Anthony J. Pennings, PhD


That Remote Look: History of Sensing Satellites

Posted on | March 27, 2017 | No Comments

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

– President John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962

During U.S. President Kennedy’s speech at Rice University, where he dedicated the new Manned Spacecraft Center in nearby Houston, he stressed that not only would the US go to the Moon, but it would “do the other things.” He mentioned:

“Within these last 19 months at least 45 satellites have circled the Earth. Some 40 of them were made in the United States of America. Transit satellites are helping our ships at sea to steer a safer course. TIROS satellites have given us unprecedented warnings of hurricanes and storms, and will do the same for forest fires and icebergs.”

The TIROS-1 satellite (shown above) was launched on April 1, 1960, from Cape Canaveral, Florida and carried two TV cameras and two video recorders. The satellite was primarily built by RCA, a major TV and radio manufacturer. Short for Television InfraRed Observational Satellite, TIROS weighed 122 kg and only stayed up for 78 days. Nevertheless, it showed the practicality of using the dynamics of electromagnetism for viewing cloud formations and observing patterns for weather event prediction.

President Dwight Eisenhower had been secretly coordinating the space program as part of the Cold War since the early 1950s. He had become accustomed to the valuable photographic information obtained from spy planes. When the new administration took office in early 1953, tensions with Communist countries were increasing rapidly. After the USSR conducted successful atomic and hydrogen bomb tests, he considered satellites a crucial new Cold War technology.

Eisenhower’s “New Look” policy identified aerospace as a decisive component of future US military strategy. The D-Day successful invasion of Europe, which he had managed as the head of the Allied Forces during World War II, had been meticulously reconnoitered with low and high altitude photography from a variety of reconnaissance aircraft. Given the growing nuclear capacity of the USSR, he particularly wanted satellites that could assess how rapidly the Communists were producing its long-range bombers and where they were being stationed. As the Soviets began to deploy rocket technology siphoned from defeated Nazi Germany, it was important to locate and monitor launchpads with nuclear ballistic missiles.

The top-secret Corona spy program was the first attempt to start mapping the Earth from space with satellites. Their Corona spacecraft were built by Lockheed Martin for the CIA and Air Force and equipped with 70mm “Keyhole” cameras. These started with an imaging resolution of approximately 40 feet, enough to locate airfields and large rockets.

The destruction of an American U-2 spy plane during a USSR overflight on May 1, 1960, accelerated the need for satellite-based surveillance. President Eisenhower had proposed an “open skies” plan at a 1955 Summit conference in Geneva with England, France, and Russia that would allow each country to make flights over each others’ sovereign territory to conduct inspections of launchpads capable of rocketing Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) into space. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had refused the proposal and ordered missiles to bring down the high-altitude US spy plane. Khrushchev took pleasure in displaying the wreckage for the international press and in the following show trial for pilot Francis Gary Powers. The U-2 would once again show its value when it detected Soviet missiles in Cuba, but the new competition to conquer space would dramatically improve aerospace technology and the ability to see from space.

Like most of the early US attempts to achieve space flight, the first Keyhole-equipped satellites failed to achieve orbit or suffered other technical failures. The US had also obtained its rocket technology from the Nazis, and early adaptions such as the A-4 and Redstone rockets required much testing before reliable launches occurred. This knowledge was applied to the next generation Thor-Agena rockets that were used as launch vehicles for Corona spy satellites from June 1959. By the late summer of 1960, a capsule containing the first Keyhole film stock was retrieved in mid-air by an Air Force cargo plane as it parachuted back down to Earth. By 1963, Keyhole resolution had increased to 10 feet and to 5 feet by 1967.

It was the USSR though that set the precedent for orbital overflight with its Sputnik satellites. While Eisenhower had sought at the Geneva Summit to assure the world of its peaceful intentions in space, the Soviets launched an R-7 ICBM 100 km into space two years later with a payload the size of a beach ball called the Sputnik. It is still a matter of speculation whether Eisenhower baited the USSR into going into orbital space first, but when the US and other countries around the world failed to protest the overflight of the Sputnik, it set the legal precedent for satellites flying over other countries.

As the “Space Race” heated up during the mid-1960s, rocket capabilities improved and new applications were being conceived. The Mercury and Gemini space capsules began to use innovative photographic technologies to capture Earth images. Weather satellites like the TIROS-1 had been monitoring Earth’s atmosphere since 1960, and the idea of sensing land and ocean terrains was being developed. Although the details of the spy satellites were highly classified, enough information about the possibilities of high-altitude sensing of earth terrains circulated in the scientific community. In 1965, William Pecora, the director of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), proposed that a satellite program could gather information about the natural resources of our planet. The idea of remote sensing was born, and the USGS would partner with NASA to take the lead.

NASA, the
National Aeronautics and Space Administration, had been created in 1958 to engage the public’s imagination and support for the civilian uses of spacecraft. The Apollo program was conceived as early as 1960 and eventually would reach the Moon. The program also sparked reflection, not just on reaching the apex of an extraordinary human journey, but on the origins of that trip. We went to the Moon, but we also discovered our home planet, what Buckminster Fuller called “Spaceship Earth.

History was made on Aug. 23, 1966, when the first photo of the Earth from the perspective of the Moon was transmitted by NASA’s Lunar Orbiter I. It was received at the NASA tracking station at Robledo De Chavela near Madrid, Spain. The image was taken during the spacecraft’s 16th orbit and was the first view of Earth taken by a spacecraft from the vicinity of the Moon. The Lunar Orbiter was a series of five unmanned missions designed to help select landing sites for the Apollo. In mapping the Moon’s surface, they pioneered some of the earliest remote sensing techniques.

In 1966, the USGS and the Department of the Interior (DOI) began to work with each other to produce their own Earth-observing satellite program. They faced a number of obstacles including budget problems due to the increasing costs of the war in Vietnam. But they persevered, and on July 23, 1972, the Earth Resources Technology Satellite (ERTS) was launched. It was soon called Landsat 1, the first of the series of satellites launched to observe and study the Earth’s landmasses. It carried a system of cameras built for remote sensing by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) called the Return Beam Vidicon (RBV). Three independent cameras sensed different spectral wavelengths to obtain visible and near infrared (IR) photographic images of the earth. RBV data was processed to 70 millimeter (mm) black and white film rolls by NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and then analyzed and archived by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) Center.

The second device on Landsat-1 was the Multispectral Scanner (MSS), built by the Hughes Aircraft Company. It provided radiometric images of the Earth through the ability to distinguish very slight differences in energy and continues to be a major contributor to Earth sensing data.

The Landsat satellite program has been the longest-running program for the acquisition and archiving of satellite-based images of Earth. Since the early 1970s, Landsat satellites have constantly been circling the Earth, taking pictures and collecting “spectral information” and storing them for scientific and emergency management services. These images serve a wide variety of uses – from gauging global agricultural production to monitoring the risks of natural disasters.

