Juan St. Malo & Cimarrons – Corrections & Additions to New Orleans Advocate article

The New Orleans Advocate newspaper on August 7th, 2016 carried an article about Juan St. Malo, runaway slave in Spanish Colonial Louisiana. The article in the Historically Speaking section referred to him a Jean Saint Malo. In the Spanish judicial records he was known as Juan St. Malo in 1780’s. He had run away from the D’Arensbourg Plantation upriver from New Orleans on the “German Coast” near today’s Hahnville LA. He made his way to Lake Borgne (see map) and rose to be the leader of two villages of runaways, known as “cimarrons”. The villages, Chef Menteur and Ville Gaillarde, numbered together about one hundred villagers. They traded with the slaves behind plantations, sold cypress trees from the swamps to a British sawmill operator, grew crops and gathered the bounty of south Louisiana wetlands.

After a few years Spanish authorities closed in on the cimarrons. Those captured were interrogated and their testimonies are in the Spanish archives (translated into English in the Journals of the Louisiana Historical Society in the 1930’s). They were not plotting an insurrection, merely seeking their own freedom.

Read more of the story of Juan St. Malo, the village and events that led to their capture and punishment on pages 27-28 in my book DOWN IN NEW ORLEANS: True Stories of a Fabled City.

Here’s the story on Storytelling

The Making of a Good Story For Good Storytellers

Each semester at Delgado Community College I return as guest speaker at the Professional Tourguiding Class to explain my concept of storytelling. There are three parts to my presentation: the Role of Stories in Our Society, the Craft of Storytelling and the Value of Stories. Stories permeate our culture from the stories of childhood, to the media we read, hear and see. What are the elements that make a good movie or TV show? They are similar to the elements that make a good story for the streets of our cities? Every story event has four dimensions: the speaker, the setting, the narrative and audience. Understanding and managing each of these is necessary for effective communication.

The person telling the story must combine information, language, animation, and appearance. Those set the stage for the story. The setting provided visuals and sounds to enhance the story. The narrative must move for one point of interest to the next point of interest with a flow that will sustain the audience’s attention. The final dimension to a story is the audience. Who are they? What is their background, educational level, nationality and age? The more you know about them the better the story can be packaged to sustain their interest.

Here is my list of things that make for a good story:

Narration – the flow of the elements of the story
Good Introduction – grab the audience’s attention
Enthusiasm – on the part of the story teller
Imagery – paint verbal pictures with your words
Surprise – sudden changes of direction can add interest
Empathy – make the audience care about the main character’s fate
Humor – a situation with a surprising twist to it
Tensive Issues – elements tugging against each other, needing to be resolved
Characters – unique or special personalities
Appearance – the storyteller’s personal image
Curiosity – What’s coming next?
Language – make it plain and understandable
Historical Info – Who did what, when and where?
Familiar Subjects – something the audience knows a little about
Timing – the pace of a story; pauses that create anticipation
Facial Imagery – wonder, surprise, curiosity, humor, horror, etc.
Eyes – Look the listeners in their eyes. Don’t hide behind your sunglasses.

These matters contribute to the quality of your story.

Storytelling is a vibrant part of our culture. Strive for excellence in your storytelling.

Sarah Morgan: The Civil War Diary of a Southern Woman

She (Sarah Morgan) began the diary at the beginning of the War in Louisiana in early 1862.

Sarah Morgan: The Civil War by Charles East

Sarah Fowler Morgan
Sarah’s diary is available online courtesy of the documenting American South project of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Sarah Morgan was born on February 28, 1842 in New Orleans where her father worked with the Customs House. Later, they moved to Baton Rouge (with a population of 6,000) where he became a prominent judge. Their grand home was on Church Street (4th Street) between Florida and Laurel streets in the heart of the old downtown. From their gallery they could see the old State House that overlooked the Mississippi River. They were well connected with the plantation society. She began the diary at the beginning of the War in Louisiana in early 1862. Her father died and she turned twenty as the year began.

