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Amazon says no to Bitcoin

Amazon says no to Bitcoin

Amazon’s head of payments Tom Taylor has said that the company has no plans to add support for Bitcoins to its webshop, despite rivals doing exactly that.


Amazon has indicated that it’s not going to join in the cryptocurrency revolution by adding support for Bitcoin to its payment system, even as increasing numbers of its competitors do exactly that.

Bitcoin, created by the pseudonymous Satoshi Nakamoto in 2008, is a distributed, decentralised cryptocurrency based on proof-of-work principles: set your computer generating SHA256 hashes for transaction validation and you’ll get rewarded with Bitcoins of your very own, generated at an ever-decreasing rate by the algorithm itself. The cryptocurrency is free from governmental control, anonymous yet entirely traceable – until you attempt to convert Bitcoins into fiat currency or vice-versa, of course – and runs on a decentralised system of volunteer computers.

It sounds remarkable, but Bitcoin’s meteoric rise from being worth fractions of a penny to a high of more than $1,000 per coin has been fraught with difficulties. Amateur coding errors in major Bitcoin exchanges like MT Gox – originally set up to be a trading site for Magic: The Gathering cards, hence the name – has led to the loss of millions of dollars in Bitcoins and a significant drop in their value on the open market. For every country like the US which is making its laws more Bitcoin-friendly, there are countries like China which have banned the use of the cryptocurrency outright.

In the UK and US, increasing numbers of retailers are accepting payment in Bitcoin – largely out of a hope that it will continue its rise in value, recover from the recent slump and make yesterday’s £50 payment double in value or more. Amazon, however, has said it won’t be joining the revolution. ‘Obviously, it [Bitcoin] gets a lot of press and we have considered it,‘ Tom Taylor, head of Amazon’s payments arm, told Re/code in a recent interview, ‘but we’re not hearing from customers that it’s right for them and don’t have any plans within Amazon to engage Bitcoin.

At the time of writing, a single Bitcoin was valued at just shy of £300 – a significant dip from its high of more than £600 before the recent crash.

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Microsoft Build 2014 keynote: the highlights

Microsoft Build 2014 keynote: the highlights

Microsoft’s Build keynote this year included plenty of surprises, from universal apps that can run on Windows devices as well as the Xbox One to the impending return of the Start Menu.


Attendees at Microsoft’s annual Build summit last night were treated to a three-hour keynote speech in which the company announced some dramatic diversions from the norm – including free copies of Windows for phones and tablets, the return of the Start Menu, and Windows apps on the Xbox One.

It’s usual for Microsoft to queue up announcements for the Build event, which is the biggest in its calendar; it’s not usual, however, for it to have quite so many announcements to make as during its keynote session at last night’s opening. Some of the changes, in particular the release of free copies of Windows for mobile devices, will likely have a heavy impact on the future of the company – and it’s not hard to see new chief executive Satya Nadella, a man who has already bemoaned the company’s delayed entry into the mobile market, as the driving force behind much of what occurred last night.

Windows 8.1 Update 1
Microsoft announced the impending launch of Windows 8.1 Update 1, the first major overhaul for what was previously known as Windows Blue. Much of the changes are user experience oriented, rather than under-the-hood overhauls, and many will be welcomed by users: the Desktop and Modern UIs are to be more closely linked, with Modern UI apps being accessible in windowed form from the Desktop interface – allowing a mixing of old and new which was previously verboten.

The new update will also include faster access to the Windows Store – more on which later – by pre-pinning it to the taskbar, and the ability to power off or restart your PC, perform searches and access settings are now available on the main Start Screen instead of hidden off to the side. The update, Microsoft has confirmed, will launch on the 8th of April – the same date, coincidentally, that Windows XP enters official end of life (EOL) status.

The biggest change, however, will have to wait for a future update: the reintroduction of the Start Menu, the absence of which is many users’ biggest bugbear surrounding Windows 8 and newer. Based heavily on the Windows 7 Start Menu, the new version will integrated selected functionality – like Live Tiles – from the Start Screen in an attempt to create a hybrid that will appeal to all. No formal date has been offered for its availability, however.

Mobile Push
A large portion of the keynote was dedicated to Microsoft’s increasingly heavy push to mobile users, where is software is in a distinct minority. As well as new Windows Phone 8.1 devices from Nokia and Samsung, the company confirmed that the new release – a free upgrade to all Nokia Windows Phone 8 handsets – will include an Action Centre which appears to riff on the similar functionality available in Google’s rival Android platform.