A successful partnership between NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Landsat’s critical role is monitoring, analyzing, and managing the earth resources needed for sustainable human environments. It manages and provides the largest archive of remotely sensed – current and historical – land data in the world. Landsat uses a passive approach, measuring light and other energy reflected or emitted from the Earth. Much of this light is scattered by the atmosphere, but techniques have been developed for the Landsat space vehicles to dramatically improve image quality. Each day, Landsat-8 adds another 700 high-resolution images to an unparalleled database, giving researchers the capability to assess changes in Earth’s landscape over time. Landsat-9 will have even more sophisticated technologies when it is launched into space in 2020.

Since 1960, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) worked with NASA to build and operate two fleets of satellites to monitor the Earth. One is the Polar-orbiting Environmental Satellites (POES) that fly north and south over the Arctic and Antarctica regions. These make about 14 orbits a day with each rotation covering a different band of the Earth.

The other are the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites (GOES) that operate in the higher geosynchronous “Clarke Belt.” This position allows them to measure reflected radiation and some Earth-emitted energies from a single stationary source over a set locations. It then records a wide range of atmospheric and terrestrial information for weather and potential disaster warnings.

Both the Landsat satellites, and the GOES satellites, provide a constant stream of data and imagery to help understand weather events and earth resources. Both are vital to observing current meteorological and land-based events that warrant monitoring, study, and reporting.


AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea and from 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He has also spent time as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Space Shuttles, Satellites, and Competition in Launch Vehicles

Posted on | February 25, 2017 | No Comments

The NASA space shuttle program provided a valuable new launch vehicle for satellites. This post recounts the beginning of the US space shuttle development and its impact on satellite launches.

The notion of a reusable spacecraft had been a dream since the days of Flash Gordon in the 1930s, but a number of technical problems precluded its feasibility for NASA’s objectives. Foremost was the lack of sufficient insulation to protect the shuttle during multiple re-entries. NASA instead had relied on the launch-only rocket model inherited from Nazi Germany’s work on the V-2 that killed approximately 10,000 civilians in attacks on England but later launched the team that landed on the Moon. With the Apollo program winding down in the early 1970s, new plans were developed and forwarded for a reusable space shuttle.

In January 1972, President Nixon made the announcement that NASA would begin a program to build a Space Transportation System (STS), more commonly known as the Space Shuttle. During the previous summer of 1971, Nixon was convinced by John Ehrlichman and Casper Weinberg that the US should pursue the Space Shuttle.

NASA had various plans for “Reusable Ground Launch Vehicle” as early as 1966 but in the wake of the public’s boredom with the Moon visits, enthusiasm for space exploration diminished. Democrats running for President in 1972 were critical of the billions of dollars needed for the “space truck.” Senator Edmund Muskie (D-ME), campaigned on the promise of shelving the space shuttle. Senator Walter Mondale (D-MN), another candidate for president, called the Space Shuttle program “ridiculous” during a nationally televised debate. The country felt that problems of housing, urban decay, and poor nutrition for children were higher priorities.

But the Congressional vote that passed in the Spring of 1972 for the NASA budget 277-60 included funding for the Space Shuttle and Nixon’s resounding electoral victory later that year ensured the administration’s support, at least for awhile.

The next ten years were challenging ones for NASA which faced numerous funding and technical problems. The space agency made up for its diminishing budget by allocating more internal funds to the space shuttle project. Although enthusiasm for space exploration had diminished, the practical uses of space-based satellites were encouraging.

The space shuttle was be launched on the back of a traditional rocket, maintain a relatively low orbit, and then glide down to a runway on Earth. This latter part was particularly difficult at temperatures exceeded 3000 degrees F during the descent. This was solved by gluing some 33,000 silica thermal tiles to the bottom of the vehicle.

As the STS descended at 25 times the speed of sound, it also needed a complex guidance system to direct it. The avionics (guidance, navigation, and control) system used four computers to coordinate data from star trackers, gyros, accelerometers, star trackers, and inputs from ground-based laboratories to guide the spacecraft. Whereas the Mercury flights were satisfied with landings within a mile from their pickup ships, the space shuttle required a precise landing on a specific runway after a several thousand mile glide.[1]

On April 12, 1981, the space shuttle STS-1 Columbia blasted off from Cape Kennedy on its inaugural flight. After 54 hours and 37 earth orbits it landed safely at Edwards Air Force Base in California. (I remember the event because my little kitten, Marco Polo, went up to the TV and started to paw at the descending spacecraft) During its initial flight, it had a successful test of its cargo doors that needed to be open to launch satellites from the maximum shuttle orbit to the geosynchronous orbit thousands of miles higher. During the next flight, they tested a Canadian remote manipulator arm designed to retrieve satellites from orbit and repair them.

The space shuttle provided a significant boost to the satellite industry. Columbia’s fifth flight successfully launched two satellites, the Canadian Anik C and the Satellite Business Systems’ (SBS) third satellite for commercial use. The remote manipulator arm later proved useful when it retrieved and repaired the Solar Max satellite in April 1984 and then later one of Indonesia’s Palapa satellites that had failed to reach the geosynchronous Clarke orbit.

The program ran very smoothly until the Challenger space shuttle blew up on a chilly January morning in 1986. Seventy-three seconds after launch, the spacecraft exploded, killing the entire crew. The disaster stopped shuttle launches for over two years. During this time President Reagan announced that when the shuttle resumed service, it would carry very few if any commercial satellites. Reagan’s intention was to privatize launch services and reserve the shuttle for military and scientific activities, including the infamous “Star Wars” program to create a space-based shield to protect the US from attack.[2]

Incidentally, the plan to privatize space launches proved disastrous for the US, as the Europeans and Chinese quickly captured a significant share of the market. The Ariane and Long March rockets proved to be a viable alternative to the space shuttle. The Bush and Clinton administrations continuously approved the launching of American satellites by other countries under pressure from the rapidly growing telecommunications industry and the transnational corporate users who needed the additional communications capacity.


[1] Space Shuttle’s development from By Henry C. Dethloff. Accessed February 24, 2006.
[2] Winter, F. 1990. Rockets into Space. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. pp. 113-126.


AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea and from 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He has also spent time as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

GOES-16 Satellite and its Orbital Gaze

Posted on | February 7, 2017 | No Comments

“With this kind of resolution, if you were in New York City and you were taking a picture of Wrigley Field in Chicago, you’d be able to see home plate.” So says Eric Webster, vice president and general manager of environmental solutions and space and intelligence systems for the Harris Corp. of Fort Wayne, Indiana about the capabilities of the newly launched GOES-16 satellite (Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite). But what this statement fails to reveal is the comprehensive view of the Earth that the satellite provides and the extraordinary amount of information that can be gleaned from its images.

NASA launched the GOES-16, formerly known as GOES-R, on November 19, 2016, and after testing, it became operational earlier this year. This satellite provides powerful new eyes for monitoring potential disasters including floods and other weather-related dangers. It was built for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Denver, Colorado by Lockheed Martin, with imagers by Harris and launched in an Atlas Rocket.

