forwarded message from John Conover

From: John Conover <>
Subject: forwarded message from John Conover
Date: Tue, 22 Oct 1996 16:37:06 -0700

The attached is a press release, (see the bottom of this email for the
forwarded message,) from the world's largest manufacture of personal
computers, Compaq.  Quoting from Bush, circa 1939[1]:

    Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of
    mechanized private file and library. It needs a name. To coin one
    at random, "memex" will do. A memex is a device in which an
    individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and
    which is mechanized so the it may be consulted with exceeding
    speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to
    his memory. What does it consist of?

        [Note that by 1939 it was already realized that data had to be
        integrated seamlessly within a communication system-the
        contemporary prase for doing so is "electronic mediation," and
        the contemporary name of a system that does electronic
        mediation is an "inter-operable network," or Internet, for
        short. The memex is what we now call a "computer," although
        the origin of this name is obscure, and seems to have come out
        of the National Laboratories in the early 1940's. The name is
        technically, quite incorrect, since computation is not
        required to perform the type of functionality defined by
        Bush-it can be totally implemented with state machines or
        stack machines, which are qualitatively different than a
        machine that does computation.]

    It consists of a desk. Presumably, it can be operated from a
    distance, but it is primarily a piece of furniture at which an
    individual works. On its top are slanting translucent screens, on
    which material can be projected for convenient reading. There is a
    keyboard, and sets of buttons and levers. Otherwise, memex looks
    like an ordinary desk.

        [Note the mention of the concept of the electronic desk which
        is now called, in the popular press, simply "desktop."
        Interesting that the name was coined in 1939. Note, also,
        mention of the concept of the "window," and "point and click"
        buttons. Also note the reference to "operated from a
        distance," again, a reference to the requirement of

    In one end is its stored reference material. The matter of bulk
    can be will taken care of even by present-day
    miniaturization. Only a small part of the interior of the memex is
    devoted to storage, the rest to mechanism. Yet if the user
    inserted 5,000 pages of material a day it would take a hundred
    years to fill the repository. So he can be profligate, and enter
    material freely.

        [Note that both Bush and Von Neumann underestimated memory
        requirements for such a machine. In point of fact, memory
        requirements are the most expensive part of a modern
        computer. Turing presented a more accurate analysis in his
        paper that was contemporary with the works of both Bush and
        Von Neumann, that defined what the word "compute" meant, and
        how it was qualitatively different than the definition of word
        "calculate." Turing published the paper in 1937, roughly,
        contemporary with the concept of Bush's memex machine.]

    Most of the memex contests are purchased on tape ready for
    insertion. Books of all sorts, pictures, current periodicals,
    newspapers, are thus obtained and dropped into place. And there is
    a provision for direct entry. On the top of the memex is a
    transparent platen. On this our user places longhand notes,
    photographs, memoranda, all sorts of things. When one is in place,
    the depression of a lever causes it to be recorded on a blank
    space in a section of the memex memory.

        [Note the structure of this email message for an
        implementation of what Bush defined in this paragraph.]

    Memex has, of course, provision for consulting the record by the
    usual scheme of indexing. When the user wishes to consult a
    certain book, he taps its code on the keyboard, and the title page
    of the book promptly appears before him, projected onto one of
    his viewing positions. Frequently-used codes are mnemonic, so that
    he seldom consults the code book; but when he does, a tap of a key
    or two projects it for his use. Moreover, he has supplemental
    levers. By deflecting one of these levers to the right he runs
    through the book before him, each page in turn being projected at
    a speed which just allows a recognizing glance at each. If he
    deflects the lever further to the right he steps through the book
    10 pages at a time; still further speeds scanning at 100 pagers at
    a time. Deflection to the left gives him the same control
    backwards. A special button transfers the user immediately to the
    first page of the index. Any book of his library can thus be
    called up and consulted with far greater facility, comfort and
    convenience than if it were taken from a shelf. And his personal
    library is voluminous; if he had it present in paper it would fill
    his house or office solidly.

        [Note that here, Bush defines the concept of the index for a
        contemporary relational database system, which he elaborates
        on in the next 3 paragraphs. Note the mention of "... codes
        are mnemonic ... tap of the key," which is a definition of
        what are now called, "icon buttons."

    He has several projection positions; hence he can leave one item in
    position while he calls up another. He can add marginal notes and
    comments, for the nature of his stored record is such that he can
    add or erase, quite as readily as though he were adding notes to
    the page of a book.

        [Note, again, the structure of this email message
        for an implementation of what Bush defined in this paragraph.]

    So far, all this is conventional; a mere projection forward of
    present-day mechanisms and gadgetry. It affords an immediate step,
    however, to "associative" indexing, the basic idea of which is a
    provision whereby any item may be caused at will to select
    another, immediately and automatically. This is the essential
    feature of the memex; the process of tying items together to form
    trails is the heart of the matter.

        [Note that this presentation is an excerpt of Bush's original
        1939 memorandum. In the complete document, he elaborated,
        substantially, on what "associative thinking" means, and the
        application of the memex machine to mediate it. The phrase
        "... item may be caused at will to select another ..." is the
        defining difference of a relational database. Not all
        databases can do this; relational databases can.]

