Momentous April Days in History

Today our Technology channel has a marvelous series of essays on the meaning of mankind's voyages into space, on this the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's first flight. They're all interesting, but you can't go wrong by starting with a social/technological history of the famous first "blue marble" shot of Earth from afar, by my old Texas Monthly comrade (and Apollo 13 screenwriter) Al Reinert.

Google is also noting the moment, with this "Doodle" item on its home page:

firstmaninspace11-hp-js.jpg

But what about Clippy? It's a big day for him too. Ten years ago, he was finally given the deep-six at Microsoft, or at least turned off by default as the first step to full elimination, so he would no longer automatically pop up with such helpful observations as, "It looks like you're writing a letter!"

Clippy3.jpgAt Microsoft's Mix11 conference for web developers today in Las Vegas, Dean Hachamovitch, head of IE activities at Microsoft, announced the anniversary of Clippy's demise.

I have long prided myself on playing at least a footsoldier's role in the long and ultimately successful struggle against Clippy during my stint at Microsoft in 1999, as previously recounted here, here, and here. Also see an authoritative analysis of just why Clippy was so annoying -- and, OK, perversely so endearing -- by a friend from my Microsoft days, Chris Pratley. (Summary: it was "optimized for first use," so it was conceivably helpful the very first time you were writing a letter, and increasingly maddening the next zillion times it popped up whenever you typed "Dear Mr. X...") Thanks to Kevin Stevens for the reminder of the date. Somehow I feel a solidarity with the gantry engineers who helped prepare for Yuri Gagarin's launch. We all were part of something larger that moved humanity ahead.
Presented by

James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Technology

From This Author

Just In