With 16 different spectral channels and improved resolution, scientists can monitor a variety of events such as hurricanes, volcanoes, and even wildfires. The satellite’s two visible channels, ten infrared, and four near-infrared channels allows the identification and monitoring of a number of earth and atmospheric events. Unlike the earlier built GOES-13, it can combine data from the ABI’s sixteen spectral channels to produce high-resolution composite images.

Operating from geosynchronous orbit roughly 36,000 km (22,240 miles) above the equator, the satellite can take images with its Advanced Baseline Imager (ABI) instrument of the entire earth disk. It can also focus on just a continent or a smaller region that may be impacted by a specific climate event. Parked at 89.5 degrees West longitude, the satellite has a good view of the Americas all the way to the coast of Africa. (A future GOES satellite will focus on the Pacific side) It can take a full disk image of the Earth every 15 minutes and a smaller image of the continental U.S. every 5 minutes, and a specific locale can be captured every 30 seconds.

Spac0559 - Flickr - NOAA Photo Library
Photo from the NOAA Photo Library

What is most significant is what the satellite can do to inform the public of weather events and potential disasters. It can monitor water vapor in the atmosphere and depict rainfall rates. It can gauge melting snowpacks, predict spreading wildfires and measure the poisonous sulfur dioxide emissions of volcanic eruptions. It can sense sea surface temperatures and provide real-time estimates of the intensity of hurricanes, including central pressure and maximum sustained winds.

One of the most valuable benefits will be to monitor the key ingredients of severe weather like lightning and tornadoes. The GOES-16 also utilizes the Geostationary Lightning Mapper (GLM) to monitor the weather for severe conditions, primarily by detecting lighting. It uses high-speed cameras that take pictures 200 times per second allowing it to detect cloud-to-ground lightning and also lightning between clouds. These features allows it to decrease the warning time for severe weather events.

GOES-16 will reduce the risks associated with weather and other potential disasters throughout the Americas and provide much needed support for first responders as well as policy makers.



AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea and from 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He has also spent time as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

How Schindler Used the List

Posted on | January 28, 2017 | No Comments

When Schindler’s List (1993) was released, I was living in Wellington, New Zealand. But I caught the film during the winter holidays in Hawaii. When I got back to Wellington I read the book Schindler’s Ark and wrote this article for the city’s newspaper in anticipation of  the movie’s NZ premiere in March. It appeared in The Evening Post on March 8, 1994. In it, I examine the political ideology and technology used by the Nazis.


Schindler’s List (1993), Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed movie on the Holocaust, premieres in Wellington on Friday. Dr Anthony Pennings backgrounds the reasons for the programme of mass genocide.

The cinematic adaption of Thomas Keneally’s 1982 novel, Schindler’s Ark by Steven Speilberg has won international acclaim as one of the best movies of the year. The story of Oskar Schindler credits the Austrian-born industrialist with saving over 1200 Jews from almost certain slaughter in Nazi death camps during the Second World War. By employing them as slave labour in his factories he was able to harbour them from the mass genocide programme conducted throughout the German occupied territories.

Although excellent narratives about Oskar Schindler, the book and movie lack adequate descriptions on why and how the Nazis conducted their murders. Not that any justification can be given for the killing of nearly six million Jews, but the popular stories are lacking in the historical background needed to come to grips with the horrible actions by the Nazis. The rationales behind the Nazi extermination programme against the Jews are not as obscure as some people would think, though often hard to hear for our enlightened, liberal ears. The belief in “humanity” and the equality of races, although predominant in our time, is a rather new idea with a weak historical foundation.

One the strongest challenges to the enlightenment period that advanced these ideas was the German Nationalist Socialist movement, a parochial, tribal movement based on the belief of their racial superiority. The Nazis believed that the Germans embodied the Aryan bloodlines, which gave them privileged access to a type of spiritual plane or electrical force that could make them living gods.

They sought to destroy communism, democracy, industrial capitalism, and other forces that supposedly threatened their Aryan bloodlines and sought the rule of wise priest-kings who were imbued with mystical power.

They believed that any dilution of their gene pool through mixing with “lower races” would lock them out of their Garden of Eden. This deeply held mystical paganism was strengthened by the teachings of Darwism and the psuedo-science of Eugenics, which emerged in the late 19th century. These new beliefs gave the Nazis the rationalisation, however misguided, to their fears of mixing with outsiders.

The Nazis believed the Jewish race was the chief threat to the Germanic people. This belief can be traced back to the writings of Martin Luther, who was the first best-selling book author not only sparked the Protestant Reformation but left a lasting anti-Semitic legacy with of his later writings. According to Luther, Jews were second only to the devil in their capacity for evil.

The later Nazis also used metaphorical devices to denigrate the Jews, such as in the Eternal Jew. This film clip interspersed images of ghetto Jews with footage of rat hordes to suggest Jews were unsanitary and less than human.

Using a vast network of radio relays and loudspeakers dispersed throughout German cities, Adolph Hitler was able to preach his xenophobic version of the Jewish threat to millions of Germans. He argued that the ultimate goal of the Jew was world domination, and the Jewish doctrine of Marxism in particular would mean the end of governance by the “aristocratic principle of nature,” the only hope for the German-Aryan bloodlines. Parliamentarism, the press and the trade union movement were other conspiratorial techniques of the Jews who would ultimately face the Aryan in a worldwide apocalyptic battle.

The Nazi Volkdom (the merging of race politics with the machinery of the State) became committed to eliminating the Jews (and other “sub-races” such as the Slavs) as a matter of national policy. Hitler’s elite warrior class, the black uniformed SS (Schutstaffel, or Defence Corps) became the main instrument for carrying out the Race and Resettlement Act, their euphemism for the extermination process.

Headed by Heinrich Himmler, this new group took charge of the secret police (the infamous Gestapo) and the concentration camps which were being built to hold political prisoners and other “anti-Reich” elements such as Bolsheviks and Freemasons. Pledged to give their lives to the Fuhrer, this treacherous and highly indoctrinated Teutonic brotherhood carried out the Holocaust orders.

Two groups in particular conducted most of the killings: the Tofenkopfverbande, which bore the chilling death head insignia on its label; and the Einsatzgruppen, a special police force whose tactics even shocked many of the German generals. They combined precise military training and a high level of technocratic competence towards their ideal of a German racial utopia. Unfortunately, the cost would be the lives of several million Jews from Western Europe, 1.7 million from the Soviet Union and the incredible figure of three million from Poland, where most of the Schindler’s List story takes place.

What is so extraordinary about the Nazi Pogrom is that the full force of modernity, with its technologies of chemical production, engineering design, information management, and logistical transport, were brought together under the management of a highly indoctrinated, or at least compliant, professional class. Bureaucratic and scientific advances were marshaled with incredible indeterminacy to carry out the ghastly killings.