The company also announced Cortana, its answer to the popularity of voice-activated assistants Google Now and Siri. Based on the artificial intelligence from the Halo series – which, as a major plot point, went crazy, so that’s an interesting marketing angle to take – Cortana will be a standard feature of Windows Phone 8.1.

Finally, Microsoft made what could possibly be the only announcement that could give it real impetus in the fight against Google: Windows will now be licensable at zero cost on all smartphones and tablet devices with a screen size of less than nine inches. Although Google’s basic Android OS is also free – and, in fact, largely open-source – the company has charged for access to the Google Play app store and other Google-specific functionality, while Microsoft’s impressive portfolio of patents has been used to ‘encourage’ Android licensees – including big names like Samsung – to pay Microsoft a fee for every handset shipped.

To put it bluntly: Microsoft’s free Windows for mobiles is cheaper than Google’s free Android – no mean feat.

Universal Apps
The final surprise of the event was confirmation of a long-held rumour that Microsoft’s Xbox One console will be able to run Windows applications. Using a new cross-platform runtime environment, Microsoft explained, developers will be able to build apps that can run on Windows, Windows RT, Windows Phone and Xbox One – and buyers can pay once to run the app on any of the aforementioned devices.

The move doesn’t exactly open up the Xbox ecosystem – apps available on the Xbox One will be even more heavily curated than those available on Windows Phone, with developers needing to seek Microsoft’s approval – but with promises that DirectX 12 will lead to similar cross-platform functionality for games, it’s hard to see it as bad news.

If the above summary isn’t enough for your appetite, the full keynote session featuring speakers David Treadwell, Joe Belfiore, Stephen Elop, Terry Myerson and new leader Satya Nadella is available for your three-hour viewing pleasure.

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Flame-breathing RC dragon flies for only $60,000

If drones are the future, then this is the past that’s coming to a future near you.


(Credit:
Hammacher Schlemmer)

Lately, with the number of us who are obsessed with “Game of Thrones” and Dragon Age: Inquisition, I can comfortably say that dragons are once again “on fire” without having to worry that I’ll be fired for making such a geektastic pun. I think it’s safe to say that even Madonna would approve.

So it makes sense, then, that this would a good moment in history for Hammacher Schlemmer to begin a selling an actual flying, propane-flame-breathing, remote-controlled dragon for a mere $60,000 per beast.

The good news, of course, is that once you put out all that coin on your own dragon, he can help you steal and hoard gold from those less worthy. So, really, think of your dragon as an investment in a reserve currency that has stood the test of time going to back the days of, well, of dragons.

This particular RC dragon model is the design of Richard Hamel, who has been making the rounds with his creation and winning awards at RC shows in recent years.

The consumer (read: elite consumer) model offered through Hammacher Schlemmer claims to be capable of flying at up to 70 mph. It’s propane-fueled breath only works when it’s on the ground, so you can use it to scare the neighbor kids out of your driveway, but not burn down their parents’ house. That’s probably a good thing, as the literature teaches us that actual flying and fire-breathing dragons are generally a bad thing for society.

According to its specs, the flying dragon has a 9-foot wingspan and weighs 40 pounds. That’s big enough to strike a little fear in the hearts of peasants, but small enough to be manageable.

See more with Hamel and his creation in this video, and let us know in the comments if you plan to start saving up your gold doubloons for one.

(Via Gizmodo)

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How to issue your own emotional Bitcoin

Now who might deserve that? And why?


(Credit:
GoodFor)

Traditional forms of currency just aren’t current any more.

They’re made of stupid, old-fashioned things like paper and metal.

Everyone knows that real value can only be online, virtual and, at best, semi-sincere.

So along comes the iOS app called GoodFor, which allows you to create your own personalized, meaningful and even entirely insincere IOUs, good for as long as you decide they’re good.

This emotional Bitcoin is the brainchild of Satoshi Nakamoto, who, I understand, worked on some very secret and emotional projects at many institutions such as the US Postal Service and Starbucks.

I’m sorry, I don’t have that quite right. The GoodFor app was created by coupon company SnipSnap, which, for all I know, invented Bitcoin.

The SnipSnappers happened upon this idea when they realized that with their ordinary coupon app, people were trying to create their own versions.

So now you can use your creative skills to promise your lover four minutes of nuzzling every second Tuesday, or your dad the
car keys for two hours every Thursday.

