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Napkins and the History of Ethernet, Compaq, Facebook

CmdrTaco posted more than 3 years ago | from the spammers-eat-your-soul dept.

Compaq 67

alphadogg writes "Napkins don't really stack up well against hard drives or even floppy disks for preserving data over time. But some of the technology and business world's most enduring ideas are said to have at least gotten their starts as sketches on dinner or cocktail napkins (which in fact were inspiration for the 5 ¼ floppy disk's size). Robert Metcalfe's early Ethernet diagrams from his days at Xerox PARC back in the early 1970s might be the most famous napkin sketches in the technology industry, but there are napkin stories involving Compaq, Facebook, @home and more."

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Don't forget UTF-8! (1)

WebManWalking (1225366) | more than 3 years ago | (#36813274)

My understanding is that the original hi-bit encoding scheme of UTF-8 was on a napkin.

Re:Don't forget UTF-8! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36813752)

I hear they designed the iPad on a maxipad.

Re:Don't forget UTF-8! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36814180)

Someone actually designed those things? What a waste of a person's time.

Innovate the world (1)

gnick (1211984) | more than 3 years ago | (#36813276)

Obviously the best way to advance the world's technology is to improve napkin design. Let's get on that folks!

Re:Innovate the world (1)

ari_j (90255) | more than 3 years ago | (#36813548)

There's an untapped market for cocktail napkins that are easier to write on and do not bleed or tear as badly when they get slightly damp in your pocket. I can't tell you how many great inventions I've lost because the only writing surface available when I invented them was a napkin that tore under even light pressure from a ballpoint pen or bled into illegibility in my pocket after I sketched the idea. Well, I guess I can tell you the number: zero. But I'd give anything to have had a better napkin for Felicia to write her number on that night in college.

Re:Innovate the world (1)

snspdaarf (1314399) | more than 3 years ago | (#36814162)

Didn't you ever watch any Bond movies? The girl is supposed to write her number on your inner thigh.

Re:Innovate the world (1)

hitmark (640295) | more than 3 years ago | (#36814250)

I fear the issue is that if you want the paper to have high liquid absorption you need it to be "fussy". This then results in a very loose texture. Sadly, bringing a pen and pad everywhere will make one appear both nerd and desperate...

Re:Innovate the world (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36814546)

Both nerd and destarate, you say this as though the two aren't synonymous...

Re:Innovate the world (1)

operagost (62405) | more than 3 years ago | (#36815896)

Trust me, it worked out for the best. It was hard to tell with the smearing but "her" name was really "Felipe".

Re:Innovate the world (1)

cowboy76Spain (815442) | more than 3 years ago | (#36815662)

No, we should go for the base of all of it. Napkin technology is just an spin-off from Bistromatics.

Re:Innovate the world (1)

gnick (1211984) | more than 3 years ago | (#36815794)

Yes, but should you take advantage of the Bistromathics principles and come up with an innovative napkin improvement technology, what are you going to write your idea down on? A notebook? Pshaw! Notebooks have no place in the world of Bistromathics. Napkins now, Bistro Math later.

Inspiration (1)

jojoba_oil (1071932) | more than 3 years ago | (#36813294)

(which in fact were inspiration for the 5 ¼ floppy disk's size)

Napkins were probably also the inspiration for agile programming's "user-stories on index cards"...

Really? (1)

just_another_sean (919159) | more than 3 years ago | (#36813324)

(which in fact were inspiration for the 5 ¼ floppy disk's size)

citation needed

Re:Really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36813710)

Fuck off, Wiki-drone.

Re:Really? (1)

Khyber (864651) | more than 3 years ago | (#36814694)

Those of us that bothered to actually read up on our computer history.

There's your citation, you witless ill-educated tool.

Re:Really? (1)

smallfries (601545) | more than 3 years ago | (#36815260)

Shortly after I pulled my finger out of my arse I used it to type "keywords" into a "search engine". One of the "results" that I found was this:

One interesting story about the 5 1/4-inch floppy disk is how the size was decided. Engineers, Jim Adkisson and Don Massaro were discussing the size with An Wang of Wang Laboratories. The trio just happened to be doing their discussing at a bar. An Wang motioned to a drink napkin and stated "about that size" which happened to be 5 1/4-inches wide.

