Where’s My Flying Car Part I : KABOOM!

“Celebrating Gertsen, we clearly see three generations,
three classes acting in the Russian Revolution. First –
noblemen and landowners, Decembrists and Herzen.
Horribly distant from the people. But their work was not in wain.
Decembrists woke Herzen. Herzen began revolutionary agitation.”
V.I. Lenin

Computers have existed like for 200,000 years in Internet time, yet the innovation in computer technology seems to be a little slow. Brick and mortar slow. Let me present to you an approximate timeline:

In 1945 Dr. Vannevar Bush wrote an article As We May Think about a device called the Memex.

In 1960 Theodor Holm Nelson, inspired by Bush, coined the term “hypertext” and started on Project Xanadu, a vaporware Superinternet.

In 1968 Dr. Douglas Engelbart delivered the MOAD, demonstrating videoconferencing, email, hypertext, copy and paste, as well as some novel input devices including a mouse.

Bush, Nelson and Engelbart show a progression from a dream into reality. Bush was a pure dreamer – he never intended to actually try and build the Memex. Nelson at least tried to build Xanadu, although he failed miserably. He could not even get to the demo stage. Engelbart actually built enough stuff to make very impressive demos, although never to build actual successful products except the mouse. These guys suffered from the RAND Corporation syndrome–the common joke went that RAND stood for Reasearch And No Development.

The problem with these three was that they could not focus on individual problems. Luckily for us, next came Xerox PARC. Xerox corporation had money coming out of its wazoo, decided to invest in a world class R&D center. They used the same approach that Google is using today: spend the extra money on hiring the brightest technologists around and let them run free and wild.

Bush, Nelson and Engelbart were a lot like a character named Manilov in Gogol’s Dead Souls. Manilov was an owner of a large rundown estate. He spent his days dreaming about improving it. Wouldn’t it be nice to build a bridge over the river and on it build little merchant booths so that the peasants could buy stuff there. Of course, none of his projects ever went anywhere, and if they did, they were quickly abandoned.

PARC engineers were men of action. Each concentrated on a particular aspect, and they’ve built working models of many things that we enjoy today: personal computer with GUI interfaces, Ethernet, WYSIWYG text editor, laser printer, and even a computer animation system amongst other things. Sadly, Xerox was able to capitalize mostly on the laser printer, which actually probably paid for all of PARC’s expenses. PARC indirectly influenced Apple and Microsoft in the development of GUI OS. Also Charles Simonyi left PARC to develop Word and Excel for Microsoft, thus creating an enormous amount of wealth. Bob Metcalfe and David Boggs also left PARC, took Ethernet and turned it into 3COM. John Warnock and Charles Geschke left PARC, took PostScript and created a little company called Adobe Systems. Well, you get the picture.

To give you another analogy, the technological revolution of the 60s, 70s and 80s was like a hydrogen bomb. A hydrogen bomb is made of three bombs: a conventional explosive that ignites a fission explosive that in turn ignites a fusion explosion. Semiconductor industry created by William Shockley and the Traitorous Eight was the fuel, Bush and Company–the conventional explosion, PARC–fission, what came after–fusion. KABOOM!

No, this is Not Hotel W

Dwarfed by the Verizon Building on the left and the Conde Nast Building on the right, and soon to be hidden from view by 1 Bryant Park(an skyscraper under construction, that looks almost exactly like one of the Freedom Tower design rejects), there’s a strange 50 foot wide razor of a skyscraper. It’s called the Bush Building, after Irving T. Bush, a son of a rich refinery operator who instead of living a life of leisure chose to put on a bat’s mask and a cape… wait, actually no, he chose to become a seaport magnate. Also good. I am not sure if

Besides the narrowness, the neo-gothic tower has another peculiar feature: side walls sporting what appears to be a raised brick design

but that turns out to be an illusion created by colored bricks.

There are plans are under way to create a hideous modern add-on building on the side to alleviate the crampdness that the current owners, the Dalloul family of Lebanon. I am not sure what they do for a living, but every article I see mention that the owners are from Lebanon and run a family business. It might be that they are the owners of a cellular company LibanCell, but they don’t seem to have much of a web presence. Anyway, the new addition is a big modern glass bag on a side connected to the Bush Building by floating floors (this is what I call Hugo Simpson’s pigeonrat school of design).

Why build a tower that is only 50 feet wide when there’s space nearby? Why make colored brick designs when you can put windows there? I have no idea. But this is one of the most unique buildings in Manhattan.

Is Irving T. Bush related to the rest of the Bushes that shaped so much of American history? I don’t know, but it seems pretty likely to me. Remember, that besides the two presidents and numerous other various Eulogian Club members holding important posts, the Bush family tree includes Wampanoag tribe members and Memex-inventing Majestic 12 member Vannevar Bush as well as other unusual people. I think Irving T. Bush fits in with them rather well.

P.S. By the way, speaking of the unluckily-numbered antenna-endowed Conde Nast Building. According to Jessica Cutler’s The Washingtonienne : A Novel, girls who work for Conde Nast magazines are known as Conde Nasties. He heh.