January in History: A Geek’s Almanac

  January 01, 2014

Happy New Year! But it's only been that for a bit over 250 years. Only in 1752 did January 1st begin the “New Year.”

01  The first day of January was celebrated as the New Year festival, but from the 12th century until 1752 the calendar year in England began on March 25th, “Lady Day,” the Feast of the Annunciation. In 1752, most of North America was English colonies; Australia and New Zealand were unknown to Europe.

I think the most important item to celebrate on January 1st is that in 1881, Dr. John H. Watson is introduced to Sherlock Holmes, leading to four novels and 56 short stories, all but four narrated by Dr. Watson. The first novel, A Study in Scarlet, first appeared in Beeton's Christmas Annual for 1887.

02  In 1839, Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre takes the first photograph of the moon. Even Francois Arago, director of the Observatoire de Paris, was reportedly surprised by a daguerreian image of the moon.


03  In 1959, President Dwight Eisenhower signed a proclamation admitting Alaska to the Union as the 49th state.

In 1997, R. Fielding, et al., issue RFC 2068, “Hypertext Transfer Protocol.” You are reading this thanks to HTTP. “HTTP has been in use by the World-Wide Web global information initiative since 1990. This specification defines the protocol referred to as 'HTTP/1.1'.”

04  In 1863, 4-wheel roller skates are patented by James Plimpton.

In 2001, the Java-based MMO RuneScape, later known as RuneScape Classic, is released for personal computers.  RuneScape Classic was a beta version, and when the game's popularity took off, its game engine was rewritten into RuneScape 2, later renamed RuneScape.  The game has over 200 million accounts created.  It's latest iteration, RuneScape 3, was released in July.


05In 2003, Garry Kasparov (considered to be the greatest chess player of all time) participates in the first chess match between man and machine sanctioned by FIDE (World Chess Federation).  The machine, known as Deep Junior, was programmed by Amir Ban and Shay Bushinksy and takes advantage of multiple processors.

It was overall a six game engagement, resulting in one win for both man and machine, and three draws.

In 1998, the Dancing Baby became a media phenomenon, an internet meme and one of the first viral videos.  One of its earliest and most popular appearances was on Ally Mcbeal, airing January 5th in the episode, "Cro-Magnon".  The baby would go on to appear in other shows and commercials from then on for years to come.

06 Apple  announces the sale of the two millionth iPod, less than six months after hitting the one million mark.


07  In 1890, W. B. Purvis patents improvements to the fountain pen, making it “more durable, inexpensive, and better pen to carry in the pocket.” Millions of stained shirts are reprieved.

In 1943, Nikola Tesla, developer of alternating current and perhaps the world's first geek, passes away.

In 2007, a study is released by an Oxford University research group headed by Dr. Emily Holmes, examining the effects of Tetris on the human brain.  In the study, all participants "viewed a traumatic film consisting of scenes of real injury and death".  Some participants then were allowed to participate in a ten minute break playing Tetris, and others were not.  Flashbacks were monitored for one week.  It was concluded that playing Tetris after witnessing traumatic events reduced the tendency to recall those traumatic effects and could be used to treat PTSD in the future.

08  In 1889, Herman Hollerith receives a patent for tabulating data using punch card technology (U.S. Patent 395,782), originally used for the US Census. Claim 2 reads:

The herein-described method of compiling statistics, which consists in recording separate statistical items pertaining to the individual by holes or combinations of holes punched in sheets of electrically non-conducting material, and bearing a specific relation to each other and to a standard, and then counting or tallying such statistical items separately or in combination by means of mechanical counters operated by electro-magnets the circuits through which are controlled by the perforated sheets, substantially as and for the purpose set forth.

In 1942, theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking is born. His A Brief History of Time (1988) has sold nearly 10 million copies (even if it’s among the top books people own but haven’t actually read).

09  In 1983, Twin Galaxies, an organization that tracks video game world records, hosted the first significant video game championship and crowned a world champion.  You can learn more about Twin Galaxies and their championships in the documentary, Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade.


10  In 1927, the first science fiction film in history is released:  Metropolis, directed by Fritz Lang.  Metropolis used the groundbreaking "Schufftan Process" to shoot its settings.  This process involved using a mirror to create an illusion of giant skyscrapers which the actors then appeared to interact with.  This process eventually lead to and was replaced by bluescreen effects, but the innovation is one of the many reasons Metropolis holds a place in film history today.

11  In 1973, Open University of the United Kingdom grants its first degrees to students whose studies included distance education over radio and television.  Open University has been a forefront in the development of distance education, and have inspired other countries to follow, including the US.

12  In 2010, Operation Aurora: Google publicly reveals that it has been on the receiving end of a "highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google."


13NASA's class of 1978 was the first class to recruit women (Sally Ride, Judith Resnik, Kathryn Sullivan, Anna Fisher, Margaret Rhea Seddon and Shannon Lucid).

