In October 1999, I was interviewed by Leo Laporte on ZDTV’s ‘Call for Help’ programme. Yes, this is just another interview about the Trojan Room Coffee Pot, but it’s interesting to me for several reasons.
Firstly because, even though it’s nearly 20 years ago, I’ve only just seen it! They kindly sent me a VHS tape of the episode at the time, but (no doubt with good intentions) they encoded it with a rather unusual 50Hz variety of NTSC, and I’ve never been able to play it. It was only last week that, before throwing it out, I went to the trouble of tracking down somebody who was able to tell me that, yes, indeed, there was actually something on the tape…
Secondly, it was quite a challenge to do the recording. They sent me a camera in advance, and I had a slightly older PC which didn’t have the brand new USB ports that were just starting to appear, so I had to dismantle it, install an ISA card, and then repartition my hard disk and install Windows 95, because neither the Linux nor the Windows NT operating systems I had on there were supported by 3Com’s software.
But chiefly, it’s a nice nostalgic snapshot of tech life not too long ago. The rest of the episode provides helpful hints like: you’re probably used to installing hardware in your machine before inserting the CDROM or floppy with the drivers, but with USB it’s a good idea to install the drivers first. Files you download over your modem may be compressed and you’ll need a thing called WinZip to see what’s inside them. And Chris Breen (later an editor at MacWorld), comes on to explain that if you’re trying to play DVDs on your computer and they keep skipping, it may be because you’re connected to a network that does something called DHCP. The PC can’t do that and play back smoothly at the same time, so it may be worth disabling DHCP before you start watching. Oh, and there’s also a section about how, if you have a laptop, you may find it a pain to be tethered to your modem, but there are some wireless networking options becoming available, and the one that looks most promising for the future is this thing called 802.11…
The clip I’ve uploaded shows the interview from the studio in California, with me in Cambridge, and we’re joined by Don Lekei from Canada a bit later. It’s hard now to remember just how rare it was at the time to see people on TV live from remote locations. That normally needed satellite linkups, or very costly kit attached to extremely expensive international ISDN calls. For Don and I to talk casually from the comfort of our own homes on opposite sides of the world was enough to get the hosts of a tech show pretty excited. You’ll note that we both use telephones as well, though, because there wasn’t any suitable audio channel…
Anyway, Leo is now the head of the substantial TWiT netcasting network, so I guess networked video worked out well for him too 🙂
Last night we went into London because the kind people at the Lovie Awards, the European branch of the (rather better-known) Webby Awards, had been good enough to give me an award, mostly for the work that friends and I had done in creating the first webcam.
I was a bit embarrassed about this, partly because I didn’t think I deserved it, and partly because of the name, but I got over the latter, at least, when I discovered that it’s in honour of Ada Lovelace.
Anyway, the tradition is that you have to give a little speech containing the word ‘Love’. The other tradition, which nobody told me, is that the speech should be about 30 seconds, which is why I look a bit more flustered than usual here! I was trying, not very successfully, to edit my speech on the fly. But I got away with it because mine was the last award of the evening.
It was a great and responsive audience, which, sadly, you can’t hear on this video.
Brian McCullough hosts the rather splendid Internet History Podcast, and a few days ago he asked me to talk about some of the stuff I’d been involved in over the years.
You can find the interview here if you’re curious. You have been warned – it’s just over an hour long, and it’s something of a monologue, for which I apologise, but Brian encourages that; he’s a great listener and many of the episodes have a similar format.
It was great fun – my thanks to Brian for letting me natter away.
(This will probably be completely meaningless to anyone who hasn’t spent significant amounts of time in the UK in the last 60 years. Of course, The Archers does include some important news stories occasionally…)
Tucked away on a backup disk yesterday, I discovered a few thousand of my emails from the 1990s. And in the folder from late Feb 1992, I found something I thought was lost forever.
Bob Metcalfe was visiting Cambridge, on sabbatical to the University Computer Lab, just as we were setting up the Trojan Room Coffee Pot camera. He wrote about it in his column in Communications Week, a publication which, sadly, closed down not long afterwards (roughly at the time when the camera was connected to the web and became quite famous). This original article was therefore, unknowingly, the first published reference to what was to become the world’s first webcam.
But I didn’t have a copy, and nor did Bob – the old Mac floppy on which he saved it would have been hard to read now even if he could have found it – and if anyone kept an archive of CommWeek articles, I haven’t found it on the web. (Few people in 1992 would have heard of the World Wide Web, even those reading this kind of technical article.) But, as it went to press, Bob sent me a copy by email, and, sure enough, just over 20 years later, there it was, easily readable by my Apple Mail program. There’s probably some useful lesson there about the longevity of different data formats…
Anyway, while it may have little interest to anyone not closely involved with networking technologies at the time, I’m still very glad that, with Bob’s kind permission, I can now make the article available here.
And I must take more care of my email archives in future…
At an hour at which all civilised people should still be tucked up in bed, I presented myself at the dear old BBC Television Centre to be interviewed on the Breakfast TV programme. I was then whisked upstairs to do the same on Radio 5 Live before coming back downstairs again to do a slight variation on the theme on TV again.
And the reason for all this early-morning scurrying through the rather charming maze that is the BBC?
Well, it’s about 20 years since the start of the World Wide Web. (Do you remember when we used to call it by its full name to distinguish it from the more common arachnean use?) So they’ve been running various anniversary features and interviews, and the old webcam story is always a good light-hearted one when most of the rest of the day’s news is about economic collapse!
It’s hard to pin an exact date on the start of the web, but it’s usually taken to be Aug 6, 1991, when Tim Berners-Lee posted a message on a usenet newsgroup describing the project and telling people where to get the code if they wanted to try it out. Hence the 20th-birthday celebrations today. It seems amazing to me that undergraduates leaving college next year will have been born after the web, and will never have known a world without it.
One of the first things I remember doing with the web, probably some time in 1992, was writing a web server which was effectively a blogging tool, though it would be a long time before anyone would have called it that. It showed a page and let you type something at the bottom; that ‘something’ would then be appended to the page with a timestamp. I used it for a little while as a lab notebook, but not very seriously or for very long. I was really just experimenting with the idea of web pages that could alter themselves… And of pages that could be edited through the browser itself.
Status-Q came much later: my first post here was not until early 2001, so it’s a relative youngster. But it has at least, I realise, been going now for more than half of the life of the web.
Anyway, here are links to recordings of the radio and TV interviews in case anyone’s interested.