Some publications by or about Les Earnest

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Les Earnest with 3D drawing of 6D hyper-cube




Biographies of Les Earnest who grew up in San Diego as a bicycling beach boy, got an FBI record at age 11 as a result of dabbling in cryptography, graduated from Caltech in 1953, became a naval aviation electronics officer; at MIT and MITRE Corp. in the late 1950s helped design the first computer network, also served at CIA Headquarters and in the Pentagon. In the 1960s was the Stanford representative on the startup committee for ARPAnet and in the 1970s helped arrange funding for the Stanford project that produced the Internet Protocols. Along the way he created the first spelling checker and, with his colleagues, initiated development of the first search engine, first autonomous road vehicle, first document compiler with spreadsheets, first network news service, first computer controlled vending machine, first social networking and blogging services and first desktop publishing systems using laser printers. With John McCarthy, organized and managed the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab (SAIL), which became a hotbed of innovation that produced dozens of commercial spinoffs, some of them very successful. Also led the fight for reform of U.S. bicycle racing against crooked businessmen and dopers, a task that is not yet complete.


Computer History


Who invented timesharing?  The answer to that question is “A lot of people”. The feasibility of interactive computing first came to light as an accidental spinoff of the SAGE air defense system, which was the first real time computer system. SAGE included special purpose timesharing services as an accidental byproduct of being the first real time computer system.


How John McCarthy accidentally started uniting the World, March 2011. John McCarthy’s innovative idea on how to make general purpose timesharing systems both greatly enhanced the efficiency of program development and enabled the Internet to be created much earlier than would otherwise have happened.


Soviet takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1968 witnessed by John McCarthy, Nov. 1, 1968. While looking through my vast paper files for things to throw away, I happened upon this letter from John McCarthy, which I believe marked a turning point in his life.


John McCarthy (1927-2011), December 2011. John McCarthy introduced the term “artificial intelligence” to identify his principal interest and created the LISP programming language to help develop that field. He also initiated the mathematical theory of computation and the development of computer timesharing, which turned out to be a necessary precursor of the internet.


Xerox was evidently managed by office clerks.  During the 1960s and ‘70s the management of Xerox Corporation was widely praised in public media on the grounds that they had created a new kind of office copier that was very successful and very profitable. However it turned out that their management remained so focused on the needs of office clerks that they missed some important opportunities and eventually blundered into the computer field in a way that cost them dearly.


SAIL Reunion November 22, 2009 Announces a reunion of participants in projects of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab (SAIL) in the 1966-80 time period together with participants in the modern SAIL.

Reunion dinner participants

Participants in the November 21 Walkabout

Regrets from some who can’t come

Medalists Those who were given “John McCarthy Awards for Excellence in Research and

Research Environments” and why. Old and new SAIL accomplishments.

SAIL Sagas Some stories about incidents involving early SAIL participants

Essay: Optimism as Artificial Intelligence Pioneers Reunite by John Markoff, New York Times, 12/8/09

Visible legacies for Y3K proposes a scheme for the sustainable archiving of SAIL


Blogging’s roots reach to the ‘70s by Anne Broache and Declan McCullagh, CNET News, Mar. 20, 2007. Discusses the origins of blogs, including the proto-blog service included in the first social networking program, FINGER, which was created by Les Earnest in the early 1970s.


Internet creation myths, July 2004, is an article under construction that deconstructs some myths about who invented the Internet.


SAIL Away, The Analytical Engine, May 1995. Reviews some spin-offs of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab (SAIL) that helped populate Silicon Valley.


DIALNET and home computers, (with John McCarthy) Proc. First West Coast Computer Faire, San Francisco, April 1977.  Describes a system that provides ARPANET-like services to multiple users via switched telephone circuits, including email, file transfer and remote login.


The first ten years of artificial intelligence research at Stanford, (with John McCarthy, Edward Feigenbaum & Joshua Lederberg), Stanford University Report No. STAN-CS-74-409, July 1973. Summarizes research in computer vision and robotics (hand-eye systems and a robot vehicle), speech recognition, heuristic programming, representation theory, mathematical theory of computation, and modeling of organic chemical processes, all performed under a contract with the Advance Research Projects Agency (ARPA). Ancillary projects included the development of a multi-processor timesharing system with display terminals on all desks, advanced programming languages (LISP and SAIL), the first interactive computer aided design system (SUDS) as well as research in higher mental functions, computer generated music and Mars picture processing.