You can spend minutes choosing your backgrounds and borders before offering your religious guru the password to your Playboy video subscription for precisely 12 hours every month.

You can even send your ex an IOU for all the years you wasted her time with your Meccano set.

Yes, it’s totally and utterly silly. But so are emoticons. And so is life.

The GoodFor app at least allows you to spice up your promises and hopefully encourages you to keep them, instead of what you usually do — flush them down the drainpipe of your self-involvement.

Moreover, it gives the recipients a chance to have an artistic record of just what a good-for-nothing you turned out to be.

I can imagine that in future divorce settlement negotiations, lawyers will project GoodFor IOUs on large screens, in order to help prove that something was, indeed, promised and not delivered.

Exhibit 73: A depiction of hearts and flowers and the caption: Good For One Expression Of Affection Every 48 Hours. Was fulfilled only twice. In 16 years.

Here, then, is your challenge: show that you can create a work of art and keep the promise within it.

It’s easier sent than done.

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OK, Glass, have an NBA player dunk in my face

Sacramento Kings guard Ray McCollum slams home a dunk during a scrimmage while wearing Google Glass.


(Credit:
James Martin/CNET)

SACRAMENTO, Calif.–”This is the real Google,” taunted Sacramento Kings guard Orlando Johnson.

Johnson leaned in, dribbling a basketball, ready to explode to the hoop. Only teammates Ray McCallum and Jason Thompson stood in the way. Through the
Google Glass I was wearing, I watched Thompson prepare to stop Johnson. From Thompson’s exact point of view.

Moments earlier, I’d watched as McCallum had dribbled in, jumped high in the air, and dunked the ball hard. My view? A look at the rim from a couple of feet away, close enough to see the stitches on the net, again from Thompson’s vantage point,

Each of the three Kings was wearing Glass, and each was recording as they worked their way through an informal shootaround hours before the night’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans. As they played, they taunted and bragged, well aware of the technology they were wearing. “Google, record that,” one shouted as he made a sweet shot. “Google, stop Ray,” Johnson commanded.

Johnson, McCallum, and Thompson were wearing Google Glass as part of a new program the Kings have started that is designed to let fans see things like shootarounds, pre-game workouts, and even in-game huddles from the players’ perspective. Using technology developed by San Francisco’s CrowdOptic, the Kings plan on making feeds from Glass being worn by players, announcers, the team’s mascot, and even its cheerleaders, available during games to anyone running its app on their own Glass, on TV, and on the arena’s JumboTron. Unfortunately, players will not wear Glass during actual game action.

A Sacramento Kings cheerleader dances while wearing Google Glass. Her view was broadcast to the team’s JumboTron during a game against the New Orleans Pelicans.


(Credit:
James Martin/CNET)

The Kings’ experiment is an interesting one that promises to offer fans a unique new look at game day action. Along with other experiments, like accepting Bitcoin, using drones to shoot video inside the team’s Sleep Train Arena, and even incorporating Oculus Rift, the Kings are trying to take the lead among NBA teams when it comes to using technology to enhance fans’ experiences.

And no wonder, given that the team’s ownership group is packed full of tech heavyweights like Tibco Software founder Vivek Ranadive; Paul, Hal, and Jeff Jacobs (whose father founded Qualcomm); Leap Motion President (and former Apple vice president) Andy Miller; and former Facebook chief privacy officer Chris Kelly. Thanks to those connections, the team, in its search for new tech to try out, is “literally one phone call away from every tech CEO in the world,” said Kings senior vice president for marketing and strategy Ben Gumpert.

But back to Glass. Here’s how it works.

When Glass records video, it can broadcast that feed, and CrowdOptic’s software can capture it, send it back out, allowing anyone running its app to “inherit” the feed. Although there’s a short delay, it means that an average Glass wearer — or later, someone running the CrowdOptic app on a smart phone — will be able to see just what I saw when I watched Thompson, Johnson, and McCallum play 1-on-2: an up close and very personal view of getting dunked on.

NBA dons Google Glass to put you in the game (pictures)

To start with, the Kings bought 10 pairs of Glass, meaning that at any one time, there are few possible feeds that fans could inherit. But over time, as the team buys more, or fans’ own Glass or smartphone feeds are incorporated into the mix, CrowdOptic’s algorithms will be brought to bear to help find the most compelling views for fans. As Jon Fisher, the company’s CEO explained, its technology is able to analyze multiple feeds coming from a similar location and choose the best one to share. Ultimately, when there’s hundreds, or even thousands, of feeds choose from, “the fans will be in charge,” said vice president of business development (and former NFL linebacker) Jim Kovach. “They’re going to see what they want to see.”

