As we study Geek History we explore the visionaries who have an idea and see what is possible, often before the technology exists to make it real. Ray Kurzweil has been a technology visionary since the 1970s when he invented a reading machine for the blind with a text-to-speech synthesizer. In the 1980s Kurzweil created the first electronic musical instrument which produced sound derived from sampled sounds burned onto integrated circuits.
Inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil believes the day that artificial intelligence becomes infinitely more powerful than all human intelligence combined is not that far off in the future. In his book, "The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology" written in 2006, Kurzweil predicts when this new phase of artificial super intelligence takes place. "I set the date for the Singularity—representing a profound and disruptive transformation in human capability—as 2045"
Is singularity a destination?
So how far is it from here to infinity? How long will it take us to get to eternity?
I often say that the more I learn, the more I realize how little I know. The phrase "You don't know what you don't know" has been said many ways. It is a play on a well-known saying that is derived from Plato's account of the Greek philosopher Socrates, "I know one thing; that I know nothing."
Maybe I am looking at this from my simple minded human perspective, but three decades is a pretty short time period in the evolution of humans and technology. I have the experience of having worked in the field of technology for more than four decades.
I sound like a real old fart when I talk about using radios with tubes in the 1970s and working as various forms of technology as it transitioned to solid state electronics. I remember back in the 1980s when I tried to explain to people how they would be using personal computers as tools in their business plugging them into phone lines. The concept of the internet was not widely known back then.
No one can predict the future with any certainty. Of course, if you want to debate, there were always those visionaries ahead of their time. Leonardo da Vinci is perhaps the greatest visionary to have ever lived. Leonardo saw the possibilities of flying machines in the 1500s, and designed in theory many examples of flying machines, centuries before the Wright Brothers launched their plane at Kitty Hawk. Relatively few of his designs were constructed or even feasible during his lifetime, the scope and depth of his interests were without precedent in recorded history.
There were many people who could look into the future and see what was possible, such as a true visionary Jules Verne, who was quoted in 1865 as saying, "In spite of the opinions of certain narrow-minded people who would shut up the human race upon this globe, we shall one day travel to the moon, the planets, and the stars with the same facility, rapidity and certainty as we now make the ocean voyage from Liverpool to New York."
One of my favorite science fiction authors I read growing up was Isaac Asimov who told amazing stories of robotics and artificial intelligence. The technology of the 1940s and 1950s could not create the robots in the stories of Asimov. Today the stories of intelligent robots are no longer fiction.
Maybe I've read too many science fiction novels about the utopias and the dystopias? When I say, "You don't know what you don't know," I look at the examples given here. With every generation we are amazed with how far we have come as we look back to the past. But we also see the long journey ahead and are equally amazed as we look towards the future.
From time to time events in the world remind us that modern technology has limits, as we recently saw with the problems with Amazon Web Services, that took down many major web sites. People were having panic attacks because they were having issues getting to their favorite website.
Theoretically the internet was created to be a better more fault tolerant communications system. As the internet has exploded commercially it has become the exactly the opposite of the original goal. It has created the biggest single point of failure in our world. People forget there are other ways of doing things without using the internet, like using traditional broadcast radio for news and entertainment.
It scares me that some people think that we should use the internet for everything. Instead of making any more comments based on my subjective opinion, I felt inspired to do a little research.
It would appear that traditional radio is still alive and well.
Here are some snippets from Pew Research on radio broadcasting:
"... terrestrial radio continues to reach the overwhelming majority of the public."
As far as using radio for a source of news and information: "Pew Research Center’s own survey work adds insight here, finding radio to be a common source of news among adults in the U.S. In research asking about how people are learning about the U.S. presidential election, 44% of adults said they learned about it from radio in the past week. "
To those who say terrestrial radio (traditional broadcast radio) is dead, might be surprised to see that the Pew research numbers show that the percentage of Americans ages 12 or older who listen to terrestrial radio weekly has remained pretty steady at over 90% for the years 2009 through 2015.
You use the simplest tool you need to solve a problem, why make things more complicated than they need to be?
I want to kick back after dinner, and unwind watching some mindless entertainment. I watch television. The internet can be a pain at times. Connections are slow, websites are take too long to load. Sometimes the alternatives to using the internet are more efficient.
I want to sit on the porch, enjoy a beverage, and relax. I listen to the radio. It is quick and simple. Why would I use anything else?
I am driving in the car, I want some background music to pass the time. I listen to the radio. Why do I need the internet?
What if the power goes out? What happens then? Will my wi-fi work? Or I just could listen to my battery powered radio to connect to the world.
One argument over net neutrality is the fear that the large Cable TV providers like Comcast controlling internet access as ISPs could charge for various levels of service on the internet in tiers, like they do with Cable TV services. Some people object to that because they believe "the internet should be free."
Entertainment such as radio and television started out as broadcast media, in that you had a receiver in your home to receive the signals broadcast by the local stations. Television grew out of radio. In the early days of television, the 1930s and 1940s, the successful television networks were the ones that started with radio networks.
There are still "free" televisions stations in that you can find many local stations that broadcast a signal through the air that you can receive. Cable TV was initially created to provide television service to areas that did not receive a good broadcast signal. As cable TV expanded in the 1960s and 1970s the Cable TV operators began to add extra channels to their systems that were not derived from broadcast signals.
The internet of today is the next step in the evolution of entertainment. The internet is new way to deliver various content to your homes through wires provided by your Cable TV company that were once used just to deliver television service. Satellite services once developed to compete with cable TV services now also deliver internet access. Radio has also expanded beyond the traditional through the air broadcasting to satellite radio and internet radio.
Broadcast radio is only free in the sense that you do not pay an ongoing fee to listen to the radio. But you pay for in the sense that you listen to advertising that is paid for by someone else. With cable television you are paying for the convenience of having a clear television signal delivered to your home through a wire. The programming is paid for in various ways, sometimes strictly by advertising, just like in the days of broadcasting. Sometimes the programming is paid for by fees through the cable services provider for carrying the channel. In the case of premium services like HBO or Showtime, you get to watch them commercial free, but you pay a premium, as in a charge to view them, that offsets the revenue that the commercials would raise.
