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The Almighty Buck Technology

Ted Nelson's Passionate Eulogy for Douglas Engelbart 110

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the only-good-ideas-die-young dept.
theodp writes "Speaking at a memorial event for the legendary Douglas Engelbart at the Computer History Museum, Ted Nelson was pissed-with-a-capital-P. Nelson in effect gave two powerful eulogies — one for his friend Dr. Engelbart, who left this Earth in July, and a second for Engelbart's career, which essentially began 'dying' four decades earlier due to short-sighted organizations' failure to fund the brilliant guy who gave the world The Mother of All Demos in 1968. 'Let us never forget that Doug Engelbart was dumped by ARPA,' Nelson laments. 'Doug Engelbart was dumped by SRI, Doug Engelbart was snubbed by Xerox PARC, and for the rest of his working life he had no chance to take us further...Just as we can only guess what John Kennedy might have done, we can only guess what Doug Engelbart might have done had he not been cut down in his prime.' It's a very moving and passionate speech (despite some oddly inappropriate audience laughter). And, alas, a very sad one in a world that throws $4 billion at the likes of Snapchat and Pinterest."

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Ted Nelson's Passionate Eulogy for Douglas Engelbart

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  • Is that where the laughter was? I would have laughed there.

  • Yeah but Snapchat and Pinterest are hip, young and agile. Doug old and stuff.

    At least that's what goes through the mind of the current tech industry.

  • Engelbart lived at a time when bureaucracy and inflexible institutions ruled. To get anywhere one had to jump through hoops constantly and appeal to those few authorities that controlled the purse strings.

    Today there are many points of accumulated capital that one can appeal to for assistance and funding. Forty years ago there was just the government or a few old giant corporations.

    • by TheGratefulNet (143330) on Wednesday December 18, 2013 @10:22AM (#45725449)

      otoh, 40 yrs ago, ageism practically didn't exist. older meant more experienced and wiser. we used to respect it.

      now, if you are over 35, its hard to get an interview, let alone get hired.

      things have gotton worse, not better.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday December 18, 2013 @10:31AM (#45725553)

        Using proper punctuation, capitalization and spelling might also be a factor.

        • by fredrated (639554)

          Yeah, it is really importent to do that when posting to this web site, because all the power HR people come here.

          • It's important if you're trying to argue that your situation is due to outside forces rather than your own incompetence.
      • by SirGarlon (845873) on Wednesday December 18, 2013 @10:46AM (#45725691)

        Drifting off-topic here, but getting interviews over age 35 isn't hard. Finding a hiring manager who is not a complete tool, now *that* is much harder.

        Maybe Engelbart had the same problem, in his career. Compared to him, practically everyone is a tool.

      • by Grishnakh (216268) on Wednesday December 18, 2013 @10:53AM (#45725759)

        No, they've gotten both better and worse, in other words, things are different.

        You're right; ageism is much worse these days in computer-related professions (and others). However, OTOH, technology is cheap and easily-accessible today, unlike 40 years ago. Today, if you're brilliant, you don't need some big institution to give you access to their computers for you to do computer-related work; you can buy a laptop for $100-200 on Ebay and do all the coding you want. You can even easily start a business with it: write a brilliant app for smartphones, start your own 1-person company, and sell it on iTunes/Google Play and make millions potentially. Or you can start a highly-successful open-source project and become the next Linus Torvalds or Guido von Rossum. Unfortunately, Engelbart retired about the time microcomputers were starting to become popular, so he was well ahead of his time.

      • by Thanshin (1188877)

        Did you walk to school at 4 o'clock every morning with no shoes on, uphill, both ways, in 5 feet of snow and were thankful?

      • by LoRdTAW (99712)

        Its been said time and time again that ageism is tied to the belief that an older more experienced applicant will demand more money than a kid fresh out of grad school with a boatload of debt and no family. The younger engineer doesn't have a family and can work long hours without complaining about how he or she needs more time to spend with their family. I would also hazard a guess that there are older more experienced guys in silicon valley. But they are already in senior engineering positions, project le

      • by geekoid (135745)

        No, it was here 40 years ago as well.