As far as the players are concerned, wearing Glass and using the hot wearable technology to give fans a little more access is a no-brainer. According to Thompson, the best way to use it is when doing “tricks and dunks, and flashy things….[You can] see different things, like the way people talk.”

That’s exactly what CrowdOptic is hoping pro sports teams will realize. In addition to the Kings, the company is working with a half-dozen other (as yet unnamed) NBA franchises, as well as some college teams. The technology, said Kovach, lets fans have a much closer look at players’ personalities. “They have their quirks, and you can’t pick that up from the stands,” Kovach said, referring to things like players messing around during workouts, or on the sidelines. “It’s just interesting to see.”

Sacramento Kings players Orlando Johnson, Ray McCallum, and Jason Thompson (left to right) scrimmage while wearing Google Glass.


(Credit:
James Martin/CNET)

To be sure, this technology isn’t ready for widespread deployment. Though the Kings have tested it out during two recent games, the team has so far only pushed the feeds to the arena’s JumboTron screen. For now, network support is the limiting factor. But soon, Glass wearers will be able to see what it’s liked to get dunked on by an NBA player.

“This is a new century,” Thompson said. “It’s 2014, and this is definitely the future, not just of basketball, but of the world.”

Then again, maybe McCallum put it better as he scrimmaged against Johnson and Thompson. “Oooooooh, Google,” the 22-year-old guard said as he drained a pretty bucket over his teammates.

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BioStar teases BTC-24GH Bitcoin hashing board

BioStar teases BTC-24GH Bitcoin hashing board

Biostar’s BTC-24GH offers 64 dedicated Bitcoin-mining ASICs per board with a promised sustained performance of 24GH/s.


Biostar has announced an impending product aimed at Bitcoin enthusiasts, but unlike previously announced boards this one comes with a very tempting feature: the presence of 64 on-board application specific integrated circuits (ASICs) offering 24GH/s throughput.

The Bitcoin cryptocurrency operates on a proof-of-work basis, whereby client machines generate mathematical hashes. A small proportion of the generated hashes are valid, earning the user a share of a Bitcoin payout, and the effort put into their generation also serves to validate transactions that pass through the network. In the early days of the cryptocurrency, simply running hashing software on your CPU was enough to earn you large payouts; over time, the highly parallel nature of graphics processors were leveraged to perform the calculations significantly faster and make CPU-based mining uneconomical.

Now, following an explosion of press interest both positive and negative, even GPU-based hashing is no longer enough. Despite the formation of mining pools – groups who share the hashing effort in order to maximise the chance of a payout, equivalent to a lottery syndicate pooling their resources to buy multiple tickets – the creation of ultra-fast ASICs dedicated to the hashing function used in Bitcoin mining has resulted in an arms race whereby any other method of hashing is unlikely to cover its own cost in electricity.

It’s in this hostile environment that Biostar is hoping to make a splash with its new product, the BTC-24GH motherboard. Unlike a similarly-targeted board from ASRock, which simply had support for a high number of GPUs, the BTC-24GH is a true Bitcoin specialist. The board includes 64 dedicated hashing ASICs which offer a combined total of 25 gigahashes per second (25GH/s) – equivalent to mining across 30 AMD Radeon 7970 graphics cards, yet at a fraction of the power draw with each individual board drawing 130W.

Despite Biostar’s protestations to the contrary, however, the BTC-24GH is not a motherboard but rather a daughterboard designed to operate as a slave from a more traditional PC motherboard. A 20-pin ATX power connector and four-pin 12V connector provide the board with its power, and a pass-through connector allows a low-power central motherboard – or additional BTC-24GH boards, up to a maximum of 50 per host system – to be powered from a shared PSU. A USB connector provides communications with the host motherboard.

Thus far, Biostar has not offered pricing or availability for the BTC-24GH, but claims it is ready to ship with a launch due imminently. More details are available on the official website

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Be your own light show in app-controlled CuteCircuit clubwear

CuteCircuits latest fashion line reminds us that wearable technology doesnt have to sacrifice beauty.

CuteCircuit’s latest fashion line reminds us that wearable technology doesn’t have to sacrifice beauty.


