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Full Reply to Wired Xanadu Article
- To: xanni@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx (Andrew Pam)
- Subject: Full Reply to Wired Xanadu Article
- From: jpost@xxxxxxxxxxxxx (Jonathan Vos Post)
- Date: Fri, 17 Apr 1998 21:19:00 -0700 (PDT)
- Cc: jpost@xxxxxxxxxxxxx (Jonathan Vos Post), xanadu@xxxxxxxxxx
Mr. Andrew Pam, and Others of Xanadu,
I just found, on a PC back-up disk, and converted to Macintosh, my full
response to an article about Ted Nelson and Xanadu that ran in Wired
Magazine. They used only about 2 or 3 paragraphs from this in their Letter to
the Editor column. Some historical interest here...
******************** start Letter to Wired *********************
520 Third Street
San Francisco, CA 94107 17 May 1995
I felt more connected to the June 1995 issue than any since you
first ran Paulina Borsook, whom I tutored when she was 15 and I'd arrived
at Caltech on full scholarship at 16.
Most important, Gary Wolf's "The Curse of Xanadu" was the most
important article on the most important computing project in history. An
excellent first try! I won't quibble about what was included, although the
attempt to find good guys and bad guys at each stage of evolution is
excessively linear and low-resolution.
My beef is with what was left out. First, Ted Nelson really IS the
"hypertext guru and design genius." History will judge him to be one of
the seminal thinkers of our century. Second, there is no analysis of sex,
drugs, or rock and roll, all of which play a part in the saga, but my
attorney suggests that I say no more on those subjects.
Third, there are key people missing from the history. Where is
Xanadu supporter John Mauchley, who (with J. Prosper Eckert) held THE
patent on the stored program digital electronic computer? The fight in the
archives for who really invented it is between the followers of Mauchley,
John von Neumann, and Prof. Atanasoff. I met again and again with John
Mauchley thanks to Ted Nelson, and I saw him pass the bitter torch of
unsung pioneer to Ted.
Where is Calvin Mooers, who coined the term "information
retrieval," and who created the wonder language TRAC? He was an early
supporter, but the tragedy of Xanadu may have begun with disagreements
regarding the licensing and copyright (on which subject Mooers is an
expert) of early Xanadu code in TRAC.
And, not to put too fine a point on it, where am I? I'd started in
FORTRAN-IV, in 1967, on an IBM 1130 while at Stuyvesant High School in New
York. After I got my double B.S. in Mathematics and English Literature
from Caltech, worked on JPL's Mars Rover robot, made a semantic net
interpreter in POP-2 via ARPANET to Prof.Norman's group at UCSD (I was one
of the first 1,000 people on the Net), and co-authored with Nobel laureate
physics guru Richard Feynman. Also, (ouch!) I turned down a chance to buy
1/2% of start-up Atari from Nolan Bushnell, for whom I beta tested "Pong"
and "Computer Space" -- the first two videogames -- for $1,000. I moved to
the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1973.
In the first year, I completed all requirements for the M.S. in
Computer and Information Science (COINS), although due to administrative
snafu I wasn't awarded the degree until January 1975 for my thesis on
parallel automatic theorem proving -- Artificial Intelligence for
not-yet-invented Massively Parallel Processors [see my poem "Love is a
Combinatorial Explosion", SIGART Newsletter #79, Jan.1982, p.3]. That's
when I actually met Ted Nelson. Before that, we'd been connected through
Haskins Laboratories, where my mother worked, where dolphin speech was
analyzed by computers, and where Ted Nelson's unfinished movie of John
Lilly's dolphin experiments was a cult classic, despite a sound track
consisting only of the syllables "parp parp parp."
Surrounded by second-rate professors absorbed in plagiarism and
wife-swapping, Ted Nelson was a breath of fresh air. Someone who REALLY
understood what computers were for. I beta tested Dr. John Holland's
breakthrough book on the Genetic Algorithm, and advanced deeply into my
doctoral research on what I called "Molecular Cybernetics." I wrote
software in APL that automatically evolved programs to solve the non-linear
equations of enzyme protein dynamics. I showed how to simulate the
metabolism of organisms, and how to reverse-engineer the metabolisms to
work as molecular computers. Ted Nelson passed my ideas on to Eric
Drexler, who took them in an inorganic direction and renamed them
"Nanotechnology." I got Omni magazine to write about Nanotechnology and
Drexler, since I'd been writing cover articles for them ["Cybernetic War",
Omni, May 1979, pp.44-104, which predicted the SDI debate; and "Star Power
for Supersocieties", Omni, April 1980, pp.44-99, which predicted the giant
black hole at our galaxy's core]. Meanwhile, I got elected to the Amherst
Town Meeting and, as an elected representative, had bicycle paths
constructed to cut the town's insurance liabilities.
