Butt-Head Astronomer

Late-1993, renowned astronomer Carl Sagan learnt that Apple’s forthcoming computer, the Power Macintosh 7100, had been given a codename of “Carl Sagan” — the joke being that they would sell “billions and billions.” This was mentioned in a MacWEEK article some time later, to which Sagan sent the following letter in response. Apple soon changed the

Apple must make Macintosh a standard

In June of 1985, 30-year-old Microsoft CEO Bill Gates sent the following remarkable memo to both the then-CEO of Apple, John Sculley, and then-head of Macintosh development, Jean Louis Gassée, and urged them to spread their wings by licensing their hardware and operating system to other companies. Apple ignored his advice. Five months after he sent the

It’s just terrific

February, 1976. Producer Jan Harlan writes to Stanley Kubrick and speaks passionately about a new piece of technology so impressive that it could lead to “shots which would not enter your mind otherwise.” That invention was the now-ubiquitous Steadicam, and Harlan was right to be so impressed. Indeed, Kubrick shared his enthusiasm, so much so

I have no personal knowledge of computers

June, 1956: Co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, Bill Hewlett, writes to then-Provost at Stanford and the man widely considered to be one of the “Fathers of Silicon Valley,” Fred Terman, “I have no personal knowledge of computers nor does anyone in our organization have any appreciable knowledge.” Terman was a member of the US Army Signal Corps‘ advisory board

The Internet Tidal Wave

May 26th, 1995: Bill Gates sends a memo, entitled “The Internet Tidal Wave,” to all executive staff within Microsoft. In it, he makes clear his intention to focus the company’s efforts online with immediate effect and “assign the Internet the highest level of importance,” going on to call it, “the most important single development to come

Permission to Synchronise

Tom West, c.1966 | Image: Jessamyn West, at Flickr When he wasn’t designing incredibly precise clocks at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory in the 1960s, Tom West could often be found travelling the world with one in his possession, on his way to accurately set the time at a foreign satellite observatory. Unsurprisingly, suspicions were sometimes aroused

Success

Above: The Wright brothers’ 4th flight, Dec. 17, 1903; Image: LoC On this day in 1903, following an unsuccessful attempt three days previous, the Wright brothers once again took their newly-built Wright Flyer to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, and proceeded to make history by claiming “the first sustained and controlled heavier-than-air powered flight.” In fact, they

Is there a space program which we could win?

On April 20th of 1961, a despairing John F. Kennedy sent the following memo to his Vice President and Chairman of the Space Council, Lyndon B. Johnson. Just 8 days previous, on the 12th, the Soviets had strengthened their lead in the Space Race by successfully sending cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into orbit; in addition, a

“I told you so!”

In October of 1945, an article titled “Extra-Terrestrial Relays — Can Rocket Stations Give Worldwide Radio Coverage?” was published in Wireless World magazine, in which world-renowned science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke discussed the idea that, in the near future, artificial satellites placed in a geostationary orbit (now sometimes known as a “Clarke Orbit”) could be used

Metal fasteners, tape, and staples

It’s surprising to think that two astronauts on the brink of leaving Earth would have either the time or inclination to respond to mail from enthusiasts, but that’s exactly what happened in May of 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin replied to a young Belgian by the name of Jean Etienne. Jean’s father –

What hath God wrought?

The United States’ first publicly demonstrated telegram was dispatched on May 24th, 1844, by the system’s developer, Samuel Morse. The telegram’s message – What hath God wrought? – was chosen from the bible by the daughter of Morse’s friend, Henry Ellsworth, and successfully travelled from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore, Maryland, instantly stunning the general public.

Flight is possible to man

This extremely confident letter from one half of the Wright Brothers – Wilbur – was their first contact with renowned engineer Octave Chanute, an aviation pioneer and author of Progress in Flying Machines who went on to offer the brothers much invaluable advice over the coming years. It was written three years prior to their

The result would be a catastrophe

Just 73 seconds after launch on January 28th, 1986, the Challenger space shuttle broke apart over the coast of Florida and ended the lives of all seven crew members. A subsequent investigation determined that an O-ring failure on one of the shuttle’s solid rocket boosters, coupled with extremely cold weather around the time of launch,

To one and all I wish a speedy victory

As World War II took hold, the re-routing of seaborne traffic resulted in an incredibly slow international postage system. As a result the General Post Office, after seeking a speedier method by which to send correspondence to troops stationed in the Middle East, introduced Airgraph. In short, postal workers photographed each message and then flew

Most of you steal your software

On February 3rd of 1976, almost 10 years before unveiling Windows 1.0, an irate young Bill Gates wrote the following open letter in response to piracy of Altair BASIC, a piece of software Gates had produced with Paul Allen and Monte Davidoff, and which was essentially the first such release from Microsoft (then named Micro-Soft). The letter was published

TO A TOP SCIENTIST

In 1957, following the announcement that the Soviets had trumped the U.S. with the successful launch of Sputnik 1, Australian schoolboy Denis Cox sent this urgent letter to the Royal Australian Air Force’s Rocket Range at Woomera, in an attempt to enter Australia into the Space Race. Much to Denis’ dismay, his letter, addressed to

The Father-in-Law of the Telephone

A few years after the telephone was introduced to the masses, Mark Twain made it clear that he wasn’t a fan of the invention via an article he wrote for New York World. In response, Alexander Graham Bell‘s father-in-law – Gardiner Greene Hubbard – wrote a light-hearted letter to Twain. Soon after, the reply shown