HISTORY OF CHARLES DICKENS
Today marks the 211th birthdate of Charles Dickens, considered by many the greatest English writer since Shakespeare — at least he was during his lifetime in the Victorian age. He enjoyed the distinction of fame and a measure of financial success during his lifetime, starting in his 20s. Many of his novels were published serially in newspapers or 3 pence pamphlets. Think of them as early Twitter novels. And like Twitter posts, they’re forever: his novels are still in print.
Indeed, eleven years ago (as of the original writing of this article in December 2011), London was having a “Dickens of a time,” with special events and exhibits all over town.
In December, I went to no less than three: the exhibit of his books at the British Library, the immersive Dickens exhibit at the Museum of London, and his only remaining residence in London at 48 Doughty Street, now known as the Charles Dickens Museum which houses thousands of his personal effects.
Dickens in London
When he was still young, his family moved to Camden Town, London, around which he lived most of his life. Though he received an education as a child and was a voracious reader, his father’s extravagant spending habits eventually landed him in debtor’s prison, and young Charles, at 12, had to leave school and take work in a boot-blacking factory near Covent Garden.
Living as a boarder, on weekends, he would visit his family, who lived with his father in Marshalsea debtor’s prison in Southwark, south of the City and across the Thames. His painful recollections of his experiences during this time and his phenomenal memory for detail would provide motivation and content for many of his later novels: Little Dorrit, Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, and especially David Copperfield.
HISTORY OF THE BEATLES
On February 7, 1964, The Beatles landed at JFK Airport in New York. The airport was recently renamed by a mourning country in honor of President Kennedy, who had been assassinated just 77 days earlier.
The airport was now full of 4,000 greeters. Not realizing why there was such a crowd, Paul McCartney wondered aloud,
“Who is this for?”
as the screaming fans rushed to the gates to meet The Beatles. Two days later, on Sunday night, they would appear on The Ed Sullivan Show for their first of three consecutive Sunday night appearances.
HISTORY OF PETER PAN
All of this has happened before,
and it will all happen again.
So begins my favorite Walt Disney animated movie, Peter Pan, which debuted 70 years ago today on February 5, 1953. The original movie poster said:
“It will live in your heart forever!”
…and indeed, it has.
Why was this turn-of-the-century tale one of Disney’s favorite stories?
On February 3, 1959, a plane crash occurred in Iowa during a snowstorm shortly after 1:00 AM, killing three young rock and roll singers who would go down in history: Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson.
Their story would later be captured as “long, long time ago” in the 8 1/2 minute hit song “American Pie” by Don McLean, released twelve years later in 1971.
Many attempts have been made to decrypt the lyrics of this abstract song. Though never explicitly stated — except that the song is dedicated to Buddy Holly — these musicians appear to represent:
“the three men I admire most, the Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost… the day the music died.“
HISTORY OF APPLE LISA, PART 2: MEET ITS CREATORS
This week at the Computer History Museum’s “Happy 40th Birthday Lisa” event, Katie Hafner, former Computerworld writer, interviewed several of the creators of the Apple Lisa. Many more of the original development team were in the audience. This article follows my previous article on the History of Lisa at 40: The Flop That Influenced Macintosh.
This is a summary of some of the things said by those interviewed. They are considered luminaries in Silicon Valley’s history, and I later worked with some of them at Sun Microsystems. Silicon Valley high-tech is an incredibly “incestuous” industry: it was not unusual in the ’80s and ’90s to see people move between startups and leading tech companies. I did.
Here’s how the evening went:
HISTORY OF GROUNDHOG DAY
Groundhog Day comes from Candlemas Day, observed for centuries in parts of Europe on February 2. The custom was to have the clergy bless candles — representing how long winter would be — and distribute them to the people.
This seems to have derived from the pagan celebration of Imbolc — the Feast of the goddess Bridget.
In Christian Ireland, it’s St. Bridget’s Day and, alternatively, “The Purification of the Virgin” commemorating the time when St. Mary presented Jesus at the Temple at Jerusalem.
February is the month we love to misspell, or at least mispronounce, but you’re forgiven for dropping the first “r” as dissimilation causes people to do that when there are two “r”s or “l”s near each other in a word.
The name came from the Latin Februa an ancient Roman purification festival around the time of the full moon that lent its name to the Roman deity Februus. Februum in Latin means purification. You might think of it as early Spring Cleaning.
Originally, King Numa Pompilius, the legendary second king of Rome following Romulus, added the month to the original 10-month calendar back in 713 B.C. It had the distinction of being, until 450 B.C., the last month of the year, with March 1 being New Year, as I discussed previously. When Julius Caesar reformed the calendar in 46 B.C., the month was assigned only 28 days (29 days in Leap Years). (more…)
HISTORY OF MOZART
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on January 27, 1756, but he was baptized under the name Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart.