While COINS was racked by faculty schism and moved towards an
ouster of an incompetent Chairman, nobody would read my doctoral
dissertation -- the final step before by Ph.D. So when I split for New
Jersey in 1977, as publishing editor of the underground music newspaper
Sound Options, I fell into Xanadu full-time. Ted dumped the Processor
Technology Sol-20 in my apartment (rent paid by Debi Bennett, then at Bell
Labs). Running in TRAC, and debugging the math routines that Cal Daniels
had programmed, I soon had the Sol-20 doing RSI encryption/decryption. I
began hacking hypertext. I wrote the world's first hypertext poems -- two
print-outs appeared in Datamation ["Hypertext Sonnet, Lines from 'A
Shropshire Lad'", Datamation, July 1982, p.24; "Computer Cures Roethke's
'Dolor'", Datamation, August 1982, p.172]. No magazine wanted any articles
about Hypertext, let alone Xanadu.
Mark Miller, still at Yale, joined me in Monmouth County. Soon we
had the Sol-20 networked through the S-100 bus with an Imsai and a
Cromemco. This was, of course, before Apple and IBM got into the personal
computer business. Mark and I co-implemented Ted Nelson's JOT (Juggler Of
Text) -- the prototype word processing front-end for Xanadu. We also
co-implemented a low-resolution animation editor. In August 1978, in
Philadelphia, we demonstrated hypertext, JOT, and animation at the world's
first Personal Computing Convention.
The primary requirement for JOT was this: an eight-year-old child
could learn to use it in five minutes, and then teach a younger sibling.
We passed the test with flying colors. Speaking of colors, my shoes were
permanently spattered with purple paint from the huge styrofoam Xanadu
"flying X" that marked our booth.
Now here's the proof of Ted Nelson's genius. Mark and I wrote
roughly 40 times as many lines of code as Ted had estimated. But the
software not only worked the way he said it would, it FELT the way he said
it would. In all my 27 years of software experience, I've never met anyone
else who could do that.
I have no problem with any of the people you describe, but did read
the handwriting on the wall when Roger Gregory said "I don't know if you're
working for me or I'm working for you." I wrote Mark Miller's final term
paper for Yale -- on the Epistemology and Ontology of Time as considered in
Science Fiction -- and then went to work for Boeing Aerospace's Software
Engineering at the Space Center in Kent, Washington. I declared myself an
expert in the Management of Software Engineers and wrote a series of
textbooks for Boeing's major clients such as the Air Force, with titles
such as Software Development and Maintenance Facilities Guidebook,
September 1979, for Aeronautical Systems Division, USAF; and Software
Systems Engineering, January 1980. In fact, I wrote Boeing's Software
Management Standards, April 1980, which grew into a whole series of
company-wide standards. I co-authored "What is Software Engineering?", the
first module of Boing's Software Engineering Self-Study Program. It was
marginally possible to be a hacker who defined the corporate anti-hacker
methodology.I wrote a lot of policies for the Air Force about Flight
Training Simulators, which introduced Ted Nelson's term "Virtuality" to the
I kept in touch with Ted Nelson and his Xanadoodlers, and found a
local group of fanatics when I became contributing editor of
Call-A.P.P.L.E. magazine, kingpin of the world's largest Apple user group.
I began publishing various chapters of my un-read Ph.D. thesis in places
such as "Analysis of Enzyme Waves: Success Through Simulation", Proceedings
of the Summer Computer Simulation Conference, Seattle, WA, August 1980,
AFIPS Press, pp.691-5; "Simulation of Metabolic Dynamics", Proceedings of
the Fourth Annual Symposium on Computer Applications in Medical care,
Washington, DC, November 1980, and "Enzyme System Cybernetics", Proceedings
of the International Conference on Applied Systems Research and
Cybernetics, Acapulco, Mexico, December 1980. I became friends with
satellite designer Ray Sperber, who reconnected me to his former roommate:
Eric Drexler. I later introduced Eric to Dr. Stan Schmidt of Analog, a key
science fiction/science fact supporter of Drexler.
While in Seattle, I got into the science fiction scene more
vigorously. By now, I've published over 20 science fiction stories, 200
science fiction poems, two science fiction plays, and have a half-dozen
unsold novels. I hung out with William Gibson -- I enjoyed Rogier van
Bakel's "Remembering Johnny." Bill Gibson wasn't very happy with "Johnny
Mnemonic" when it came out in Omni, having picked my brain for details of
Omni editorial policy, the hypertext analysis of Vladimir Nabokov, and the
insider's view of the hacker community. We talked through Neuromancer
before he wrote it. "A literary experiment," he confided, "using what I
experienced in the Vancouver punk underground, but putting it in a
Chandleresque voice in the near future for cognitive dissonance. It'll
never be commercially successful."
