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Uplinking with an alien computer.


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Read on,... :-)


Today I finally have the privelege of sharing with you, this little explanation on how Jeff Goldblum could interface with the alien ship on Independence Day. I just bought the latest collector's edition since my original version had no special features or anything and it was on sale. I remember people making fun of it's biggest flaw: How could David's laptop interface with an alien computer? As near as I can tell, they used that dildo shaped antenna they plugged onto the bottom of the craft to transmit to a satillite that the aliens were using and piggyback on their own signal back into it's source on the mothership.


Well, now I understand completely what was involved. :-) First of all lets learn something about networking history and Java, James Gosling and the Green Project, a secretive project by Sun in 1990, which ultimately produced the Java technology they own now.


The key insights into the software that would run such devices came to Gosling at a Doobie Brothers concert at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California. As he sat slouched in front-row seats letting the music wash over him, Gosling looked up at wiring and speakers and semirobotic lights that seemed to dance to the music. "I kept seeing imaginary packets flowing down the wires making everything happen,'' he recalls. "I'd been thinking a lot about making behavior flow through networks in a fairly narrow way. During the concert, I broke through on a pile of technical issues. I got a deep feeling about how far this could all go: weaving networks and computers into even fine details of everyday life.''


Gosling quickly concluded that existing languages weren't up to the job. C++ had become a near-standard for programmers building specialized applications where speed is everything - computer-aided design for instance, where success is measured by the number of polygons generated per second. But C++ wasn't reliable enough for what Gosling had in mind. It was fast, but its interfaces were inconsistent, and programs kept on breaking. However, in consumer electronics, reliability is more important than speed. Software interfaces had to be as dependable as a two-pronged plug fitting into an electrical wall socket. "I came to the conclusion that I needed a new programming language,'' Gosling says.


Which when translated into reality,... this grew to become a very robust industrial strength distributed and object oriented computer language.... At demos, Naughton (a young member on the Green project) would go to the white board to show the scope of Oak, (early 1990s implementation of Java technology) filling the blankness with lines crisscrossing from home computers, to cars, to TVs, to phones, to banks, to - well, to everything. Oak was to be the mother tongue of the network of all digital things.


Initially, Sun tried to market this Oak Technology for TV, set top boxes, but it never took off,... But then,... along came the Internet and it was because of Bill Joy's input, (a veteran of the older Unix environment) that Sun finally saw that the Internet could become Oak's redemption. Joy's support was critical in what became known as the Internet Play, the "profitless" approach to building market share - a ploy Netscape had made famous by giving away its browser. "There was a point at which I said, 'Just screw it, let's give it away. Let's create a franchise,''' Joy says.


The Java applets are the key. Here's why: for a program to run on a computer, it must first be translated from a language like Basic or C into the machine's native tongue. Because this translation process is incredibly time-consuming, most software comes already translated. But that means different versions have to be created for different computers. Java gets around this problem by using an intermediate language - a sort of Esperanto that is not machine specific but that can quickly be interpreted by any computer.


The result is that small programs - applets - can fly around the Net without regard to what kind of hardware they end up on. If you need to watch an animation that requires a particular fancy doodad to run it, but you don't have that doodad, your machine will pick up the Java-coded applet along with the animation file and run both. Who cares where the software lives? Who cares what kind of machine you have? Who cares about Microsoft?


BTW, you understand this is all a bit tongue in cheek.





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