Monday, November 12, 2012

Rodin-WWW-Mouse (12-18 November)

on this date in design…

Auguste Rodin, French sculptor, birthday 12 November 1840, death 17 November 1917
World Wide Web, formally proposed as a hypertext project, 12 November 1990
Computer Mouse, patented by Douglas Engelbart, awarded 17 November 1970

When most people think of Rodin, most people think “Thinker”.  However this is just a small portion of his amazing artistic career.  Reject three times from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Rodin refused to ignore the negative aspects of human emotion in his work.  Often his subjects are depicted in great distress in the midst of moral weakness.  Sometimes it is this overwhelming passion that makes the work so compellingly beautiful.  Critics doubted he sculpted the molds for bronzes instead of casting a live model due to the exquisite realistic detail. 
It could be argued that the subject matter of moral dilemma spouted from Rodin’s personal life which was rife with complicated family obligations and multiple love affairs.  Eventually, he would marry the mother of his only child, Rose Beuret over 50 years after they met.  Two weeks later she died and Rodin later that same year.  Rodin willed his entire studio and casts to the French state with the intention they would continue to reproduce his work; his final gift to the country that embraced his unconventional talent.

So you have all this information you want to share with the world.  What do you do?  Tim Berners-Lee (TimBL to his friends) knew exactly what to do.  While working at CERN, TimBL with Robert Cailliau proposed to their bosses to take all the existing hypertext (digital information) and make it available on demand on the growing interconnected global computer system—essentially making a website.  It is hard to imagine today what it was like before you could type a few letters (not even an entire word) into a search engine and have a wealth of information at your fingertips.  The Web and the internet may seem like interchangeable terms.  The difference lies in that the Web (the hypertext documents) is a service that runs on the internet (the interconnected computer system). Both have forever changed society. 
How it interacts. How it learns. How it functions. 
By June of this year over one third of the planet’s 7 billion people have had at least one service provided by the internet and Web.  With all technologies & innovations there is always a learning curve.  We are still trying to negotiate what this new virtual world means to us as individuals and as humans.  The internet has saved some businesses and eliminated others.  Small specialized craftsmen can now make their products available globally without much overhead while the postal service struggles to compete with email and online bill pay.  To me, it is the greater opportunity to learn that is the most exciting (and I think this site is testament to that).  Don’t get me wrong; I still visit my local public library on a weekly basis…but I browse the card catalogue from my computer at home. 

To navigate the computer and subsequently the Web, Douglas Engelbart came up with a device to locate the cursor on the screen.  Or what Englebart called it: “X-Y Position Indicator for a Display System”.  Before the days of touch screen tablets, communicating with our computers was a complicated process.  Few remember typing “DOS” commands onto a black and green screen.  What made Englebart’s invention special was the rollerball, not the wheel on the top of the mouse but an actual ball located on the underside of the mouse.  The ball transferred the user’s motion onto an X-Y coordinate system the computer could understand.  Think of “Etch-a-Sketch” knobs.  Today’s optical mice have eliminated the rollerball and WiFi has eliminated the namesake wire tale connected to the computer.  Further developments with touch pads and touch screens may eliminate the device all together.  However, this tool was essential to making computers more accessible to the public and ushered in the Computer Age TimBL and the WWW started.  Today, the Doug Engelbart Institute continues his vision by addressing complex human problems in the rapidly advancing world.   


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