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Mr. Modem's Musical History of the Internet

Where else could you find a musical history of the Internet, complete with modulating modems, binary beauties, and hyperlinked hunks? In this article, we'll take a melodious stroll through the evolution of the Internet, tying significant events to popular songs of the day. Can you remember where you were when e-mail made its debut? Who could possibly forget?

Passed down from modem to modem through the years, a retelling of the history of the Internet generally begins with the U.S. Department of Defense in the late 1960s. At that time, the DOD began a project intended to establish a redundant communications network within the United States. The seeds of what blossomed into the Internet were first planted, however, in the fabulous '50s with the establishment of the Advanced Research Projects Agency (called ARPA) -- the sound of which, when articulated, will be very comforting to seal enthusiasts worldwide. (Go ahead, say it out loud!)

In 1957, during the chilly days of the Cold War, the Department of Defense founded ARPA to give American science and technology a boost in response to the Soviet Union's launching of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite. The big fear at the time was that the Soviets were rapidly gaining technological ground on the United States, and something had to be done about it.

The next important milestone came in 1962. While most of us were responding to our Cold War concerns by twisting the night away, other less serious individuals were frittering away their time in think tanks. A think tank was a very popular cerebral device where great minds gathered to discuss serious problems of the era. Personally, I always wondered how many people could cram into a think tank. Perhaps that's why I was never invited to participate in one.

In 1962, Paul Baran of the highly respected RAND Corporation think tank, proposed an information-moving system called a packet-switching communications network with "no central authority," which would ensure continued communications during or subsequent to a nuclear attack or extreme disaster. Oh, those fun-loving rascals did have a way with words, didn't they?

So the genesis of the Internet actually goes back more than 40 years, to an era of postwar innocence, relative prosperity and pretty darned good times. In 1957, Eisenhower was president, Elvis was king, and I received my first training modem.

What follows is a time line that focuses on the development of the fabled, cabled, network we have come to know and love as the Internet, with a few historical points of interest, some musical mileposts, and an occasional scenic overlook along the way.

Herman Hollerith patents a calculating machine that utilizes punch cards. Hollerith Calculating Machine Company (HCMC) is later absorbed by another upstart company that in 1924 adopts the big-shot sounding name International Business Machines Corporation (IBM). Musically, the Chicago Auditorium opens with Adelina Patti singing "Home, Sweet Home" to an audience that includes President Benjamin Harrison. Rumor has it he loved the song, but hated the laser light show.

Rear Admiral Grace Hopper records a moth stuck between two relays on the Harvard Mark II computer. Thus, the term bug was introduced to the wild and wacky world of computers. Nominated for an Academy Award, Johnny Mercer's "Accentuate the Positive" placed a positive spin on computer bugs.

Creators of ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator Analyzer And Computer) unveil their new computer. The machine has 17,468 electronic vacuum tubes and performs 5,000 additions per second. At 30 tons and 100 feet long, it is the largest electronic device in the world.

Bell Laboratories invents the transistor. John W. Tukey names the fundamental unit of information the binary digit, which becomes known as a "bit," for short. Making its musical debut is the politically incorrect, today-there-would-be-a-lawsuit "Too Fat Polka" by Ross MacLean and Arthur Richardson.

The microprocessor is invented. "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," by Meredith Willson, brightens the holiday season.

William H. Gates III is born to Seattle attorney William H. Gates II and United Way International chairwoman Mary Gates on October 28th. Modems worldwide squeal with delight. 1956

Arguably the first rock n' roll record, "Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley & the Comets, is released. Real hep kittens and cool cats purchase transistor radios by the millions, annoying an entire generation of parents in the process.

Computer engineer Doug Engelbart, while looking for an easy way to move the cursor around a computer monitor, conceives the idea of a small box with two wheels on the bottom to control horizontal and vertical movement. Connected to the computer by a cord, it reminds him of a mouse. He nicknames it accordingly and the name sticks.

RAND presents its decentralized network communications concept to ARPA. Top musical hits of the year include "Love is Blue," "Grazing in the Grass," and "Hey Jude," by Paul Mauriat, Hugh Masekela and The Beatles, respectively.

ARPANet is commissioned by the Department of Defense to research the feasibility of networking. ARPANet establishes the first node at the University of California, Los Angeles. First moon landing. Haight-Ashbury. Jefferson Airplane. Most-frequently heard refrain at Woodstock: "Sex, drugs, and the ARPANet!"

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John Draper uses the toy whistle from a box of Cap'n Crunch cereal to duplicate the 2600 frequency of a Wide Area Telecommunications System (WATS) line by blowing it into a telephone receiver. This historic event was one of the earliest examples of the technology gods suggesting that somebody get a life. This illegal activity is called phone phreaking, a precursor to what we today refer to as hacking. It is a year of long song titles, as B.J. Thomas's "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head," Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and The Beatles' "The Long and Winding Road" top the charts.

Intel Corporation produces the first 8008 microprocessor chip. "Maggie May," by Rod Stewart and Cher's "Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves," all had a "Family Affair" (courtesy of Sly & The Family Stone) this year.