Word reached Baton Rouge that Capt. Farragut of the Union navy has just passed Fort Jackson below New Orleans on his way to take that city. New Orleans surrendered. Baton Rouge was next in line, becoming occupied by Union forces in short order. The Morgan’s were living there. Sarah described the Union occupation, the officers and soldiers with contempt for them but civility. General Butler, who became notorious among Southerners for enforcing the Union’s Confiscation Act, earning himself the nickname “Spoons” Butler for raiding the personal possessions of Confederate officers. He came to Baton Rouge with hostility toward the way Southern women insulted his officers, instituting his order that women who do so would be treated as women of the street. One of the officers who came to know the Morgan’s offered them a sack of flour, a scarce item. They refused, lest their neighbors think them complicit with the Union occupation! Later, he insisted and sent the sack. They condescendingly accepted the gift.

The Confederate army came to retake the Baton Rouge, urging citizens to evacuate. Sarah went with a trunk of clothes, family and neighbors on wagons and carriages to Greenwell, 15 miles NE of Baton Rouge. On return the home was still there. Later word came of an impending Union cannonade, forcing them again to scramble about a mile south to the Asylum for Deaf and Blind, called the “deaf and dumb” school. It was an elegant old building built in the mid-1850’s. From the gallery they watched the battle. Their home survived. Another evacuation took them to a plantation where LSU is located today. Still another sent them across the river to a plantation above the city. From the levee there they watched the Confederate ironclad ram, Arkansas, blown up by its crew when its engines failed.

The struggle over Baton Rouge became so intense that the family decided they would go to their friends at Linwood Plantation in East Feliciana about 20 miles north of Baton Rouge. There they were but a few miles from Port Hudson, another Union target for control of the Mississippi. Through the Linwood Plantation property the Clinton and Port Hudson Railroad passed, giving easy access to Clinton as another respite from the war. It appears they rented rooms or houses there. Sarah loved being a Linwood, but loathed and detested Clinton. She did not expand on that, but at Linwood, her diary reveals, she and her sisters were in the constant attention of Confederate officers from Port Hudson, including dances, parties, visits and rides in the country. In Clinton there was not as much fun. There she was surrounded by older, married men!

She referred to the train as the “cars.” From Linwood they would go out by the overseers house and wait for the cars. It jerked, it whistled, it squeaked and on occasions it fell off the track. On one trip it was crowded with noisy, ”fast” young girls. Another time it was packed with Confederate soldiers some even riding on the top of the cars. She belittles its slow pace, even stopping to let passengers pick blackberries. One trip it stopped to pull broken limbs from the telegraph line. On another, it backed up a mile to pick up a passenger. Sarah noted that it was said of the train’s schedule that it was a tri-weekly, it left Port Hudson on Monday to go to Clinton and tried weakly to get back!

One time after arriving in Clinton they loaded a wagon with their trunks and people, traversing on a wooden bridge over a stream, the bridge collapsed and they ended up in the water! It appears that the well-known Mr. Henry Marston of Clinton was at times a host to the family. Another time she said they turned south out of Clinton for two miles to a plantation. Presumably, they were renting places to live, adding displeasure to their stay in Clinton.

One evening a short distance from Linwood, Sarah and a friend drove a carriage toward Port Hudson. They passed a Confederate camp. As they passed a gun fired, the horse reared up and bolted with the two women holding on while pulling on the reins. One rein broke, the horse leaped to one side and the carriage flipped. Sarah tumbled to the ground landing on her back paralyzed. The woman with her, weighing 240 pounds was bruised but unhurt. Sarah had to be picked up and carried. The injury to her spine began six months of recovery, unable to walk, she had to lie on her stomach and be carried up and down the stairs of Linwood.. Doctors administered advanced treatments… lancing, cupping, bleeding, blistering and several patent medicines. Finally, she wised up and stopped the “treatments.”

