JF Ptak Science Books Post 1603
How far back is "way back", or "waaay back", in terms of history? As I've written earlier in this blog, about going deep into history in various disciplines, but perhaps in no discipline is time so compacted than in the computer sciences. Mr. Peabody (above, with his boy, Sherman) would agree, and would hardly have to go "way back" in his "way back machine" to get chronologically deep in computer history.
1954 is extremely deep in the history of electronic calculation--it is three years before Backus et alia created FORTRAN, five years before the integrated circuit was created, eight years before the first compsci department is established at Purdue, eleven years before the first Ph.D. is awarded in computer sci from a computer science department (Wexelblatt), and fourteen years before the first woman (Liskov) earned a Ph.D.(whose dissertation was A Program to Play Chess Endgames) in the field. All of which sounds like ancient history, but almost all of which takes place during my own lifetime, which doesn't make it sound so terribly "ancient".
But looking at this ephemera on membership and dues and voting on the Constitution for the Association for Computing Machinery certainly makes it seem as though so--the voting and bylaws ballot is a few mimeographed pages long and is hand-stapled at the top, the announcenments for meetings fits on one sheet of paper, and Edmund C Berkeley is hand signing his initials on pleas for new subscribers to his Computers and Automation journal. Everything looks so fresh and new and uncomplicated--and that's because it was, relative to what we experience now. In 1954 there weren't 10,000 people working in the field of computing; 57 years later the growth in involvement of people working in the field is at least three orders of magnitude, and quite possibly four--the growth in the sheer volume of printed and digitally-circulated material is probably somewhere on the order of the differences between post-Gutenberg European printing and the printing industry in the year 1990. The changes are spectacular, and they seem to be so much more appreciable when one looks at the foundation efforts from the early years.