Right now internet service providers are providing you with a connection to the services and you are paying for the access just like in the early days of cable TV. There are also premium services on the internet like NetFlix, where you pay a premium to access content, just like you would with premium services like HBO or Showtime.
Gratis versus libre free speech not the same as free beer
I stumbled upon an article about American software freedom activist and programmer Richard Stallman drawing attention to the concept of gratis versus libre and had a massive "ah-huh" moment regarding how this concept of "free" gets twisted in the net neutrality debate.
Richard Stallman is considered the father of the Open Source software movement. Stallman explains that Open Source refers to the preservation of the freedoms to use, study, distribute and modify that software not zero-cost. In illustrating the concept of Gratis versus Libre, Stallman is famous for using the sentence, "free as in free speech not as in free beer."
This dual definition of free can cause issues where the distinction is important, as it often is in dealing with laws concerning the use of information, such as copyright and patents.
There's no such thing as a free lunch but you are free to eat your lunch anywhere you want.
The use of the English adjective free often gets twisted because it can be used in one of two meanings. When you say there's no such thing as a free lunch you are using the word free meaning "for zero price" (gratis). When you say you are free to eat your lunch anywhere you want you are using the word free to mean "with little or no restriction" (libre).
The myth that the internet is free
Some people don't like the possibility of the large cable TV providers like Comcast controlling internet access as ISPs where they could charge for various levels of service on the internet in tiers, like they do with Cable TV services. That is part of the battle over net neutrality. Nothing is free.
Traditional radio and television are evolving and expanding and becoming a part of the big picture of media and the internet. If you don't pay an upfront fee to use something, you will pay for it in having to tolerate some form of advertising. If you want a better quality signal someone needs to pay to build up the highway to provide the services, and you will pay for that in service fees. If you want to watch programming or listen to music without commercials, there needs to be a way to license it and collect fees in the form of subscriptions so the content providers get paid for their work.
Part of the debate on a "free" internet is that the concept of free is two fold. You may be free to choose what services you want to use on the internet, but access to use those services is not free from cost or payment.
Graphic: American software freedom activist and programmer Richard Stallman (right) illustrating his famous sentence "free as in free speech not as in free beer", with a beer glass. Brussels, RMLL, 9 July 2013
Most smartphones come with FM radio receivers already built in, and the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission wants you to know that your wireless carrier may be keeping you from using the technology. Why should you care about using FM Radio on your cell phone?
Emergency management professionals will tell you that traditional radio is a great source for news during times of emergency.
There are people in the cell phone industry that would call the public safety argument for using cell phone FM radio just a marketing ploy by traditional radio, but I would disagree. I know from first hand experience how fickle cell phone service can be.
During an earthquake on the east coast a few years ago everyone picked up their cellphones and began calling everyone they know to see what had happened. The cell phone circuits were overloaded. Thankfully the earthquake was just some rumbling and no major damage was done. But we all saw how vulnerable we are if we rely on cellular phone circuits for information during a time of emergency.
It happened again with Hurricane Sandy, and the problem was compounded by actual damage to cell towers and power outages in addition to increased phone volume. Cell phone users experienced various communications issues.
What is the issue with using FM Radio on your cell phone?
"Broadcasters and public safety officials have long urged handset manufacturers and wireless carriers to universally activate the FM chip, and recently brought the campaign to Canada. Carriers have little financial incentive to do so because they profit from streaming data, says Barry Rooke of the National Campus and Community Radio Association."
Our conclusion was that it makes no sense at all because broadcast radio is alive and well in the United States. There are currently over 6700 commercial FM stations. Not only is traditional FM radio alive and well, traditional FM radio provides a valuable service in time of emergency.
The myths and legends run rampant in the stories of both Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison. They have become legendary, and along with that the mythology gets bigger.
Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison have become the geeks that the world loves to hate. But why all the hate?
A common theme among so called successful people is an obsessive compulsion to succeed. Both were known for being hard driving over bearing bosses, which means they made some enemies and acquired some haters along the road to success. Some people say the success of people like Jobs and Edison came at the expense of their former associates.
The evil Jobs versus mild mannered geek Woz
As much as you want to blame Steve Jobs for the departure of Stephen Gary "Steve" Wozniak, aka Woz, from Apple, Woz has said in many interviews that he enjoyed the technology side of creating Apple but not the business side. He left because he felt the need to move on.
Even though Woz quit working for Apple in 1985, he stayed on the Apple payroll and remained a stock holder for many years. I would say he has done pretty well for himself as Woz has been involved in numerous technology companies over the years since leaving Apple.
The evil Edison versus well meaning inventor Tesla
I've spent many years researching the Edison versus Tesla mythology. The story of Edison offering Tesla $50,000 if he could improve something is told so many different ways, you really have to wonder what is the truth. The story that Edison once electrocuted an elephant stirs up a reason to hate Edison, but if you research it, the facts dispute the story.
I really get frustrated when people say the War of Currents was a battle between Edison and Tesla. George Westinghouse was working on AC power distribution before he met Tesla. When he heard of Tesla's experiments, George Westinghouse not only paid Tesla for his patents, but offered him a job working with him.
Tesla and Westinghouse had a life long respect for each other. When Edison died, Tesla had sharp criticism of Edison. When Westinghouse died, Tesla's comments showed a deep respect for Westinghouse.
Tesla died broke because of Edison?
The mythology tells the story that Tesla died a broken down old man because of Edison, but the truth is that Tesla lived more than 40 years after the War of Currents and his battle against Edison.
Tesla fought a lot with Westinghouse engineers, he had a hard time working on a team. Tesla decided to go back out on his own rather than stay with Westinghouse. Tesla walked away from his association with Westinghouse in the 1890s with a few hundred thousand dollars, the equivalent of millions in today's money.
Tesla received large investments for his experiments in Colorado Springs and Wardencliffe, New York. In both cases Tesla misrepresented his true intent. The wealthy John Jacob Astor IV gave Tesla the money he used to build the Colorado Springs lab in 1899, under the assumption that Telsa was going to develop and produce a new lighting system. Tesla instead, used the money to fund his lab to experiment with high voltage, high frequency electricity, and the wireless transmission of power.
J.P. Morgan thought he was investing in wireless communications when he gave Tesla money to build his dream lab in Wardenclyffe New York in 1901. Tesla failed to mention the lab included his ideas of wireless power transmission. Morgan did not "cut off" Tesla as told by many stories, he simply refused to give Tesla more money when Tesla went way over budget on the project.
In the PBS documentary "Tesla Master of Lightning" Tesla's grand-nephew William Terbo explains the downfall of Nikola Tesla. "He was totally disinterested in business. He did not make the relationship between the importance of business and the importance of his invention and discovery."
Set aside the myths and legends
The tales of the evil Steve Jobs versus the mild mannered geek Woz and the powerful Thomas Edison versus the well meaning inventor Tesla make for good mythology, but every story of success is not an epic battle of good versus evil. Geek History helps you understand and appreciate great inventors and technology innovators and get to the truth behind the myths and legends..
There are lessons to be learned from the stories of Steve Jobs and Thomas Edison, set aside the myths and legends, and learn the reasons for success and failure.
The mainstream news introduces new Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai as "Net Neutrality Foe." (1) The "Net Neutrality is dead" chant is being stirred up as technology sites like wired are already predicting "Net Neutrality No More." (2)
From many online debates I read in recent months, as well as questions I have been asked, it is obvious that there are many interpretations to the term Net Neutrality.My reaction to the appointmnet of Ajit Pai as the neww FCC chairman is to simply say that since the topic is not clearly defined in the minds of many, the debate over any changes will be ongoing.
As far as technology sites like Wired predicting "Net Neutrality No More," I take that for what its worth. I'll read Wired for what's new in the world of gadgets. I wouldn't read Wired to try to make sense of FCC regulations and pending changes in internet law.
It also becomes a matter of opinions, which are like certain human body parts, everyone has one, and they all stink.
"The net neutrality misinformation bandwagon has opened an ugly new front."
"For technology companies here in Silicon Valley and across the Internet ecosystem, Pai’s appointment is very good news. He favors a return to the bi-partisan policy of light-touch regulation established in the early days of the commercial Internet—policies that have made possible the convergence of networks, media and technologies on the single open Internet standard. His FCC is likely to be consistent, professional, and predictable."
"The basic net neutrality principles—that broadband providers can’t block access to lawful content, can’t intentionally slow network traffic for anti-competitive purposes, or otherwise discriminate against some content providers for non-technical reasons--are perfectly safe, regardless of what policies the Trump Administration ultimately adopts, or who the new President appoints to Chair the FCC."
IEEE describes themselves as, "A not-for-profit organization, IEEE is the world's largest technical professional organization dedicated to advancing technology for the benefit of humanity."
"Unfortunately, there is no clear answer. Economists have done plenty of modeling on net neutrality over the past eight years, but there isn’t a strong consensus about whether keeping it or throwing it out would be best for consumers, innovation, or the economy."
"... anyone who tries to reverse U.S. policy on net neutrality will likely have a difficult road ahead. Public sentiment will not be on their side—when the FCC solicited public comments on the issue in 2014, they received a record 3.7 million comments, with the vast majority in favor of net neutrality."
That is a lot more frightening thought than any net neutrality legislation. The 800 pound gorilla of cable, partners with the giant of wireless. Holy monopoly Batman!
For those who fear new changes in net neutrality will create a new wave of internet censorship, they must have short memories because there have been many proposed laws in recent years to control what content is allowed on the internet, and these laws have been for the most part, independent of the net neutrality debate.
Stay tuned as we continue to follow on ongoing debate over Net Neutrality.
I am geek who loves to get to the bottom of myths and legends, as well as claims by auto makers in commercials. After watching several television commercials by a certain automaker bragging about earning more J.D. Power Initial Quality awards than any other brand, I decided to do a little research. Should I really be impressed by all these awards? What exactly do they measure?
The first point is the numbers game. Claiming that your brand has more J.D. Power Initial Quality awards than any other brand has do with the number of models that you sell. Chevy has the most models on the J.D. Power Initial Quality awards list, but Chevy also produces a large number of models when you look at their line of cars and trucks. On the long list of 2016 Initial Quality Ratings I was surprised to see models such as the Hyundai Accent, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Azera, and Kia Soul on the list, all made by the Hyundai Motor Company.
The other issue with the automaker bragging is the value of measuring initial quality. The definition of initial quality is defined as problems experienced by vehicle owners during the first 90 days of ownership. The first 90 days, that's not a long period of time. I am pretty happy with my 2008 Mercury Milan, 9 years and 185,000 miles later, and I have never had a major problem. Seems like quality should be measured in larger increments than 90 days. Studies skewed by modern technology
J.D. Power has two major areas for automobiles, the annual Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS) and Initial Quality Study (IQS). I thought I would dig deeper and look for the longer term dependability ratings. Instead of finding more answers, my search raised many questions of the value of their dependability ratings.
In the world today people see an automotive as more than an transportation vehicle, they see the automobile as a collection of gadgets and gizmos attached to a vehicle on wheels. Because of this infatuation with technology, issues with entertainment systems and Bluetooth connections can skew automotive dependability ratings.
The Autoblog article explains how the ratings are skewed by modern technology.
"If an owner can't get his or her phone to connect via Bluetooth to the audio system, that's a problem. If an owner's audible command isn't properly deciphered by that annoying synthesized voice all infotainment systems seem plagued by, that's a problem. But are either of those problems as serious as a transmission that won't shift, or an engine that won't start? Not by my standards. But by J.D. Power's, the answer is yes."
"Apparently the notion of what qualifies as an unreliable car no longer means one that leaves its owner stranded at the side of the road or otherwise requires frequent repairs. Today it’s stretched to encompass what some of us might consider minor inconveniences, particularly balky voice control systems and difficulty with Bluetooth mobile phone pairing and connectivity. Issues with electronics now account for 20% of all consumer-reported car problems in J.D. Power’s survey."
Remember when a car was just a car?
If you dig into some of these studies on dependability you will find brands of vehicles where there are better engines and drivetrains with fewer problems, but the overall brands rate lower because of issues with Bluetooth connections or voice activated entertainment systems. Going back to quote the Autoblog article, "A poor Bluetooth pairing procedure is not the same as a blown engine."
I've owned quite a few cars in my lifetime, and a few had major engine problems. I am pretty happy with a car that is 9 years and has 185,000 miles on it. Yea, the voice activated audio system sometimes doesn't understand what I am saying and I sometimes swear at it when the Bluetooth gets temperamental and decides not to connect to my phone. But it is the most reliable car I have ever owned.
There was a time when someone talked about the dependability of a car, they were primarily talking about the engine and drivetrain, the major components of a car. Issues with electronics in a car meant static on your radio. If your car radio gave you fits, you ripped it out and through in a new one. Maybe an upgrade with a tape deck!
After reading several articles explaining these vehicle dependability studies and initial quality studies, I am reminded of a quote by Mark Twain, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics."
As we look at the history of television, I wanted to tackle some of the frequently asked questions about the origins of the technology, as well as share some cool resources on movies and television.
One commonly asked question is why the early televisions had round screens. The television picture tube was a vacuum tube that contains one or more electron guns and a phosphorescent screen used to display images known as a cathode ray tubes (CRT). When the original cathode ray tube was invented it was an experimental device, television was not yet developed. The natural shape of the cathode ray tube was round, as shown here in the diagram. The cheapest and easiest way to manufacture a CRT was to make it round.
The television picture is created on the surface of the cathode ray tube by drawing it rapidly line by line. The entire front area of the CRT is scanned repetitively and systematically in a fixed pattern. Before 1940 there was no standard in the United States for how the picture was created electronically using the cathode ray tube.
In 1940 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established The National Television System Committee (NTSC) to resolve the conflicts that were made between companies over the introduction of a nation wide analog television system in the United States. The NTSC standard selected 525 scan lines, an aspect ratio of 4:3, and frequency modulation (FM) for the sound signal. The number of 525 lines was chosen as a because of the limitations of the vacuum-tube-based technologies of the day.
Why an aspect ratio of 4:3?
The term aspect ratio is used in many fields to describe the proportional relationship between width and height, expressed as two numbers separated by a colon. For example when we say that the early televisions had an aspect ratio of 4:3, that means they are 4 units wide and 3 units high. The early television standard of the 4:3 aspect ratio was chosen because movies in that era were filmed in a 4:3 aspect ratio. Movies originally photographed on 35 mm film could be satisfactorily viewed on early televisions.
Motion pictures, a series of still images which, when shown on a screen, creates the illusion of moving images, or as we sometimes call them, movies, are a different field from television. But the early days of motion pictures actually set the standard for the concept of aspect ratio, the relationship of height to width of an image. For many years the standard movie screen, as well as the standard analog television, had an aspect ratio of 4:3.
The evolution of round screens to rectangular
The cheapest and easiest way to manufacture a CRT was to make it round. But the aspect ration of 4:3 lends itself to a more rectangular design. The CRT slowly evolved to being essentially rectangular in shape but it had rounded edges because it was a glass tube. You could not create a perfect rectangle using the process that created the glass cathode ray tubes in the early days of television.
If you look at the photo of various televisions you see a variety of screen sizes as well as shapes, and you can see the evolution of round screens to rectangular. The attached photograph was taken at the National Capital Radio and Television Museum, a cool little geek history museum located in Bowie, Maryland. It is a small house jam-packed with displays on the history of radio and television. The extremely knowledgeable staff was full of stories about everything on display and ready to answer any question. The museum does a great job of preserving technology history.
Increasing the number of channels
During the 1940s and the 1950s broadcast television stations in the United States were primarily transmitted on the VHF band, channels 2-13. If you live in a large city you will notice the long established stations usually are lower numbered. Television manufacturers like RCA, ran their own networks, such as NBC. Since the major TV networks were well-established on VHF, many smaller stations on the UHF band, channels 14 to 83, were struggling for survival. Fourth-network operators such as the DuMont Television Network were forced to expand using UHF channels due to a lack of available VHF channels.
In 1961 the United States Congress passed the All-Channel Receiver Act (ACRA) to allow the Federal Communications Commission to require that all television set manufacturers must include UHF tuners. All new TV sets sold after 1964 had built-in UHF tuners. The All-Channel Receiver Act allowed the UHF TV stations to grow and eventually would outnumber the long established VHF stations.
What happened to Channel 1?
When I was young, and the television had a rotary dial that took me from channels 2 through 13, I always wondered, what happened to channel 1? In 1948, Channel 1 frequencies were deleted from those allocated to television use and given over completely to radio services. The FCC decided not to renumber the channels since many televisions were being made using the existing channel numbers.
History of Television resources
If you want to learn more about television, from the perspective of the appliance that sits in your living room, rather than from the broadcasting side, there is a great pair of videos by RCA. Reasons Why, The (Part I) (1959) and Reasons Why, The (Part II) (1959) are two videos that can be watched online or downloaded for later viewing.
Classic scenes of geeks from the 1950s showing various facets of television set design, engineering, and quality control. The RCA manufacturing videos are part of a section of the Internet Archive known as the Prelinger Archives, a collection of over 60,000 advertising, educational, industrial, and amateur films.
Created in 1992 primarily to document the history of the Cathode Ray Tube it does a nice job of illustrating the basic concept of the CRT. It also includes a bit of television history showing the evolution of the CRT.
A propaganda infomercial by RCA to brag about what they have done in the world of television. Not the most historically accurate account of television, but still a very interesting bit of geek history.
Spending a Saturday morning at the Internet Archives (archive.org) is like going to the library or your favorite museum, and the best part about it is that you don't need to leave the comfort of your home computer desk.
All of the video files can be viewed for free online, and many are available to be downloaded and viewed offline. The Internet Archive does a decent job of making sure copyrights are not violated. Most of the files are public domain, but some may occasionally have some restrictions for use and are marked as to how they may be used. Because copyright laws have changed from time to time over the years, many of the files are considered public domain, or copyright free, for a variety of reasons.
The Internet Archive does a decent job of making sure copyrights are not violated. Most of the files are public domain, but some may occasionally have some restrictions for use and are marked as to how they may be used. Because copyright laws have changed from time to time over the years, many of the files are considered public domain, or copyright free, for a variety of reasons. All of the video files can be viewed for free online, and many are available to be downloaded and viewed offline.
There is a lot of entertainment and television broadcasting history found in the often lost and forgotten fourth television network created by scientist and inventor Allen B. DuMont.
DuMont was an American electronics engineer, scientist and inventor best known for improvements to the cathode ray tube for use in television receivers. DuMont Laboratories was the primary manufacturer of cathode-ray tubes in the United States in the 1930s and was fairly successful in the manufacturing of TV receivers.
To sell televisions, DuMont started the DuMont Television Network in 1946. The television broadcasting division of DuMont separated from the manufacturing division in 1955. The DuMont Television Network ceased operations in 1956. The DuMont consumer products manufacturing division would be purchased by Emerson Electric Company in 1958.
The DuMont Television Network had a difficult time competing for big name stars and talent of the day. The big three networks were all spin offs from radio networks which provided financial support for their television divisions. Some folks attribute the failure of the DuMont Television Network on the lack of backing from a radio network.
Growing up, like many baby boomers in the United States, I remember the big three television networks in the 1960s were NBC, ABC, and CBS. Any reference to a fourth network might make me think of PBS.
When making the statement the forgotten fourth network, some people may think that is meant to be a joke about the current fourth television network the Fox Broadcasting Company, rather than a reference to the DuMont Television Network, a functional on the air television network from 1946 to 1956.
Other Fourth Television Networks
Not long after the DuMont Television Network dissolved a part-time television network, NTA Film Network, was created. The NTA Film Network had over 100 affiliate stations and operated from 1956 until 1961.
Interesting that the NTA Film Network had the financial support of Twentieth Century-Fox, the sibling of current fourth television network the Fox Broadcasting Company. The NTA Film Network broadcast television shows as well as movies, showing many Twentieth Century-Fox films of the late 1950s. The company name Twentieth Century-Fox comes from motion picture executive William Fox who founded the Fox Film Corporation in 1915.
There were many other failed fourth television networks over the decades that followed. It wound not be until the launch of the Fox Broadcasting Company in 1986 that a fourth television network in the United States would challenge the the big three television networks as an equal in terms of power and market share.
The forgotten fourth network lives on
Although DuMont pre-dated videotape many programs were saved on kinescope films. The television show archives were stored in a warehouse until the 1970s when the stored kinescopes were loaded into three trucks and dumped into Upper New York Bay.
A 1996 Hearing Before the Panel of the Library of Congress describes the details of the dumped archives that were destroyed during a legal dispute over who would store and control the recordings.
The forgotten DuMont Television Network lives on with many memories of Jackie Gleason and a sketch called "The Honeymooners."
Jackie Gleason on Cavalcade of Stars
Cavalcade of Stars would become one of the most popular shows on The DuMont Television Network. The show would produce the most famous star of the DuMont Television Network with Jackie Gleason as host and performer.
The Cavalcade of Stars would also be responsible for birth of a well know classic TV show, as a sketch called "The Honeymooners" was first performed on the show. It would later be picked up by the CBS Network as part of the Jackie Gleason Show and become a television classic.
As a history lover, and someone always digging to learn more about the history of technology, I discovered the DuMont Television Network while doing some research on the Internet Archive. If you do a search on the DuMont Television Network at the Internet Archive you will find quite a bit of old videos of station IDs, commercials, and shows from this long lost network. It is worth the watching and downloading just to see a treasure of television history videos.
The video of Jackie Gleason on "Cavalcade of Stars" (1951) is a rare find for any history of television fan. The well known sitcom called "The Honeymooners" was based on a sketch first performed on Cavalcade of Stars.
One other notable show was Captain Video and His Video Rangers as it was the first science fiction show on television. While by today's standards the series looks pretty primitive, it was quite groundbreaking for the time.
The Internet Archive is a non-profit organization on a mission to build a digital library. Just like a visit to your favorite museum or traditional paper library, they provide free access to researchers, historians, scholars, and the general public to digital files on a wide variety of topics.
The way of finding things on the Internet Archive can be more like exploring a museum, that searching a catalog at the library. For example, I was looking for the link to my very groovy 1969 Pontiac GTO Commercial starring 1960s rock band Paul Revere And The Raiders. I searched on Pontiac, and I searched on GTO, and I could not find it. It was only by going to the link for Car Commercials 1966-1970 that I found the file I was looking for on a long list of files of car commercials.
Most of the files of commercials I found simply by searching the site rather than using the indexes. Once you find one type of file you like, you can see how it is tagged and search for similar files. I love cars of the 1950s and 1960s, so I searched and found commercials for the 1957 Edsel, the 1958 push button transmission Dodge, the 1960 Ford Thunderbird, and a very groovy 1969 Pontiac GTO Commercial.
From the Animation and Cartoons section I have download numerous files of shows I watched on television back in my youth. Of course my kids think it is all pretty silly, but I get a kick out of cartoon classics like Woody Woodpecker and Betty Boop. There are also some of the classic super hero cartoons like Superman. The quality of the files vary, but I enjoy downloading a bunch and creating my own mix of cartoon classics that I burn to DVD.
Great digital library for fun and researching television history
The Internet Archive is a great online library of video files. Thousands of files are available to be downloaded and viewed offline. Much like your favorite museum or traditional paper library, If you love the history of technology, or the history of entertainment, what could be more fun than a vault full of old black and white movies, free for you to download or watch at your leisure.
The invention of television was the work of many inventors over several decades, as we discussed in our previous article. Turning the vision of the television as an invention into a real commercial product that occupied American homes was the work of business visionary David Sarnoff with the help of Russian American scientist Vladimir Zworykin.
Scientist and inventor Vladimir Zworykin
As a young engineering student, Vladimir Zworykin worked for Russian scientist and inventor Boris Rosing and assisted him in some of his laboratory work at the St. Petersburg Institute of Technology in Russia. Following the Russian Revolution, Zworykin moved to the United States in 1919. Zworykin found work with Westinghouse Electric Corporation in Pittsburgh. Based on their pioneering efforts in radio, he tried to convince them to do research in television. His work on television resulted in two patent applications. The first, entitled "Television Systems" was filed on December 29, 1923, and was followed by a second application in 1925 that was awarded in 1928.
Zworykin applied to the physics department at the University of Pittsburgh in 1924. Due to his previous credited work Zworykin received his Ph.D. only two years later upon completion of his dissertation on the improvement of photoelectric cells.
Zworykin demonstrated his invention for television to Westinghouse executives in 1925. According to Zworykin himself his demonstration, was “scarcely impressive.” The Westinghouse executives suggested that Zworykin should spend his time on more practical endeavors.
Business visionary David Sarnoff
In 1917, General Electric purchased the American branch of the Marconi Company and combined its radio patents to form a new company called the Radio Corporation of America (RCA). Russian born David Sarnoff was promoted to General Manager of RCA in 1921 and was given full authority to run the company. In the 1920s David Sarnoff of RCA had the vision of developing television.
In 1929, Zworykin invented the all electric camera tube. Zworykin called his tube the Iconoscope "a viewer of icons". He demonstrated both the iconoscope and kinescope to the Institute of Radio Engineers. The Iconoscope tube could produce good pictures with a reasonable amount of light. In attendance at the demonstration was David Sarnoff of RCA. Sarnoff recruited Zworykin to develop television for RCA, and put Zworykin in charge of television development for RCA at their laboratories in Camden, New Jersey.
David Sarnoff realized the potential of television, and poured huge resources into its development, even during the lean years of the depression. RCA introduced electronic television to the U. S. at the 1939 World's Fair, and began regularly scheduled broadcasting at the same time.
Philo T. Farnsworth fights the war over television
When I was young my encyclopedia told me that Vladimir Zworykin was the inventor of television. For many years I took it as a fact that Zworykin invented television. Thanks to the commercialization of the internet, years later I found a whole new world of information, and discovered that the invention of television was not a simple question to answer, and learned of a battle by the followers of Philo T Farnsworth to promote his cause as the inventor of television.
Philo T. Farnsworth was a Mormon farmer who lived in Utah, not exactly the place for the hot bed of technology. In 1922, a young Farnsworth filled several blackboards in his chemistry class with sketches and diagrams showing his high school science teacher his idea for an electronic television system. Farnsworth received a patent for his television system raised money from friends to build his invention. Many years later that high school teacher would testify in court what he saw on the blackboards of the school, in support of Farnsworth's claims.
David Sarnoff offered to buy Farnsworth's patents in 1931, with the condition that Farnsworth become an employee of RCA. Farnsworth refused Sarnoff's offer, and spend much of the next several years fighting David Sarnoff and RCA in the court room over television patents.
When other developers and their patents got in Sarnoff’s way, he fought them hard. Philo T. Farnsworth was one of the few who stood up to Sarnoff and won. Farnsworth eventually prevailed as RCA finally conceded to a multi-year licensing agreement with Farnsworth. But Sarnoff and RCA would grab the spotlight as RCA introduced electronic television to the world at New York World's Fair 1939.
Who knows of Farnsworth?
Even though Farnsworth won the battle, defeating RCA in court to uphold his patent claims, he lost the war as the Farnsworth Television and Radio Corporation never took off. Farnsworth sold his company to International Telephone and Telegraph (ITT) in 1951. Most people have heard of RCA (Radio Corporation of America), they went on to be a large and profitable company. Farnsworth's family continues to promote his name, and his claim to the invention of television.
Zworykin always the scientist.
Decades before NASA landed a man of the moon Vladimir Zworykin talked about the scientific discoveries that could be shared on television, stating that “You can see the opposite side of the moon if someone sends a rocket there with a television camera. " In a 1975 interview Zworykin said he was disappointed with the outcome of television. "Yes. I am not presently satisfied with the programs.... Our programs are commercial, and therefore the income from broadcasting depends upon the number of people viewing. By taking surveys of this, right or wrong, they conclude that lower quality programs appeal to more people."
In their roles at RCA, it was clear that Sarnoff was the visionary businessman and Zworykin was always the scientist. Compared to Microsoft as the 800 pound gorilla of technology of the 1990s, RCA was the 800 pound gorilla of technology of the 1930s. There have been comparisons made to David Sarnoff of RCA as a driving force to establish the dominance of his company in the development of television to that of Bill Gates of Microsoft and his obsession to have Internet Explorer win the browser wars.
Although many people have called Vladimir Zworykin the Father of Television, Zworykin himself always said that television was the creation of hundreds of inventors and researchers. Zworykin seemed not only to be uncomfortable with being called the Father of Television, he also seemed to be unhappy with what became of his work.
Screen capture and cropped by Tom Peracchio from 1956 RCA promotional film about television tracing scientific development of electronic television systems from 1920s to 1950s. Vladimir Zworykin (left) and RCA Chairman David Sarnoff (right) recount early research.