Cyclops USA, 1979-present. An irregular journal of bicycle racing and governance.


Bylaws and Racing Rules of the Federation of Independent Associations for Cycling (FIAC), 2002-present.  As founding Treasurer, then Director and now Executive Director, drafted both the bylaws and racing rules of the upstart FIAC.


Bylaws of USA Cycling, 1994-1999.  Prior to becoming a founding Director and Secretary of USA Cycling, I drafted the original bylaws, which were then surreptitiously amended before presentation to the approving body.  As a result, commercial cycling interests gained control of this “charitable nonprofit corporation” and have run it to suit their financial interests ever since.

Bylaws of the National Off-Road Bicycle Association (NORBA), 1989-1999.  Drafted the NORBA bylaws after this organization was purchased by USCF in 1989 and drafted new ones prior to the formation of USA Cycling in 1994.


Bylaws and Racing Rules of the United States Cycling Federation (USCF), 1978-1999.  As Director, sometimes Technical Chair and often Legislation Chair, reorganized and rewrote nearly all bylaws and racing rules over a 21 year period.  A major revision of racing rules in 1980 was done in collaboration with UCI International Commissaire Artie Greenberg.



Modification to: Standard Specification for Helmets used in Recreational Bicycling or Roller Skating, ASTM Standard F1447. adopted 2002. Revises the existing bicycle helmet standard to restrict its used to recreational cycling and expand its use to cover recreational roller skating.


Modification to: Standard Specifications for Helmets used in Skateboarding and Trick Roller Skating, ASTM Standard F1492, adopted 1997.  Revises the existing skateboarding helmet standard to make it applicable also to trick roller skating.


Standard Specification for Helmets used in Recreational Roller Skating, ASTM Standard F1751, adopted 1996. Provided the first helmet standard for roller skaters.  Superseded in 2002 by revised ASTM Standard F1447, above.


Human-Computer Interface

Making WYSIWYG characters shape up, Proc Protext IV Conf., Boston, 1987.  Describes a mathematical method for choosing pixel widths of characters so that lines of text most closely match their ideal widths.


A look back at an office of the future, Decision Support Systems: Issues and Challenges, Pergamon Press, Oxford, England, 1981.  Describes SAIL computer services for document preparation and other interactive services, including displays on every desk with full bitmap graphics dating from 1971.


Military-Industrial-Political Complex

SAGE like Forrest Gump, December 2012.  The SAGE air defense system, which was supposed to defend against a manned bomber attack, turned out to be a fake. Like the mythical Forrest Gump it was very fast, financially successful and incredibly stupid. Nevertheless its deficiencies were kept secret so that it could be kept going for twenty-five years so as to benefit members of the military-industrial-political establishment. It also included plans to fire nuclear warheads in our own skies but the study of that idea revealed something rather embarrassing:



Stanford Cart, August 2005. The Stanford Cart was born as a research platform for studying the problem of controlling a Moon rover from Earth. It then was reconfigured as a robot vehicle for research in visual navigation, then went into show business for a few years. It now resides in a home for retired robots while awaiting a comeback.


A computer with hands, eyes and ears, (with John McCarthy, D. Raj Reddy and P. Vicens), AFIPS Vol. 33, (Proc. 1968 Fall Joint Computer Conference), Thompson, Washington D.C. 1968.  Describes Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab research facilities and accomplishments in speech recognition, computer vision and robotics.


Choosing an eye for a computer, Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab. Memo AIM-51, April 1967.  Develops performance models for alternative visual sensors and shows, among other things, that image dissector cameras (one of which had been purchased at great expense by Stanford on advice of an MIT professor) have much lower performance than inexpensive Vidicon cameras.


Software Distribution

Modular Software Security, U.S. Patent # 4,888,798, Dec. 19, 1989 (assigned to Minolta-QMS).  Patents a scheme for freely distributing encrypted software for computers with hardware identity codes, then selling numeric keys to unlock selected parts.


Town of Los Altos Hills, California

Articles about the Town Los Altos Hills, the legal underpinnings of its pathway system and some public safety issues, most of which the City Council has consistently ignored.


Vehicle Dynamics

Kutta integration with error control, presented at ACM National Conference, 1956, proposes a way to numerically solve simultaneous differential equations, such as those used in flight simulation, by automatically adjusting time steps based on error estimates obtained from a modified Runge Kutta method.


Wallace Stegner’s Study

Here are reference materials associated with the project to preserve Wallace Stegner’s Study, where he wrote several famous books.