Issue 5 cover

The Prophet of Menlo Park

by Paul Spinrad

Issue 5 :: Winter 2009 (reports)

The day is December 9, 1968. The place, the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco's Brooks Hall.

At a table in front of the theater sits Douglas Engelbart, sporting a headset and demonstrating a new powerful computer system complete with monitor, keyboard, and mouse. The two-thousand-seat auditorium is outfitted with video cameras, microphones, a microwave link, and an Eidophor projector beaming massive pictures onto the front wall.

On the screen, the larger-than-life split image shows Engelbart on the right as he guides us through the demo. On the left, we see his computer monitor, actually his office computer monitor thirty miles away at Stanford Research Institute (SRI) in Menlo Park. He is remotely connected via twelve-hundred-baud modem to the SRI system, keying and editing a simple document. Throughout the demo, the video camera back in Menlo Park stays trained at the terminal, while cameras in the auditorium pick up shots of Engelbart's face and hands, equipment, or some other team member involved in the presentation.


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"The Prophet of Menlo Park" is roughly 1550 words.

Paul Spinrad is a writer and editor based in San Francisco. He is Projects Editor for MAKE magazine and the author of The VJ Book: Inspirations and Practical Advice for Live Visuals Performance.