Who Put the 'At' in E-mail?

This week's Cybershake talks with Ray Tomlinson, the inventor of Internet e-mail and a recipient of a 2002 Innovation Awards from Discover magazine. And, we also examine a new watch that keeps owners on top of important data.

He Thought of ‘At’

It's hard to imagine online life without e-mail. But have you ever wondered how it all started?

According to Ray Tomlinson, the "father of Internet e-mail," the creation of computerized mail was a no-brainer.

Way back in 1971, Tomlinson, the principal engineer at BBN Technologies in Cambridge, Mass., looked at his computer and realized a few things.

First, there were programs that allowed him to leave messages for other users of that same computer. And second, there were programs that allowed him to transfer files between computers.

"The combination of those two programs is what the first e-mail program was," says Tomlinson.

Tomlinson wrote the program that tied those two separate programs together. "It was about a two-week, part-time effort," he says.

But he also had to figure out how to differentiate locations — or addresses — of different computers. "So I looked at the keyboard and chose the 'at' sign," he says.

Choosing the @ symbol made sense, says Tomlinson, as the way to distinguish the user was "at" a certain computer. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Tomlinson was recently honored with an Innovation Award, an annual prize given by Discover magazine in recognition of revolutionary scientific work. Tomlinson and Innovation Award winners will be featured in the July issue of Discover, due out on June 18.

— Jim Hickey, ABCNEWS

More Than Time on Your Hands

Any watch can tell you the time of day. But how about a watch that tell you who to call when you're running late for the afternoon meeting?

Fossil Inc. in Richardson, Texas, has designed its Wrist PDA watch as a timepiece that will work with the popular handheld computers many busy people use to keep track of appointments and contacts.

"[It's] a watch that allows the user to beam their data from their Palm [Pilots] or their Pocket PC, and basically take that data where ever they go," says Donald Brewer of Fossil Watch.

The watch has only 190 KB of memory — paltry compared to the megabytes of space found on most handheld computers. But the company says the watch has enough room to store any combination of up to 800 different appointments, 5,000 to-do memos, 1,100 names and numbers, or 350 short memos.

Also unlike a full-fledged Palm Pilot, the Wrist PDA has very limited capabilities of adding or creating new information. So to add, say, a new appointment or "to-do" memo, users will still need to carry around their larger — but more powerful — handheld computer.

But, Brewer says, "It does support the ability that if you're out, you can trade a business card by using the infrared port on it between other watches or the Palm devices."

And it is a watch. "So, it still supports the timekeeping capabilities and allows the user to customize the digital format of the display," he says.

The $145 Wrist PDA is available now at department stores and on Fossil's Web site, www.fossil.com. It will only work with computers that use the Palm Pilot software for now. But a version for Pocket PC handhelds should be available later this summer.

— Larry Jacobs, ABCNEWS

Cybershake is produced for ABCNEWS Radio by Andrea J. Smith.