Not just me then
Les Earnest is 88 next week, and still going strong. Here's a post he made to Dave Farber's mailing list on Wednesday:
The stories cited, especially the one about my old friend Doug Engelbart, are total bullshit. The Engelbart myth and his resulting receipt of the ACM Turing award came out of his 1968 [1988? - ed] talk in San Francisco, where a seriously ignorant journalist in the audience named Steven Levy jumped to the erroneous conclusion that Doug had invented all the stuff he was showing even though most of it went back as much as 20 years. Another journalist, John Markoff, then repeated that baloney in the New York Times, which by the rules of journalism made it solid history.
I know all that because I helped create some of the earlier technology, working at MIT Lincoln Laboratory beginning in 1956, then in its Mitre Corporation spinoff beginning in 1958. MIT's Whirlwind computer had been developed before I got there but I got to play with it and also with the TX-0 and TX-2 computers, all of which which had good text editors from their beginnings in the1950s. In summary, all of the published histories about text editing are fantasies, like most computer history shown in public media, web sites, and the Computer History Museum. The latter is evidently not interested in telling the truth even though I have been trying to bribe them with big donations since I became a founding member, following my donations to its predecessor, the Digital Computer Museum in Boston.
One thing that Doug Engelbart did invent was the mouse, with some help from his colleague, Bill English, but it was not a big step forward. Many of us had been moving display cursors around for years using Light Guns, a pistol-sized optical sensor with a trigger that could be aimed at optical elements on the screen. A smaller and lighter version was then developed called the light pen, which I used a lot in my graduate research, developing the first cursive handwriting recognizer including the first spelling checker, which won me a free trip to Europe in 1962 to present it at the IFIP Congress in Munich.
The mouse created no new capability but it did have two advantages over the light pen:
- It was cheaper, and
- It could be moved on a flat horizontal surface instead of having to reach to the screen.
However, with widespread use of pocket computers coming into play, the mouse is now slowly dying, just like Doug did.
Lester D Earnest