I also spent time with the other two mathematicians in Science
Fiction Writers of America besides myself: Rudy Rucker (who considered my
doctoral work closer to Artificial Life than to nanotechnology), and Vernor
Vinge (for whom I created the term "smart matter"). Your piece on Vinge,
"Singular Visionary" was good -- but should be "vastened." I also jammed
with Charles Platt, another of your talented stable of writers. Do you see
why I felt so connected to your June 1995 issue?
Since then I've completed over 820 publications, presentations, and
broadcasts. I've co-authored two award-nominated works with Ray Bradbury,
co-edited a book with Arthur C. Clarke (which included an article by Eric
Drexler), and done the NBC-TV Today Show with Isaac Asimov. I've
programmed in over 30 languages, been praised onstage by Timothy Leary at
Hackers 2.0 (or was it 3.0?), programmed the Space Shuttle for Rockwell,
worked on the Advanced Automation System for the Federal Aviation
Administration, and designed Moonbases and Mars bases for NASA. I designed
software for the Galileo probe, closing in on Jupiter later this year, and
was Mission Planning Engineer for the Voyager fly-by of Uranus (I planned
that spectacular Miranda imaging). I even served as Executive Vice
President for Palo/Haklar & Associates, for their really cool CD-ROM "Voyage
Through the Solar System."
I've been married almost 10 years to Dr. Christine Carmichael,
Grand-niece of Sir Walter Scott, who has a Ph.D. in solid-state physics.
She hacks high temperature superconductors, publishes science fiction and
fantasy, and helps me with my company Emerald City Publishing's 28-year-old
magazine Space & Time. She virtually runs my high-tech international
consulting company Computer Futures Inc. and the low-tech Sherlock Holmes
Résumé Service. We have a 6-year-old boy, Andrew, who's smarter than we
are, and faster on Sega and Nintendo systems.
I've somehow become one of the leading experts on interstellar
travel ["Science", by Landis, Brin, Forward, and Post, Science Fiction Age,
March 1995, p.24ff; "Hydrogen Ice Spacecraft for Robotic Interstellar
Flight", Proceedings of the International Symposium: Practical Robotic
Interstellar Flight, New York University, September 1994] and exploration
of the polar icecaps of Mercury. I've won awards from four successive
heads of NASA, been quoted by name in a late book by Robert Heinlein, and
published a genuine cyberpunk short story that I wrote in the late 1960s
["Down-jazzed Up-Tight Side-Souled Dad", California Tech, Pasadena,
California, 13 November 1970, p.3].
It's been a wild and crazy life, on the peaks of the hacker world,
and in the belly of the Military-Industrial complex. I've performed for
audiences on electric guitar, classical guitar, and synthesizer. I've
spent hours backstage with Jerry Garcia, and published concert reviews of
Bob Dylan. I feel that I've served on the front lines of three
revolutions: the manned and unmanned Space Program,
Nanotechnology/Artificial Life, and Hypertext/Xanadu. The "Curse of
Xanadu" for me was more like a graduate degree in utopian engineering. I
resent never getting a penny from AutoDesk -- they claimed that my 3% of
Xanadu had been diluted to zero by repeated bankruptcies and restarts --
but I don't begrudge a second spent with Ted Nelson, Roger Gregory, Roland
King, Stuart Greene, Chip Morningstar, Eric Drexler, Keith Henson, Stella
Calvert, Hugh Daniel, Marc Steigler, Cal Daniels, and the rest.
[some stuff omitted here]...
So I'm obviously still an idealist, still fighting for hypertext
transclusion royalties and trying to build a better millennium.
Some of us have gone on from the broken dreams of Xanadu to fame,
fortune, and happiness. Ted Nelson is still the greatest computer
visionary of our time. Fragments of Hypertext are sold by a couple of
dozen vendors. Xanadu is not the "total insanity" of Gary Wolf's final
sentence. Someday it will be here, and will fulfil all the fantasies of
its true believers. But Bill Gates himself couldn't pay me enough to
manage the software development. Because you left out the most significant
project that Ted Nelson's father worked on, the one that sets the true tone
for the Xanadu affair -- The Twilight Zone.
Thank you for your attention and consideration of this completely
verifiable non-fiction draft article. I've been trying since your first
issue to sell you SOMETHING; you run the best magazine in the business.
Jonathan Vos Post
************* end letter to Wired *****************
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