CLOSE
New York Times
New York Times

The Forgotten Early E-Book

New York Times
New York Times

In 1972, two scientists excitedly announced the development of a new technology that, according to a New York Times page one story, caused a "sensation in...publishing circles." It was predicted to perhaps "revolutionize the publication of books," and an information-processing specialist for the Navy said it could "eliminate central files in large bureaucracies" and "'re-make' the information handling industry."

The magic technology was a new kind of microfilm, and it didn't do any of those things. However, the devices that did manage to successfully conquer the publishing industry and revolutionize the way we handle information wound up looking pretty similar to this gadget from the early '70s.

The microfilm, which was invented by Adnan Waly and George J. Yevick, stored 625 pages of text per sheet and could be displayed one page at a time on a portable device. This machine, which looked somewhat like a modern e-book, was “powered either by a portable battery unit or by plugging into an electric outlet.”

The process of uploading the books to the microfilm sheets involved photographing the pages through thousands of tiny lenses (like a "fly's eye"), and, had the reader hit the market, each sheet would have cost around 25 cents to buy. The inventors imagined cigarette machine-like dispensers placed around the planet that would sell books for use on their little handheld reader. Waly and Yevick hoped that it would become a "people's technology" and make the world's information "cheap enough for almost any human being" to access.

The invention also had an advantage over plenty of modern tablet computers. According to one of Waly and Yevick's original patents, "this projection display device has proved to be surprisingly immune to image wash-out by ambient light" based on tests performed in brightly lit rooms. (Their technology would later be cited in patents for early LCD displays.)

The microfilm and corresponding reader never caught on, and the invention faded away after that first major story on the front page of the New York Times. The parallel development of early personal computers by companies like XEROX overshadowed Waly and Yevick's little machine and likely prevented it from ever getting off the ground.

Even the most clever technologies that perfectly predict the flow of modern development often wind up as footnotes to footnotes in the stories of other inventions, barely even allowed the opportunity to be made obsolete.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
The Long Now Foundation, Vimeo
arrow
technology
Jeff Bezos Is Helping to Build a Clock Meant to Keep Time for 10,000 Years
The Long Now Foundation, Vimeo
The Long Now Foundation, Vimeo

Few human inventions are meant to last hundreds of years, much less thousands. But the 10,000 Year Clock is designed to keep accurate time for millennia. First proposed in 1989, the long-lasting timepiece is finally being installed inside a mountain in western Texas, according to CNET.

The organization building the clock, the Long Now Foundation, wanted to create a tribute to thinking about the future. Founded by computer scientist Danny Hillis and Whole Earth Catalog publisher Stewart Brand, the group boasts famous members like musician Brian Eno and numerous Silicon Valley heavyweights. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is putting up the $42 million necessary to complete the project, writing that “it's a special Clock, designed to be a symbol, an icon for long-term thinking."

Measuring 500 feet tall when it's completed, the clock will run on thermal power and synchronize each day at solar noon. Every day, a “chime generator” will come up with a different sequence of rings, never repeating a sequence day to day. On specific anniversaries—one year, 10 years, 100 years, 1000 years, 10,000 years—it will animate a mechanical system within one of five rooms carved into the mountain. On the first anniversary, for instance, the clock will animate an orrery, a model of the solar system. Since they don’t expect to be alive for many of the future anniversaries, the clock’s creators won't determine animations for 100, 1000, or 10,000 years—that'll be left up to future generations. (To give you an idea of just how far away 10,000 years is, in 8000 B.C.E., humans had just started to domesticate cows for the first time.)

Though you can sign up to be notified when the clock is finished, it won’t be easy to see it up close. The nearest airport is several hours’ drive away, and the mountain is 2000 feet above the valley floor. So you may have to be content with seeing it virtually in the video below.

Clock of the Long Now - Installation Begins from The Long Now Foundation on Vimeo.

[h/t CNET]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Tynker
arrow
technology
Barbie Is Now Giving Coding Lessons
Tynker
Tynker

Mattel wants to help 10 million kids learn to code by 2020, and the toy giant is enlisting one of its most career-focused assets: Barbie. According to Engadget, Mattel is working with the coding education company Tynker to make seven Barbie-themed computer programming lessons.

Barbie has been a pilot, an architect, the president, and a computer engineer, so there may be no better character to teach kids the joys of coding. The lessons, arriving in summer 2018, will be designed for youngsters in kindergarten and up, and will teach Barbie-lovers more than just how to make apps. They’ll use Barbie’s many careers—which also included veterinarian, robotics engineer, and astronaut—as a way to guide kids through programming concepts.

An illustration depicts Barbie and her friends surrounded by cats and dogs and reads 'Barbie: Pet Vet.'

A screenshot of a Barbie coding lesson features a vet's office full of pets.

There are plenty of new initiatives that aim to teach kids how to code, from a Fisher-Price caterpillar toy to online games featuring Rey from Star Wars. This is the third partnership between Mattel and Tynker, who have already produced programming lessons using Hot Wheels and Monster High.

Kindergarten may seem a little soon to set kids on a career path as a computer programmer, but coding has been called “the most important job skill of the future,” and you don’t need to work for Google or Facebook to make learning it worthwhile. Coding can give you a leg up in applying for jobs in healthcare, finance, and other careers outside of Silicon Valley. More importantly for kids, coding games are fun. Who wouldn’t want to play Robotics Engineer Barbie?

[h/t Engadget]

All images by Tynker

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios