by Darius Kazemi, November 17 2019

In 2019 I'm reading one RFC a day in chronological order starting from the very first one. More on this project here. There is a table of contents for all my RFC posts.


RFC-321 is titled “CBI Networking Activity at MITRE”. It's by Peggy Karp and dated March 24, 1972.

The technical content

This is a direct response to RFC-313, which is an overview of the Computer Based Instruction field, and how the field can be enhanced through network usage. The author notes that MITRE is engaged in Computer Aided Instruction research, which is where the computer itself is doing the active teaching (as opposed to Computer Managed Instruction, which is more about the bureaucracy of education).

MITRE's CAI work has focused on a project called TICCIT: the Time-Shared, Interactive, Computer-Controlled Information Television. This was a system for interactive cable TV that allowed users to use a touch-tone telephone to interact with what was displayed on the television. The graphics shown on the TV were purely computer generated and controlled by a central computer that processed the telephone input and updated the display accordingly. According to Wikipedia, the system supported up to 100 simultaneous users in the mid 1970s.

The paper attached to the RFC is about the potential for TICCIT to draw on resources from the network to improve its instructional capabilities. They discuss possibly connecting up to the Culler-Fried system at UCSB, which provides advanced mathematical visualization. They also talk about connecting to BBN's SCHOLAR system and MIT's LOGO system. There's not much substance here: the paper essentially says, “These network resources exist, and might be helpful, so we should look into them more. Here is a checklist of things we should do in order to look into them.”


Documents like these are meant to secure massive amounts of grant money, and in the 1970s MITRE was at the forefront of the “getting grant money” field. It's interesting to read a document like the one attached here, which to my mind says almost nothing and lays out a plan that is simultaneously specific and vague: there are absolutely no hypotheses to be tested, but they do have a checklist of things that they're going to do. But it's all couched in grant-language, so it's very easy to be tricked into thinking they are making an impressive proposal!

Further reading

I like this quote:

The LOGO system at MIT/AI is perhaps the most impressive system for use in a demonstration due to the availability of a "display turtle".

Turtle graphics are near and dear to my heart. The turtle essentially represents the nib of a pen as it moves across a virtual piece of paper, drawing lines as it goes. It's famously a core feature of the Logo language, which I remember being part of a one-week instructional module I did in elementary school on an Apple II of some variety in 1989. If you like, you can do a cute set of interactive lessons at Turtle Academy that are pretty similar to my 1989 class.

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About me

I'm Darius Kazemi. I'm an independent technologist and artist. I do a lot of work on the decentralized web with ActivityPub, including a Node.js reference implementation, an RSS-to-ActivityPub converter, and a fork of Mastodon, called Hometown. You can support my work via my Patreon.