Remembering Bob Taylor

2013_robert_taylorBob Taylor, who far more than Al Gore had a claim to being the Father of the Internet, died from complications of Parkinson’s Disease last Thursday at 85. Though I knew him for 30 years, I can’t say I knew Bob well but we always got along and I think he liked me. Certainly I respected him for being that rarity — a non-technical person who could inspire and lead technical teams. He was in a way a kinder, gentler Steve Jobs.

Bob’s career seemed to have three phases — DARPA, XEROX, and DEC — and three technical eras — mainframes, local area network (workgroup) computing, and the Internet.

At DARPA […]

Remember Pirates of Silicon Valley? I sure do.

piratesIt’s funny how a career can turn on a dime. Mine certainly did back in the late 90s when Hollywood flirted with me for a moment. My book Accidental Empires, which was the basis of my PBS series Triumph of the Nerds, was optioned for a feature film by Lionsgate Films, a script was written and casting was about to begin. Then along came Pirates of Silicon Valley (ironically you can find both rental and pirated versions of the film at the same time on Youtube). The TV movie for TNT was considered such an overlap of my work that the Lionsgate project died overnight.

I have to give credit to the writer and director of […]

Fifteen years after 9-11 threats have evolved, too

Fifteen years after 9-11 it’s interesting to reflect on how much our lives have — and haven’t — changed as a result of that attack. One very obvious change for all of us since 9-11 is how much more connected we are to the world and to each other than we were back then. Politico has a great post quoting many of the people flying on Air Force One that day with President George W. Bush as his administration reacted to the unfolding events. Reading the story one thing that struck me was the lack of immediate information about the attacks available to the airborne White House. They had televisions with rabbit ear antennas and […]

John Ellenby dies at 75

ellenbyI wouldn’t normally be writing a column early on a Saturday morning but I just read that John Ellenby died and I think that’s really worth mentioning because Ellenby changed all our lives and especially mine.

If you don’t recognize his name, John Ellenby was a British computer engineer who came to Xerox PARC in the 1970s to manufacture the Xerox Alto, the first graphical workstation. He left Xerox in the late 1980s to found Grid Systems, makers of the Compass — the first full-service laptop computer. In the 1990s he founded Agilis, which made arguably the first handheld mobile phone that wasn’t the size of a brick. Finally he […]

Thinking about Big Data — Part Two

BigDataIn Part One of this series of columns we learned about data and how computers can be used for finding meaning in large data sets. We even saw a hint of what we might call Big Data at Amazon.com in the mid-1990s, as that company stretched technology to observe and record in real time everything its tens of thousands of simultaneous users were doing. Pretty impressive, but not really Big Data, more like Bigish Data. The real Big Data of that era was already being gathered by outfits like the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) and the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) — spy operations that were recording digital communications […]