Linwood was the place they enjoyed most in their evacuations from BR. But the war came so close to Linwood as Union troops marched on Port Hudson. Sarah could hear the cannon fire and see the mussel flashes. Serious consideration came for the family leaving Linwood to go to Augusta, Georgia. Union occupied New Orleans became another option, Finally, New Orleans was chosen. It had been captured by the Union a year earlier. They departed to Clinton on the railroad. Then by carriage traveled some 30 miles to Camp Moore. From there they took a train to Hammond. From there they rode a carriage through Ponchatoula to Madisonville. At Bayou Bonfouca they boarded a schooner to sail across Lake Ponchartrain to New Orleans. A terrible storm broke out on the lake at night, making for a risky and stressful trip. They entered a canal, probably Bayou St. John and the Carondelet Canal, were they were met by Union guards, and asked to pledge allegiance to the United States. Everybody in the party reluctantly concurred except Sarah’s mother who pled that she had three sons fighting for the Confederates and would not pledge allegiance to the US. That made an impasse for approval, but was finally overcome with help from friends.

Time in New Orleans was painful. Sarah loathed living among the Yankee occupiers. The pages of the diary described her self-interests and those of her sisters. She longed for good news from the Confederate fronts, though news tended to be rumors, gossip, speculation and hopes. Then confirmed reports came that Vicksburg had fallen in the summer of 1863, followed by news that Port Hudson had fallen also. Shortly after came the report that Lee had been defeated at Gettysburg. Sarah’s world was collapsing while around her Union sympathizers celebrated.

In 1865 she learned of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox and Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. With pain and horror she realized the outcome of the Civil War. She had lost three brothers during the war: one in a duel, one in a Union prison and one in Confederate service. Sarah Morgan married Frank Dawson in 1874, an editor and widower. He insisted she write for his publications. She moved to Charleston, South Carolina. Frank was murdered in a personal conflict with a doctor in 1889. She lived out her life in Paris where she died in 1909.

East, Charles, Editor, Sarah Morgan: The Civil War Diary of a Southern Woman. Touchstone:New York, 1991. 626 pps.

Marie-Madeleine Hachard – Ursuline nun and writer of 1700’s colony

Women have played important roles across the history of fabled city of New Orleans.  One of the earliest women I love to tell of was young Marie-Madeleine Hachard who turned out to be a storyteller in her own right.  Born in 1704 in France she joined the Ursuline nuns for the journey to the wilderness of Louisiana in what amounted to as  Peace Corps mission to serve in a needy world. She wrote letters to her father about her travels, adventures, and scenes in New Orleans in 1727.  Her father, inspire by her wisdom and insight, saved them all to print what would become the first book published about Louisiana.

More of Marie-Madeleine’s story is recounted in chapter one French Louisiana 1682-1763 of DOWN IN NEW ORLEANS by Bill Norris


First Book Signing A Grand Success

Last Saturday, January 9, 2016, I held my first official book signing with Down in New Orleans: True Stories of a Fabled City at the French Market gift shop A Tisket A Tasket located at 910 Decatur St. in New Orleans.

Last Saturday, January 9, 2016, I held my first official book signing with Down in New Orleans: True Stories of a Fabled City at the French Market gift shop A Tisket A Tasket located at 910 Decatur St. in New Orleans.  Lisa Jones, Business Manager, was a great help in meeting the public.  This was my first experience promoting my book directly to the public.  Lisa’s advice was to simply explain why the book is special.  Pique their interest, pull them in, get them excited about reading the book.

The simple summary I shared is that the book reveals significant personalities who  helped create the character of the city over the past three hundred years. Many are widely known, but there are a lot of new faces in this book: Madeline Hachard who wrote the first book about New Orleans om 1727; Jean Louis, boat builder, who endowed a hospital that grew into the benchmark healthcare system for the population, Charity Hospital; Juan St. Malo, an African seeking freedom; Nicholas Roosevelt and his wife Lydia Latrobe Roosevelt who brought the first steamboat to the city and numerous others.

Hearing my summary led some folks to ask insightful questions about the book or New Orleans or myself.  One young lady asked if the French Market looked like this 100 years ago.  Telling her that from where we stood aromas from famous Madam Begue’s kitchen would be swirling by.  We would hear people speaking German, Creole French, Spanish and languages from around the world.  Then passing us would be mules pulling carts of vegetables, flowers, fish and game from the farms, fields and waters that surround New Orleans.  All from the place we were standing.  That young lady bought the first  book of the day.