Sally Ride recounts a humorous story: “The engineers at NASA, in their infinite wisdom, decided that women astronauts would want makeup—so they designed a makeup kit. A makeup kit brought to you by NASA engineers. … You can just imagine the discussions amongst the predominantly male engineers about what should go in a makeup kit.”

In 1989, The Jerusalem virus, also known as the Friday the 13th virus, affects computers running MS-DOS across the UK.  Many variations of this virus have been created and it has been around for several years.

01 copyJoss Whedon's Serenity was one of the first films to be released on HD DVD.  The film soon became the first HD DVD to be released on a BitTorrent network in 2007.  It was a 19.6 GB 1080p VC-1 .EVO file with 5.1 DDPlus encoded sound and marked the beginning of widespread unlicensed coping of HD DVDs.


15  In 1929, Martin Luther King, clergyman and activist, is born.

Fifteen years ago in 2001, Wikipedia, the popular, collaboratively edited, multilingual informational go-to was launched.  Launched by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger, Wikipedia began as a complimentary project for Nupedia.  Wikipedia quickly outgrew Nupedia in popularity and has over 20,000 articles over several languages... and growing.


16  In 1939, a daily newspaper comic strip called Superman was released, published by McClure Syndicate.  These strips ran until May 1966 and, of course, led to the Superman we all know and love.  You can read some of the earliest Superman strips here.


17In 1985, Britain's iconic red telephone boxes became officially retired by British Telecom, a result of innovative technology making them less useful.  However, there are still some kicking around, and many have been converted to internet kiosks.


18  A different aspect of culture has its 50th anniversary on January 18: the Beatles’ first appearance on the Billboard Chart (“I Want to Hold Your Hand-#35”). Two days later their first LP is released in the U.S.: Meet the Beatles.

19  In 1736, James Watt, improver of the Newcomen steam engine, is born. The tale of Watt observing his mother's tea-kettle is a myth.


20In 1993, Microsoft's market value peaks at 26.78 billion dollars, surpassing International Business Machines.  IBM eventually catches up to Microsoft in 2011.


21The Power of Sympathy, or The Triumph of Nature is widely regarded as the first American novel, written by William Hill Brown.  It was published in Boston by Isaiah Thomas on January 21, 1789.  This novel explores the consequences of seduction and encourages female education and its advantages to society.

22  In 1561, Francis Bacon, originator of the “scientific method,” is born. He died in 1626, and we can blame it on a chicken: “In March 1626, Bacon was performing a series of experiments with ice. While testing the effects of cold on the preservation and decay of meat, he stuffed a hen with snow near Highgate, England, and caught a chill. Ailing, Bacon stayed at Lord Arundel's home in London. The guest room where Bacon resided was cold and musty. He soon developed bronchitis. On April 9, 1626, a week after he had arrived at Lord Arundel's estate, Francis Bacon died.”

In 1963, The Elysée treaty of cooperation between France and Germany was signed by Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer. Fifty years later it remains the cornerstone of French-German cooperation. This partnership is the main engine of the European Union.


23On this day in 1996, the first stable version of Java is released.



24  In 1984, Apple Computer introduces the Macintosh. With 128K, this was the first mass-market personal computer featuring a graphical user interface and a mouse (both concepts stolen from Engelbart's lab in Palo Alto).


25  In 1947, Thomas T. Goldsmith Jr. and Estle Ray Mann file patent #2,455,992, describing one of the first computer arcade games played on a CRT.


26In 2004, the Mydoom virus is first identified.  Mydoom became the fastest-spreading e-mail worm as of 2004.  It is speculated to have been commissioned by an unknown Russian programmer, as the earliest e-mails originated from Russia and contains the text, "andy; I'm just doing my job, nothing personal, sorry".  It is also speculated that the purpose of the worm was to be a DDoS against SCO Group.  So huge was its impact on the internet that at one point it cut average web page load times by fifty percent.


27  In 1756, Johann Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is born. He began performing in public at six and was a prolific composer.


28  In 1976, James E. White issues RFC 708: "Elements of a distributed programming system" (which was based on the IPC – Inter-process Communication – facility).


29In 1845, Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven is published for the first time in New York Evening Mirror.  Despite not bringing him much financial success, it is without a doubt one of the most popular poems of all time.


30  In 1925, Douglas Englebart is born. Doug helped transform computers into an interactive visual medium. He was the inventor, inter alia, of the mouse. He died July 2, 2013.

In 1933, The Lone Ranger makes his debut on WXYZ-Radio.  The Lone Ranger has been an long enduring fictional character, influencing comic books and other genres and mediums long afterwards.  Some well known tropes include the phrase "Hi-ho Silver! Away!" and "Who was that masked man, anyway?"

32  In 1958, the first US unmanned satellite, Explorer 1, was successfully launched, following the failure of Vanguard TV3 on 6 December 1957. Explorer 1 was the first satellite to detect the Van Allen Belt.

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