The SS spread over the occupied territories to co-ordinate the corralling and transporting of Jews. From small villages, medium sized cities, industrial centres, and other locations around Europe and the Soviet Union, millions of Jewish families were set into motion.

At first the Jews were sent to ghettos in the large cities or to industrial factories and other sites of slave labour. As the war progressed however, the “resettlement” process took priority. Competition arose between the Army and the SS over the use of the railroads, but the Army’s need for supplies, reinforcements and sometimes retreat were secondary to the ideological satisfaction of the Final Solution.

Even the war effort’s need for skilled labour gave way to Himmler and the SS who, with Hitler’s blessing, only increased their extermination efforts as the prospects for winning the war dimmed. Trains flowed day and night with human cargo destined for the death camps at Auschwitz (2,000,000 estimated killed), Belzec (600,000), Chelmo (340,000), Majdanek (1,380,000), Sobibor (250,000) and Treblinka (800,000).

As a scholar of communications, I have been deeply influenced by Cambridge professor Jack Goody, whose Logic of Writing and the Organization of Society (1986) has helped me understand some of the crucial relationships between information technology and the politics of modern life.

Innovators in bureaucracy and population technology, the Germans were leaders in the use of telegraph and teletype communications to control their national administrators and armies. By the turn of the century the Germans had transformed British “political arithmetic” into “statistics” (state-istics), numerical techniques in the service of State and population administration. They used the tabulating machines and punch cards designed for the US census to identify and control the population. These techniques were taken up by the SS in their management of the Final Solution.

From its first spoken word, “Name?” Schindler’s List investigates the political technology used in the Holocaust. The use of the census was an integral part of the process, as it allowed the Nazis to round up Jews and start the continual process of selecting who would be eligible for work, who would be transported to a concentration camp, and who would be killed. Everyone was assigned a number that was tattooed on their arms. Every number had an associated punch card. Every name needed to be accounted for, registered and given a position.

The list is ancient political technology, which Spielberg chose as a major motif. It is linked to the film’s narrative in a meaningful way, so that it reinforces some of the main themes, such as the bureaucratic momentum of the Nazi machine.  A striking example is shown when Schindler’s trusted accountant (Itzhak Stern, played by Ben Kingsley), forgets to bring his working papers one day and winds up on a train awaiting deportation to an extermination camp. Schindler rushes down to the station to intervene but is told nothing can be done as Stern is now on the list to be transported. Schindler can only get an exemption after he convinces the SS officer that he has the influence to have the officer sent to the Russian Front within weeks.

The list and its physical counterpart, the line, figure prominently throughout the film as mediums of control and efficiency. The line is a particularly brutal and yet effective political technology. It renders people passive and orderly. Disrupting or attempting to escape its smooth, linear surface is an invitation for punishment or death, as many Jews discover.

However, the list also becomes a technology of resistance and of escape. With the Russian advancing, Schindler’s factory must yield to the Final Solution. He bribes enough Nazi officials, however, to transport 1200 of his Jews to a new location near his hometown of Zwittau in Austria. From within the Nazi bureaucratic maze, Schindler’s list emerges as a ticket to freedom for the Jews. The list is a manifest for getting on the train to Schindler’s new factory. Getting on this list is a matter of life and death.

For Keneally, it is a modern day Noah’s Ark. As he writes in Schindler’s Ark about the legends that developed around Schindler’s list: “The list is an absolute good. This list is life.”

It is difficult to say whether Schindler’s List has a happy ending. Spielberg is much harder on Schindler than Keneally. Whereas the latter credits him with an early transformation, the movie-maker waits until nearly the end to acknowledge his attempts to put the welfare of the Jews in front of his own self-interest. He invokes a Talmud equation which is inscribed on the ring offered as a gift to Schindler from the Jews he saved: Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.

Schindler is overcome with grief at the end as he calculates the lives he could have saved with the money he wasted. Ultimately, we left with this moral balance sheet.

Dr Anthony J Pennings is a political scientist and a lecturer in communications studies at Victoria University. He is not Jewish but his parents lived under Nazi occupation in the Netherlands, a country that had 75 percent of its Jewish population shipped to Nazi concentration camps. 


AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea and from 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He has also spent time as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Digital Spreadsheets – The Time-Space Power of Accounting, Part 1

Posted on | January 22, 2017 | No Comments

Part of upcoming book on Digital Money and Spreadsheet Capitalism

Accounting is, understandably, an acquired taste, but it should be recognized as a key component of an organization’s structural characteristics and a key source of its longevity and power to grow. One of the first major uses of computers was to make the accounting process easier and faster. Later, the spreadsheet became a key technology in the accounting process and its use for management decisions. Accounting practices and associated technologies are complicit in the formation of modern capitalism and the way it develops.

This new series of posts continues my analysis of the digital spreadsheet as a technology of power by considering their integration into organizational information systems, particularly accounting. This post covers the important historical role of accounting in developing time-space dominance for early bureaucracies and the formation of capitalism. The next post investigates how spreadsheets have transformed accounting and the modern global economy.

While accounting is often dismissed as a realm of the mundane, a more serious inquiry connects it to real power over material and communicative domains. Anthony Giddens’s theory of “time-space power” is particularly useful here as it has the control of information and communication at its core. The former head of the London School of Economics and Political Science, Giddens’ developed a wide-ranging analysis of social systems that connected information technologies, including accounting and book-keeping, to economic, political, social power.

For Giddens, there is no overall mechanism or motor of social change such as class conflict or universal progress. Instead, he claimed, societies can better be understood through a process of “structuration” that reconciles the influence of human actors and the rigidity of social structures. Structuration includes the production of time-space power – the ability to reproduce and expand social systems (such as corporations, governments, and other collectivities) over chronological spans of time and geographical distances of space.[1]

Drawing on anthropologist Jack Goody, Giddens pointed out that the keeping of written accounts such as ledgers and lists about people, objects, and events generated new types of social control and organizational power. In Writing and the Organization of Society (1984), Goody studied ancient temples and monasteries and argued that writing techniques were developed as a form of social power. Lists became containers, not just an aid to memory, but a definite means of encoding and protecting information over time, first as a mechanism to store information over time, and then in more narrative forms.

Giddens argued that every social system ‘stretches’ across time and space and that “information systems,” including early media such as books and clay tablets have been critical to this dynamic. Writing, lists, and tables, as well as modern computer-based technologies, combine storage abilities meant to capture and store information over long durations as well as media that can be transported or transmitted over long distances. Steam engines and then modern communications systems, starting with the Victorian telegraph, allowed for relevant financial and logistical information to be gathered quickly over large spans of geographical space.

Another influence on Giddens’ perspective on the historical role of accounting was the seminal sociologist, Max Weber. Weber studied the emergence of capitalism and identified several key precursors including cities; the separation of the household from companies; contract laws; the bureaucratic nation-state; filing systems; and the organized control of territory by a unified government that allows commerce to develop. He especially stressed the importance of money and the associated role of accounting.