(Credit:
CuteCircuit )

London-based designers Ryan Genz and Francesca Rosella create clothes worthy of sci-fi fashionistas. Their latest CuteCircuit collection, which debuted at this year’s New York Fashion Week, features miniskirts, jackets, dresses, and accessories with LED-lit designs controlled by an iPhone app.

“We’re trying to bring a new dimension, to have everything be controlled by iPhone or a smartphone of some kind, so there’s some way users wearing interactive garments have really cool ways to control what they’re wearing,” Genz explained behind the scenes of CuteCircuit’s fashion show.

During CuteCircuit’s New York Fashion Week show, models using smartphone apps controlled when lit messages, designs, and animations were displayed across miniskirts, shirts, dresses, jackets, and various accessories they wore.

“Many years ago people would put on sequins because they wanted their clothes to sparkle, and there’s times you don’t want your clothes to sparkle, but if you can make them interactive you can make them sparkle when you want them to,” Genz said in the backstage video.

CuteCircuit is well-known for its fashion-meets-tech creations, including Katy Perry’s MET Gala silk chiffon gown adorned with 3,000 colorful lights, and Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger’s Twitter Dress, which displays tweets in real time.

We managed to make the technology invisible, so invisible that not even the models realized they were wearing technology until they turned it on using their phone app, the CuteCircuit site revealed.

“We managed to make the technology invisible, so invisible that not even the models realized they were wearing technology until they turned it on using their phone app,” says the CuteCircuit site.


(Credit:
Theodoros Chliapas/CuteCircuit)

“At CuteCircuit we believe that wearable technology is not a gadget strapped to your wrist,” CuteCircuit’s Web site states. “A piece of wearable technology should be a beautiful garment that allows the human body to become an interface, a sort of second skin, that can connect us to people and places, even faraway and remote ones.”

It’s this desire to connect people that inspired CuteCircuit to design interactive clothes that send messages to wearers at a great distance with its HugShirt. This unusual garment is embedded with sensors that “feel the strength of the touch, the skin warmth and the heartbeat rate of the sender, and actuators that recreate the sensation of touch, warmth, and emotion of the hug to the shirt of the distant loved one,” CuteCircuit claims.

As a Bluetooth accessory for a Java-enabled mobile phone, all the data from the HugShirt is transmitted from the sensors to the phone. “Sending hugs is as easy as sending an SMS and you will be able to send hugs while you are on the move, in the same way and to the same places you are able to make phone calls,” the CuteCircuit site promises.

The integration of telecommunication technology and social media enhances the wearer's experience of their garments and how they relate to other people, CuteCircuit says on its Web site.

“The integration of telecommunication technology and social media enhances the wearer’s experience of their garments and how they relate to other people,” CuteCircuit says on its Web site.


(Credit:
Theodoros Chliapas/CuteCircuit)

While the concepts of CuteCircuit’s clothes may sound gimmicky, wearabilty and a high-fashion look are still a priority of the line’s designers.

“Integrating fashion and technology is not an easy thing to do and you’ll still find people that think we send a garment out with a gigantic
car battery and thick electric wires inside,” CuteCircuit explains on its Web site. “This is not the case fortunately. The fabrics we develop are as thin as other fabrics and as comfortable, the batteries are microscopic (like a 50-cent coin for example), the only difference between a CuteCircuit garment and other garments is that CuteCircuit’s garments bring magic and fun into your wardrobe.”

(Via Fast Company)

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High-tech electronic headband may help prevent migraines

While the manufacturer has not yet released a price point for the US, the device will set you back $300 in Canada.


(Credit:
Cefaly)

If you’re among the roughly 10 percent of people who suffer from migraines, there’s a new device on the market that could help prevent those debilitating headaches in the first place.

Made by Cefaly Technology in Belgium, the device, simply called Cefaly, is an electronic headband that sits over the ears and across the forehead, just above the eyes. A self-adhesive electrode sends an electric current to the skin and the tissue just beneath it to stimulate a nerve (the trigeminal) that Cefaly says has been associated with migraines.

Though the Food and Drug Administration just approved the device today, to be used by prescription only and for no more than 20 minutes a day, it’s already available in other countries — including Canada, where it costs $300.

The FDA says it approved Cefaly because of a clinical trial in Belgium showing that, of the 67 participants who suffered through migraines at least twice a month and hadn’t taken meds for the headaches in the three months leading up to the study, those who used Cefaly spent “significantly fewer” days dealing with migraines than those using a placebo device.