It was a great afternoon and I owe great thanks to Lisa and A Tisket A Tasket.  She’s planning another event for February.

New Book “Down In New Orleans” by Bill Norris

DOWN IN NEW ORLEANS: True Stories of a Fabled City

Inspired by years of storytelling, meeting people and enjoying their questions, I decided to write a book of the stories. That came to life on Kindle and Amazon in December of 2015.  DOWN IN NEW ORLEANS: True Stories of a Fabled City gives a visitor, resident or tour guide down to earth stories that represent the history, character and flavor of an enchanted city. I approach the history from the viewpoint of a raconteur, a storyteller. History is theories of what happened, detailed accounts, conclusions, footnotes and bibliographies. DOWN IN NEW ORLEANS tells the stories.

It’s available on Kindle and Amazon.

Down In New Orleans - True Stories of a Fabled City

Louisiana Book Festival

My destination today (10/30/15) was the LOUISIANA BOOK FESTIVAL in Baton Rouge. First on my agenda was a training session by book publicist Sara Russo. (www.sararusso.com) She described well the process of promoting books, particularly focusing on the importance and techniques for promoting the author. Personal contacts are essential in the process. Explain who you are, what your experiences have been that make your writing significant. Then she walked through the Internet media and how she uses them to build followers. But first, she said, begin with a personal plan for the promotional project. Then stick with it.

BOOK NOTES: Chasing the House of the Rising Sun by Ted Anthony

Book Notes

Chasing the Rising Sun by Ted Anthony

Bill Norris   1/12/15

Ted Anthony has done an awesome job of tracing the evolution and history of the song House of the Rising Sun with roots reaching back to old English ballads and Appalachia. The classic version that has fed the odyssey of the song he identified as being one of Allan Lomax’s recordings for the Library of Congress in 1937 sung by a sixteen-year-old Georgia Turner in Middlesboro TN. He follows the thread of the song from Appalachia to the Ozarks, to New York, to California and around the world in Europe and Asia and most of the places in between. And of course, New Orleans. He follows the song through the great names of folk music, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie, etc. The British band Animals set the stage in 1964 for the rock generation’s treatments.

The song has generally been interpreted as being about a bordello in New Orleans. Georgia Turner’s version is about a young woman, while the Animals fashioned it to a young man. The whereabouts of the site is uncertain, but a Rising Sun Hotel in the 500 block of Conti Street in the French Quarter has been identified in several advertisements in the Louisiana Gazette newspaper in 1821, corroborating the story. A year later a lethal fire destroyed the building. Archaeology at the site, now a building owned by the Historic New Orleans Collection, provided evidence of a bordello on site with the large number of rouge jars found there beneath a burn layer!

The variations and adaptations of the song and music are as numerous as the musicians themselves. Ted Anthony refers to its wide dispersion as the Rising Sun’s diaspora. The song has experienced globalization. Novels and cinema wove tales around the theme. Then comes the digital age where the multimillion dollar ring tone industry picks it up, Casio adapts it for its musical instruments business and Gatorade seizes on it for an advertisement.

Finally, Anthony opines that the uncertainty of the Rising Sun’s existence, location and demeanor is part and parcel of the song’s mystique. Better for us the details are vague!

The book is a trip through the past century of popular music, musicians, and publishers. It was a fun read for me.




Book Notes: Renato Beluche – Smuggler, Privateer and Patriot, 1780-1860

Book Notes

Renato Beluche: Smuggler, Privateer and Patriot, 1780-1860

By Jane Lucas de Grummond; Baton Rouge LA:LSU Press, 1983.

Notes by Bill Norris – June 2015


The elder Renato Beluche settled in New Orleans about the time the Laffite’s settled in San Domingue. Beluche and Laffite were related through Beluche’s father-in-law, Juan Baptista Laporte. Beluche’s wig making business may have been a front for smuggling operations into New Orleans via San Domingue. Beluche bought the property known as Madame John’s Legacy in the 600 block of Dumaine Street. The Laporte’s owned adjacent property. In 1780 a fifth child was born to the Beluche’s and was given his father’s name. The son of a French couple got the name Renato as the Spanish version of Rene. Remember, Louisiana was Spanish at this time.


