Tech-Trivia : Did You Know? This Week in Tech-History …

November 10, 2004 : What’s In a Name?

On November 9th 2004, the well-known web-browser ‘Firefox’ was released, although it had earlier been called something entirely different altogether.

Originally created in 2002 by members of the Mozilla community, the browser had the codename “Phoenix”. This was supposed to reflect the project’s aim to “rise from the ashes of Netscape Navigator” after it was defeated in the browser wars by Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. However, a software company named Phoenix Technologies meant there were trademark issues, so it was renamed.

The next (brief) iteration was “Firebird”, which is a more literal expression of what a Phoenix is. However, once again this led to conflicts with another software project.

Ultimately,  “Firefox” was selected. However, this animal has nothing to do with foxes, even though the logo suggests otherwise. It is, in fact, the colloquial term for the red panda, which was adopted as the mascot for the project following its renaming. A red panda was chosen because, at the time, relatively few people knew about this animal and was therefore less likely to cause yet more trademark issues! As an aside, a red-panda’s habitat is around China and as a species they are related to skunks, weasels and raccoons and so they are completely unrelated to giant Pandas (which are actually a type of bear).

As far as naming is concerned, the plot thickens because the community called Mozilla was originally so-called because ‘Mozilla’ was originally the code name for the Netscape Navigator web browser, and it was a portmanteau created from the words “Mosaic” and “Godzilla.” The name was chosen to signal Netscape’s goal to be the “Mosaic killer,” as Mosaic was the dominant web browser at the time Netscape was being developed. The addition of “Godzilla” to the mix signified the hope that Netscape would become a powerful and formidable player in the browser space, much like the fictional monster. Phew!

Currently, as of October 2023, the browser share of Firefox is around 3.06% (i.e. about 90% down from its prime in 2009 when it had about 32% browser share). So, it looks like Firefox’s best days are behind it but who knows what’s around the corner?

Tech-Trivia : Did You Know? This Week in Tech-History :

November 2, 1936 : BBC Basics

“Gentlemen, you have now invented the biggest time-waster of all time. Use it well.”, said Isaac Shoenberg, head of the EMI research team that developed the first fully electronic television system to be used in regular broadcasting.

On the second of November 1936, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) transmitted the first-ever scheduled television programmes. They were in “High Definition” (at the time) and started airing at 3pm and finishing at 4pm. Then again with more content at 9pm until 10pm.

Programming featured brief impromptu performances by musicians. The duration was restricted because early viewers (referred to as “lookers in”) reported eye strain from watching the small screens of the time.

The BBC (namely the world’s oldest national broadcasting organisation, established in 1922), is unusual in that they don’t broadcast adverts on their (domestic) channels because it’s primarily funded by the TV licence fee paid by UK households. This means that it remains independent of commercial interests (as far as we know) and they’re unbiased (supposedly) and a beacon of free-world hope, recognised for its independent reporting throughout the world. In fact, although the primary audience speaks English, the BBC broadcasts in dozens of languages worldwide, from major ones like Arabic, Chinese, and Russian to regional languages like Hausa, Kyrgyz, and Tok Pisin.

In the 1980s, the BBC was involved in a project to promote computer literacy. This led to the creation of the BBC Micro, a series of microcomputers co-developed with Acorn Computers. It was widely used in schools across the UK and was part of a wave of pioneering home-computers originating at the time that kicked-off the careers of many computer programmers and entire industries related to home-computing. Later on in 2015, in a bid to help foster a new generation of computer users, the BBC, in partnership with other organisations, released the Micro Bit, a tiny programmable computer for kids.

As an institution you can either Love it or hate it, nevertheless there’s no denying that the BBC in no small part helped shape the current IT landscape in the UK via an entire generation of people that started their IT career from those early BBC computers and who watched inspiring BBC programmes such as “Tomorrow’s World”.

Tech-Trivia : Did You Know? This Week in Tech-History …

October 10, 2023 : “A Thousand-Year Name Extension”

Around a thousand years before electronics, a monk called Poppo was asked to prove his faith, because Sweyn Forkbeard was having doubts about his baptism. Legend has it that Poppo proved his faith by holding a red-hot metal glove, yet he remained unharmed.

Sweyn Forkbeard’s father (King Harald Blátǫnn Gormsson) had already converted from paganism to Christianity although his conversion wasn’t what he was famous for. His place in the history books had been assured by uniting Norway and Denmark in AD 958, quite possibly giving him cause to smile.

If you’d seen his smile, you may have noticed that he had an off-colour dead-tooth which the sagas say were stained from eating blueberries, for Blátǫnn is old norse for “Blue-Tooth”.

A couple of weeks ago on 10th October, Denmark officially authorised the creators of Bluetooth technology to use the name and symbol of the aforementioned Danish King Harald “Bluetooth” Gormsson for a period of 1,000 years.

The modern technological version of Bluetooth was devised and named in 1996 when, in a spirit of collaboration, Intel, Ericcson and Nokia held a meeting to standardise short-range radio communications between electronic devices. The name was only supposed to be temporary until their marketing departments came up with another.