Cefaly Technology also points to a study it conducted involving 2,300 users in Belgium and France, in which it found that 53 percent of participants reported being satisfied enough to buy one. And while a coin toss may not seem terribly impressive, and some users complained of sleepiness during the treatments and headaches after, it’s no small feat that more than half the participants liked it enough to want to buy it.

Perhaps the best finding is that no serious side effects have yet to be associated with the headband.

“This device is a promising step forward in treating migraine headaches, as it addresses an important part of what we believe triggers and maintains a migraine attack,” Dr. Myrna Cardiel, a clinical associate professor of neurology at NYU Langone Medical Center and NYU School of Medicine, told HealthDay. She added that the 53 percent positive rating is on par with “most oral migraine preventive medications.”

Cefaly Technology should be coming out with more purchasing details soon. Meanwhile, check out the device in action in the promo video below:

)

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Xbox One updated with live game streaming

Xbox One updated with live game streaming

Microsoft’s Xbox One finally gets its live game streaming functionality, four months after launch and just in time for Titanfall.


Microsoft’s chosen game-streaming partner Twitch has officially sent its updated Xbox One app live, adding the much-delayed live streaming functionality originally promised for the console’s launch – and just in time for the release of Titanfall, not-coincidentally.

When Microsoft was reeling off a list of features its next-generation console would include, the ability to instantly stream live game footage over the internet was a biggie – albeit one shared by rival Sony’s PS4. Come the November release of both consoles, however, and the Xbox One’s game streaming functionality was missing in action, with Microsoft being forced to admit that it wouldn’t be ready until some time early this year.

Last month, Microsoft finally tied itself down to a firm release date with the promise that it would have game streaming up and running by the time players picked up their copies of Xbox and Windows exclusive mech shooter Titanfall. With the game releasing today, fans will be ecstatic to hear that Microsoft has hit its self-imposed deadline with the release of an updated Twitch app for the Xbox One.

When installed, the free Twitch app becomes accessible from within any game using the Kinect voice command ‘Xbox, broadcast‘ – or from a menu for those who have chosen not to get the all-seeing spy-eye out of its box. Games are then broadcast automatically over the internet, with viewers on other consoles or on any device supported from the Twitch website able to view and comment on the stream.

Sadly, while the app itself is free there is a cost associated: as with the majority of both consoles’ online functionality, the Twitch software is only accessible to those who have a paid Xbox Live Gold membership.

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The Web at 25: I was a teenage dial-up addict


Beautiful since 1995. (Click to enlarge.)


(Credit:
CNET)

This World Wide Web you’re looking at right now wasn’t always something most people considered worth a second glance — let alone hours days weeks years of nonstop staring. In fact, even some of the big info-nerds of the day ignored or dismissed it early on.

One of the earliest public demonstrations of the Web came back in 1991, when a man named Tim Berners-Lee sat at a table with a computer in a Texas hotel conference room, willing to give anyone with a few minutes to spare a personal introduction to his invention — a concept and a structure that would soon spark a worldwide information revolution.

Every person in the room that day likely came to depend on this invention by the close of the 1990s, if not sooner. But when first confronted with the Web in that hotel, most simply said whatever the equivalent of “meh” was at the time, and went in search of a drink.

“It was quite a warm December evening in San Antonio,” recalled Professor Wendy Hall of the UK’s University of Southampton, who was in that room for the 1991 Hypertext Conference where Berners-Lee had been denied a speaking spot to show off the most important human creation of a generation or three. “In the courtyard outside the demo room was a tequila fountain and everybody was outside drinking free margaritas, so nobody was inside. This was the first demo of the World Wide Web in America.”


The first public demo of the Web in the United States in 1991. (Click to enlarge.)


(Credit:
CERN)

Keep in mind, this wasn’t a conference of Luddites. It was a gathering of people interested in hypertext before anyone really knew the phrase (most people still don’t know it, because it was quickly supplanted in our culture by “the Web”). This was a crowd of information nerds, and yet, they still were unimpressed by the World Wide Web on day one. And it wasn’t really even day one, either. Berners-Lee had actually first submitted a paper detailing his invention almost three years earlier, on March 12, 1989.

And this is the date I mean to commemorate over the course of the next week — the actual birth date of the World Wide Web, a creation Mr. Berners-Lee and his colleagues gave to the world completely free of charge on that day 25 years ago. In this post and three that follow, I’ll look at the first two and a half decades of the Web, from its awkward infancy, to those crazy boom and bust years, the lull that followed (I like to call them the “lost in the wilderness years”), and finally, the countless bits and pings of the lovable monstrosity that is today’s mobile and social Web.