If you were less of a lazy fuckwit then you could find the source.

How did we invent napkins? (4, Funny)

Tr3vin (1220548) | more than 3 years ago | (#36813346)

How did we invent napkins without napkins on which to sketch? Inventing things in the old days must have been really hard.

Re:How did we invent napkins? (1)

AlecC (512609) | more than 3 years ago | (#36813520)

Leaves - invented by God(tm)

Re:How did we invent napkins? (1)

datapharmer (1099455) | more than 3 years ago | (#36813862)

Leaves - "invented" by Monsanto(R)

...FTFY.

Re:How did we invent napkins? (3, Funny)

decipher_saint (72686) | more than 3 years ago | (#36813524)

Rough notes were flogged into the backs of peasants

Re:How did we invent napkins? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36813856)

I rememeber Benny Hill commented that his best material was written on napkins too.

Re:How did we invent napkins? (1)

BluBrick (1924) | more than 3 years ago | (#36816858)

I thought Benny Hill's best material (oh, how it irks me to write those words) would be written on a postage stamp.

Re:How did we invent napkins? (1)

interkin3tic (1469267) | more than 3 years ago | (#36814194)

How did we invent napkins without napkins on which to sketch?

Facebook wall posts or on the labels of 5 ¼ floppies would have been -ideal- for that.

increasing napkin storage capacity (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36813384)

This is why my startup is focusing on improving cocktail napkin storage, beginning with our upcoming release of a 3 meter x 3 meter napkin and a pen smaller than a human hair. We passionately innovate in innovating to enable innovators' innovation!

B-52 (2)

Wyatt Earp (1029) | more than 3 years ago | (#36813388)

The B-52 was designed in a hotel over a weekend with sketches on the notepad in the room and calculations done on a roll of toilet paper.

I've seen designers comment on it in documentaries, but the official Boeing history of it's design weekend leaves that bit out.

http://www.boeing.com/defense-space/military/b52-strat/b52_50th/design.htm [boeing.com]

Re:B-52 (2)

PPH (736903) | more than 3 years ago | (#36813540)

I'm pretty sure the 747-400 preliminary design was done on cocktail napkins from the Jet Deck lounge at Paine Field.

Re:B-52 (1)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 3 years ago | (#36814410)

Anecdotes about things being done on "rolls of toilet paper" often turn out to have a kernel of truth rooted in the cheaply acquired (read "stolen") teletype paper, which in those days was much easier to obtain than sheets of typing paper.

Have you ever tried actually writing on a napkin? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36813394)

Have you ever tried actually writing on a cheap paper napkin using a common ballpoint? It's difficult as hell without tearing it. I have no idea how these people do it.

Re:Have you ever tried actually writing on a napki (2)

afidel (530433) | more than 3 years ago | (#36813790)

Don't use a ballpoint, duh. Rollerballs work fine on napkins (I just tested mine on 3 different types of napkins I have at my desk and it wrote just fine with no tearing or bleeding).

Re:Have you ever tried actually writing on a napki (1)

NekSnappa (803141) | more than 3 years ago | (#36814862)

The Pilot Razorpoint pens would work quite well on anything.

Business drunk. (1)

Xoltri (1052470) | more than 3 years ago | (#36813406)

I think they are missing the real story that the best ideas are often had when you are business drunk. I know I solve all of the worlds problems when I am hammered, although I can never remember them the next day. I really need to put some napkins around my house so I can write some of this shit down.

Re:Business drunk. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36813634)

I prefer to get business stoned, but sometimes end up smoking the napkins.

Re:Business drunk. (1)

fritish (1630461) | more than 3 years ago | (#36823650)

It's true! Going on a bender can solve all of your problems.

No, really! I even have a source [theonion.com] for it!

Might it be because of the alcohol (1)

Bob the Super Hamste (1152367) | more than 3 years ago | (#36813412)

I wonder if this is because of the alcohol consumed they feel inspired, or at lest more open to new ideas. I know a professional artist ( yes he actually makes a living off of painting ) who claims that his best inspirations come while intoxicated.

Re:Might it be because of the alcohol (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36813644)

And if he took heroin he could paint the future.