      • I'm not sure our parents generation would agree with our memories of how respectful we were.
      • otoh, 40 yrs ago, ageism practically didn't exist.

        Crap

        older meant more experienced and wiser. we used to respect it.

        At least that's how it worked in the fairy tales right?

        now, if you are over 35, its hard to get an interview, let alone get hired.

        This is a supply/demand argument, nothing to do with age. I'm an over 40 contractor, I change jobs every 6-12 months and never had issues, maybe it's just you?

        things have gotton worse, not better.

        By most independent measure, things are getting better for most people. Maybe for white males things are getting relatively worse, since others are now allowed to compete on a level playing field, but overall things are getting better for most people.

    • 10 years ago there were other ways. We're back to bureaucracy and inflexible institutions now.

      I mean if he did something hip and pintristy he might get hired by some MS research like group that hires people just to keep them from innovating...

    • by Desler (1608317)

      If he was born later he would simply have been mostly ignored by the time he was around 30. To the current crop of hipsters running tech companies that is over the hill and then some.

    • by jythie (914043) on Wednesday December 18, 2013 @10:34AM (#45725587)
      Eh, it is a mixed bag. Something that we have gotten worse about today is general research. After the 80s there was an increased focus on short term returns and multiple companies built business models around looking at good ideas other companies took risks on but failed then repackaging them with better marketing, which created a climate where companies became highly research adverse. Everyone hopes some other company (or university) will take those risks and the profits go to whoever does the same thing next.

      During Engelbart's time, there were more companies still running research departments. Not that we do not have such places today, but they have become increasingly rare.
    • Engelbart lived at a time when bureaucracy and inflexible institutions ruled...

      He was alive this year. I don't think that culture changed in the last 6 months.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      What a load of bullshit.

      Forty years ago there was a government very keen to make long term investments to advance the nation's technological prowess rather than something which could be a vehicle for corporate welfare; there was an academia that was very keen to make groundbreaking explorations with no obvious short-term purpose rather rather than something which could be quickly spun off as a profit-making corporation; there were various non-charitable organisations at various lengths from government which

    • Nonsense. 40 years ago, the field of computing was young, small and willing to experiment. Today, it's incredibly difficult to do anything disruptive at the architecture level, the OS level, the language level, the library level, the application level or, most importantly, at the conceptual "what are computers for?" level. Most investment goes into social media/Web crap because it's so difficult to get anything else adopted, especially in the places and at the scales that Engelbart was envisioning.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    is that they think everyone else is smart too and have the same motivations. Meanwhile, in the real world, people laugh at eulogies, strive to throw a ball really far, screw each other over, deal with their short lifespan by burning twice as bright, etc.
  • by N3tRunner (164483) * on Wednesday December 18, 2013 @10:27AM (#45725497)
    Engelbart created a lot of the things that we associate with modern PCs, such as the mouse, graphical word processing, and hypertext links, but from what I've read it seemed like he was running out of steam and having trouble managing his projects by the time the funding dropped away from him. He had a great chance to contribute to the history of computing, and he definitely exceeded all expectations. I guess we'll never know what else he would have come up with if given another 40 years to work, or if he had already run out of ideas.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Engelbart created a lot of the things that we associate with modern PCs, such as the mouse, graphical word processing, and hypertext links, but from what I've read it seemed like he was running out of steam and having trouble managing his projects by the time the funding dropped away from him. He had a great chance to contribute to the history of computing, and he definitely exceeded all expectations. I guess we'll never know what else he would have come up with if given another 40 years to work, or if he had already run out of ideas.

      Engelbart truly was a one of the titans of early computer development but he didn't really do anything with this mouse from 1963 until 1967. In the mean time a guy named Rainer Mallebrein and his team at a Telefunken lab created a ball mouse in 1965 for the German air traffic control agency. Engelbart only filed for a patent for his wheel mouse in 1967. There was also a British trackball design that dated to 1947 and a Canadian team who developed a trackball in 1952 for the Canadian navy but it used a five

      • by JWW (79176)

        Ironically Telefunken felt the computer mouse was to trivial an invention to bother with patenting it.