But I’m less interested in the many technical milestones of the Web between then and now (I’ll still cover plenty of them, don’t worry), as I am in the infinite ways it’s changed the way we as individuals, and as a society, live and think. As I sit in my favorite chair right now, laptop in lap, my 6-year-old daughter diligently weaves tiny rubber bands together into the form of a toy horse according to instructions delivered by a friendly voice on the YouTube video streaming on a
tablet sitting on the coffee table.

The sight of a 6-year-old girl deep in the act of creation while tapping and swiping the screen in front of her triggers a flood of images — a massively compressed zip file of emotionally charged moments from the past two decades unpacked from my memory as I see myself growing up online — from an awkward teenager getting Web design tips from CNET in 1994 to a husband and father writing these words for CNET in 2014.

So let’s dive right in. Like most journeys that pass through the 1990s, this might get a little weird at points.

The Big Bang
It’s not hyperbole to say that I owe much to the Web, and I think that notion can be extended almost to my entire generation — and really all generations that have interacted with the Web. Of course, during the years that Berners-Lee and company were pitching their project to disinterested conference crowds, I myself was too busy watching “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and imprinting rude gestures on my Hypercolor T-shirt to pay any attention to what was coming out of CERN — let alone learn what CERN is.

Still, like many others on the bubble between Generation X and the so-called Millennials (I was 9 when the Web was born in 1989), I was old enough to appreciate on some level how big and exciting the coming changes would be, yet young enough to be open to something radical and non-linear — a new medium with the potential to not just shift paradigms, but to extract the whole damn paradigm transmission and leave it in a flaming heap by the side of the road.


The author looking lost in awesome specs around the time the Web was born. (Please don’t click to enlarge.)


(Credit:
Facebook/Bethany Watts Therrien)

Back in those days, I was spending lots of time escaping typical preteen traumas at a keyboard, first an Apple IIe and a Commodore 64, then an IBM PC XT clone. Then one day, my family added a modem to our PC clone setup and I soon understood the concept of the Big Bang. Not because I finally had access to the online Grolier encyclopedia, but because the connections I struggled to make at school, with family, and elsewhere in the world were suddenly possible from behind that keyboard.

I was no longer socially handicapped by my unwieldy afro, Hubble-scale specs, and strong tendency to be a pushover; instead I was part of a judgment-free universe (yes, the Internet was friendly once upon a time) that was expanding exponentially.

Within a few years, I had even grown bold enough to carry my early digital interactions into the real world. I went to meetups hosted by the Toad the Wet Sprocket listserv admin and purchased PC parts from a strange guy in a Denver apartment that had no furniture but did have more than 1,000 used monitors. These encounters were awkward, but hey, progress isn’t always pretty.

Keep in mind, this was still just the early ’90s and I was just a tween in the Denver suburbs logging onto BBSes, Prodigy, or America Online mostly for the purpose of trading stamps, coins, football cards, games, and software (although one screen name on my mid-’90s AOL buddy list also turned into my humiliating first kiss in the real world — it was so bad I remember sighing and actually saying “damnit” out loud, and I never heard from the girl again.)

But even at that early stage, and using services that were mostly walled gardens cut off from each other, it seemed like a bottomless well of possibility and potential. I was also aware of the cool kids over at The WELL and the fanatics playing Neverwinter Nights. Disparate online worlds had formed, and unbeknownst to most people in 1992, the system to unite them all was about to be commercialized, but first its access point needed a makeover.

A ‘Mosaic’ of early adopters
If you really boil it down, the problem with the early Web that probably led Berners-Lee to play second fiddle to the tequila fountain in San Antonio in 1991 was its lack of animated GIFs.

The first Web browsers were either text-only affairs like LYNX or used unwieldy means of processing images like popping them up in separate windows. It was not quite yet the short-attention-span multimedia extravaganza that would soon come to define modern pop culture.


The Mosaic browser.


(Credit:
National Center for Supercomputing Applications/University of Illinois Board of Trustees)

Enter Marc Andreessen, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, and Mosaic in 1993. While initially it did not even have a back button, its simple installation for Windows systems, intuitive interface, and integration of graphics made it the first widely-used Web browser. As the software was spreading, so was the infrastructure for the young Web. During 1993, the number of Web servers worldwide quickly grew from just dozens to several hundred.

