Digital Cash!

KCIS invites you to join us for conference on the past and future of electronic payment.
September 27-28, 2014, Decafe, Perloff Hall, UCLA

Today’s discussions about electronic currency often focus on the obsolescence of traditional institutions such as the federal reserves and credit companies. It’s said that the old world of brick and mortar banks, paper cash, and plastic cards is disappearing – and the future is bitcoins, P2P infrastructures, and e-cash served through dotcom companies and mobile phone carriers.

But we have heard these stories before. Like jet-packs, flying cars and trips to mars, digital cash is a relic of the past and a constantly renewed promise from the future. That’s why this conference gathers together humanities scholars, engineers, and science fiction authors, all focused on the past and future of payment. Together guests will explore the historical legacy of payment systems – from conventional cash and credit, to prototype experiments with digital currency – alongside the speculative representations and explorations of science fiction in novels, film and games. For more details go here.

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The Kleinrock Center for Internet Studies (KCIS), founded in 2011 at the University of California, Los Angeles is a research center, archive, and exhibition space devoted to interdisciplinary study of the internet. With its exhibition space located at the physical site of the first node of the ARPANET – an early foundation for the modern Internet – the Center’s mission is to understand the social, localized, and material history of the internet and to communicate these findings to a broad public.

The Center sees an historical approach to the internet as a critical means to chart its future. We bring together engineers, social scientists, and humanists to tackle difficult questions that demand interdisciplinary responses. Our center is the result of strong cooperation between the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Division of Humanities and of Social Sciences at UCLA, and our philanthropic partners.




Driving Tour: SDS

SDS (Scientific Data Systems)

701 S. Aviation Blvd, El Segundo, CA

Not far from engineering firms such as Raytheon and Northrup Grumman stands the Xerox Building, which once held Scientific Data Systems (SDS) before the companies merged in 1969. 1960s sculpture artist George Sugarman’s work is distinctive at the exterior.  SDS, founded by computer scientists from Packard Bell and Bendix, created computers and hardware for workload-intensive scientific purposes, and NASA was a consistent client during the Space Race. To establish a niche in a market dominated by IBM and several smaller firms (including Honeywell and General Electric), SDS were among the first to use silicon in their earliest designs. Their machines were also used on the ARPANET, namely, their Sigma series of minicomputers.  UCLA made the first host-to-host connection on the ARPANET with the Stanford Research Institute using an SDS computer. When Xerox closed the division, however, only about 2100 machines existed in the market, and the dwindling sales cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars.

 Image Source: Flickr
A 1962 pamphlet from touts the SDS 900 as faster and less expensive – at $98,000 – than comparable machines.
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Driving Tour: One Wilshire Center


1 Wilshire Center
624 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles

Image Source: Quartz

Our next stop on the driving tour is worth a lot. No, really, it is pretty expensive: NBC4 and the Los Angeles Times recently reported that 1 Wilshire Tower was sold for a whopping $437.5 million to GI Partners, a Northern California private equity investor. 1 Wilshire Center, nestled in Downtown Los Angeles, is close to the Central Library. It appears from the outside to be just another high-rise in Downtown LA. So what makes it the most expensive building in Los Angeles? The Internet, of course.
1 Wilshire Tower has been in LA since 1966, but its moment in the spotlight came later, when the Internet first gained popularity with the general public. The companies in 1 Wilshire are significant because they house the fiber optics necessary for Internet communications between Asia and North America. Notable companies in 1 Wilshire include Verizon and Sirius XM radio. The building’s interior is a hive of wires that link internet service providers in our state. Wired writer Dave Bullock calls 1 Wilshire “one of the Web’s largest nerve centers” . It even has a Meet-Me Room, where the Internet can be physically joined together.

Driving Tour: KCIS and UCLA Mechanical Computer

KIHC Boelter Hall and UCLA Mechanical Computer

3732L Boelter Hall
420 Westwood Plaza
Los Angeles CA 90095

We’ll be making regular posts about spots around the Los Angeles and So Cal region that highlight the locality of the Internet and its material nature generally. The driving tour is part of our research initiative to better understand the contributions to – and lore about – networked technologies that came out of this geographic area.

Our first stop of the driving tour is our own location at the Kleinrock Internet History Center here at UCLA. Located in South Campus of the University, the Center’s exhibition space in Boelter Hall is a center where people can learn about the people and devices that were at the forefront of Internet history in one of the places where it was created. It was in this very room in 1969 that Leonard Kleinrock and Charley Kline made the first connection over the ARPANET with Bill Duval at the Stanford Research Institute.  That same computer is still in Boelter Hall, and is much larger than the computers we use today.

Some years before the first transmission was made, in part, in Boelter Hall, another machine made UCLA a center for technological advancement. In the late 1940s UCLA’s College of Engineering received a differential analyzer, also known as a mechanical computer, from General Electric. This analog machine cost $125,000 to make and performed mechanical calculations at an unprecedentedly fast rate. Housed at UCLA, near the center of the film making industry, the mechanical computer even became a movie star when it was displayed in the 1951 science-fiction movie When Worlds Collide.

Unfortunately, UCLA’s mechanical computers eventually became outdated in the 1960s, though it clearly served as a forerunner to what Kleinrock and the others would do later on in that decade. One of the machines was sent to the Smithsonian Institute in 1978, but it will be remembered for mid century technology advancement in Southern California.