What’s In A Name?
When he was an adult, he referred to himself as “Wolfgang Amadè Mozart,” signing his marriage certificate that way. His baptismal name was Latinized, as was common in those days, and he was christened on the feast day of St. John Chrysostom. Theophilus was the middle name of his godfather, Johannes Pergmayr.
The names Amadeus and Theophilus are equivalents of each other; Amadeus is from the Latin “amare + Deus” while Theophilus is “Theo + philos” from the Greek for “lover of God” or “beloved by God.” In German, it would be Gottlieb. His father once wrote a letter calling his newborn son “Wolfgang Gottlieb.”
But his middle name is entered into the records of the Vienna Magistrate when he died: “Wolfgang Amadeus.” This has become the nickname that modern fans use for the musician, including the title of an eponymous movie about his life.
HISTORY OF THE LIBERATION OF AUSCHWITZ: JANUARY 27, 1945
January 27, 1945, was the liberation of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, one of the most notorious camps of World War II, by the Soviet Red Army. This date is now known by the United Nations and the European Union as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
- In America, Holocaust Remembrance Day is observed on April 8.
- In Israel, it’s called Yom HaShoah, or “Holocaust Remembrance Day,” and begins at sundown on April 27. The Hebrew word Shoah, or “catastrophe,” is often used for Holocaust. Almost 200,000 Holocaust survivors are still alive.
The USC Shoah Foundation, founded by Stephen Spielberg in 1994 after completing his Academy Award-winning film Schindler’s List, has recorded over 55,000 stories of survivors. My previous employer EMC Corporation, now Dell EMC, donated the data storage equipment to hold the 115,000 hours of recording information.
Auschwitz, unlike the slave labor camp Dachau, had become a death camp or an extermination center. More than a million people had been murdered here. For context, that’s about the size of San Jose, CA. It became the most known among the six extermination camps as the symbol of the Holocaust.
By comparison, my visit to Auschwitz was an entirely different experience than my visit to the concentration camp at Dachau, as I’ll recount below.
HISTORY OF AUSTRALIA DAY
Did you know that the history of European Australia has ties to the American Revolutionary War?
When the 13 American Colonies were part of the British Commonwealth, it was convenient for England to transport its convicts to the Colonies. Indeed, it was considered more humane to “transport” prisoners than to execute them, and there were getting to be so many convicts.
Following the 1730s, the British population began to increase, and with the rise of the Industrial Revolution, crime became a more significant problem in England. What to do with all the prisoners? Even the debtors’ prisons were swelling. America seemed to be a likely landing place. In 1732, a royal charter was granted to a group of philanthropists interested in helping the “worthy poor.” Expressly, it was granted to the Trustees of the Province of Georgia.
But the goal of settling Georgia as a repository for convicts was never fully realized, despite recent claims to the contrary. Several disagreements and altercations between the American Colonies and the British Crown — which we don’t have time to go into here — resulted in the American War of Independence from Britain. You have no doubt read about it. It was in all the papers.
HISTORY OF MACINTOSH: A 39-YEAR LOVE AFFAIR
The now-famous Macintosh computer turns 39. When Apple President Steve Jobs launched this computer at the Flint Center on the De Anza College campus on January 24, 1984, to the theme from the movie Chariots of Fire, he called it “insanely great!”
The $1.5M “1984” Super Bowl commercial filmed by Sir Ridley Scott had appeared on TV two days before Macintosh went on sale, and the world was holding its breath.
When IBM released the so-called IBM PC in 1981, I remember telling workmates I had at a Silicon Valley startup at the time that it
“legitimized the desktop microcomputer market,”
…at least for business. Though it was called a Personal Computer, few people I knew had one at home. It was driven to popularity with MS-DOS, a character-based user interface, first with green characters on a black screen, then in living color.
The PC had been around for almost a decade, back to the Xerox PARC Alto machine, but they were too expensive and too difficult to use for the ordinary mortal. The more hobby-friendly Commodore PET, Atari, and TRS-80 were within people’s budgets but were primarily used by hobbyists. Early adopters used CP/M operating system machines from Compaq in the business world. Even Apple II computers were around then.
HISTORY OF CHINESE NEW YEAR
Chinese New Year is China’s oldest, longest, and most important social and economic holiday, beginning on the first day of the Chinese lunisolar calendar.
It starts this year on January 22, though the celebrations continue for around two weeks. Chinese New Year is also known as Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival and ends with the Lantern Festival on the fifteenth day of the first month of the Chinese calendar.