Marcus Laffite & wife Nora with an infant daughter moved from France to Port-au-Prince in San Domingue in 1765. There they had five sons, the two youngest were Jean and Pierre Laffite, the older was Alexandre Frederic, later known as Dominique You. His nick name may have come from sailors calling him as their cabin boy by his home base, Dominique vous, hence Dominique You. (p. 17) The name Laffite was anglicized to LaFitte.


The younger Renato Beluche was born at their residence on Dumaine Street. As a young boy he grew up on the Chalmet Plantation in St. Bernard Parish. Very early he took up his avocation of sailing. Soon he captained the ships of various merchants in New Orleans trading goods from San Domingue and other ports. The Baratarians had established a smuggling port at Grande Terre and Grande Isle that allowed goods to be brought into Louisiana without paying customs to the U.S. government. Jean Lafitte became the head of those operations, setting up the Temple on Lake Salvadore as a trading post and storage site for guns and ammunition.


As America went to war with Great Britain in the War of 1812, Beluche received letters of marque from America legalizing his attacks on British shipping. Soon one of the prizes he captured became his own ship, the Popa, named for a prominent mountain in Cartagena. He broadened his business opportunities by obtaining letters of marque from Cartagena to capture Spanish vessels at sea. He had three ships of his own by the time the British came to take New Orleans in 1814. Intermittently, he serve as captain in the Cartagena Navy.


The privateering worked this way – with letters of marque a ship captain had the legal right to capture enemy vessels. Sometimes they took the whole ship and cargo, other times they just removed the cargo. These sloops were often loaded with cotton, sugar, brandy, grain, other food stuffs, armaments, cloth and slaves. They were also known as corsairs, i.e. in business for themselves. The prizes they would take to various ports to sell to merchants, returning to the sea to hunt for more prizes. A cargo of $40,000 was sold to a merchant in one port for $30,000, freeing up the privateer to return to his hunt for prey. Courts in America respected the letters of marque from legitimate governments. And they issued letters of marque during the War of 1812 against British ships. Seizures were often contested in court by owners, privateers, naval officers due a percentage, crews and claims on shore, in one case, Charity Hospital entered a claim. Jean Lafitte worked both sides of the business. hunting prizes for capture at sea under letters of marque and delivering the goods to Grande Terre. He developed his own market at the Temple on Lake Salvadore, a convenient place for German Coast planters and New Orleans merchants to shop for goods, supplies, and slaves at bargain prices.


In 1814 the U.S. Navy sailed to close down Barataria. The Baratarians did not fight the Americans but fled into the marshes, while their ships were captured. About the same time the British came calling on Jean Lafitte at Grande Isle to join their efforts to take New Orleans. He promised his service in a few weeks, then sent letters by pirogue to legal officials in New Orleans offering support for America for amnesty for his Baratarians. Governor Claiborne refused, passing the correspondence to General Jackson, who likewise refused to negotiate with the smugglers. Finally, influential persons got a judge to request the legislature to negotiate a deal with the Baratarians, Lafittes and Beluche, accepting their offer of men, sailors, guns, and ammunition for the cause. Lafitte and Jackson worked out the details just as the British were moving toward New Orleans.


Beluche and Dominique You fought in the battle at batteries 3 & 4 near the river. After the Brits retreated to their ships, Jackson praised all the soldiers, volunteers and companies that fought, honoring the Baratarians, the Lafittes, and Beluche for their services. By the time Jackson gave this speech, Beluche had boarded his ship Popa and sailed toward Cuba. He captured a vessel loaded with goods, called a prize. He loaded the goods on his vessel only to be captured by another ship that took the goods aboard and sailed to Wilmington N.C. to declare the goods in court. Beluche had a lawyer appeal his case for ownership, but did not attend the court himself. He sailed on more conquests. The case was settled in favor of Beluche’s ownership by right of his letters of marque. He continued to comb the waters off Mexico and Cuba for other prizes, again and again successfully capturing booty. In 1817 he bought a lot on Esplanade Ave, where he lived at a later time.


