Alphabet of Computing

Every geek knows that "A" is for Apple, but I bet not many know that Apple had a "third founder" who gave up his stake for $800 (it would've been worth at least $17 billion today). Or that Cisco was named for San Francisco. Or that Twitter used to be called twttr? Let's take a stroll through the A to Z of computing trivia, Neatorama style!

If you think that Apple was founded by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, think again: there was a "third founder" of Apple. In 1976, Ronald Wayne gave up his 10% stake of the fledgling company for $800 because he was worried that the company would fold and that he would be liable for debts incurred by the other partners (at the time Apple wasn't a corporation yet). Of course Apple became the big company, and Wayne's stake could've been worth as much as $17 billion today.

Originally, Research in Motion wanted its wireless messaging device to have the word "e-mail" in its name. When RIM hired Lexicon Branding to do a little research, they found out that people associate "e-mail" with work and therefore can raise blood pressure. Someone said that the buttons look like small berries, so they decided to name it BlackBerry.

Evolution of Cisco logo, by Design Maven via Speak Up

Cisco System was named after the city San Francisco (the founders of the company worked for Stanford University, which is just a couple of town over). Indeed, first Cisco System's logo was the Golden Gate Bridge. (See also: Evolution of Tech Logos)

Ben Curtis, in his very first Dell commercial

In 2003, after three years of playing the Dell Dude, actor Ben Curtis was arrested while attempting to buy a bag of marijuana. People immediately parodied his tag line "Dude, you're getting a Dell" to "Dude, you're getting a cell." Though charges were dropped, Dell canceled the Dell Dude commercials. Curtis was working as a waiter in 2007 but he's making a come back with a (supposedly) upcoming play "Dude! I'm Going to Hell"

In 1977, the US Postal Service recognized that email would pose a serious challenge to its monopoly on delivering mail. At first, it wanted to ban emails (like it did mails delivered by underground pneumatic tubes), but the FCC objected and the Postal Rate Commission refused. So it created an experimental email service called E-COM ("Electronic Computer-Originated Mail"). The idea was simple: You send the emails, which the post office would then print out and deliver as physical letters at the price of 26¢ each (it was said that it actually cost the USPS $5 to deliver the message). Oh, and the service was one-way. If something went wrong, you'd get an error message delivered two days later ... in form of a letter! Needless to say, E-COM failed.

John Backus, the inventor of FORTRAN programming language, said this about his invention: "Much of my work has come from being lazy. I didn't like writing programs, and so, when I was working on the IBM 701 (an early computer), writing programs for computing missile trajectories, I started work on a programming system to make it easier to write programs."

When Paul Buchheit started the Gmail project at Google, he named it "Project Caribou" after a Dilbert cartoon strip.

HP could've easily have been PH. In 1939, when Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard formed HP in a Palo Alto garage, they flipped a coin to decide the name of the company. Packard actually won the toss, but decided to name it Hewlett-Packard instead of Packard-Hewlett.

In 1999, Al Gore was asked by Wolf Blitzer what distinguished him from other contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination, and he famously said: "During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet." Gore was immediately ridiculed for claiming to have invented the Internet. Not to be outdone, Dan Quayle said "If Al Gore invented the Internet, I invented spell check."

JPEG stands for the Joint Photographic Experts Group, who created the method of compression for photo images. Like all image processing algo, JPEG was tested on the standard test image of "Lenna", a cropped photo of a 1972 Playboy magazine centerfold Lena Soderberg.

Knuth reward check, photo via

Legendary computer scientist Donald Knuth offers to pay a reward of $2.56 for the first finder of errors in his books. Why $2.56? Because 256 pennies is one hexadecimal dollar, which is sort of a joke that only a programmer can appreciate. But that's okay since that's Knuth's target audience anyhow. Indeed, Knuth reward checks are "among computerdom's most prized trophies," according to MIT's Technology Review. If the name Don Knuth sounds familiar, that's because we've featured his Potrzebie System of Weights and Measure before on Neatorama. (see also: Fun and Unusual Units of Measurements)

At first, Linus Torvalds wanted to name his new operating system Freax, a portmanteau of "freak," "free," and "x" (for Unix). A co-worker thought that it was a horrible name and renamed it Linux without telling him.

In 1996, Monty Widenius and David Axmark created MySQL, a relational database management system that would later become one of the most widely used software in the world, powering many of the web's largest sites (WordPress, Neatorama's blogging engine, uses it). What most people don't know is that the "My" in MySQL doesn't refer to "me" - it's actually the name of Monty's daughter My.

The term newbie or noob, originally thought to be from British public-school and military slang "new boy," was first spotted in the Usenet newsgroup talk.bizarre as an insult to a clueless newcomer. (N is for Newbie Onesies/Kids T-Shirt at the Neatorama Shop)

In 1977, Larry Ellison, Bob Miner and Ed Oates were working on a CIA-funded project codenamed Oracle (because the CIA believed that it would give them answers to all questions). The project failed, but Larry and friends took the idea and used it to create a company that would later become the Oracle Corporation.

The most common passwords in the world are:

1. password
2. 123456
3. qwerty
4. abc123
5. letmein
6. monkey
7. myspace1
8. password1
9. link182
10. (your first name)

And you thought you were clever to do a derivative of Blink-182 as your password!

