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Les Earnest pretending to be a hippie


Little Lester was born in San Diego, California, and grew up there as a bad boy Upstart who enjoyed bicycling and body surfing but eventually matured into a happy badass.



Bird Thanksgiving is a half-minute video shot through our kitchen window in Los Altos Hills, California, by son-in-law Paul Riggs. It shows an annual celebration by local birds of the ripening of Toyon berries, which eventually turn a bit alcoholic. This causes the birds to go a bit wild and sometimes fly into windows and get knocked out.

     That phenomenon was the basis of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film “The Birds,” which was mostly filmed in Bodega Bay, about 50 miles north of here. Toyon trees, also called Hollywood, grow in coastal regions from southwest Oregon to Baja California, including the canyons just north of what came to be called Hollywood, California.


Here are some videos of Les giving talks of widely varying durations.

·      Lester Earnest's Acceptance of Sigma Chi Fraternity’s “Significant Sig” award, (2 minutes), 2017.03.20.

·      Setting SAIL, (1 hour 41 minutes), Lester summarizes his innovations and the creation of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, 2016.05.26. A corrected version of the slides used in the talk can be seen here.

·      Interviews of Les Earnest and Larry Tesler at the 40th Anniversary of the Invention of Internet Protocols, (5 minutes), 2014.05.10.

·      How John McCarthy Accidentally Started Uniting the World, (6 minutes), at the Celebration of John McCarthy’s Accomplishments, 2013.03.25.

·      Sustainable Archiving of SAIL, (10 minutes), 2009.11.22.


My innovations that worked to some extent or a lot: here is a partial list by starting year:

·      1942 Private cryptographic system,

·      1955 Advanced flight simulation system for Naval Air Development Lab.

·      1959 Interactive drawing and writing on a computer display,

·      1960 Cursive handwriting recognizer,

·      1961 Spelling checker, 

·      1961 Search engine (ROUT),

·      1962 High quality TV for the U.S. President and the later Moon Landing,

·      1965 Created the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (SAIL), including the first Do-it-yourself office,

·      1966 Do-it-yourself office with few secretaries,

·      1966 Personal online calendar (LESCAL),

·      1966 Hand-eye-ear robot, which manipulated children’s blocks in response to verbal instructions,

·      1966 Self-driving vehicle (Stanford Cart),

·      1967 Digital photography,

·      1969 Co-developer of specifications for ARPANET.

·      1971 Document compiler with spreadsheets, automatic indexing and numbering of chapters, sections, pages, etc. (PUB), Done with Larry Tesler, then augmented with font selection by a CMU student.

·      1971 Desktop graphical display terminals with television service,

·      1972 Social networking and blogging service (FINGER) was initially just for SAIL but became a network service in 1975,

·      1973 Online restaurant reviews (California YumYum),

·      1974 Network news service (NS), using Associated Press and New York Times Newswires,

·      1974 Computer controlled vending machine (Prancing Pony), which had a gambling option and automatically billed via email,

·      1979 Desktop publishing using laser printers, which I subsequently developed by founding Imagen Corp.

·      1979 Rewrote all American bicycle racing rules to make them less ambiguous and standardize penalties, then got them adopted effective 1980.01.01.

·      1984 Initiated a rule prohibiting blood doping in American bicycle racing, which then spread around the world in many sports and eventually nailed Lance Armstrong and his fellow crooks,

·      1984 Developed a scheme for cryptographically distributing software, which unfortunately was patented to make some vulture capitalists happy,

·      1985 Initiated a rule requiring strong helmets to be worn in American bicycle racing, which then spread around the world, then was adopted by recreational riders and has saved thousands of lives.

Retired in 1988 because of chronic fatigue and depression, the cause of which had been misdiagnosed by my doctor. That left me in a depressed mental fog for 14 years until I got it fixed in 1998. I am continuing to innovate now though it will take time for some of this work to bear fruit.


My Innovations That Have Not Yet Borne Fruit

·      1950 Planned a new electronic musical instrument called a Choremin that would be played by waving your hands near two antennas, like the Theremin, but able to play either chords or single notes.

·      1963 Began advocating that the racial classification systems used by public media and various governmental agencies be dropped because they are all based on scientific nonsense.

·      1965 Began advocating that the U.S. Interior Department augment roadside signs indicating points of interest and providing historical information with low powered radio systems providing this information, so that motorists could get it without necessarily pulling off the highway,

·      1983 Began pointing out that the SAGE air defense system had been an enormous fraud on American taxpayers and that other similar ongoing Military-Industrial-Congressional frauds are continuing today,

·      1994 Pointed out that the corrupt U.S. Olympic Committee and its “nonprofit” component organizations in various sports are being manipulated to maximize the profits of commercial interests engaged in sports because of mishandling of Federal Laws by the U.S. Congress,

·      2003 Began arguing that software patents are a bad idea even though venture capitalists, lawyers and patent trolls love them,

·      2015 Advocate removing most Stop signs and replacing some of them with Yield signs. Also modify traffic signals to promote yielding instead of unnecessary stopping which will save time and fuel,

·      2016 Advocate using a much simpler calendar than the Gregorian and a unified time system,

·      2016 Propose forming a new democratic and peaceful nation called Pacifica, composed of California, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.