By 1994, the roads for the information superhighway had been laid down — to borrow an ancient digital metaphor — and the vehicles had also been manufactured in the form of software like Mosaic. All that remained was to recruit some Web drivers, or uh, surfers, or whatever. Unfortunately, many of the folks in the mainstream media at the time weren’t quite hip to the Internet’s crazy new symbology to do much of that proselytizing. Case in point: this clip of NBC’s “Today Show” hosts bantering off-air during a commercial break and finally flat-out asking co-workers “what is internet?”

When the Pew Center started its research into the Internet and American Life in 1995, it found 14 percent of the country was already online. These were the early addicts like myself who tied up our families’ phone lines and ran up big bills with online services — and then with long-distance charges.

One of the first major purchases I ever had to save up to pay for with my own money was $220 worth of long-distance calls (explanatory link meant to be sarcastic — if it doesn’t read that way, you must be younger than me) incurred during a single week in the mid-’90s when America Online’s Denver dial-in numbers were chronically busy, “forcing” me to get online by dialing-in via a Cheyenne, Wyo., number instead.

I had to mow many a Colorado lawn to pay off that tab, but I don’t ever recall thinking it wasn’t worth the time and effort.

This early addiction to the exciting and limitless online world would eventually lead very smart people to think it was not only possible to nuke our aforementioned paradigm transmission, but to challenge the very foundations of economics, leading to a remarkable boom and bust that… but now I’m getting ahead of myself.

The master protocol
Fairly quickly after the introduction of Mosaic, the Web’s hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) would become the preferred means of sharing information for public consumption over the Internet’s pipes. Newsgroups could not support the critical masses of the information-addicted like myself that were beginning to coalesce in those early days. Neither could other predecessor/parallel protocols to the Web like Gopher, WAIS, Telnet, or even the mighty FTP, which all saw their status degraded as the Web rose to prominence over the next two decades.

It was when AOL, Prodigy, and others began to take down the wall and added a browser to their subscription offerings in early 1995 that I began to fully understand the gravity of this insane, intangible, indomitable force that is the Web.

There were early indications of the weird places this unprecedented access to information would take us. The project that would begin as the Cardiff Internet Movie Database before becoming just the Internet Movie Database and eventually IMDb mimicked the old brick-and-mortar library model, but with the digital twist of crowdsourcing a wealth of information on a popular topic to create a whole new reference resource.

In the offline world, that probably would have been the end of the story.

But in this bold new frontier, college students and film buffs didn’t just use the Internet Movie Database to settle bets and research film history midterms. They also mined it to waste countless hours playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. The Web dropped a chaos bomb, and many of us didn’t just embrace it, we set up shop to begin mining it for gems of pure awesomeness, exploiting its riches to enable unbridled creativity and achieve new levels of procrastination.

Failure of imagination
At this point, I was 15 years old and I had been online in some capacity for four or five years already, yet I didn’t really get it until I started spending time on the completely unfettered Web. Even as I spent countless hours the previous few years in America Online forums, newsgroups, and chat rooms, I still thought the most likely career for me might be at a local radio station, or maybe enjoying a quiet life as a librarian. Talk about a failure of imagination — I was like a kid peering through a window at the wonders of Henry Ford’s assembly line in the 1920s while still pondering a career making ox carts. If there had been a tequila fountain nearby, I might have found myself shelving books today instead of writing this.

The Web was the ultimate killer app because it made the potential of the wider Internet so obvious. It was the conquest of time and geography in digital form.

Columnist James Coates put it a little more eloquently back in May of 1995, writing about the Web’s penetration of the biggest online dial-up services: “Right now, only a handful are tasting the wonders to come. But it won’t be long before these humming handfuls give way to the howling hordes and browsing the Web becomes as common as surfing the cable channels or twisting the radio dial.”

Coates nailed it all the way back then, even though I still don’t understand how to dial someone with a radio.

But what few people saw at the time was the steep trajectory the Web would take over the next few years as it launched itself into our collective consciousness.

The wild success of the Web that would define the final years of the century would also determine the course of my life, at least until things eventually got derailed. But again, I’m getting ahead of myself. More on that in the next installment when I take a look at the boom and bust years of the late 1990s.

CNET comments are currently down for maintenance, and should be back soon. In the meantime, please share your memories, and parts of early Web history I’ve missed, on Twitter at @crave and @ericcmack.

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