        It is mind boggling that the inventor of the ball mouse , a hugely successful device, would think it trivial and not patent it when nowadays someone just adds "on the internet" to common practices (not even real tangible things!!) and thinks they deserve huge patent royalties.

        Its amazing how far innovation has fallen.

      • "Engelbart only filed for a patent for his wheel mouse in 1967."

        But a key thing here many seem to have forgotten is funding.

        Without funding, or some kind of financial backer, you're not going to have a reasonable opportunity to patent your invention in a short amount of time. While the big boys with lots of funding can. That's one of the bit problems we're currently going through in the area of patents... the huge advantage that has been given corporations, versus the little guy who, actually most of the time, actually invents something.

        So it shouldn't be any grea

        • by multimed (189254)

          Patents are supposed to be about invention, not about who can get to market first.

          Hell, even that would be a huge improvement over what we've got. When things come to market, at least the public is getting something in exchange for the monopoly on the idea. But all too often, that's not the case. That the purpose of obtaining the patent (or copyright for that matter) isn't to put things out on the market & make profits. Instead, it's about locking up the ideas to stifle the progress of others. To eliminate competition. To build up a war chest to defend or worse, attack or steal the i

          • "Hell, even that would be a huge improvement over what we've got."

            No, it wouldn't, because in effect that's what we already have. I get the impression you don't like what we already have. My point was that it isn't supposed to be that way.

            "... the purpose of obtaining the patent (or copyright for that matter) isn't to put things out on the market & make profits. Instead, it's about locking up the ideas to stifle the progress of others. "

            I think we agree that, too, is not the way it's supposed to be. But "first to market" doesn't solve that problem, it just hides it. So... you market your idea. To two people. One buys. What does that accomplish? Granted, that's a ridiculous example but what we have now is ridiculous, so I don't think it's unrealistic.

            I think the whole

  • in a world that doles four billion to pinterest and snapchat, laughter at the death of an obscure genius seems like something of an expectation.

    oh wait. no it doesnt.

    christ god forbid you so much as crack a grin at the euology of Steve Fucking Jobs. [youtube.com] unless you're joking about the presenters elocution during the pronunciation of aluminum.
    • My brother gave the eulogy at my father's memorial service. It was the funniest eulogy I've ever heard (partly due to the source material), and people were laughing. Dad would have wanted that.

  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Wednesday December 18, 2013 @10:42AM (#45725647)

    Not that I necessarily disagree with the guy's expressed sentiments; but the complaint "the world wouldn't give my friend a chance, but now they're throwing billions at Snapchat and Pinterest" just sounds like a typical grumpy old man complaining about the state of the world.

    However the summary reads in a way that makes me wonder if that jibe was his, or if it belonged to a grumpy old Slashdot submitter.

    • by Desler (1608317)

      It was the submitter's own commentary. Reread the submission and you will notice it came right after the end of a quote.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      You ever think old men get grumpy because they know more than you?
  • by QilessQi (2044624) on Wednesday December 18, 2013 @10:48AM (#45725711)

    Ted's "Project Xanadu" was a very early vision of a large semantic hypertext network, very much like the modern web in some ways. But it never quite solidified into something that could take off on its own power. I'd wager that Ted sees more than a little of Doug in himself: an inventor of great things who -- in the end -- was largely ignored and forgotten.

    • Ted's "Project Xanadu" was a very early vision of a large semantic hypertext network, very much like the modern web in some ways. But it never quite solidified into something that could take off on its own power.

      It got implemented. Autodesk funded an implementation. I knew the people who did that job. It just wasn't very useful. It was a centralized storage and revision control scheme for text only (No pictures; Nelson was very text-oriented) tied to a micropayments system. You paid to read a document, and payments were parcelled out to everybody who'd contributed to the document.

      The fundamental problem was that it assumed that most text documents were worth orders of magnitude than they are now. Pricing was inte

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...Just as we can only guess what John Kennedy might have done, we can only guess what Doug Engelbart might have done had he not been cut down in his prime.'