Re:Might it be because of the alcohol (1)

Xoltri (1052470) | more than 3 years ago | (#36814624)

And then abruptly get cancelled...

Napkin stuff I've done (2)

spaceyhackerlady (462530) | more than 3 years ago | (#36813486)

I've done real work on napkins. Examples:

When a colleague was at her wits end on a geometry problem relating to a graphical program, we went out for coffee, drew diagrams and equations on napkins, and solved the problem.

When a colleague asked me for advice on a presentation, we went for coffee and outlined it, complete with important diagrams, on napkins.

At a trade show I got talking to some people at the hotel who were attending the same show, and when I drew a map on a napkin showing how to get from the hotel to the show location, they thought it was a work of art and asked me to sign it.

...laura

Re:Napkin stuff I've done (1)

rnturn (11092) | more than 3 years ago | (#36813914)

I think we've all done some sort of work on napkins (or envelopes). It's pretty much inevitable unless you or your coworkers are in the habit of carrying a notebook with you at all times.

The worst thing I ever had to deal with where napkins were an important form of documentation was a large commercial database server whose administration I inherited many years ago. The "official" documentation consisted of a very badly formatted -- and largely incomplete --- document. It could actually barely even be called documentation; more like an outline that the author never finished fleshing out. The real documentation was a manilla folder full of scraps of paper --- cafeteria napkins, phone message pad sheets, even cash register receipts --- with little snippets of info scrawled on them. Whenever someone decided to rag on me about late documentation, I'd whip out that folder and threaten to give them something like I originally received. (That shut 'em up fast.)

Re:Napkin stuff I've done (1)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 3 years ago | (#36814416)

I carry a Rhodia A5 and a Lamy Safari with me everywhere I go. Everywhere.

Re:Napkin stuff I've done (1)

NixieBunny (859050) | more than 3 years ago | (#36815908)

I know the feeling. I once designed a novel data-transfer circuit for a VMEbus computer board on a placemat at Applebee's. Thank goodness it was a plain white placemat, because it took a lot of drawing to get all four modes in there. Later on, I had to spend a few hours encoding the design on the placemat as logic equations.

Atomic Bombs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36813506)

Oppenheimer and the other trinity scientists used to go to this little bar called the Owl Bar in San Antonio, New Mexico (about 20 miles from the Trinity site) and draw the bomb schematics on napkins. There were a few still on display a few years back, but I heard they removed them recently. Still, I'd say this takes the cake.

Re:Atomic Bombs (1)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 3 years ago | (#36814430)

The thing that strikes me the most about this story is that Oppenheimer and his folks would either be using pencils or fountain pens. What's interesting is the paper napkin that would have been useful with a Parker 51 or whatever.

The most important device sketched on a napkin (3, Funny)

smooth wombat (796938) | more than 3 years ago | (#36813588)

I can't believe no one has mentioned the most important device ever sketched on a napkin. Its importance cannot be stressed enough.

I am speaking of the Smelloscope, a device which allows one to smell the odors of distant objects in the universe.

It also comes in handy for detecting large balls of garbage which have been floating around in space for a few hundred years and which is about to crash into Earth.

Floppy disk (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36813618)

(which in fact were inspiration for the 5 ¼ floppy disk's size)

Not so. They chose 5 ¼ inches because that is the average penis length.

Which is why .. (1)

OzPeter (195038) | more than 3 years ago | (#36813656)

No one in the wider world knows about advanced Australian research, because they keeps asking to see our napkin archives, whereupon they should be asking to see our serviette archives. And boy do they think things are really screwed up in Oz when they do see napkins.

Who owned the napkin? (1)

allanvarrette (2368408) | more than 3 years ago | (#36813690)

If only the Winklevoss' couldve found that damn napkin...

Actually... (1)

Nevo (690791) | more than 3 years ago | (#36813818)

...I'd bet a lot of money that napkins hold up BETTER than hard drives and floppy drives for data retention. It's hard to beat ink on paper for longevity.

El Torito (1)

molotov303 (182638) | more than 3 years ago | (#36813836)

Reminds me of the bootable CD standard, which was actually named "El Torito" after the Mexican restaurant it was invented in.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Torito_(CD-ROM_standard) [wikipedia.org]

Re:El Torito (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36814100)

I always wondered what it stood for.

