How The Emoticon Was Invented

What would the Internet be without :), :P, and the ever-popular ¯\_(ツ)_/¯? If you’ve ever used a few keystrokes to express your mood, you have Carnegie Mellon University Computer Science Research Professor Scott E. Fahlman to thank.

As you’ve likely experienced, it can be hard to tell when someone is being sarcastic in print, which was as true in 1982 as it was now. On September 19, 1982, Fahlman was part of a message board discussion about the working status of a set of elevators, which quickly turned silly. The jokes were flying so fast and furious that some participants couldn’t tell if the elevators were actually working or not, and so the discussion turned to how to denote jokes. One person suggested placing an asterisk after remarks meant to be funny. Someone else preferred using the percent sign, which is when another user tried to combine the two:

“How about using * for good jokes and % for bad jokes? We could even use *% for jokes that are so bad, they're funny.”

That was a no-go. The response:

“No, no, no! Surely everyone will agree that '&' is the funniest character on the keyboard. It looks funny (like a jolly fat man in convulsions of laughter).”

Finally, Fahlman stepped in with the invention that would change the way we communicated online:

I propose that the following character sequence for joke markers:


Read it sideways. Actually, it is probably more economical to mark
things that are NOT jokes, given current trends. For this, use


Using textual devices to convey emotion had been suggested throughout history, possibly as early as 1865. But none of them took off the way Fahlman’s suggestion did.

Of course, it’s easier to express yourself these days—emojis have taken the place of the text-based emoticons for most people. Fahlman is not a fan.

"It’s interesting to note that Microsoft and AOL now intercept these character strings and turn them into little pictures,” he told Business Insider in 2015. “Personally, I think this destroys the whimsical element of the original."

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IBM Unveils the World's Smallest Computer

The latest piece of technology to be zapped by the shrink ray of progress was recently revealed during IBM Think 2018, the computer giant’s conference that offers a sneak preview of its latest hardware. According to Mashable, IBM’s newest computer is so small that it could disappear inside a salt shaker.

An IBM computer on a motherboard and atop a pile of salt

That tiny black speck on the right? That’s the one. (It's mounted to a motherboard on the upper left of the left photo.) IBM claims the computer has several thousand transistors and has roughly the same kind of operating power as a processor from 1990. While that may not sound impressive, any kind of artificial intelligence in a product that small could have big implications for data management. IBM believes it has a future in blockchain applications, which track shipments, theft, and non-compliance. Its tiny stature means it can be embedded into materials discreetly.

As an example, IBM noted that the processor could be injected into a non-toxic magnetic ink, which can then be stamped on a prescription drug. One drop of water could make the ink visible, letting someone know it’s authentic and safe to take.

The tiny little motherboard and its processors are still in the prototype stages, but IBM predicts it could cost less than 10 cents to manufacture. The company hopes it will be commercially available in the next 18 months.

[h/t Mashable]

Apple Wants to Patent a Keyboard You’re Allowed to Spill Coffee On

In the future, eating and drinking near your computer keyboard might not be such a dangerous game. On March 8, Apple filed a patent application for a keyboard designed to prevent liquids, crumbs, dust, and other “contaminants” from getting inside, Dezeen reports.

Apple has previously filed several patents—including one announced on March 15—surrounding the idea of a keyless keyboard that would work more like a trackpad or a touchscreen, using force-sensitive technology instead of mechanical keys. The new anti-crumb keyboard patent that Apple filed, however, doesn't get into the specifics of how the anti-contamination keyboard would work. It isn’t a patent for a specific product the company is going to debut anytime soon, necessarily, but a patent for a future product the company hopes to develop. So it’s hard to say how this extra-clean keyboard might work—possibly because Apple hasn’t fully figured that out yet. It’s just trying to lay down the legal groundwork for it.

Here’s how the patent describes the techniques the company might use in an anti-contaminant keyboard:

"These mechanisms may include membranes or gaskets that block contaminant ingress, structures such as brushes, wipers, or flaps that block gaps around key caps; funnels, skirts, bands, or other guard structures coupled to key caps that block contaminant ingress into and/or direct containments away from areas under the key caps; bellows that blast contaminants with forced gas out from around the key caps, into cavities in a substrate of the keyboard, and so on; and/or various active or passive mechanisms that drive containments away from the keyboard and/or prevent and/or alleviate containment ingress into and/or through the keyboard."

Thanks to a change in copyright law in 2011, the U.S. now gives ownership of an idea to the person who first files for a patent, not the person with the first working prototype. Apple is especially dogged about applying for patents, filing plenty of patents each year that never amount to much.

Still, they do reveal what the company is focusing on, like foldable phones (the subject of multiple patents in recent years) and even pizza boxes for its corporate cafeteria. Filing a lot of patents allows companies like Apple to claim the rights to intellectual property for technology the company is working on, even when there's no specific invention yet.

As The New York Times explained in 2012, “patent applications often try to encompass every potential aspect of a new technology,” rather than a specific approach. (This allows brands to sue competitors if they come out with something similar, as Apple has done with Samsung, HTC, and other companies over designs the company views as ripping off iPhone technology.)

That means it could be a while before we see a coffee-proof keyboard from Apple, if the company comes out with one at all. But we can dream.

[h/t Dezeen]


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