September 17

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Podcast Episode - Day in Technology History

Day in Tech History: September 17th


Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek writes to the Royal Society reporting his discovery of microscopic living animalcules (live bacteria). He had made observations on the plaque between his own teeth, “a little white matter, which is as thick as if ’twere batter.” Looking at these samples with his microscope, Leeuwenhoek reports, “I then most always saw, with great wonder, that in the said matter there were many very little living animalcules, very prettily a-moving. The biggest sort. . had a very strong and swift motion, and shot through the water (or spittle) like a pike does through the water. The second sort. .oft-times spun round like a top. . and these were far more in number.”


The Radio Corporation of America (RCA) withdraws from the computer market, losing US$490 million.


NASA unveils the first Space Shuttle, the Enterprise, amid great fanfare. The first complete orbiter was originally going to be named Constitution, but a massive write-in campaign from fans of the Star Trek television series convinced the White House to change the name to Enterprise.


Steven Jobs resigns as Chairman of Apple, distributing his resignation letter to Apple and several major media outlets. He takes five top Apple executives with him to start a new venture which will be revealed in 1988 as the NeXT computer.

Donald Kingsborough, a former Atari Inc. marketing manager, reveals plans to launch a talking toy bear using the same technology that Disneyland uses for their Abraham Lincoln and It’s A Small World attractions. The founder of Worlds of Wonder, Inc. in Fremont, California announces that the 2.5 pound toy bear, called Teddy Ruxpin, will sell between US$60 and US$80 and feature eyes that open and close and a mouth that moves with pre-recorded dialoge.


The Washington Post reports that a computer virus “that springs to life destructively on Friday the 13th is on the loose.” The virus which is dubbed DataCrime will later turn out to be a rather minor matter and it will be blown entirely out of proportion.


AT&T’s switching stations in New York City simply run out of electrical power and shut down cold. Their back-up batteries fail. Automatic warning systems that should warn of the loss of battery power fail as well. The AT&T phone crash affects New York City as well as Kennedy, La Guardia, and Newark airports, which loose all voice and data communications. Over five hundred flights are subsequently canceled and another five hundred are delayed, affecting approximately eighty-five thousand passengers, including the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). In his book, The Hacker Crackdown, Bruse Sterling will write of the failure, saying, “This horrifying event was particularly ironic, as attacks on airport computers by hackers had long been a standard nightmare scenario, much trumpeted by computer- security experts who feared the computer underground. There had even been a Hollywood thriller about sinister hackers ruining airport computers — Die Hard II.” Fortune will list later the crash among the “Biggest Business Goofs of 1991.” Read more in The Hacker Crackdown.

Linus Torvalds publicly releases the first version of the Linux kernel, version 0.01 onto the Internet. While a computer science student at the University of Helsinki, Linus created the Linux operating system, which was originally named Freax. The source code of the kernel is 64KB.


David Wagner and Ian Goldberg, PhD students in the computer science department at the University of California, Berkeley, crack the pseudo-random number generator in the SSL implementation of Netscape Navigator 1.1, exposing its weakness. They discover the session key within a few hours using only a single workstation. An article discussing the exploit will be published in the January 1996 issue of Dr. Dobb’s Journal.


Motorola announces its entry into the Power Macintosh clone market, unveiling the StarMax series of desktop computers, which use a version of Apple’s Tanzania motherboard, featuring the PowerPC 603e and 604e processors, operating at 166 MHz and 200 MHz. Apple will terminate the Macintosh clone license program in 1997.


IBM licenses the PalmPilot design from 3Com.


Acorn Computers announces the end of its workstations division, which manufactures RISC OS computers, canceling plans to manufacture the Phoebe computer despite thousands of pre-release orders.

Aaron Blosser, age 28, a contract programmer and self-described “math geek,” harnesses over 2,585 US West computers by installing a program that will utilize their idle time to find Mersenne prime numbers. Their combined computational power in theory surpasses that of most supercomputers. Blosser enlists 2,585 computers to work at various times during the day and night and quickly runs approximately 10.63 years of computer processing time in his search for a new prime number. “I’ve worked on this (math) problem for a long time,” said Blosser. “When I started working at US West, all that computational power was just too tempting for me.” US WEST is a Regional Bell Operating Company, one of seven telephone companies spawned by the antitrust breakup of AT&T in 1983. Blosser intended to configure the software to run in the background, but instead he misconfigured the machines so that they checked for network activity every two seconds - flooding the system with packets in the process. When the error disrupts the network, US West fires Blosser and urges the FBI to prosecute him.


Compaq Computer unveils the Aero 1530 handheld computer, featuring Windows CE, 16MB RAM, fourteen hours of battery life, an MP3 audio player, and a PC Card Type I slot. Price: US$299 Weight: five ounces

On eBay, bidding closes for item number 159791423, the production slate used in the movie Blair Witch Project. The slate sells for US$1,525 to a bidder listed as “nishizaki”. Microsoft announces that nearly one hundred independent Internet sites have agreed to share auction listings for their new auction service. The move enables Internet surfers to view and bid on items by visiting any one of the entire consortium of sites. A formal announcement will be made Monday, September 20.


Version 4.75 of the Netscape Communicator web browser is released.


Handspring introduces the Handspring Visor Neo handheld computer, featuring a monochrom display, a 33MHz processor, 8MB RAM, and the Palm OS 3.5.2H3. Two AAA batteries power the unit for six to eight weeks. Price: US$199, US$299 for an upgrade to Handspring Visor Pro with 16MB RAM


Samir Rana, age 21, of London, England, known by the web handle “Torner”, is arrested on suspicion of being a member of the infamous hacker group “Fluffy Bunny” following a year-long investigation into the creation of the Linux rootkit program called Tornkit. A Scotland Yark spokesman will later explain in a public statement that Torner essentially confessed by brazenly announcing when he was about to launch a DDoS attacks and posting pictures of himself with other hackers on the Web. In addition, a CD-ROM containing chat log files, Web pages, photos and other evidence was recovered during the course of the arrest. It will also later be revealed that Rana owned the pink stuffed toy depicted in photos left as a signature on websites defaced by Fluffy Bunny.


AMD releases the 2GHz Sempron 3000+ processor, featuring a 512KB Level-2 Cache and a 333MHz Front Side Bus.


Yahoo buys email provider Zimbra for $350 Million. New York Times drops their subscription service to their web site news stories.


Bill Gates invests in Algae fuel

Nortel announces they are looking to sell off its metro Ethernet equipment business

Google announces Street View is now available on Blackberry, but not iPhone.

IBM opens a Development center in Cambridge Mass for “Social Software”

Sarah Palin’s Yahoo email was hacked and deleted. Later it was found that the hackers used “Common data” to get a new password to infiltrate the email.


Julius Blank, who founded Fairchild Semiconductor, passes away

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