Weber saw money culture and the associated role of double entry bookkeeping as central components in the development of capitalism and modern bureaucracies. New accounting techniques allowed businesses to keep track of items and inventories and balance assets with monetary accounting. This enabled the calculation of the inflows and outflows of money and helped determine sources of profit and losses. Bookkeeping as a system of information, along with file keeping, allows for crucial organizational information to be maintained and supports the stability of organizations over time.

Giddens continued this train of thought, emphasizing that accounting “…allows for the distancing of economic relations across time-space, facilitating the storage and co-ordination of information used to regularize such relations.”[2] Lists in narrative and numerical representations form the basis of accounting techniques and most notably double-entry bookkeeping.

Giddens emphasized, “Double-entry bookkeeping allows the adjusting of inflows and outflows that occur over long periods of time-space.”[3] The system of double-entry accounting developed over the years from simple writing technology using lists and journals of written text and moved towards the more abstract book-keeping and eventually spawned an accounting discipline.

With numbers having mostly shed their connotations of mysticism and superstition by the 19th century, they were quickly becoming a preferred mode of representing business fact. Business accounting’s “credit-ability” was sanctified by the long-term development of a system of accounting with double-entry bookkeeping as its center method. Especially with the new mechanical techniques of calculation, accounting’s influence expanded culturally and geographically.

Historically, Laura Poovey’s analysis of the influence of double-entry bookkeeping on the rise of the European mercantile class is instructive here. She argued that the system of books used in early accounting helped raise the status of merchants through the verification of debits and credits. The process of recording inventories of wealth and transactions in a series of lists, journals, and ledgers, ultimately rendered them in terms of monetary accounts in a single currency. This provided a growing system of trust among merchants that formed the basis of Western capitalism.

    The nature of the double-entry fact can be grasped by recognizing that this system of bookkeeping did not simply record the things merchants traded so that they could keep track of assets or calculate profits and losses. Instead as a system of writing, double-entry bookkeeping produced effects that exceeded transcription and calculation. One of its social effects was to proclaim the honesty of merchants as a group. One of its epistemological effects was to make the formal precision of the double-entry system, which drew on the rule-bound system of arithmetic, seem to guarantee the accuracy of the details it recorded. – Mary Poovey

    Double-entry bookkeeping provided a structured narrative that provided a trusted representation of the organization for owners and investors. It’s techniques emerged first to check for errors, but later resulted in the separation of a business from its owner, a precursor condition for the emergence of the corporation and the wide-scale success of capitalism. The stock ticker, for example, allows ownership to be dispersed more easily over space. Ticker-tape machines provided stock prices and the first electrically-powered broadcast news to investors over wide geographical spaces.

    New levels of certainty brought on by accounting methods created widespread social changes that transformed Western Society. Along with the proliferation of capitalism and the modern corporation, the emergence of “state-istics” as it was increasingly used by governments created a wider social dynamic that included a new level of trust in numbers being used in science and engineering.

    Accounting and other numerical techniques changed Western civilization. Modern capitalism emerged only after the integration of telegraphic systems with the information processing of accounting processes. The telegraph emerged in the 19th century as a key technology to collect and organize accounting information. It should be of no surprise that Western Union, the first modern corporation, connected telegraph systems across the US continent.

    While double-entry bookkeeping made capitalism possible, the spreadsheet took it to new levels of possibility. Monetary accounting provided the written “real-time” constitution of a corporation, and with the spreadsheet, this power multiplied. Accounting as a type of information storage became integral for an organization’s power and consequentially its long-term survival. Not only did the speed in which accounting procedures and calculations occurred become vastly faster; new types of analysis and information were produced, and the transmission of accounting information expanded. Spreadsheets increased organizational tempo and coordination over distances.


    [1] “Structuration Theory in Management and Accounting,” by N.B. Macintosh and R.W. Scapens
    “Structuration Theory in Management and Accounting N.B. Macintosh and R.W. Scapens” in Anthony Giddens: Critical Assessments, Volume 4. edited by Christopher G. A. Bryant, David Jary.
    [2] Giddens, Anthony. A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism. Power, Property and the State. Vol. 1. Berkeley: U of California, 1981. Print.
    [3] Giddens, Anthony. A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism. Power, Property and the State. Vol. 1. Berkeley: U of California, 1981. Print. p. 117.
    [4] Poovey, M.A. (1998) A History of Modern Fact. p. 30.



    AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea and from 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He has also spent time as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

    Broadband Policy and the Fall of the US Internet Service Providers

    Posted on | November 15, 2016 | No Comments

    Much of the success of the Internet can be attributed to the emergence of a unique organizational form, the Internet Service Provider or “ISP,” which became the dominant provider of the broadband and web services. These organizations resulted from a unique set of regulatory directives that pushed the Internet’s development and created a competitive environment that encouraged the proliferation of ISPs and the spread of the World Wide Web. But after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed its Computer II decision in 2005, the ruling drove out competition. It effectively made a small number of telecom-media conglomerates, the dominant providers of high-speed broadband services in the USA.

    This post discusses the rise of the ISPs and how thousands of these organizations, also known as competitive local exchange carriers (CLECs), emerged to provide Internet access around the USA. But the competitive stance of Clinton-Gore administration was replaced by a new pro-telco regime in 2000. By 2005 many ISPs were forced out of business as traditional telecommunications companies, were given ISP status.

    The incumbent local exchange carriers (ILECs), primarily AT&T, BellSouth, Hawaiian Telecom, Quest, and Verizon were able to take advantage of their new status to take over the ISP business. As carriers they were required to allow CLECs to interconnect with their facilities, they consistently resisted this practice through pricing and non-tariff barriers. This peering practice was necessary to allow data traffic to flow through the entirety of the World Wide Web. As ILECs then combined their services (VOIP, TV, Internet) into an unregulated bundle of offerings, it became extremely difficult for smaller ISPs to remain competitive.

    The first ISPs began as US government-funded entities that served research and education communities of the early Internet. Secured by Al Gore in 1991, legislation signed by President George H. Bush created the model of the National Research and Education Network (NREN), a government-sponsored internet service provider dedicated to supporting the needs of the research and education communities within the US. Internet2, Merit, NYSERNET, OARnet, and KanRen were a few of the systems that provided schools and other non-profit organizations access to the World Wide Web. Only later were the ISPs released for commercial traffic and services.

    While telecommunications carriers had been involved in moving some Internet traffic since the late 1980s, their role expanded dramatically after the Internet began to allow commercial activities. As part of the National Information Infrastructure (NII) plan, the US government decommissioned the US National Science Foundation Network (NSFNET) in 1995. It had been the publicly financed backbone for most IP traffic in the US. The NII handed over interconnection to four Network Access Points (NAPs) in different parts of the country to create a bridge to the modern Internet of many private-sector competitors.