    And we can also only guess what almost half the world's population might do if they weren't trying to survive on less than $2.50/day.

    There are all kinds of huge problems in the world that desperately need solving and there are huge numbers of people who struggle to find meaningful work. But somehow there's not much connection. In part, the people who control the world's wealth are able to isolate themselves from many of the world's most severe problems. And many people think that the purpose of life is comp

    • by WillAdams (45638)

      Projects / charities to address that:

      - http://www.heifer.org/ [heifer.org] --- give a child powdered milk and they'll drink for a day (if they have clean water), give their parents a breeding pair of cattle and they'll have milk for forever
      - http://opensourceecology.org/ [opensourceecology.org] --- provide people with the tools necessary to make the things they need to make their lives better

      Had a link for a water filtration system, but not finding it....

  • For those who don't get humour, he's taking the piss in a somewhat serious way.
  • by Gavin Scott (15916) on Wednesday December 18, 2013 @11:36AM (#45726187)

    http://xkcd.com/1234/ [xkcd.com]

    Probably my favorite XKCD strip so far.

    G.

  • Outside the US Pissed=Drunk. I was hoping to see a video of a drunk Ted Nelson at a memorial event.
  • by WOOFYGOOFY (1334993) on Wednesday December 18, 2013 @12:21PM (#45726725)

    If you watch the video, the audience reaction is remarkable. Basically, it appears to be composed of people who

    1) cannot interpret or perceive when *real* human emotion is on display before them , or what it might mean.

    2) react chiefly to the *form* of his sentences, and not the spoken content. Specifically, when Ted pauses, they interpret this as they're being given a pause by the speaker to process some joke which they were just told, and in response laugh politely.

    The laughter is entirely inappropriate. Ted's pausing because he's overcome with emotion. That choking sound, that's where we get the phrase "getting choked up". That sniffling sound? That's Ted repressing tears and not a cue that you just heard a Louis CK -style joke which somehow went whizzing over your head.

    Here's a guy -Ted Nelson - himself a luminary on par with Engelbart and Knuth, whose own vision for Xanadu :

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Xanadu [wikipedia.org]

    has largely been ignored and forgotten IMO, honoring us with his actual, uncensored thoughts about the life and passing one of his fellow greats, and people don't get it, at all. This is how the world is. The vacuous - yet ambitious ! - (lived there, know them ) residents of Mountain View and Sunnyvale and Palo Alto don't even know it's them he's ripping when he says:

    "Perhaps his notion of accelerating collaboration and cooperation was a pipe dream in this dirty world of organizational politics, jockeying and backstabbing and euphemizing evil."

    a quote that reminded me of a line from Bilbo Baggins' speech at his "eleventy-one" birthday party:

    "I don't know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve."

    The fact is the gentle, humane, inclusive and egalitarian visions of saints is an quiet and unassuming brute force of nature, provably irrepressible and the thing upon which every other owes its existence; it's like water. It is continually being reborn and reintroduced into the world over and over again, indefatiqable never driven out, never depleted, never defeated or even much deflected, unstoppable unstoppable unstoppable, having its way on the field of historical time, which is its only concern.

    • by segedunum (883035)
      I'm afraid no one is getting the humour in this, even though it is a heartfelt eulogy in many ways.
  • by haapi (16700)

    I have worked on SDS940 computers (dates me, eh?) used in DE's demo -- they were mighty for their time, and ran time-sharing networks, etc.
    By the late '70's, a simulator of the SDS940 running on a Dec-10 was faster than the actual 940 hardware.

  • Give me a penny for every deserving genius who got overlooked, cut down before his time, ignored, ridiculed or had a famous result named after someone else because his name come last in sort order on the journal paper and I could buy a country. Give me two cents for every obnoxious jerk, marketing hack, or talentless wannabe that became rich and famous because shit happens and I could end world poverty. Welcome to real life.

Machines certainly can solve problems, store information, correlate, and play games -- but not with pleasure. -- Leo Rosten

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