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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Tangled Web

My new aviation business is on the World Wide Web.  But that is a busy place, full of noise and fury, the luminous and the profane, the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly.

In the 1980s, Tim Berners-Lee was a software consultant at CERN when he began writing Tangle, an application to help him keep track of CERN's many scientists, projects and incompatible computers. Thousands of researchers would travel to CERN, do their experiments using their own computers (which they brought with them), and then go home to crunch the data. It was a major pain at CERN to accommodate the many incompatible computers, which also had to work with the CERN mainframe that actually ran the mammoth particle accelerators. Tim was responsible for helping everything and everyone work together. He thought it would be a whole lot simpler if the computers could swap their information directly, even though, at that time, computers didn't communicate with one another.

In March 1989, Tim proposed creating an online system that could be accessed from anywhere with an Internet connection,  that used hyperlinks to connect to information, or even to control and perform particle experiments remotely.   It took nearly 2 years to built the prototype system, and finally the Web was born, on Christmas Day, 1990.

During this time period, I was a product manager, working on a gateway product that connected IBM mainframes to the Internet, living in Dallas.  I used to have to explain to my friends and family what "the Internet" was, but nobody saw how all pervasive it would become, thanks to the Web.  I certainly didn't - I turned down an offer from a small start up in San Jose called C**co, because they were making and selling routers, and I knew that if I wanted a router, all I had to do was the start up "routed", the iprouter deamon, on a UNIX computer or an MS-DOS machine, and there you are - no special hardware required.  So who would buy a router?

But I did start to use the original browser, a free download from CERN, called "mosaic" in the summer of  1991.  There wasn't a lot to connect to at that time, CERN was still the starting point because it had links to pretty much all the world's web pages, a kind of forerunner to Yahoo.  Later came Netscape, then Internet Explorer and the lawsuits against Micros**t's little monopoly.

In the meantime I left the Internet world, and joined Nortel, working on cellular systems, which at that time were all voice.  The first systems was CDMA, used by Sprint PCS and others, then later I worked on 3G (EVDO and UMTS), and then 4G (OFDM in it's two incarnations, LTE and WiMAX).  Having left the world of the Internet for wireless mobility, the world had turned and my old and new careers merged to form the "Mobile Internet", and now people browse the Internet on little handheld devices than can also make phone calls.

Finally, when the WiMAX start up I worked for was bought by that very same C**co, Things looked great, until as described in my last post, the company shut it down.  Eventually I was also shut down and cast adrift.

The silver lining is that until I find a new job, I have all day every day to fly, and teach flying.  So tell your friends!  S&P Aviation is on the web!

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