    These NAPS contracted with the big commercial carriers such as Ameritech, Pacific Bell, and Sprint for new facilities to form a network-of-networks, anchored around Internet Exchange Points. These former regional Bell companies were to be primarily wholesalers, interconnecting with ISPs. This relatively easy process of connecting routers was to put the “inter” in the Internet but are also sites of performance degradation and unequal power relations.

    As the Internet took off in the late 1990s, thousands of new ISPs set up business to commercialize the Internet. The major markets for ISPs were: 1) access services, 2) wholesale IP services, and 3) value-added services offered to individuals and corporations. Access services were provided for both individual and corporate accounts and involved connecting them to the Internet via dial-up, ISDN, T-1, frame-relay or other network connections. Wholesale IP services were primarily offered by facilities-based providers like MCI, Sprint, and WorldCom UUNET (a spinoff of a DOD-funded seismic research facility) and involved providing leased capacity over its backbone networks. Value-added services included web-hosting, e-commerce, and networked resident security services. By the end of 1997, over 4,900 ISPs existed in North America, although most of them had fewer than 3,000 subscribers.[1]

    FCC policy had allowed unlimited local phone calling for enhanced computer services and early Internet users connected to their local ISP using their modems. ISPs quickly developed software that was put on CD-ROMs that could be easily installed on a personal computer. The software usually put a browser icon on the desktop of the computer that once clicked on would dial the ISP automatically, provide the password, and connect the user to Internet.

    The ISPs emerged as an important component to the Internet’s accessibility and were greatly aided by US government policy. The distinctions made in the FCC’s Second Computer Inquiry in 1981 allowed ISPs to bypass many of the roadblocks experienced by traditional communication carriers. Telcos were to provide regulated basic services and “enhanced services” were to stay unregulated. Schiller explained:

      Under federal regulation, U.S. ISPs had been classed as providers of enhanced service. This designation conferred on ISPs a characteristically privileged status within the liberalized zone of network development. It exempted them from the interconnection, or access, charges levied on other systems that tie in with local telephone networks; it also meant that ISPs did not have to pay into the government’s universal service fund, which provided subsidies to support telephone access in low-income and rural areas. As a result of this sustained federal policy, ISPs enjoyed a substantial cross-subsidy, which was borne by ordinary voice users of the local telecommunications network.[2]

    ISPs looked to equip themselves for the potential new markets and also connect with other companies. For example, IBM and telecom provider Qwest hooked up to offer web hosting services. PSINet bought Metamor to not only transfer data, but to host, design, and move companies from the old software environment to the new environment. ISPs increasing saw themselves as not only providers of a transparent data pipe but also as a provider of value-added services such as web hosting, colocation and support for domain name registration.

    As they would say in the new industry, “Its not about putting your company on the web as much as its about putting the web into your company.” Rather than just a presence on the World Wide Web, businesses were interested in combining the capabilities of the Internet with their business objectives. Sales, logistics, and accounting could be integrated along with other internal computing systems in order to create new dimensions of commerce. ISPs facilitated this process but were significantly devastated by the crash of 2000 and the telecom crash of 2002. Furthermore, Internet policy changed when the Bush administration took power in 2000.

    During the 1990s, the telcos were conducting tests using a new technology called ADSL (Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Line). It was originally designed to provide video over copper lines to the home. It was called asynchronous because it could send data downstream to the subscriber faster (256Kbps-9Mbps) than upstream (64Kbps-1.54Kbps) to the provider. Different versions emerged based on the local telco’s ability and willingness to get a fiber link close to the neighborhood. They were soon generally called Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL) and they began to replace dial-up modems. High demand and competition from cable companies with high-speed coaxial lines pressured ISPs and telcos to adapt DSL technologies. DSL and new cable technologies that carried Internet traffic as well as television came to be collectively called “broadband” communications.

    The broadband industry changed significantly after the 2000 election. Internet traffic grew at a fantastic rate during the late 1990s as individuals and corporations rushed to “get on the web” and the rhetoric of the “new economy” emerged and fueled investments in web-based companies and telecommunications providers. A temporary bubble emerged as many companies lacked the technology or business expertise to effectively profit from their organizations. Dot.coms such as,,, GeoCities,,,,, and failed for a variety of reasons but mainly flawed business plans and the premature expenditure of investment capital. Similarly, many carriers such as Global Crossing, WorldCom and ISPs overestimated web traffic and built excess capacity. In the wake of the crash in 2000 and the telecom crash in 2002, a third of all CLECs filed for bankruptcy.

    Cable companies began to offer Internet services and the power of the telcos grew. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 had maintained Computer II’s competitive distinctions (See video above) although enhanced services were essentially renamed “information services.” But FCC decisions made during the new administration would use this distinction to give incumbent telcos a major advantage. This action would have profound influence on the structure of the modern broadband/media industry.

    In 2002, the FCC ruled that cable modem service was an information service, and not a telecommunications service. Cable companies became unregulated broadband providers and were exempted from the common-carrier regulation and network access requirements imposed on the ILECs.

    Then in 2005, an FCC decision during the Bush administration effectively made telcos, companies unregulated ISPs. FCC WC Docket 02-33 allowed DSL to become an unregulated “information service.” This effectively repealed Computer II and allowed the ILECs such as Verizon and BellSouth to take over the ISP industry. ILECs were resistant to interconnect with the CLEC ISPs, claiming that sharing their network equipment was akin to subsidizing their competition.

    The 1996 Act also allowed media companies to invade the other’s turf by removing regulatory barriers to entry to the once protected monopoly-controlled sectors. For example, broadcasters could move into broadband and carriers could offer content. It also allowed consolidation of different media companies, creating a new frenzy of mergers. Cable companies began to provide many broadband services and have merged with telcos (AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint) to form large integrated telecom-media companies.

    Today, US broadband service is dominated by large integrated service providers such as AT&T, Comcast, Sprint, and Verizon. These companies are now trying to merge with content providers. AT&T is trying to merge with Time-Warner, Comcast has completed its merger with NBC, and Verizon is merging with Yahoo!, although a data hack slowed its progress.


    [1] McCarthy, B. (1999) “Introduction to the Directory of Internet Service Providers,” Boardwatch Magazine’s Directory of Internet Service Providers. Winter 1998-Spring 1999. p. 4.
    [2] Schiller, D. (1999) Digital Capitalism. Cambridge MA: The MIT Press. p. 31.



    AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea and from 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He has also spent time as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

    “Run to Goshen Regardless of Opposing Train”

    Posted on | September 29, 2016 | No Comments

    This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book on Telegraphy, Tabulation, and Time-Space Power in Early America.

    When I was growing up, on a summer night, with the bedroom windows open, I could often hear the far off whistle of a train warning of its approach to a nearby road crossing. The trains were leaving or entering my hometown of Goshen, New York; a small community known for its regional government center, proximity to New York City and a history of horse racing. The railroad track is gone now, replaced by a hiking/biking trail called the Heritage Trail and the downtown station now serves as the town police station. Much of the history of those railroad tracks is lost or forgotten, despite its surprisingly notable historical importance.

