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  • Author John Steward
  • Published April 9, 2014

Remember… 1970?

A look back at what was hip in tech (and other things) 44 years ago…


The first of a new series looking back at groundbreaking tech (and doing a bit of general misty-eyed reminiscing). We get in our How To Live It DeLorean and set the time circuits for 1970…


In the news
Remember that film with Tom Hanks and Kevin Bacon in it? You know, the one where they were all in space and there was an explosion and they couldn’t get back to earth and all the scientists found a way to bring them home safely and it was all very tense and exciting?


That actually happened. Fifty-five hours, 46 minutes into the Apollo 13 mission on Monday April 13 – nine minutes after Commander Jim Lovell had signed off a TV broadcast about how comfortable it was to live and work in space (“This is the crew of Apollo 13 wishing everybody there a nice evening”) – an oxygen tank on the capsule exploded. Then another. They lost light, water and electricity, 200,000 miles from home. And they were still on the outward journey.


The Apollo and ground crews had to hastily devise an escape plan from the materials and systems still intact on the capsule – all against the clock of rapidly diminishing power, water and time. Not to mention increasing carbon dioxide.


Procedures that usually took three months to create were written in just three days. Tape and cardboard were used to modify the CO2 scrubbers. And no one got any sleep.


The efforts were a success. The crew splashed down in the Pacific Ocean near Samoa on April 17 – having circled the Moon in a wrecked spacecraft. Not bad.



In tech
On December 4, 1970, Swiss firm Hoffmann-LaRoche filed a patent for something called the twisted nematic field effect. It revolutionised the design of liquid-crystal displays (LCDs) and led to a boom in production, especially in wristwatch displays.


Xerox PARC opened its lab in Palo Alto, California. Its raison d’être was to create “The Office of the Future”, and it made several great leaps towards that goal. Like inventing the laser printer. And the first ever personal workstation computer. And the graphical user interface that influenced pretty much every single subsequent computer ever. (Oh, and if you were wondering, ‘PARC’ stands for Palo Alto Research Center. So now you know.)


Also, UNIX time began at the beginning of the year. You know sometimes on your computer, when files say they were created at 00:00:00 on 1 January 1970? That’s what that is.


And the rest…
Notable albums? You could do worse than Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel, released on January 26. Or, you know, the invention of heavy metal by Black Sabbath, when they released their self-titled debut on February 13.


There were deaths, too. Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin both died aged 27, within three weeks of one another.


But on a happier note, let’s not forget Pelé leading Brazil to the most beautiful of World Cup wins in Mexico. (Or the debut of Mr Benn on British TV.)



Next week, 1971…

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