the military complex.
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The first Ph.D. in computer science was a nun
Mary Kenneth Keller rightfully occupies a worthy place in the history of computer knowledge: while still a student, she participated in the development of the BASIC programming language. The Department of Computer Science at the University of Wisconsin awarded her a Ph.D. in Computer Science in June 1965 – a first ever degree! Well, or one of the first – in the same month at the University of Washington, Irwin Tan defended himself.
The piquancy of this story is added by the fact that Keller was a sister of mercy in the monastic order of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This organization pays special attention to educational issues, so that the girl’s success is not at all accidental.
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For 20 years, the password for accessing US nuclear missiles was 00000000
In 1962, US President John F. Kennedy feared that someone from his military would “freak out” and launch nuclear missiles at the USSR, and ordered an additional precautionary measure in the form of an 8-digit password. The officers responsible for the launch were no longer afraid of the colleagues who went off the rails, but of the impossibility of giving a quick response to the launch from the Soviets, and they followed the order formally – they set the password “00000000”, and then, like employees of some out-of-the-box office, wrote it down on a piece of paper. Today, the US Air Force disputes the authenticity of this story, but one of its former employees, the keeper of the nuclear button in the 1970s, Bruce Blair, told the world about it. So, as they say, don’t la-la …
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The Norwegian first connected the entire country to the Internet, and then disconnected himself
Pal Spilling is a pioneer of computer technology in Norway. His interest in computer networks led the country to gain access to the prototype of the modern Internet ARPANET in 1973 – the first in the world after the United States. 15 years later, the World Wide Web suffered its first ever massive virus attack – a worm called Morris infect computers and created multiple copies of itself, causing the machines to break down quickly.
Colleagues from the USA, where the “epidemic” was already raging, called Spilling and warned him of the danger. The scientist did not think for long – he simply took and “cut off” the whole of Norway from the Network. Then it was enough to remove only one cable from the socket.
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Amazon was named so because of the desire to be the first in the directory
Amazon’s online hypermarket is a rare example in the history of the IT industry. After all, it was born when most of us have not even heard of the Internet, but, unlike countless competitors, it still works successfully.
Perhaps its name is partly to blame. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos originally wanted to call it Cadabra (from “gibberish”) – so he wanted to emphasize the magic of the unprecedented procedure for buying books through the Internet store. But when his lawyers, during business registration, over and over again began to confuse “cadabra” with the word “cadaver” (“corpse”), Bezos realized that his name was no good.
Meanwhile, it was 1995, and Americans were navigating the web using the Yahoo directory. The latter was built according to the alphabetical principle, and the letter “A” in it predictably came first. So all that was left for Jeff was to come up with some word for this letter. Which he eventually did. By the same principle, by the way, the Apple brand was created.
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The computer mouse was invented at least three times
In 1968, Douglas Engelbart showed the world the revolutionary “oN-Line System” – a computer with a graphical interface, which became the prototype of modern UI. Engelbart’s presentation also featured a mouse he had created. But devices similar to it were invented at least twice before the inventor.
The pioneers were Tom Cranston and Fred Longstaff – they worked for the Canadian company Ferranti-Packard, and made their discovery in 1952, and (independently of them) the employee of the British Navy Ralph Benjamin in the early 1960s. Both projects involved the use of a more modern rubberized trackball – and Engelbart proposed a bulky design with wheels. But, as is often the case with military projects, the authorities did not understand the prospects for new developments. As a result, they were transferred to the archives, and the laurels of the inventor went to a completely different person.
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Your data can be damaged by cosmic radiation
Semiconductor electronics have suffered from the so-called. “Soft errors” – this is when a particular bit or signal is incorrect, but there are no problems in the system. Researchers have been understanding this problem for a long time, and in the end they came to the conclusion that at least some of these errors can be attributed to cosmic rays – high-energy particles that hit the Earth from space and randomly change bits in your computer’s chips. The simplest solution to this problem is to restart the PC, the more difficult option is to work in an underground cave.
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For most of its history, Nintento has only issued playing cards.
Nintendo is the oldest console manufacturer today. The company was founded back in 1889, when tsars from the Romanov dynasty still ruled in Russia, and the modernization of the country in a Western way began in Japan.
For the first 67 years after its inception, Nintendo released the same product – Hanafuda playing cards. In 1956, the grandson of the company’s founder, Hiroshi Yamauchi, visited the United States and was unpleasantly surprised at the miserable existence of America’s largest playing card manufacturer. As a result, it was decided to diversify its activities. After several unsuccessful attempts, the company found its place in the consumer electronics market. And this is great – otherwise we would not have seen the Nintendo consoles (including the fresh development of the Switch) and the incredible game Pokemon Go.
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Video chat appeared 50 years ago
In 1970, the famous American cellular operator AT&T introduced a commercial version of its new product – a video phone called Picturephone. It was assumed that in the next five years in the United States will appear hundreds of thousands of such devices, but by 1975, only a few hundred were in operation.
The reasons for the failure were not least related to the high price of the service – for a half-hour video chat, telephonists asked for $ 160 a month (in 2015, it would have been $ 947). In fairness, and half a century later, we do not always need such a service – after all, more often than not, voice communication is enough.
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Nigeria, Ghana and Bangladesh “skip” the landline era
All the world’s leading nations have spent the 20th century connecting their citizens to telephone networks. But the poor regions (from which the very “leading nations” often siphoned all the resources) even today sometimes do not know what a landline connection is. Thus, in Nigeria, Ghana and Bangladesh, less than 1% of households are connected to the “landline”. But this does not mean that people live there like 100 years ago – quite the opposite, in each of these countries more than 85% of the population has a mobile phone.
Taking into account the fact that today even in Russia, where at one time they fought for the “pipe” to the last (it is enough to watch Soviet films of the late USSR), people are increasingly abandoning a landline telephone, the Africans should probably not regret what they have missed.
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The very first web page in the world is still accessible at its original address
On August 6, 1991, Tim Berners-Lee posted on a Usenet group information about his current working project, the World Wide Web – or, as he called it, “W3” every chance). You can still see that record – the first in the history of the Internet – in its original form, it is stored on the website of the CERN High Energy Physics Laboratory. Its content looks the same as it did 26 years ago – no background, no graphics, only text with links to other information about the then emerging Web.
The FAQ page is especially touching – it contains information on how to create your own web server and send a web document to your mail so that you can access it even without an Internet connection.