As South and Central American rebels, known as patriots, began the struggle to throw off the yoke of the Spanish royalists, Beluche favored the patriots and lent his efforts to help them. He assisted Simon Bolivar who rallied troops for the struggle. Between his services with Bolivar, he would go to sea to capture a few vessels to keep the cash flow moving.


1n 1818 Beluche was jailed in Jamaica for theft of a $50 small vessel on the high seas, at a time when he was capturing ships with cargoes worth $100,000. Dominique You was sailing with him in a separate ship. He came upon a man in a small sloop and lifted it aboard his vessel. Then he stopped in Jamaica for water and provisions. There he was accused of piracy and apprehended for the theft of the boat. If convicted of piracy by the British court, death by hanging was the penalty. Numerous friends in various islands came to defend him. He was found innocent.


Beluche had a wife in New Orleans. He never supported her during all his travels. She sued for divorce. He refused to be reconciled to her. A divorce required an act of the Legislature, which was pursued and granted. Unfortunately, before it passed she died and was buried in St. Louis #1. That freed the Columbian Naval Commander to marry his lover in Puerto Cabella, Maria Mezelle Espocito, a native of New Orleans, and legitimize their two daughters ages seven and four. They added a daughter and a son to the family in later years.


The author follows closely the revolutions in South America in which Beluche played a significant role in freeing Venezuela, Ecuador, and Peru from Spanish rule. He was a close associate of Simon Bolivar. In 1860, Beluche at the age of seventy-nine died and was buried in Puerto Cabella with Mezelle. The president of Venezuela named a church in Caracas as the Panteon National to honor its heroes. Bolivar’s remains were moved there with great fanfare into a central location. In 1963 seventy-five years later, Beluche’s remains were moved there to honor his role in liberating Venezuela. Mezelle’s remains are under a freeway built over the cemetery in Puerto Cabella.


Such was the life of Renato Beluche, citizen, resident, entrepreneur, and military hero of New Orleans.

Book Notes: The Innovators by Walter Isaacson


The Innovators by Walter Isaacson

Notes by Bill Norris   2/20/15


According to Isaacson the men and women who created computers and the Internet were often Ph.D.’s in mathematics, engineering, physics, and psychology! They generally worked together, sharing ideas. A number of them were tinkers with electronics. Some were musicians. Many had parents who nurtured them in technology and the humanities. The environment of the flower children of Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco was influential in the products that were created with personal computer technology. There were three ways that the digital age was put together. First, government programs, second, corporate efforts, and third, peer collaboration.



Charles Babbage – Built his Analytical Engine in 1842, the first primitive, mechanical computer

Ada Lovelace, daughter of the Lord Byron, in 1847 first described the capability of a computer while a friend and associate of Babbage. She stated that no machine would ever be a thinking machine; later dubbed by Alan Turing as Lady Lovelace’s Objection.

Eckert & Mauchley – Invented the ENIAC

Alan Turin – Bletchley Park; a mathematician, built a computer that deciphered Hitler’s Enigma Machine

John Bardeen & Walter Brattain – created the transistor at Bell Labs; won the Nobel Prize

William Shockley – jealous re transistor discovery, horned in on their Nobel Prize

Arthur Rock – Venture Capitalist – moved to West Coast to raise funds for the new industry

Robert Noyce, Gordon Moore, Andy Grove – INTEL developed processors for industry

MOORE’S LAW – 1975 – The number of transistors that can be put in a microchip will double every year for the next 10 years

GAMES – Starwar developed by guys in a Stanford U model railroad club; “hackers” coined;

Vannevar Bush conceived the idea of the government-industry-academia working together to advance the science of the USA.

Stanford U. created a Technology Park to spawn technology companies

Robert Taylor working with ARPA (Applied Research Program Adm.) came up with the idea of connecting computers into a network, hence evolved the Internet. The establishment fought it, not wanting to be connected to each other for research security reasons.

