1. The Talk

Below is the prepared text for the 2014 APIDays Paris talk. This may vary from the talk delivered. ;)

1.1. Intro (3m, 500w)

It’s great to be here ats APIDays Paris once again.

Three years ago, in my first APIDays talk, I covered modern computing history from the 1950s through to the start of the 21st Century, Today, I want to talk about the fifty year period before that — form 1890 to the 1940s. What I am calling the first Information Age.

To do that I offer you a guided tour through a unique museum — a virtual version of Sir Patrick Geddes' Outlook Tower in Edinburgh, Scotland.


Opened by Geddes in 1892 as part of his project to help educate and enlighten his fellow citzens of Edinburgh on the plight of the city and the role people play in it.


Geddes was born in 1854 in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, he was a botanist, sociologist, geographer, and pioneering town planner.

Geddes' building was arranged in a very specific pattern in order to get patrons to open their eyes and hopefully change their point of view on the city itself and everyone’s role in it. Each floor had a different focus and all were offered as inter-related.

Inspired by Geddes' efforts, I’ve put together a small virtual Outlook Tower for us to explore. So let’s get started at the very top of our virtual museum — in the Camera Obscura…

1.2. Camera Obscura (3m, 500w)


The Camera Obscura is an old trick — a dark box with a pin hole to let in just a small amount of light. it’s the same principle used in modern cameras today. But Geddes' camera was large anough to hold about 30 people.


One of the things the Camera Obscura (literally "dark chamber") offers is a new perspective — a chance to see things differently. Geddes thought this was most important — that people needed to see things in a new light, a new way and the method he hit upon was to use this then "magical" device to peek into the lives to their fellow townspeople to see how they really lived.


Geddes also used what he called Thinking Machines on his own to help him gain new perspective on the relationships between everyday things both in nature and the community. We’d probably call these "mind maps" today.

All his life, he worked tirelessly to make things better for his fellow citizens. He focused on creative ways to get people to see what was right in front of them. To acknowledge what they had been blind to in thier surroundings. To simply change thier POV in order to see new ways to solve existing problems.

And that’s what we’ll work on in this exhibit.

1.3. Person (3m, 500w)

So, on the next floor in our tour the theme is The Individual.

davinci head

1.3.1. Mondotheque


In 1935, Paul Otlet published the specifications for what he called the Mondotheque (mawn-do-tek).


It was, essentially, a workstation. With it, Otlet hoped that an individual would find all the information he or she might desire right at their fingertips.

Here is a carefully built reproduction based on his specifications.


You’ll notice drawings on the top based on Geddes' Think Machines (because the two had been collborating for quite some time). You’ll notice numerous card drawers. Otlet was the first person to begin to codify books and other periodicals using index cards. You’ll also notice a microsope, several others tools and, in the center a broadcast receiver. Otlet was already imagining how a personalized receiver might be able to play back news and other important information, on-demand.

There was even allowance for a mirofilm reader.

That might remind you of this drawing from ten years later:


This is the Memex as it was described by Vaneaver Bush…

...in his 1945 Atlantic Monthly Article "As We May Think."

Yes, Otlet had been thinking about this problem and many others for quite a while and even described his workstation in great detail more than ten years before Bush.

Otlet, who was born in 1863 and died in 1944, spent most of his life working on problems like this at his Palias Mondial — World Palace — where dozens of individuals worked to categorize and organize all the books, papers, and documents they could get thier hands on.


At on point the collectoin held more than 12 million index cards.


All organized using Otlet’s Universal Decimal Classification or UDC based, largely on the system created by Melvil Dewey a few years earlier — the Dewey Decimal System.


It’s difficult to see from this example, but Otlet expanded on the Dewey system to include diacritical marks such as colons, parens, and other characters in order to indicate hierarchies, relationships, and cross-referencing. All in a single identifier.

As noted Otlet biographer, Boyd Rayward has pointed out, Otlet’s advanced classification system looks and behaves much like the RDF triplestores of the Semantic Web


Otlet saw a day when the book was a dynamic collection of information available and customizable for each and every person.

1.3.2. Inventing the Future

Another man who spends a great deal of his time empowering individuals is Alan Kay.

Born in 1940 — he was four years old when Otlet died — Kay learned to read by the time he was three years old.

lying teachers

He graduated from UC Boulder w/ degress in mathematics and molecular biology. He later earned his PhD in engineering.


He started out as a full time professional jazz musician, but gave it up in the late 60s when his ARPA research (Advanced Research Projects Agency) got to be too much.

music kay

He met Seymour Papert…

...and learned about his Logo programming language...
...which influenced him when he went to Xerox Parc to work on computer networking.

It was a PARC that Alan key invented the Smalltalk language and the concept of Object-Oriented Programming or OOP.

But the thing that really fascinates me about Kay is the idea he had in 1968 — the DynaBook — a computer for every child.

Now, in 1968, the only workable computers filled a single room.


But Kay’s idea looked like this:

kids drawing

here’s a mock up he created in 1972

mock dynabook

BTW - here’s today’s Surface Pro:


In 1968 Alan Kay envisioned what computing would look like in fifty years into his future!


For the last fifteen years, Kay has devoted his time to his Viewpoints Research Institute where continues to work on creating computers for children to use for learning.


He’s created the Squeak Language based on Smalltalk and helped design machine used in the One-Laptop-Per-Child program and continues to assist it today.

When asked how he could so accurately predict the future of computing he has a simple answer.

invent it

1.4. Communities (3m, 500w)

paris map

1.4.1. Human Intelligence

Another man at Xerox PARC at the same time as Alan Kay was Douglas Engelbart.


Born in Oregon in 1925, Engelbart grew up in the great outdoors and mostly coasted through life. His college studies were interrupted by WWII which he spent staffing a radar station in the Phillipines. There he stumbled upon Venaever Bush’s article on the Memex and he resolved to return home to finish college.

When he returns home and settles down, he realizes he doesn’t really have any goals. So, decides to set out his life’s goal and this is what he comes up with:

making the world a better place

Like Kay, Engelbart saw the future of computing in a unique way. In the early sixties, he was one od the first to talk about interactive computing.


At a time when computers were carefully programmed over days and weeks to solve a single math problem, Engelbart was talking about real-time computing and using television screens to interact with computers — all wild stuff back in those days.

In fact, Engelbart had a terrible time getting people to pay attention to his ideas. Finally, he hit on the idea to put on a show — in a large hall with a big screen — in order to demonstrate the reality of what he wanted to do.

Engelbart invented the Demo!

So, in 1968 — the same year Alan Key describes the DynaBook — Engelbart rents out this huge hall in San Francisco in conjunction with a computer show

demo hall

and proceeds to give a live 90-minute demonstration of a few of his (and his teams) ideas on what interactive computing looks like.

Here he is editing a shopping list live on stage


something that was — to this point — unheard-of.

He called is system NLS or oNLine System. And I looked up the new ideas that were shown in this demo:

  • windows,

  • hypertext,

  • graphics,

  • efficient navigation and command input,

  • video conferencing,

  • the computer mouse,

  • word processing,

  • dynamic file linking,

  • revision control,

  • real-time collaborative editing

All in a single installed system! People didn’t actually belive it.

Here’s another view of what his workstation looked like

engelbart workstation

This event was dubbed "The Mother of All Demos" and you can find it online today. It’s amazing to watch.

And all this work came out of the drive and determination of one man to help people, teams, no matter how far apart work better together. This idea was first written up by Engelbart in his 1962 research summary "Augementing Human Intellect."


Engelbart continued his work to improve human intellect using computers for sevearl decades. Even though many didn’t understand his work or appreciate the possibilities. Along the way he turned down opptys to work on things like the personal computer thinking it was too limiting and took away from his mission to help communities, not just create personal devices.

He had a phrase for his work — Bootstrapping. Thinking better in order to design things that make you think better which in turn… Well, you get the idea.

engelbart institue

He died in 2013. He spent his remaing years working on his Douglas Engelbart Institute always working on projets that fostered his original mission — helping people work together.

1.5. Countries (3m, 500w)

1.5.1. Machine Dreams

In 1937, just two years after Otlet describes his Mondotheque. almost the same time Alan Kay is born, Ted Nelson is born in Chicago IL but soon moves to Greenwich Village in California.


Greenwish Village in the 1950s is a "Happening Place, Man…" as they might say back then. and Nelson drinks it all up.

greenwich, 1950s

Unlike his contemporary, Alan Kay, Nelson goes to school to study liberal arts at Swarthmore College in PA,


producing a student film and completes a masters degree in 1963 in sociology — the same field as Sir Patrick Geddes.


1963 is the year after Engelbart publishes "Augmenting Human Intellect"


and just a few years before Engelbart and Alan Kay will meet at Xerox PARC.


Nelson had been frustrated when writing his movie and keeping track of various cuts and edits. He wanted a better editing system — one, he says, that should be done from a computer. So, around 1960, he starts his Project Xanadu to help creating this computer. This is eight years before Engelbart does his Mother of all Demos.


His vision of how content is linked together starts to look a lot like Otlet’s diagrams, too.


Another things Nelson starts doing is creating a massive and complex linked file referencing system — physical files and index cards to match!

Along the way Nelson invents new words for his ideas such as

  • hypertext

  • hypermedia

  • hyperdata

  • transclusion

  • intertwingled

word slide

Much of this shows up in his 1974 double-book "Computer Lib/Dream Machines"


One of the key ideas in that book is that computers should be for everyone, not just for military, companies, etc.

One of the his common quotes is "The purpose of computers is freedom."

freedom slide

Ted Nelson never worked at Xerax PARC or on the ARPAnet project. Instead, he was working with writers and artists to help him craft his vision of the computer.

he was working to visually link documents


in ways that our current WWW still does not do. One that always has two-way links, that always shows provenance, and allows readers to virtually travel forward and backward in time to see all the versions of all the linked documents.

ted and doug

It turns out Ted Nelson and Douglas Engelbart are kindred spirits in many ways. They both had visions of what computers could be well beyond the narrow implementations around them. They even thought about linking in the same way — that links should be separated from the text, not embedded as they are in HTML.

And they both worked tirelessly for many years, even when people didn’t understand or appreciate thier work.

Nelson gave a very passionate eulogy at Engelbarts Remembrance last year. One of may favorite lines from Nelsons remarks — one that captures the unfulfilled promise many think of when they think of Engelbart is:

last demo

Ted is still around, still kicking, and still making noise. For instance, last year he claimed to know the true identity of the Bitcoin Creator online persona Satoshi Nakamoto and did a video about it.

There’s been renewed interest in Nelson’s Xanadu as young students are actually making much of it a reality. Who knows maybe we will reach Nelson’s Computer Lib in his own lifetime.

nelson lib

1.6. Continents (3m, 500w)

Paul Otlet …


…was very keen on the idea that, in order to do great works, the focus should be trans-national. He worked tirelessly to bring about international organizations to foster his key missions of world peace and shared understanding. Mainly the International Institute of Bibliography or IIB later renamed the Federation for International Documentation or FID.

It is the IIB that is cited by Boyd Rayward…


…as helping to establish the field of Information Science and modern library science.


Along with his specification for the Mondotheque


Otlet also mapped out just how his living network, what he called The Mundaneum would operate.


How individuals could connect to a central source to request data. How groups of people could all watch the same broadcasts at a single point, and how data requested from individual index cards could be broadcast to all who wish to view them.

He evenutally, envisoined a single portal that would allow users to access

circle of mundaneum
  • point-to-point communication via the telephone

  • live broadcast reception

  • recordings on deman

  • microfilm data retrieval

  • and even interactive television

All this before Vaneaver Bush, Douglas Engelbart, Ted Nelson, or Tim Berners-Lee.

BTW - a great book on Otlet is Alex Wright’s "Cataloging the World."

1.6.1. World City

Otlet was an early backer of the League of Nations


and he corresponded directly with US President Woodrow Wilson


and noted US industrialist, Andrew Carnegie…

  1. here is Otlet instructing the diminutive Carnegie on the use of his bibliographic collection.

All this, in order to promote the idea that the League should have it’s headquarters in Brussels as part of his overall dream of a "Universal City"


BTW - note the ocean-going vessels in this depiction. See them, there? The tiny things in the upper right? This vision of Otlet’s "City of Bibliologists" — a place where domain experts from every nation of the world would team up with resident bibliographic professionals to categorize the worlds information — was created by his long-time friend, Hendrik Andersen.

Otlet eventually parted from Andersenwhen Andersen became enamoured with Italy’s Benito Mussolini in the run-up to WWII.


Later drawings for the World City …


…were created by the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier.


whose design style is a hallmark of 20th centry architecture.

Le Corbusier and Otet grew to be close friends and it was Le Corbusier’s designs that suited Otlet best.


1.7. The World (3m, 500w)

And here is our last display — that on the World and Beyond.

1.7.1. Inter-Galactic Network

Another man with a grand vision of the future was JCR Licklider, or "Lick" as he was called by his colleagues and friends.


Licklider was a quiet, unassuming man but dogged in his determination.

He was born in 1915, the son of a Baptist Minister in St. Louis, MO…


…and before he reached 30 years old, he’d earned degrees in physics, mathematics, and psychology from the University of Washington at St. Louis.


He later earned a deree in PsychoAcoustics and taught and experimented in this field at Harvard University until 1950.


However, it was a year, later while at MIT, that he published his paper A Duplex Theory of Pitch Perception.


He modeled hearing using analog electronics and, leaning on the work of Wiener and Claude Shannon — both instrumental in the start of the computer age — become fascinated with computing in general and it’s possiblities for the future.


Since the early computers where analog, not digital — they did math computations using frequencies, not registers — Licklider fit well into this entirely new field.

By the late 50s Licklider was at BBN a US military contractor and used some available funds to purchase the first PDP-1 computer for his own experiments.


This led to his work creating the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) which as later renamed ARPA (dropping Defense from the name). So "Lick" was one of the founders of the Internet we all use today.


As cool as that is, one of the things he is most remembered for today is a short memo he dashed off in 1963 about how we might eventually get computers to "talk" to each other over a general network.

The memo was adressed to…


"Members of the Intergalactic Computer Network"

Now that’s big thinking for 1963!

In this memo he actually talks about the problem of communicating with aliens from another planet. He refers to them as "uncorrelated sapient beings." There were a number of ideas going around the US military in the 1960s related to alien invasions so, as odd as it might seem today, Licklider was only doing what he did best — thinking ahead to a day when our computers would talk to computers from other worlds.


In fact, there is a protocol named after him - the LTP or Licklider Transmission Protocol.


What was it designed to do? it’s part of the backbone of the new "Internet of Space" which is overseen by the CCSDS — the Consultative Committee on Space Data Systems.


And behind all the work Licklider did was the notion of creating a better world for everyone. He had to fight constantly to get funding for non-military uses of computers. He worked diligently to fund such things as Xerox Parc


where Engelbart invented the mouse, Alan Kay created Smalltalk, and eventually all our current computing and programming paradigms come from.

All thanks to grand vision of JCR Licklider.


1.8. The Inlook Room (2m, 200w)

And finally, we reach the last exhibit: The Inlook Room.

old chair

And this room, like the first in our tour — like the Camera Obscura — is dark. But this time, there is no viewing screen, no mirrors. Just a single chair where each visitor is invited to sit and reflect upon what they have seen, and learned today.

folding chair

And encouraged to contemplate their own role in the world. And to consider carefully what they can do to make it a better world.

One thing you might have noticed throughout the exhibit is that all the people featured shared a similar trait — they all worked for something beyond themselves, usually for little or no direct profit. Most of them had, as a goal, the betterment of humankind.

group shot

And most of them gave up quite a bit of power and/or money in order to work toward thier goals.

So now I will ask that we bring the house lights down for just 60 seconds maybe we can close our eyes consider what the future of computing could be like and what role each of us can play in bringing that future into reality.

house lights come down for 60 seconds

1.9. Epilogue (3m, 600w)

.VIDEO : Clips of Licklider, Nelson, Engelbart, Berners-Lee, Alan Kay, Boyd Rayward.

house lights back up

Thank you. Now, to paraphrase Alan Kay — "Go out and invent the future!"


2. Loose Notes, Cut Material

Some stuff that never made it into the talk…

2.1. Etsy

Here’s an example I stumbled across recently. I offer this, not to pick on any person or compnay — only to make a point that we all loose perspective at times.


It’s an explanation on how Etsy supports continuous integration and deployment of their iOS applications. I’ll read directly from the writer’s blog post on the subject:

The integration (or build) machines infrastructure is composed of 25 Mac minis provisioned with Chef, with the help of Homebrew. Highlighting the difficulties of Mac OSX provisioning automation, XCode installation still requires a click, so the process is not fully automated.

How Etsy Does Continuous Integration for Mobile Apps
— João Miranda

While I admire the ingenuity of the Etsy folks, this description smacks of the old Maslow quote:

maslow quote

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

The Psychology of Science
— Abraham Maslow

I suspect that, since Etsy has become to adept at the continuous deployment paradigm, most all problems they encounter look like another opportunity to create a continous deployment process. They’ve adopted a typical approach: If one works well, two MUST work even better.


The willingness to repeat a known behavior even when is it not appropriate was described slightly differently by Rita Mae Brown in her novel "Sudden Death":

"Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results."

Sudden Death
— Rita Mae Brown

Just as Sir Patrick Geddes would use his Camera Obscura to provide his visitors a peek into the everyday lives to their fellow residents, I bring this story of Etsy’s application of continous everywhere to point out that sometimes the best strategy is to STOP what you’re doing, not do more of it.

When I look around our programming community, I see many examples of people trying to do the same thing — but ‘more.’ More machines, more apps, more objects, more code. And at some point we need to reconsider whether the thing we love so much is the thing that’s hurting us.

2.2. Geddes

Visitors to the Outlook Tower would begin in the Camera Obscura, where they would encounter live projected images of the city streets and nearby farms that encouraged them to contemplate the interrelationship between the life of the city and the surrounding countryside. They would then wind their way down through successive floors of the building, each featuring a display intended not only to inform them about the city itself, but also to broaden their perspective on the relationship between the city and a wider, increasingly interconnected world. “The general principle is the synoptic one, of seeking as far as may be to recognise and utilise all points of view— and so to be preparing for the Encyclopaedia Civica of the future,” Geddes wrote when describing the Outlook Tower in his 1924 book Cities in Evolution. 3 In the foyer outside the camera room, Geddes installed stained-glass windows devoted to a wide range of topics, such as botany and zoology— glowing triptychs laden with visual data. On the floor below was an exhibit about the history of Edinburgh; on the floor below that, the subject was Scotland, followed by Europe, and then, finally, the world. On the ground floor was a darkened chamber outfitted with a single chair: the Inlook Room, in which each visitor could reflect on what he or she had just learned.

Cataloging the World
— Alex Wright

2.5. Engelbart

2.6. Ted Nelson

2.7. Music Credits

3. References

4. Images