The keyboard you're using now is most likely set in a QWERTY layout (named for the first 6 characters of the top row of letters). This layout was invented by Christopher Sholes in 1874 because people were typing too fast on typewriters back then, thus causing the machine to jam. Sholes did frequency analysis on letter-pairs and separated pairs of letters that tend to cause mechanical jams when typed in quick successions like TH. Sholes' new layout was designed to slow down typists (technically, he aimed to improve typing speed by reducing jams - and indeed, that's exactly what happened.)

ROT13: Jung qbrf Whyvhf Pnrfne unir nalguvat gb qb jvgu zbqrea qnl Vagrearg? Pnrfne vairagrq n fvzcyr rapelcgvba zrgubq gung orpnzr dhvgr cbchyne va Hfrarg arjftebhcf nf n zrna gb uvqr fcbvyref, chapuyvarf naq chmmyr fbyhgvbaf. Gur vqrn vf fvzcyr: ercynpr n cvrpr bs grkg jvgu yrggref 13 cynprf shegure nybat va gur nycunorg ("ebgngr ol 13 cynprf" be EBG13). Gur travhf bs gur zrgubq vf gung orpnhfr gurer ner 26 yrggref va gur Ratyvfu nycunorg, gur fnzr rapelcgvba zrgubq jvyy qrpelcg n ebgngrq grkg!

Before Digg, there was Slashdot. The technology-related news website was so huge that getting linked from it meant a massive increase of traffic that would cripple smaller web servers. Webmasters call this the Slashdot effect, which is the granddaddy of similar terms Digg effect, Farked, or Drudged.

The very first Twitter message was sent by its co-creator Jack Dorsey on March 21, 2006: "just setting up my twttr." That's not a typo - twttr was the original codename for the project (inspired by Flickr). At least twttr was better than one of the first names they were considering for it: twitch.

I'm including USB (Universal Serial Bus) here so I can play this awesome "Intel Star" commercial starring Ajay Bhatt, the co-inventor of the USB. Watch it and weep:

Before the World Wide Web, there was Gopher (note: it's gopher://, not http:// - you'd need Firefox to see it) and Veronica was its search engine. Why Veronica? It's because the first search engine of the Internet, a tool that indexes FTP archives, is called Archie. Officially, Veronica is an acronym for "Very Easy Rodent-Oriented Net-wide Index to Computer Archives."

Call it user-generated content, Bubble 2.0, millionth-word in the English language or whatever you want, but know this: Web 2.0 is trademarked by CMP Media (who partnered with O'Reilly in producing the Web 2.0 conference) in 2004. In 2006, they sent a cease-and-desist nastygram to the Irish non-profit organization IT@Cork for using the word in the name of their conference and sparked a kerfuffle over the ownership of "Web 2.0"

What's the company that invented the personal computer, graphical user interface, the computer mouse, but didn't bother to market them because it couldn't see their commercial potentials? Yep, Xerox. In 1979, Steve Jobs of Apple visited Xerox Palo Alto Research Center and saw the Xerox Alto workstation. Several years later, Jobs brought the Apple Macintosh to market.

When YouTube was sold to Google for $1.7 billion, the spotlight was on Chad Hurley and Steve Chen. But did you know that there was a third YouTube founder? That's right: Jawed Karim left the company to become a graduate student at Stanford University. He did, however, fare better than Ronald Wayne - Jawed got about $64 million worth in stock. Jawed also uploaded the very first video on YouTube on April 23, 2005:

If you own a PC in the late 80s/early 90s, then you're savvy about the ZIP file format. Back then, disk space was at a premium (a regular 3-1/2" HD floppy disk can only hold 1.44 MB worth of data) so compression was a big thing. In 1986, Phil Katz created PKZIP (Yep, PK is his initials) and released it as a shareware. He chose the name "zip" to imply that his software was faster than other compression formats available at the time. Sadly, Phil, the alcoholic computer genius, died alone in a cheap hotel cradling an empty bottle of peppermint schnapps.

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I just re-read my post and realize I sound like an ass hat. I apologize for being rude to you Alex. I see you weren't trying to make up or post a completely false quote, because my dad just told me he heard that the statement you posted is true. Once again, I'm sorry. I am just sad because my girlfriend broke up with me for another girl and I realized I probably will never have a woman in my life again. I know now that I shouldn't try and be a piece of shit because my life sucks and yours doesn't. I don't know if we live near each other, but I'd be glad to suck you off to make up for me being such a loser.
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The fact that you simply make up, or at least post a completely false quote by Al Gore (which anyone can see just by watching the actual interview or reading snopes, etc) leaves me to question the accuracy of anything you post (though I do know some of them to be true just from past knowledge). Quit with the nonsense about Al Gore claiming he created the internet, he never made that claim and at the end of the day his claim about how he made major contributions to help expand it are completely true as even the actual "creators" of the internet (or at least TCP/IP) like Vincent Cerf attest to. But no, let Alex the blogger pretend to know more about this than Vincent Cerf.
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It was my understanding that the Qwerty myth was proven false.
Sholes arranged the inside of his machine to lower the frequency of jams. The effect was to reduce trouble, and help fast typists go FASTER.
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