    The quote “Run to Goshen regardless of opposing train” by a superintendent for the New York & Erie Railroad (see map) marked an event that had a significant impact on US history, as it spurred the development of both railroads and the telegraph. The first recorded use of the telegraph in the US to coordinate railroads occurred in 1851 when Charles Minot telegraphed ahead fourteen miles to Goshen to delay a train.[1]

    This electric communication marked the beginning of a radical convergence of telegraph and railroad technology that would have a lasting influence on the accelerating development of both technologies, and ripple out into many other aspects of American life. It would change the future of organizational management and pave the way for the modern corporation. It would also have a major influence on American life through the standardization of time zones, the national distribution of agriculture and industrially produced goods, as well as the regional coordination and arbitrage of commodity prices.

    An appropriate historical starting point for this post is the chartering of the New York & Erie Railroad in 1832 to build a rail line across the length of New York. Enos T. Throop, the Governor of New York approved the Act passed by the state’s Senate to allow the railroad to build the 447-mile railroad line. It would connect the southern part of the state at Piermont, New York, a small town with a good harbor on the Hudson River just south of the Tappan Zee Bridge, with Dunkirk, a small village on the eastern shore of Lake Erie. The plan was to connect the ocean at New York City’s harbor to the Great Lakes and the natural bounties of America’s Midwest, elevating New York’s commercial status to the nation’s major entrepot.

    Construction of the New York and Erie Railroad began in 1835. Along with the increase in economic growth along the southern part of New York, it was meant to provide some balance to the expenditures on the Erie Canal in the north. The first section completed was from Piermont to Goshen, New York in 1841 at a cost of $20 million. Goshen was the government center of the area, known for dairy products (especially “Goshen butter”), and becoming famous for its harness horse racing. While the process of funding and building the railroad line had not been easy, the entire line to Lake Erie was finally completed in the spring of 1851.

    On May 14, 1851, a train carrying President Millard Fillmore, Secretary of State Daniel Webster, and 300 other dignitaries set off on a celebratory tour of this historic railroad accomplishment. They took a steam ship up to the southern tip of New York west of the Hudson River and departed amid much fanfare. But by the time it reached Goshen, the locomotive was having trouble with its engine. At the next stop in Middletown, New York, Minot had to telegraph forward to Port Jervis on the Delaware River to have another engine ready. After changing locomotives, the train passed through the southern tier of New York and puffed on to its destination without incident.

    The mishap left an impression on Minot who would come to value the role of the telegraph and its relationship with the railway. Shortly after, when the train engineers conspired to refuse to move the trains under such a system, Minot authoritatively issued an order that the telegraph would henceforth be used to coordinate all train movements.

    During this time, the telegraph was becoming more prominent. Ezra Cornell, who had worked with Samuel Morse in 1844 on the very first telegraph line, had followed up this historic accomplishment in 1845 with the construction of a major portion of line between New York and Albany. Cornell, the benefactor of the famous university that bears his name, was more involved in the construction aspect of the telegraph line and even patented machinery for laying cable under the ground. In 1848, he helped put together the New York & Erie Telegraph Company to build a line of telegraph wire from New York to Dunkirk along roads in the southern border counties of New York. The completed line in was celebrated in 1849 but soon found its fate intertwined with the railroads.

      The record of the very first train order sent in the U.S. was documented by Edward H. Mott in his book on the history of the The Story of Erie, Between the Ocean and the Lakes. According to William H. Stewart, a retired Erie Railroad conductor, in the “fall of 1851,” Charles Minot was on a west bound train stopped at Turner, N. Y. waiting for an eastbound train coming from Goshen, N. Y., fourteen miles to the west. The impatient Minot telegraphed Goshen to see if the train had left yet. Upon receiving a reply of “no,” Minot wrote out the order: “To Agent and Operator at Goshen: Hold the train for further orders, signed, Charles Minot, Superintendent.” Minot then gave Stewart, who was the conductor of Minot’s train, a written order to be handed to the engineer: “Run to Goshen regardless of opposing train.” The engineer, Isaac Lewis, refused Minot’s order because it violated the time interval system. Minot proceeded to verbally direct Lewis to move the train but he again refused. Lewis then became a passenger on the rear seat of the rear car and Minot, who had experience as an engineer, took control of the train and proceeded safely to Goshen. Shortly thereafter, the Erie adopted the train order for the movement of its trains and within a few years the telegraph was adopted by railroads throughout the U.S.[2]

    The telegraph industry was still struggling to take off. The next year, 1852, the New York and Erie telegraph line failed due to competition and declining prices. It was the longest line in the country at the time and it was hard to manage, but a partnership with the railroads soon changed its fortunes. With the urging of Minot, Ezra Cornell bought the telegraph business back and renamed it the New York & Western Union Telegraph Company.

    With help from Minot, they transferred the poles from roadways to run along the railroad tracks of the Erie Railroad. They also agreed that railroad depot employees would be telegraphy operators in exchange for unlimited use of the communication lines. The telegraph allowed for a single track railroad that would be more efficient, less expensive, and safer for the passengers. Trains could be coordinated safely in both directions, even on a single track. Cornell took on the role of Superintendent of the company. He soon joined the company with other partners and became Western Union in 1856.

    The New York and Erie was the first railroad in the U.S. to utilize the telegraph in its management activities. Minot promoted Luther Tillotson to the superintendent of telegraphs in charge of the eastern half of the route even though he was only 19 years old. Tillotson became one of the pioneers in utilizing the telegraph for train dispatching and later developed his own company manufacturing and selling telegraph instruments to the railroad industry.

    The railroad company also hired civil engineer Daniel McCallan to coordinate its railroad routes. He realized that the management of a line nearly 500 miles long was a different venture than one that was only 50 miles. His solution was a data processing and management information system based on telegraphy, record-keeping and regularized reports. He also drew up one of the first organizational charts and required all employees to wear uniforms indicating the employee’s rank in the organizational hierarchy. But he also recognized the importance reversing the hierarchy of information flow and stressed the importance of communications going from the subordinates up to managers, rather than the opposite.[3]

    The telegraph was soon being used to transmit hourly reports on the progress of trains and to precisely coordinate the movement of railroad cargo and passengers. Experimentation with the telegraph had been conducted by the Great Western Railway in Britain as early as 1837 but they inexplicitly lost interest, probably because the technology was in its infancy and the codes used were cumbersome.

    Railroads had been reluctant to expand because of the difficulties of managing such vast and complex movements. Responding to a number of tragedies involving train collisions, the railroads took steps to better synchronize their scheduling of routes. Trains required precisely timed movements through spatial landscapes and needed the capability of telegraphy for communicating ahead for coordination.

    With westward expansion, railroads and telegraph lines soon crisscrossed the country. These two technologies became highly dependent on each other. As the transcontinental railroads became the major mode of transportation for most parts of the United States, it also aided the construction of telegraph lines. The combination of the railroad and the telegraph allowed the modern corporation to emerge. The new technologies were crucial for managing logistics, marketing, and production. Companies like Nabisco, Sears, and Standard Oil expanded. Britain developed a telegraph network throughout its empire. Expansion brought on new problems in coordination.