Semi-Fascinating Bonus Trivia
The term surfing the Internet is derived from the last name of a programmer with the ARPANet project and co-developer of the TCP/IP protocol, Vinton Cerf. In the late 1960s, a group in San Diego got into the networking business and called themselves the California Educational Research Foundation network, or They requested Mr. Cerf's permission, obtained it, and shortly thereafter "Cerfing the Net" T-shirts appeared in California.

ARPANet is demonstrated at the first International Conference on Computer Communications in Washington, D.C. E-mail is invented. Within an hour the first annoying "You can make $100,000 while sitting in your kitchen, wearing your old bathrobe," mass e-mailing-an activity called spamming-is transmitted. Our musical tastes included Don McLean's "American Pie," America's "A Horse with No Name," and Bill Withers' "Lean on Me."

ARPANet establishes the first international connections to England and Norway. Musical taste apparently took the year off in 1973, as number-one records inexplicably include Tony Orlando and Dawn's "Tie a Yellow Ribbon," Cher's "Half-Breed," and Eddie Kendricks's "Keep On Truckin'."

Micro Instrumentation Telemetry Systems releases the Altair 8800, a $400 personal computer kit, and the era of the personal computer begins. A fully-assembled Altair 8800 will fit comfortably beneath a bell-bottomed trouser leg of the fashionable 1974 Altair 8800 user. "The Way We Were" by Marvin Hamlisch and Paul McCartney's "Band on the Run" keep us groovin' in 1974.

The term "flame" is first used at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. A flame is a hostile e-message. One who sends a flame is said to be a flamer. One who receives a flame is said to be have been flamed (or digitally scorched, by those who don't know any better). Scorched individuals take a welcome respite and soul-search to the strains of "Philadelphia Freedom," "When Will I Be Loved?" and the disco classic, "The Hustle." (We truly had no shame in this era when polyester reigned supreme, though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that death by disco was indeed cruel and unusual punishment.)

ARPANet launches a test in which a programmed packetized radio signal is transmitted over 94,000 miles and correctly reassembled at the other end. Signal, shmignal. So why can't these geniuses write understandable instructions for programming a VCR? A packetized signal is one in which the signal (data) is broken down into tiny pieces, each piece assigned an address, sent out, then hopefully reassembled at the receiving end. Disco is mercifully dying as the soothing sounds of Barbra Streisand's "Evergreen," Barry Manilow's "Looks Like We Made It," and Debby Boone's "You Light Up My Life" nudge us toward the 1980s.

The first BBS (Bulletin Board System) is created by Ward Christensen and Randy Suess. White polyester suits are a hot topic of conversation online as the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive" rattles medallions around the country.

Duke University and the University of North Carolina establish USENET (USErNETwork), the first of the Internet-based forums where users post and read messages. Sex is a hot topic-both online and offline-as Rod Stewart inquires, "Do You Think I'm Sexy?" and Donna Summer scores with both "Hot Stuff" and "Bad Girls" at the top of the musical charts.

Tim Berners-Lee, a consultant for CERN-the European Laboratory for Particle Physics or Conseil Europeen pour la Recherche Nucleaire, as I like to call it-writes a program named, but somewhat awkwardly translated, "Inquire Within Upon Everything." The program allows links or connections between documents and becomes the basis for the World Wide Web. "Funkytown," by Lipps, Inc. (Lip Sync-get it?), Diana Ross's "Upside Down," and Billy Joel's "It's Still Rock and Roll To Me" are the leaders of the musical pack.

The City University of New York and Yale University establish BITNET (Because It's Time NETwork) to provide e-mail service between the two universities. Musical mileposts include Kim Carnes's whip-cracking "Bette Davis Eyes," Diana Ross and Lionel Richie's "Endless Love," and Christopher Cross's "Arthur's Theme."

ARPA enacts the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP) and the Department of Defense declares TCP/IP to be its standard. The number of Internet host computers reaches 235. The term cyberspace is coined by science fiction writer William Gibson in his novel Neuromancer. Olivia Newton-John gets "Physical" with us, as Joan Jett's "I Love Rock n' Roll" and Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder's "Ebony and Ivory" permeate the airwaves.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) introduces the Domain Name System (DNS), a naming convention that identifies seven major organizational components of the Internet: .com, .edu, .org, .net, .int, .mil, and .gov. Number one hits of the year include Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time," Prince's (thank heaven he hadn't changed his name yet) "When Doves Cry," and Ray Parker's who-you-gonna-call "Ghostbusters."

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The NSF develops NSFnet and connects five supercomputing centers. An unexpected result is an explosive increase in computer connectivity between universities. The number of Internet hosts reaches 5,000. Musical mileposts: Lionel Richie's "Say You, Say Me," and Huey Lewis & The News's "The Power of Love."

Vidal Sassoon creates HAIRNet to control unruly hair-related rumors and provide support to community service agencies seeking to assist victims of follicular homicide. Whitney Houston's "Greatest Love of All" and Paul Simon's "Graceland" has us wiggin' out in 1986.

