The More Things Change | Issue 08

The More Things Change | Issue 08

22 - 28 April

This week, records and computers go bad, but the Internet does all right.

23 April 1564: William Shakespeare was allegedly born. The exact date of his birth isn’t known, because somebody in the eighteenth century wrote their records down wrong, but he was baptised on the 26th so people generally figure it must be close enough. This isn’t the only uncertainty that Shakespeare’s legacy has passed down – among other questions, some people doubt that he wrote any of his works at all. It has been proposed that he was a cover for another writer who couldn’t or didn’t want to publicly take credit for the works, but despite the undoubtedly lengthy and vicious arguments this has led to, there’s only a relatively small group that is trying to get more people concerned about the so-called authorship question. In the midst of all this controversy, though, one significant event remains undisputed: the date of Shakespeare’s death, which also happened to be April the 23rd. This is apparently the major reason biographers have latched onto the same date for his birthday, morbid though that may be.

26 April 1962: NASA tried to crash a spacecraft into the moon, and did it wrong. The craft, Ranger 4, was meant to crash-land on the moon and collect data to be sent back to NASA for study, and to assist the development of the Ranger programme for developing new spacecraft. It was also supposed to take pictures of the surface of the moon, which NASA hadn’t yet done from that close. But an onboard computer malfunction resulted in its solar panels and navigation systems failing, and it ended up crashing into entirely the wrong side of the Moon without sending back any data. It does get some credit for being the first US spacecraft to reach the Moon, though, even if they couldn’t crash it right.

22 April 1993: Thanks to the USA’s National Centre for Supercomputing Applications, the web browser Mosaic was launched. It wasn’t the first browser, but it was the one that popularised public use of the Internet. It was made free for general use and had an interface that was more user-friendly than those of earlier browsers, which led to a massive surge in Internet use among the public, where previously it was used mostly in academia and research institutions. It died out after a few years due to its creators developing a new browser (a code descendant of which is Firefox), but is still remembered to this day for its part in the rise of the Internet. Modern browsers still have features derived from Mosaic, which is not bad 20 years later.
This article first appeared in Issue 8, 2013.
Posted 5:13pm Sunday 21st April 2013 by Jessica Bromell.