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Famous fathers of (fill-in-the-blank)

October 12, 2009

by Mark Ollig

Vinton Cerf is generally considered the father of the Internet and Tim Berners-Lee is widely known as the father of the World Wide Web.

Have you ever wondered who these people were that actually invented – and used for the first time – the high-tech devices, networks, and computing software applications we today, take for granted?

For example, we have Marty Cooper to thank every time we, use our cell phones.

AT&T, through its Bell Labs division, had designed the original concept for mobile cellular communication technology back in 1947, however, at that time there were no portable devices created to experiment with the concept.

It was Marty Cooper who invented the first portable handset and he was the first person to make an actual telephone call on a portable cell phone.

Cooper filed a patent for a radio telephone system in 1973, while he was working at Motorola.

Cooper made a public demonstration of the first portable working prototype cell phone on the streets of New York City April 3, 1973.

That first cell phone was called the Motorola Dyna-Tac and looked more or less like a brick and weighed in at a hefty two and one-half pounds.

During the New York demonstration, Cooper is quoting as saying, “As I walked down the street while talking on the phone, sophisticated New Yorkers gaped at the sight of someone actually moving around while making a phone call. Remember, in 1973 there weren’t cordless telephones, let alone cellular phones.”

Where did Marty Cooper get the insight to invent the cell phone?

Queue my favorite Star Trek original series music theme.

Yes, from watching Captain James T. Kirk talking on his communicator.

Cooper, who today is 70, wanted people to be able to carry their phones with them anywhere they went – and he got his wish.

The development and manufacturing of the popular wireless device called a Blackberry began in the early 1990s and became publicly available in 1999. Mike Lazaridis started a company in 1984 called Research in Motion, which is recognized as the maker of the Blackberry.

Your humble columnist uses his Apple iPod every day, so I wanted to make sure I gave some ink to its recognized creator, Tony Fadell.

After seeing some of the early digital music players being manufactured, Steve Jobs of Apple Computer decided he wanted to create a better device, so he put together his Apple hardware engineering team to do it.

Tony Fadell was the lead member of this team, and Oct. 23, 2001, the 5GB Apple iPod was made available to the general public. This iPod was advertised as the small device which “could put a thousand songs in your pocket” and the rest, as they say, is history.

It’s interesting to note the use of the name spelled “IPOD” was originally issued a trademark patent in 1999 for kiosk computer hardware. This kiosk computer hardware was discontinued in 2000 and the trademark name was abandoned in 2001. In 2005, Apple Computer was assigned legal rights to the name iPod.

One of the earliest program code languages was a Formula Translator (FORmula TRANslator) commonly called FORTRAN.

John Backus was an IBM computer scientist, and in the 1954 he developed FORTRAN.

FORTRAN is considered the world’s first widely used computer programming language.

How about the little “mouse” we use with our computers?

This was invented by Douglas C. Engelbart, who in 1967 applied for, and Nov. 17, 1970 obtained US Patent 3,541,541 for his home-made, wooden-shelled, two-metal wheeled computer mouse device.

Engelbart said it was nicknamed the “mouse” because the cord or “tail” came out the end of it.

In 1984, he founded the Doug Englebart Institute.

In 1995, he wrote a book entitled “Boosting Our Collective IQ.”

Today, Doug Englebart is 84 years old.

You can visit Doug Engelbart’s web site at dougengelbart.org.

I feel it is only fair to mention a woman who made a very important contribution to the technology of our world.

In 1959, Grace Hopper was responsible for the design of the first working computing programming language called Common Business Oriented Language or COBOL.

COBOL was based on Hopper’s FLOW-MATIC business code language, which she invented in 1955.

Hopper’s FLOW-MATIC code design called for incorporating some English words into code operation commands instead of having computer programs being written strictly in all machine code.

In 1944, Grace Hopper was also one of the first programmers of the IBM automatic digital computer called the Harvard Mark I, which obtained this name because it was, of course, used at Harvard University.

An early photograph of Hoppers original FLOW-MATIC program code can be seen at tinyurl.com/ydey793.

This weeks Web Site of The Week will feature more about today’s column of technology inventors along with some video, so be sure to stop by online and check it out.