According to various news reports Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, co-founder David Filo and others plan to resign from the company's board when it completes its $4.8 billion sale to Verizon.
Technology rock star Marissa Mayer
Marissa Mayer was Google's first female engineer. She started with Google in 1999 as employee number 20. Mayer worked at Google for 13 years, rising to the role of senior vice president.
Mayer was appointed president and CEO of Yahoo on July 16, 2012. Mayer led Yahoo! to acquire Tumblr in a $1.1 billion acquisition on May 20, 2013. During the summer of 2013, Mayer was looking more like a rock star that a corporate executive as she appeared in an issue of Vogue magazine. Mayer fueled a lot of debate on her office life, mixed with motherhood. At the peak of Mayer's success in 2013, Business Insider's Nicholas Carlson released the "unauthorized biography" of the Yahoo executive. The biography tells the story of how the painfully shy teenage from small town Wisconsin went on to be the successful geeky girl at Google.
Mayer delivered the keynote address at the 2014 International Consumer Electronics Show at The Las Vegas Hotel & Casino on January 7, 2014. After a demonstration of the Yahoo News Digest, the keynote went on to pitch several products and services. First a new vision for a series of digital magazines was demonstrated, Yahoo Smart TV that recommends shows for your viewing was illustrated, followed by a discussion of trends for Yahoo owned site Tumblr. The keynote address ended with a presentation on various Yahoo advertising products.
While Yahoo was delivering the message that that they are a big player in the world of news and entertainment, the Marissa Mayer keynote felt a lot more like an hour long infomercial for Yahoo products, rather than anything engaging or entertaining.
Is Marissa Mayer a failure?
It has been three years since Mayer delivered her keynote address at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show. Yahoo has slipped in popularity over the last three years. Yahoo never became the news and information portal that Meyer pitched at CES in 2014. Yahoo is in the process of being sold to Verizon, and reports state that Marissa Mayer will resign from the company's board and step down as the CEO. Was Marissa Mayer the wrong person for the job or was saving Yahoo as an internet portal an impossible mission? Those are the questions that now fuel the debate over Marissa Mayer.
The headlines once asked, "Is Marissa Mayer technology's new rock star?" This week, the headlines read, "Is Marissa Mayer a failure?" What happens to Yahoo?
Yahoo was founded by Jerry Yang and David Filo in January 1994 and incorporated on March 2, 1995. When the internet went commercial in the mid 1990s millions of people with computers had no idea where to start. They were clueless how to connect to all the information that would start pouring into the internet. Yahoo was there as the web portal pioneer that connected everyone to the internet world.
The Yahoo of 2017 is different from the Yahoo of 2012 when Mayer stepped in, and very different from the Yahoo internet directory started by Jerry Yang and David Filo of the 1990s that introduced us to the world wide web. If the Verizon deal goes through as planned, Yahoo as we know it will pretty much be dead. The new company will be known as Altaba, a combination of the words "alternative" and "Alibaba." Yahoo owns about 15% of Alibaba, a Chinese internet company. Altaba will be a holding company of the assets of the current Yahoo.
Stayed tuned as we will be watching what happens to the remains of Yahoo, and the career of Marissa Mayer.
Photo Credit: CEO of Yahoo! Marissa Mayer (L) and Zachary Bogue attend the Yahoo News/ABCNews Pre-White House Correspondents' dinner reception pre-party at Washington Hilton on May 3, 2014 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for Yahoo News)
During 2017, Norway will become the first country in the world to start shutting down its national FM radio network in favor of digital radio. Traditional FM radio receivers will not have any local stations to receive. I am not familiar with radio stations and reception in neighboring countries, so I am not sure what the people in Norway might be able to receive on traditional FM radio once their local stations all go digital.
I read an article on the topic a few days ago, and give some thought to the question. It quickly turned to a "who cares" type of issue. I scratched my head a bit, wondering why I should care. Norway is not a leader in technology, so how is this an earth shaking news story?
But in recent days it appears that technology in Norway has people thinking. I am actually surprised how many people have posted or commented about it. I have been asked, does it makes sense to eliminate FM radio in favor of digital broadcasts?
Does it makes sense to eliminate traditional FM radio in favor of digital broadcasts?
So, to answer the question, does it makes sense to eliminate FM radio in favor of digital broadcasts? After reading several news articles, I can confirm my initial reaction. Ah, no, it makes no sense at all.
The days of traditional AM and FM radio are definitely declining, but in the United States there are a lot stations still operating. In fact, according to the FCC the number of broadcast stations licensed as of December 31, 2016, is 4669 AM stations and 6746 commercial FM stations. I know I sound like an advertisement for your local radio, but even with all our access to the internet for news and information, millions of Americans are still depending on traditional AM and FM radio for news and information on the morning drive.
Someone stated the reason for the change was that the "equipment is outdated and is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain." Working in technology for more 40 years, I could apply that remark to quite a bit of things we use everyday. When I use that logic people usually tell me to quit complaining.
As the year comes to a close, we reflect on business success. At the Guru 42 Universe we study information technology success and share many lessons learned over the years. At GeekHistory we study the most successful geeks and explore when visions became reality.
We take a moment to remember one of the world's greatest overachievers of the industrial age, Andrew Carnegie. The name Andrew Carnegie is associated with some of the most successful businesses of the industrial age. He was an amazing and interesting man in many ways.
Overachiever Andrew Carnegie
Born in Dunfermline, Scotland, Carnegie grew up in Pittsburgh. He became a telegraph messenger boy in the Pittsburgh Office of the Ohio Telegraph Company in 1850. As a young man he worked for the the Pennsylvania Railroad Company. Carnegie recognized that railroads were becoming big businesses in America and learned all he could about them. Carnegie established businesses that supplied rails and bridges to the railroad.
