How Computers Work: Part 9

With all the competing operating systems floating around in the world, it is quite amazing that any productive uses have ever been found for modern-day computers. Imagine, for no particular reason, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in a seedy downtown bar fighting it out during amateur mud wrestling night. Sure, it can be fun to watch, but when the match is over and the beer is digested very little gets resolved. All that remains is a mildly disturbing image of two pasty white computer geeks cleaning mud from their various nooks and crannies. Despite this divergence in technology, one concept has focused the computer industry on a common goal. No, it’s not the “We Are the World” charity album (which came in a distant second), but the ever present concept of the Internet.

(Note to reader: Make wavy up and down motion with hands to indicate a flashback sequence.)

The birth of the Internet can be traced back to the mid 1960s. It was the middle of the cold war and everyone seemed to be worried about who was next on the Soviet’s invasion list. To make matters worse, they had become quite skilled at building nuclear weapons. And if the situation wasn’t bad enough, Gallagher started his first international fruit smashing comedy tour. With the exception of futuristic space battles and James Earl Jones portraying a large black man, this was clearly an “Empire Strikes Back” time for the United States of America.

Despite being 300 ton monstrosities, computer systems of this era were still quite vulnerable to inter-continental thermo-nuclear warheads. The military was taking extraordinary steps to protect their assets from this new threat. One high ranking government computer specialist went on record saying, “Over my dead body are those commies going to put funny little fur hats on our computers while they reprogram the software to display backwards letter Rs!”

One protective method was to tunnel deep inside granite mountains and place the computer hardware out of harms way in the event of a missile attack. While this approach seemed like a good idea on paper, it turned out the specific mountain they drilled into was also home to an established zoological garden. Filtering out the exotic animal dropping smells proved to be a non-trivial matter.

Since many of the computers in the nation were not located in the immediate vicinity of large granite mountain tops, a more practical solution was needed. While the idea of building portable mountain ranges was kicked around by the government, in the end they decided to connect their computers with really long wires. This allowed independent systems to communicate in the event of a nuclear war. Here is an example of typical electronic exchange of information:

Computer 1: Dude, what’s going on?
Computer 2: Not much—my operator is off watching that Gallagher guy.
Computer 1: How exciting. I don’t mean to be nosy, but has any of your hardware been damaged by a nuclear explosion?
Computer 2: Will you shut up already? You have been asking me that exact same question every 1.5 seconds for the past two years!
Computer 1: I’m sorry– that’s all I’ve been programmed to do.
Computer 2: Okay, fine. I’ve changed my mind. I’ve been completely annihilated by a surprise thermo-nuclear missile attack. What are you going to say now?
Computer 1: Umm… did it hurt?

(Note to reader: Imagine a series of wavy lines of varying frequencies in field of vision to return to the normal “now” time frame.)

Believe it or not, over the years this network of computers grew into the backbone of the modern day Internet. While technically functional, the average Joe on the street had no use for this technology. A few more pieces were needed to complete the puzzle. First of all, personal computers had to start multiplying faster than those evil muppets from the movie “Gremlins.” Finally, a ground-breaking new software program was needed for everyone with access to a phone line and the attention span and intelligence of an average third grader.

The company that first took up this challenge was named Netscape. Starting with little more than a few oversized mallets and a truckload full of produce, Gallagher built the company into an impressive giant by constructing an Internet browser. In an interview after the fact, Gallagher admitted to coming up with the idea after receiving a call from James Earl Jones. “I am your father, Gallagher. Now go and build up an enormous fortune so I can finance my empire of evil. And stop smashing all that fruit– it is wearing a bit thin.”

Once the power of the Internet was fully realized, everyone and their dog needed to have their own web site. In a few short years the Internet went from being completely empty to being chalk full of every imaginable type of web site. Personal, E-commerce, gambling, pornography, and undiscovered comedy writer web sites– the Internet has it all.