The number of BITNET hosts exceeds 1,000. The number of Internet hosts reaches 20,000. The number of talk show hosts surpasses 500,000-or maybe it just seems that way. Linda Ronstadt and James Ingram's "Somewhere Out There" and Michael Jackson's "Bad" are very good in 1987.

Robert Morris, a graduate student in computer science at Cornell University, injects his Internet worm into the Internet (you should pardon the expression). The virus moves through the Internet faster than a speeding pullet before Morris chickens out and pulls the plug, but not before more than 6,000 invaded Internet hosts lose data or have their hard drives corrupted. Security becomes a hot topic throughout Geekdom. Big hits in Musicville include Expose's "Seasons Change," Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up," and Gloria Estefan's "Anything For You."

The number of Internet hosts exceeds 100,000. Tim Berners-Lee makes his proposal for a World Wide Web network to CERN. CERN accepts. Lucky break for us. Milli Vanilli lip-syncs their way into our hearts with "Girl You Know It's True." Shortly thereafter, their career crashes faster than a Sears hard drive in a Montgomery Ward computer.

The U.S. Department of Defense incorporates ARPANet into NSFnet. CERN works on developing the initial World Wide Web platform. Internet hosts reach 250,000. Internet enthusiasts listen to Paula Abdul's "Opposites Attract," Janet Jackson's "Escapade," and Mariah Carey's "Vision of Love."

The University of Minnesota, "Home of the Fighting Gophers," introduces Gopher, a UNIX-based system that provides access to information and services on the Internet. The number of Internet hosts almost doubles in a 10-month period from 375,000 to 615,000. Guns N' Roses' "Use Your Illusion" is playing somewhere, but I never hear it.

CERN makes the World Wide Web available to the public. The National Center for Supercomputing Applications releases the first version of Marc Andreesen's Web browser called Mosaic. WWW traffic measures a scant .01 percent of all Internet traffic. During the year, Web traffic increases over 300,000 percent as the Web is "discovered." The number of Internet hosts reaches one million. Garth Brooks' "Fences" and Michael Jackson's "Dangerous" albums are also discovered by millions of fans.

The NSF creates InterNIC (InterNetwork Information Center) to provide specific Internet services including domain name server (DNS) registration. The White House goes online. Vice president Al Gore coins the phrase "Information Superhighway." The number of Internet hosts reaches two million. When we aren't trying to figure out how to get on the Internet, we're listening to "If You Asked Me To" by Celine Dion, "Mi Tierra" by Gloria Estefan, and Billy Joel's "River of Dreams."

Marc Andreesen and Jim Clark form Mosaic Communications Corporation (MCC), later to become Netscape Communications. In October, MCC releases the first version of Netscape Navigator on the Internet. Mass-marketing companies begin using the Internet for e-mail advertising. The number of Internet hosts reaches 3.5 million. The Arizona law firm of Canter & Siegel "spam" the Internet with e-mail advertising green card lottery services. "Streets of Philadelphia" by Bruce Springsteen and Sheryl Crow's "All I Wanna Do" waft across the airwaves.

In August, Netscape announces its initial public offering of five million shares of common stock. Microsoft releases its Internet Explorer Web browser in conjunction with the Windows 95 operating system. The number of Internet hosts reaches six million. Alanis Morisette's "You Oughta Know" and "Let Her Cry" by Hootie and the Blowfish keep us entertained while we're waiting for Web pages to ooze onto our monitors.

In February, the U.S.Congress passes the Telecommunications Act of 1996 in an attempt to regulate the Internet. By December, there are more than nine million Internet hosts in more than 240 countries. An estimated 44 million people are using the Internet and more than 60 million individual Web pages are available for our surfing pleasure. $20 billion worth of goods and services are purchased via the Internet, the majority of orders emanating from my household. "You're Makin' Me High" by Toni Braxton and "All Eyez on Me" by Tupac Shakur top the musical charts.

The Supreme Court rules the Telecommunications Act of 1996 unconstitutional. The number of Internet hosts reaches 19.5 million. This year in music, Puff Daddy dominates the charts with three number-one singles, none of which I know or have ever heard.

The formerly red hot Internet becomes white hot as America Online purchases Netscape and the U.S. Department of Justice files suit against Microsoft. Internet stocks result in unprecedented stock market growth. America Online hosts the first ever interspecies Internet chat with Koko the gorilla, while Celine Dion keeps us grounded with "My Heart Will Go On" from the movie "Titanic."

2000 and beyond
Whew! Computer users worldwide breath a sigh of relief as Y2K fizzled the Internet did not self-destruct and the predicted global computer melt-down never materialized. No matter whether your musical intention is to waltz, twist, boogaloo, rap, or hip-hop into the future, by millennium's end, an estimated 360 million mouse-clickers are using the Internet. I'm glad you're one of them!

How about a little more Internet history with a non-secular Biblical twist? For a tongue-in-cheek scroll through the Genesis of the Internet, check out the "Genesis" article in Mr. Modem's Library.

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