    When the user is building a trail, he names it, inserts the name
    in his code book, and taps it out on his keyboard. Before him,
    projected onto adjacent viewing positions, are the items to be
    joined. At the bottom of each there are a number of blank code
    spaces; a pointer is set to indicate one of these on each
    item. The user taps a single key, and the items are permanently
    joined. In each code space appears the code word. Out of view, but
    also in the code space, is automatically placed a set of dots as a
    designation; and on each item these dots by their positions
    designate the index number of the other.

        [Note the use of the word "join." It was already realized, in
        1939, that set-theoretic concepts could be applied to data.
        The phrase concerning "dots as a destination; ... these dots
        by their positions designate the index number of another," is,
        roughly, the definition of a database implicit indexing
        scheme-a scheme that is used by most contemporary database
        engines, in one way or another, (for example, change the word
        dot to bits.)  The formal proof for the scheme was forthcoming
        in 1941, as none other than Claude Shannon's master's
        thesis-probably one of the most important master's
        dissertations in history, (it defined the isomorphism between
        switches and the Boolean algebras.) It defined the foundations
        of information theory. Information theory was used in the
        formal proof that data could be operated on by set-theoretic
        processes by Alonzo Church. In general, when you type anything
        to a computer, the way that the machine interprets what you
        mean is through a formal process, as defined by Church. Note
        that Shannon's original work, Church's, and Bush's were all
        contemporary, circa, 1939.]

    Thereafter, at any time, when one of these items is in view, the
    other can be instantly recalled merely by tapping a button
    adjacent to the code space. Moreover, when numerous items have
    been thus joined together to form a trail, they can be reviewed in
    turn, rapidly or slowly, by deflecting a lever like that he used
    for turning the pages of a book. It is exactly as though the
    physical items had been gathered together from widely separated
    sources and bound together to form a new book. But it is more than
    this; for any item can be joined into numerous trails, the trails
    can bifurcate, and they can giver birth to side trails.

        [Note that the concept of the data or information "cache" was
        defined here-Netscape uses it to "remember" the content of web
        pages on the Internet, without having to fetch them every time
        an anchor is "clicked." Note, also, that the concept of the
        "bookmark," or "hotlist," was also concidered important by
        Bush in 1939.]

So, what was the first implementation of the concept of the memex
machine? The historical record indicates that there was correspondence
between Vannevar Bush and Douglas Engelbart (then of SRI,) as early as
1962[see reference 1, page 235]. By the early 1970's, Douglas
Engelbart, while at Xerox PARC, had a complete system running-not as
an experimental model, but as an Internet connected, (Ethernet is a
Xerox trade name for what we now call the Internet,) windowed user
environment, complete with icons, and associative data structures in a
distributed, geographically disperse computational
environment. Englebart's contribution was the mouse, which replaced
the "levers," as envisioned by Bush in 1939. By 1973, the concept was
implemented, in a national infrastructure linking the National
Laboratory system, and major Universities under sponsorship by the
DOD. By 1978, it was a commercially available system, with no less
than 30 vendors. Xerox was not one of them.

I suppose that Engelbart can not be faulted for that-imagine trying to
sell the concept of the paperless office to the management of a copier
company. (Xerox did defend the patent concerning the blinking cursor,
but no others, including its implementation of windows, icons, or the

By the way. Welcome to 1939, Compaq.


[1] "As We May Think," Vannevar Bush, Atlantic Monthly, Vol. 176,
No. 1, (1945,) 641-649, and reprinted in Life, Vol. 19, No. 11 (1945,)
112-124, with additional illustrations.  Both were excepts from the
original "Memorandum Regarding Memex," Vannevar Bush, 1939, and sent
to Eric Hodgins on April 10, 1941, for inclusion in Fortune
magazine. The original is archived by the Library of Congress, (Box
50, General Correspondence File, Eric Hodgins.) The quote is cited
------- start of forwarded message (RFC 934 encapsulation) -------
Message-ID: <"jFMQr2.0.725.3LIRo"@netcom14>
From: John Conover <>
To: John Conover <>
Subject: Compaq's New Ad Campaign Begins
Date: Tue, 22 Oct 1996 4:51:41 PDT

         HOUSTON (Reuter) - Compaq Computer Corp. says it will launch
a $60 million advertising campaign to outline its new approach
to how people think about computing.
         The new campaign will start in North America, Europe, the
Middle East and Africa on Tuesday, Houston-based Compaq said.
         The North American campaign leads off with an eight-page
advertising insert in the Wall Street Journal and other business
and trade publications.
         Television spots will begin airing in North America on Nov.
3, it said.
         Compaq said its ``Access'' campaign was part of a global
marketing initiative aimed at changing people's ideas about
computers and slashing the costs of owning one.
         ``The origin of 'Access' lies in the fact that the computer
industry is maturing to the point that what is strategically
important is not just computers or computing, but rather
information -- finding it, shaping it, protecting it and
distributing it,'' Compaq said.
         The print ad campaign will be available on Compaq's site on
the World Wide Web site ( starting on

------- end -------

John Conover,,

Copyright © 1996 John Conover, All Rights Reserved.
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