After the Civil War, Carnegie left the railroad and moved on to the next big thing, the steel industry. The company he started as Pittsburgh's Carnegie Steel Company would go on to become The United States Steel Corporation under the ownership of J.P. Morgan. Andrew Carnegie started out as an immigrant to the United States, and went on to become one of the wealthiest Americans ever. Carnegie's net worth would be over $300 billion adjusted to modern dollars.
Evil capitalist or American hero?
Many people see the super rich as evil capitalists. During his days in business Andrew Carnegie was considered one of the robber barons. The term uses the words robber, meaning criminal, and baron, meaning aristocrat, to imply that the businessmen used unscrupulous methods to get rich. Compared to other American businessmen during the Gilded Age in United States history, from the 1870s to about 1900, you can make the case that Carnegie was not a particularly ruthless man.
Carnegie's greatest accomplishments would be what he did with his wealth. In 1889, Carnegie wrote "The Gospel of Wealth", an article describing the responsibility of philanthropy by the wealthy. Carnegie's wealth was used to create over 3000 libraries throughout the United States, Britain, Canada, including his home town in Scotland.
Having grown up in Western Pennsylvania, I saw the name Carnegie often in his adopted home town of Pittsburgh. In 1900, Carnegie gave $2 million to start the Carnegie Institute of Technology at Pittsburgh, now known as Carnegie Mellon University. He also funded the Carnegie Institute which operates the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh.
The overachievers in the world were obsessed with their vision of success, and stopped at nothing to achieve it. It is often said that there is a fine line between genius and insanity. Many successful people operated on that fine line.
I remember when "Think and Grow Rich" was also a "must read" book for those studying successful individuals. Think and Grow Rich, written in 1937 by Napoleon Hill, was based on an earlier book, The Law of Success written in 1925. The books were based upon interviews of over 100 American millionaires across nearly 20 years. According to Hill, the "Think and Grow Rich" series was a challenge made to him by Andrew Carnegie to come up with a formula to define success.
There have been many variations of "Think and Grow Rich" over the years, but the original version by Napoleon Hill set the standard for trying to understand the mindset of highly successful people. If you read it today, many of Hill's remarks are pretty sexist by today's standards, but keep in mind, it was written in the 1920s and 1930s.
How do you focus your vision of success, and how do you keep the obsession of success from consuming you? The answer to that question is the difference between success and failure.
With many proposed changes currently being discussed regarding net neutrality and the FCC, the battlelines are forming. The phrase that the road to hell is paved with good intentions is a old proverb attributed to many sources.
There are so many discussions right now on proposed changes to net neutrality and the FCC, all full of good intentions, and most are as inviting as the road to hell.
I have been asked questions on Donald Trump overturning net neutrality and shutting down websites. There are two different and unrelated issues. Shutting down websites because you don't like what they have to say, or what they are selling is a completely different topic from net neutrality. There have been many proposed laws to control what content is allowed on the internet, and these laws have been for the most part, independent of the net neutrality debate, as we explain here in this discussion on Internet censorship.
Net Neutrality History
The control of the use of the internet will always be a battleground in the United States. It is very similar to the history of radio, the first form of mass communications. Since the very beginning of radio, the U.S. government has tried to control radio. The U.S. Government seized control of radio for the "good of the country" during WWI and seized all amateur radio. After WWI the government created the monopoly called the "Radio Trust" to manage the use of radio. The company RCA was basically a government created monopoly for the control of radio patents.
The FCC was later created to manage radio as it became more and more commercial. Although much has changed since 1934, a lot of the argument now going on regarding net neutrality is based on the premise of the Communications Act of 1934, in that the FCC has the power to manage internet access in the same way they have been managing telephone and radio since 1934.
In the first discussion of network neutrality in 2003, Tim Wu of Columbia University Law School saw the issue emerging issues of business and technology in his paper "Network Neutrality, Broadband Discrimination." Tim Wu wrote, "The promotion of network neutrality is no different than the challenge of promoting fair evolutionary competition in any privately owned environment, whether a telephone network, operating system, or even a retail store."
In 2005 the FCC would amend the Communications Act of 1934, "to ensure that providers of telecommunications for Internet access or Internet Protocol-enabled (IP-enabled) services are operated in a neutral manner." In their words, the FCC said they changed the rules "to ensure consumers benefit from the innovation that comes from competition."
What started the modern day ruckus was a complaint filed against the Comcast in 2007 by some customers claiming that Comcast was interfering with their use of peer-to-peer networking applications. The FCC ruled that Comcast's method of bandwidth management breached federal policy.
The most recent ruling establishing so called net neutrality was in December 2010, the Federal Communications Commission approved rules that would forbid internet service providers from blocking or slowing online services, or favor their own services at the expense of smaller rivals. The FCC has been in control of the American telecommunications highway system for many years, and so far has be able to maintain the status quo of net neutrality,
The fight for less government control
Many people fearful of net neutrality changes look at censorship issues and editorial control of the internet as part of the net neutrality debate. But there have been many proposed laws to control what content is allowed on the internet, and these laws have been for the most part, independent of the net neutrality debate.
A 2011 bill in the U.S. Senate bill known as PIPA (PROTECT IP Act) had people excited because it would give the government many powers to control "rogue websites." The 2011 House version of the bill was known as Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). The 2011 bill was a follow up to a 2010 bill known as Combating Online Infringement and Counterfeits Act (COICA) introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), which proposed creating an Internet blacklist of sites Americans weren’t allowed to visit.
Opponents of SOPA and PIPA claimed that requiring search engines to delete domain names violated the First Amendment and could begin a worldwide arms race of unprecedented Internet censorship. There were many protests objecting to more government control of the internet, citing concerns over possible damage to freedom of speech, innovation, and Internet integrity.
But now the battle cry is give us net neutrality, make sure all access is equal, which means more government control.
The paradox of net neutrality is that the freedom fighters that wanted the government to back off when it came to privacy issues are now asking for more government control. Net neutralityis not as simple as it sounds.