See Chapter 12 as a summary of the teamwork that made the Digital Age.


The Internet grew up among numerous communications experts. No one person can claim the insight alone, though one did, and was put down by his peers. The concept was one of a distributed network, rather than a central controlled system where one computer could go down and cause the whole thing to collapse. Evolving during the Cold War made experts leery of one master controller that could be taken out. An ARPA program spun funds out to corporations and institutions who were the likely people to put their computers together in a network, ARPANET. The idea of routers sending packets of data was devised by Paul Baran at RAND, to be reassembled when they reached their destination. Routers handled the traffic rather than main frames, freeing up mainframes’ computing space. Finally, in 1973 an internet protocol IP was created to direct the packets through the system and reassemble them at the destination. The Internet was born. They were geeks, geniuses and hackers who masterminded the architecture for the Internet.


The dispute over why the Internet was created has two answers: #1 – it was to allow researchers to communicate together for academic R&D and #2 – it was created to counter the threat of nuclear war for military purposes. Both were concerns. The government wrote checks based on the second issue! As one observer put it, building the Internet was like building a cathedral. Bricks were laid by different individuals and generations, and for history different generations claimed the leading role, but in the end, it was the co-effort of many that produced the cathedral over time. Government funding of speculative research was the bread and butter of digital innovation.


The personal computer grew out of the “flower power” generation on the West Coast. Paul Baran described the concept as far back as 1945, but it was left to later generations to create it in the 1980’s. The concept of a device that could communicate, store information, pictures and create open ended encyclopedias was envisioned. In the seventies and eighties the freewheeling LSD generation wanted distance from government and military Big Brother mentality.


Gates grew up as a nerdy, obsessed kid in a private school on the West Coast who was fascinated by computers. He spent all his spare time with a remote device connected to a government computer. BASIC was the language he used. In the eighth grade he was working on commercial projects for industry on main frame computers. He and Paul Allen became fast friends on such projects. He developed a program for counting traffic with a tube laid across the highway. He chose Harvard and applied mathematics. At Harvard he lived in the computer room with a military funded computer. In January 1975 they read about the Altair 8800 in Popular Electronics developed in Albuquerque NM by Ed Roberts and realized their time had come to write a BASIC language for programming the Altair. Allen met Ed Taylor in Albuquerque who was thrilled with the program seeing it take 2+2 and calculating 4. He licensed it for sale with the Altairs. Gates said it was the first personal computer, ever. Home computer was born. In 1975 Gates dropped out of Harvard with two semesters left to graduate. Thirty years later he went back for an honorary degree. He told his father in the audience, “I told you I would come back and get my degree!”


Gates insisted that he and Paul retained ownership of the software and that Altair would use “best efforts” to require other developers to use it. They would split the proceeds. This was the beginning of Gates’ business structure. He insisted to Allen that he own 60% while Paul own 40%. Gates’ father was a lawyer! Later he pushed that to a 64/36% split.


Steve Jobs grew up with a fascination for creating and selling things. Steve Wozniak was the son of an engineer who passed his love of electronics to his son at an early age. Wozniak and Jobs became fast friends as Woz made things and Jobs sold them. Then came the Altair and the Popular Electronics article. They set out to build a laptop. They had to lease Gates’ operating system, known as DOS. Jobs came up with a dream machine for graphic interface via a mouse. They ask Gates to write a new operating system for a graphic interface and mouse, drop down menus, etc. Gates and Allen seized the opportunity to steal the idea and create their own machine. Gates and Jobs split!


While at first Apple had far more revenues than Microsoft, Gates’ willingness to lease his software to any company for any machine while Apple wanted theirs for only their machines meant that Microsoft turned out the greater revenues in the long run.


Linus Torvalds in Helsinki set out on a different route than Gates and Jobs, namely, open source operating system which he named Linux, a diminutive of his first name. He made his product open to the world to use, improve, update and debug. He asked users to send him postcards not money.