·      2017 Advocate forgetting Christmas, which has several things wrong with it, including being illegal.



Curriculum Vitae of Lester Earnest is an orderly summary of a random walk. Another short biography can be seen in Wikipedia.


L. Earnest, Steve Jobs set a Precedent that I Will Not Follow. You may have heard that I have same kind of Pancreatic tumor that Jobs had and stupidly let it turn into cancer, which did him in. That did not surprise me since I knew him casually and viewed him as an arrogant jerk. I chose instead to “watch and wait,” doing annual MRI scans to make sure that the tumor remains stable, which it has done through July 2017.


Dag Spicer, Oral History Text of Lester Earnest, 2012.11.28, Computer History Museum.




L. Earnest, Les’s Bucket List. Got to get it done by 2043.


L. Earnest, The first cursive handwriting recognizer needed a spelling checker and so did the rest of the world, At MIT in the period 1959-63 I developed the first cursive handwriting recognizer, which included the first use of light pens as drawing and writing instruments and also included the first spelling checker. In 1966 I initiated the much simpler task of creating spelling checkers for use in editing text files. We gave that software away beginning in 1971 and it soon spread around the world via the new ARPAnet.


L. Earnest, ROUT, the first search engine (1961), and NS, the first network news service (1975). These services both used inverted indexes to provide rapid retrieval of documents based on content.


L. Earnest, Machine recognition of cursive writing, IFIP Congress 1962 (Munich), Information Processing 62, North Holland, Amsterdam, 1963. Describes the first successful handwriting recognizer, which includes the first spelling checker. Nilo Lindgren wrote an article about this work in Machine Recognition of Human Language, Part IIICursive Script Recognition, IEEE Spectrum, May 1965.


L. Earnest, 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.


Anne Broache and Declan McCullagh, Blogging’s roots reach to the ‘70s, CNET News, 2007.03.20. Discusses the origins of blogs, including the proto-blog service included in the first social networking program, Finger, which was created by Lester Earnest in the early 1970s.


L. Earnest, 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.


L. Earnest, 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.


L. Earnest, Radio markers needed, Feb. 1965. A letter to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior advocated that roadside signs indicating points of interest and providing historical information be replaced by low powered radio systems providing this information, so that motorists could get it without pulling off the highway. This received a prompt favorable reply from a representative of the National Park Service but then nothing further happened, as usual. This proposal still makes sense and modern digital technology could substantially lower the cost but will government authorities ever figure that out? Probably not.


L. Earnest, Kutta integration with error control, presented at ACM National Conference, 1956, proposed 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.



L. Earnest, Testimony on Software Patents, 2003.  Argues that software patents are a bad idea even though venture capitalists, lawyers and patent trolls love them.


L. Earnest, S*x, lies and politics: Part 4. Terrorists and the politicians who love them, 2001.09.11. On the morning of 9/11 I started writing the fourth article in a series aimed at restoring democracy in USA Cycling, the national governing body of bicycle racing that had been taken over by commercial interests in a thoroughly crooked way. I was planning to post it in the Usenet newsgroup but as I was writing, news came in about planes being hijacked by terrorists, and rammed into buildings so I switched topics and predicted the effects this would have on civil liberties. Unfortunately my predictions came true.


L. Earnest, E2A is worse than Y2K CACM July 2000. A wry look at Y2K doomsters, avaricious contractors and military acronymiacs.


L. Earnest, CIA’s security theater, The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) likes to pretend that everything is secret and that it is acceptable to lie whenever their misconduct is exposed.


Soon see The Cisco Fiasco. How to start a successful business by stealing technology and embezzling start-up funds then getting the victim university to buy your stock and grant a very generous license, then put their Dean of Engineering on your Board of Directors and fund an Endowed Chair in the names of the chief crooks.



L. Earnest, A Dedicated Umbraphile: Four Eclipses with More to Come.


L. Earnest, Slavia without Yugo. Reviews visits to the Balkans in 1971 and 2016.


L. & M. Earnest, Hunter gatherer cultures that survive by default, March 2009. I have made numerous trips to Alaska and have numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren there. I also observe that native people there have several things in common with those in the rest of the United States, such as having been decimated by smallpox and other imported diseases and being alternately abused and neglected by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Many groups with valuable mineral or timber resources also have been exploited by commercial interests and “helpful” charlatans. However Arctic people who live in lands that nobody else wants have been relatively free of interference and have been able to preserve much of their culture. They could do even better by commercially developing the resources that they have but there are cultural barriers to doing that.