Intel’s Jim Kardach said “King Harald Bluetooth was famous for uniting Scandinavia just as we intended to unite the PC and cellular industries with a short-range wireless link.”

Three Business Take-Aways That Spring To Mind :

1 – Collaboration. Cooperation between related businesses means that synergy from the collective can be more productive than the sum of the parts.

2 – Vision. The inventors of Bluetooth had a clear goal : a wireless communication protocol that could connect devices across different industries, brands, and functionalities.

3 – Branding. If the name sticks, use it! In this case, they’re good for the next thousand years, so there’s no rush to change it now.

As an aside, the Bluetooth logo is derived from Viking runes and it’s a bind-rune merging “Hagall” (associated with the forces of nature and the universe, symbolizing disruption, change, and challenges) and “Bjarkan” (associated with growth, rebirth, and new beginnings). Both runes correspond to the initials of the 10th-century Danish king.

That’s something to think about next time you’re going around in circles, trying to connect devices and not going mad.

Tech-Trivia : Did You Know? This Week in Tech-History …

October 23, 2001 : “A Thousand Songs In Your Pocket”

Around this time 22 years ago on October 23 2001, Steve Jobs promised to give people “A Thousand Songs In Their Pocket”. His timing couldn’t have been better because at the time, Apple was primarily known for its computers and was struggling financially.

Arriving eight months following the Macintosh version of iTunes, and lasting 20 years, iPods were discontinued last year (2022) after around 450 million iPods had been sold worldwide. Not bad !

Steve had a canny knack of spotting gaps in the market then filling them with game-changing devices which appear so blindingly obvious in hindsight. He’s been quoted as saying that the digital music players at the time were “big and clunky or small and useless” with user interfaces that were “unbelievably awful”.

So he did something about it, in secret. In fact, the project was so secret that employees working on it couldn’t tell their families about it.

Inspired by the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey”, copywriter Vinnie Chieco proposed the name “iPod”. The phrase “Open the pod bay doors, HAL” from the film, along with the small, white ‘pods’ in the movie, were a reference to this film.

In the first month of 2007, Apple announced an unprecedented quarterly revenue of US$7.1 billion, with iPod sales accounting for almost 50% of that figure. Then, on April 9, 2007, the company reached a milestone by selling its one-hundred millionth iPod, securing its place as the most popular digital music player ever sold.

Some Business Lessons To Consider :

1 – Innovate by Addressing Pain Points: A primary reason for the iPod’s success was Steve Jobs’ ability to understand customer frustrations with existing products.
2 – Build Integrated Ecosystems: The iPod was a critical part of a larger ecosystem. The seamless integration with iTunes software and the iTunes Store made it incredibly easy for users to purchase, manage, and enjoy music.
3 – Joint-Venture With Strategic Partners. When Apple entered into a partnership with HP, it was a move to expand their market presence. At the time, Apple’s market share was predominantly within its loyal customer base, while HP had a broader reach in the PC market and strong relationships with big-box retailers. Apple was then able to tap into a wider demographic, extending its reach to consumers who might not have considered Apple products before.

Steve was brilliant at taking what was already out there and “re-thinking it” with incredible success, which can be modelled.

When will it be your turn to have your own “iPod moment” ?

Tech-Trivia : Did You Know? This Week in Tech-History …

FORTRAN Developed : 20th September

Q. Why Do Python Programmers Wear Specs?

A – Because they don’t see sharp!

That’s a programming humour for you. And talking of programming, there’s currently an explosion of code being auto-generated by AI and before long, human-coders may go the way of the early switchboard operators. Hmm, possibly!

Yet can you imagine painstakingly programming computers, line-by-line with assembly language, punched-cards and needing almost infinite patience? Yet that’s what life was like before “High-Level” languages came along and compiled the assembly language to make life easier.

69 Years Old This Week

One such language was reportedly first run this week in September, 1954 – 69 years ago. It was called “FORTRAN”, short for Formula Translating (depending on whom you ask) and developed for an early IBM machine (which still used vacuum tubes). The contemporary coding community were sceptical it would actually be any good, yet it quickly took off like wildfire. So if you’ve ever programmed in a language like BASIC or PASCAL at school (i.e. before all the web languages came along), you can thank FORTRAN as an early pioneer.

It was adopted enthusiastically largely because 20 lines of code in assembly language could be accomplished in just one line with Fortran. In fact, John Backus, the inventor of it reportedly said “Much of my work has come from being lazy“, during a interview with IBM’s ‘Think’ magazine.

He went on to say “I didn’t like writing programs, and so, when I was working on the IBM 701, writing programs for computing missile trajectories, I started work on a programming system to make it easier to write programs.”

Still In Use Today

And while it’s relatively ancient, it’s still in use today! Primarily crafted for engineers and scientists, it continues to be employed in areas such as fluid dynamics calculations, economic modelling, computational physics, climate simulations, computational chemistry and astronomy.

The next time you’re having to shout due to a poor signal on your mobile-phone, spare a thought for lonely NASA probes Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. The first one is now around 15 billion miles away and the signal takes over 22 hours to reach back to earth, yet it still functions after approaching fifty years in space and it was originally programmed in FORTRAN.

Not bad for something originally created by a “lazy” programmer!