"The Ether" and patent protection (1)

doperative (1958782) | more than 3 years ago | (#36813870)

> The sketches featuring boxes labeled PDP-11 and pointers to "The Ether" would eventually be translated into a big-time business for 3Com, Digital Equipment Corp, and now, just about anybody in the computer, telecom and networking businesses ..

How did this happen without patent protection for "The Ether"?

Better napkins... (1)

diatomaceous (2391666) | more than 3 years ago | (#36813904)

GE Corporate R&D had placemats in their executive dining room printed with sections for text, drawing, graph paper and signature lines for patent disclosure witnessing.

Re:Better napkins... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36815652)

ISTR a TV ad at the time, which had a guy drawing a network diagram on the wall of his office (the drawn line connecting to the physical network outlet in the wall).

Punch line was a guy coming into the office and a voice outside the door saying "is he drawing on the wall again?".

Anyone remember it?

Kill Bill (1)

WankerWeasel (875277) | more than 3 years ago | (#36814044)

Original concept for Kill Bill was also written out on napkins.

Re:Kill Bill (1)

kelemvor4 (1980226) | more than 3 years ago | (#36814652)

Original concept for Kill Bill was also written out on napkins.

That explains a lot.

Re:Kill Bill (1)

cowboy76Spain (815442) | more than 3 years ago | (#36815714)

Sadly, the final script was also written in a napkin.

Disclaimer: I love the visuals of the film but seriously it has not much of an story.

Fermat had KFC and contemplated his theorem (1)

paiute (550198) | more than 3 years ago | (#36815424)

I have discovered a truly marvelous proof of this, which this napkin is too folded and greasy to contain.

Cold war (1)

cowboy76Spain (815442) | more than 3 years ago | (#36815742)

Churchill and Stalin did write down the partition of East Europe in a napkin.

More Paperless Propaganda (1)

Tom_Yardley (587588) | more than 3 years ago | (#36815828)

"Napkins don't really stack up well against hard drives or even floppy disks for preserving data over time." Really! We know that Gudea of Lagash reigned from 2144 - 2124 B.C., four thousand one hundred and fifty-five years ago, because clay cuneiform tablets from that time are in the Library of Congress. In China, we have paper records two thousand, two hundred years old. Land records in England can be traced from the Doomsday Book of 1086 until today, and the 925 year-old book can be read today. Some puffed up salesman tells me “Napkins don't really stack up well against hard drives or even floppy disks for preserving data over time.” How much time have floppies saved data for. How old is the oldest harddrive? (If we still have the first one, fifty-two years.) Napkins can last for centuries, please spare me the “paperless” propaganda.

Open Sores (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36815910)

Let's not forget, this is the same asshat who called free software "open sores".

Bad Link (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36816224)

Funny that no one (at least that I saw) noted that the link is bad. Here's the correct link: http://www.networkworld.com/community/blog/napkins-where-ethernet-compaq-and-facebook

Duke Nukem (1)

DeeEff (2370332) | more than 3 years ago | (#36817348)

Duke Nukem Forever was originally envisioned on a napkin as well. Mind you, that being so long ago I would assume napkins were all we had to put our designs down back then.....

I guess the problem is the staff wrote their deadlines for the project on that napkin as well, and it was clearly lost to time.

Idea sponge (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36817460)

Hummm... I wonder how the ideas on the napkin survived so intact when one has to 'suck it up' to get an idea to market.

Video Toaster too! (1)

Sxooter (29722) | more than 3 years ago | (#36818860)

Anybody old enough to remember the 1980s might remember the Video Toaster. It was designed on the back of a napkin as well.

site mentioned off line (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36822768)

site mentioned id off line. napkins can't go off line. off bar off table maybe but off line? no.

Tux Paint (1)

Bill Kendrick (19287) | more than 3 years ago | (#36827770)

Since Tux Paint is basically the only thing I ever talk about... yeah... Tux Paint was first designed on a napkin at lunch. And I've also heard it's been used as a "quick, virtual 'back of a napkin'" for some engineering designs, since most other drawing programs are too clunky for quick sketches. :)

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