Hence, the Gates/Allen approach was MS/DOS that could operate on different machines, Jobs/Wozniak’s was tied to the Apple machine, and Torvalds/Stallman’s open source system free to all. In reality, the three different approaches made an ideal environment for the growth of the personal computer.


Modems were created to connect computers via telephone lines. ATT tried to prevent it but a Supreme Court decision ended their obstruction.


The Internet grew out of an alphabet soup of precursors, beginning with ARPANET, the government network created for the military. Many companies, institutions and serial entrepreneurs got into the networking activities. From uses that grew up on nets, it was evident that people loved chatrooms and billboards. Social networks evolved. Al Gore sponsored bipartisan legislation in Congress that pulled all the pieces together for a universal Internet available to the world. He didn’t invent the Internet nor did he ever say he did, but he was a major player.


“Innovation arises in place where the right primordial soup exists.” Silicon Valley had that for Gates and Jobs. Tim Berners-Lee did not have that in Manchester England when he was creating his innovations. He came up with the idea of anyone being able to put any information on the Internet in a hypertext with an address http://www.cern.ch. Any document or information could have its own address enabling anyone, anywhere on any machine to access it via the Internet. Berners-Lee named it the World Wide Web, abbreviated www. The rest is history!


Browsers were developed to enable users to locate information. Search engines became the next innovation, allowing individuals to search the web for sites and data. Publishing personal content on the web evolved with the blog in 1997. The world had access. By 2014 there were over 800 million blogs worldwide. A battle raged over whether or not users would pay fees to use the web. Those in favor wanted to earn money; those against fees wanted as many users as possible to make the web & Internet as universal as possible.
Print and television media and their ilk were cavemen to the world of Internet technocrats. Central control was anathema to the visionaries. The web was to be the people’s media. (On Feb 26, 2015 Congress voted to make the Internet a public utility, meaning it would be controlled like a telephone company or electric company in the U.S.)


Ev Williams created blogger.com, growing it to 100,000 users with no income. His staff of six walked out, but he continued the struggle. Finally, he developed an advanced model for fees. Out of his work Twitter evolved.


The idea of wikis, Hawaii’s word for quick, evolved to provide a software that would allow the public to edit things. Controversy grew over whether only “experts” would be allowed to contribute or the general cyber public. Jimmy Wales from Huntsville AL led the creation of a new form of encyclopedia. Wikipedia exploded from its inception in 2001 to 4.4 million articles in 2014 in English while Ency. Britannica’s electronic edition only had 2% of that when it quit publishing in 2010! The unique feature of Wikipedia is its principle that communities can provide and police the content, like a wall that it is easier to take graffiti down than it is to put it up! It is the world’s largest collaborative knowledge sharing project. “Experts” don’t have to anoint qualified contributors.


Then came Google, a name taken from a googol, meaning a one with a thousand zeros behind it. Two students, Brin and Page, teamed up at Stanford U. to create a symbiosis between man and machine. They created a search engine that could prioritize the data found to match it up with the researcher’s interests. Other companies turned down the opportunity to buy the system for $1 M so they started a company with the name Google, and the rest is history.


Ada Lovelace’s Objection, machines cannot think like humans, brings up artificial intelligence. So far many claims have been made, but no machine passes the tests for human intelligence, including IBM’s Big Blue. Computers can do hard things easy, but easy things they cannot do. Like answering the questions, “How deep is the Red Sea?” the machine will respond 7254 feet, but on asking “Can a crocodile play baseball?” the machine can’t figure that out, while a kid can! The future seems to be a human-machine symbiosis where working together man and machine optimize outcomes that neither alone could do.


Walter Isaacson ends in Chapter 12 on the note of the vital role of collaboration in the development of technology as so well illustrated in this e-generation. From Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage in the Nineteenth Century to Gates and Jobs in the Twenty-first, innovators have progressed via collaborations. Some proprietary, some open source, but they all illustrate how teams work best together. Another of Isaacson’s conclusions is the role of technology and humanities. Where these two disciplines intersect is where the best innovation develops.


Chapter 12 is a summary of how technology evolved to produce the Digital Age of today.


Notes by Bill Norris – 2/20/15