    To create this new type of organization, a standard ‘time’ needed to be determined. The Prime Meridian Conference in Washington DC convened to find a solution. In 1884, they chose Greenwich, England as the zero meridian and divided the Earth into twenty-four one-hour time zones to help facilitate the coordination of transportation and commercial transactions.[4] With a standard “railroad time” in place, complex tables could be produced cross-listing train movements with cities, towns, and ports and as a result regularizing transportation schedules.

    Innovations in time-tabling worked with the telegraph system to choreograph the complex scheduling of railroad transport. Transportation schedules accelerated the number of journeys in a given time period and provided consistency for passengers and freight hires. This mode of sequencing time and transport proved crucial for the development of regional and then nationwide markets for mass-produced goods.[4]

    If the railroads provided the muscle, the telegraph provided the nervous system. Information about train delays, obstacles, needed repairs, passenger numbers, all flowed through the telegraph to keep the railroad system running smoothly.[5] Eventually, another innovation that would prove crucial for the management of railroads was the punch card tabulator, developed by IBM founder Herman Hollerith. Based on the tickets train conductors punched regarding the characteristics of ticket-holders, the technology was originally used to calculate US census, but was later used by the railroads to manage cars and cargo. As American companies like Nabisco, Standard Oil, Swift, and Western Union began to operate wide-scale businesses, the punch card tabulators became crucial management tools.

    The Erie railroad was originally designed with a unique gauge and spacing that was meant to keep the trains operating only in New York. But as this proved to inhibit its profitability, the entire train track was eventually replaced, allowing the rail to run into New Jersey down to the Hoboken station as well as west as far as Chicago.

    In 1984, with the approval of Orange County, the Metro-North Railroad ripped up the Erie Mainline between Harriman and Middletown, New York. The Metro-North Railroad choose not to recondition the historic line for passenger service. After more than 140 years trekking through Goshen, the railroad line was abandoned in favor of a longer route between Hoboken and Port Jervis for passengers commuting to and from New York City.


    [1] Beniger, J.R. (1986) The Control Revolution: Technological and Economic Origins of the Information Society (pdf). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. p. 230. Beniger’s reference for this information was from Edward Harold Mott’s Between the Ocean and the Lakes: The Story of Erie published in 1901 by John S. Collins in New York.
    [2] A Monument to Charles Minot. Accessed September 26, 2016. A version of this article was originally published in the October 2006 issue of The AWA Journal, a quarterly publication of
    The Antique Wireless Association, a non-profit historical society.
    [3] Information on Daniel McCallan’s organization of Erie Railroad from Beniger, pp. 228-233.
    [4] Anthony Giddens tied the relationship together between the telegraph and transportation in his work on administrative power and internal pacification in The Nation-State and Violence. (1987) San Francisco, CA: University of California Press. p. 174-175.
    [5] This is from a short story about how the railroads and telegraph started working together.



    AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea and from 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He has also spent time as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.


    Posted on | September 13, 2016 | No Comments

    Len Bosack and Sandy Lerner left Stanford University in December 1984 to launch Cisco Systems, a California-based company known for innovative networking devices. Packet-switched data communications, the key technology of the Internet was in its infancy and leading companies like IBM were slow to make the major innovations needed for its success. So the recently married duo took a chance and started their company to develop and market data networking technology.

    In a previous post, I discussed the formation of Cisco and its contribution to universities connecting to the NSFNET. In this post, I examine how Cisco Systems emerged around the technology of the “Blue Box” and how the company went on to become the key supplier of key Internet technologies for the emerging World Wide Web.

    The key to Cisco’s strategy was to develop routing technology that could direct the packets of data along the network. In a sense, routing technology would act like a traffic cop helping to move automobiles through a busy intersection. Similarly, data routers facilitate movement of packets of digital information – 1s and 0s, through the intersections of the Internet. Packets of digital data are constructed by Transmission Control Protocols (TCP) and individually addressed by the Internet Protocol (IP) to transverse various networks. Routers were created to read IP addresses and direct the packet towards the next stop in the network, or to another network, on its “route” to the intended destination.

    The Internet was originally designed as a military network that could compensate if some network nodes were destroyed by an enemy attack. Early equipment was designed that could sense if a network node was offline and choose another route to direct the data towards its final destination. As networks could also become congested with too much traffic, modern routers were developed to determine the best path to send the email, document, file or web page, often in terms of the “cost” of transmission as well.

    The Cisco founders did not invent the router technology. Instead, they drew together important work by many people at Xerox PARC and Stanford University that became the basis for the “Blue Box” (1981). This portable computer was originally designed to increase the distance between networked computers but turned out to be much more. The Blue Box incorporated three crucial innovations: the 3Mb Ethernet transceiver and adapter, workstation network boards, and the software that became the foundation for the Cisco operating system.

    Xerox PARC is more popularly known for developing the graphic user interfaces that became the basis for the Apple Macintosh and Microsoft’s Windows environment. PARC had donated a lot of computers and network technology to Stanford University. This became a dynamic a new environment for fertile innovation and the development of many of our digital technologies.

    Robert Metcalfe worked with Alohanet technology at PARC that resulted in the Ethernet technology and was standardized in 1983 as IEEE 802.3. Initially, it was used widely for Local Area Network (LANs) on campuses and companies; it is currently used for a number of services including wireless communications. Metcalfe’s 3Com company became a leader in client-server networking and expanded into product areas such as digital switches, internetworking routers, modems, network hubs, network management software, network interface cards, and remote access systems.

    Andy Bechtolsheim, with other Stanford graduate students, produced a network board based on their Alto Computer. This technology connected the computer to the Ethernet and became the prototype of the SUN workstation that was later marketed by another spin-off company, Sun Microsystems.

    Bill Yeager, who wrote software for a number of network connections on campus, including an ARPANET Interface Message Processor (IMP), contributed crucial code for the Blue Box. His
    software provided instructions to guide data traffic from different LANs using multiple routing protocols. Networks at the time were almost exclusively proprietary; designed to connected equipment from the same manufacturer. Yeager designed protocols that permitted data to be exchanged among different types of mainframe terminals, printers, and workstations. It initially linked Alto workstations, mainframes, mini-computers and printers, but was rewritten to connect different networks. Yeager’s software became the foundational operating system of Cisco’s routers and consequently, for modern local and wide area networking, including the Internet.

    In the next section I will focus on Cisco’s push into TCP/IP protocols.



    AnthonybwAnthony J. Pennings, PhD is Professor and Associate Chair of the Department of Technology and Society, State University of New York, Korea. Before joining SUNY, he taught at Hannam University in South Korea and from 2002-2012 was on the faculty of New York University. Previously, he taught at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, Marist College in New York, and Victoria University in New Zealand. He has also spent time as a Fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu, Hawaii.

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