JF Ptak Science Books Post 2089
At a time when computers were big, heavy, electrically-scented, hot and expensive (ranging into the hundreds of thousands of 1953 dollars, many millions in 2013 bucks), and coming at a time when very few individual companies (exterior to the military/industrial sphere or insurance) actually owned one of these machines, Lawrence Wainwright wrote a useful guide to potential computer-buyers, “Digital Computer Questionnaire”. Appearing in the world’s first publicly-published computation/computer journal, Computers and Automation, Wainwright sets out in six single-spaced pages a very tight and logical set of questions for the would-be buyer of one of these early god-sent beasties. I've illustrated the non-illustrated questionnaire with a series of images from another article found a little deeper in the same journal, "A Pictorial Introduction to Computers", which appeared in June, 1957.
As I read through the list (excepted below) it becomes obvious that the really good questions are deftly asked, and that the possible buyer would be well on their way to having a good dialog with the seller.
The questions do have a real flavor of antiquity to them, much like monied Parisians with their detailed list of questions for their 15th century water-carrier: where are you getting your water? What sort of bucket? How distant the source? How cold? Is it sweet? Soft? Etc. Good questions that made sense for their time, important, integral--until the water carrier (like the brick/mortar bookstore, or the computer questionnaire from 1953) was replaced by something more efficient, like a water delivery system.
This questionnaire is like a communication from the future to me, a
reminder about our own current organization of knowledge and how it will seem to an observer
in 25 years (or 50, or 100) and how soon pressing issues and sustained/necessary info will be delegated to the ever-creepingly speeding "antiquity".
The questions are excellent—they are just old, and no longer applicable, much like our own will soon be.
Digital computer Questionnaire
[Lawrence Wainwright, Del Mar California]
- Are instructions and data interchangeably stored in all memories?
- Is internal operation binary, decimal, or what?
- What are the types and sizes of intermediate memory (magnetic drum or equivalent)?
- What are the type and size of slow memory…?
- What are indicators and effects (Machine stops, record is made, etc.) of faulty action by the operator, program error or defective data?
- What is its defining characteristic?
- What is its form (cards, tape, etc.)?
- What are the compiling routines available?
- What is the reduction factor in operating speed?
- If programming is limited, to how many steps?
- What are diagrams and descriptions of controls, indicators, monitor devices, program progress counter, etc. for computer, input-output means, and operating auxiliaries? What are the flow charts for instructions, data, indicators, etc.?
- What is the description of magnetic tape units?
- If cathode-ray tubesa re used, what are constructional and operational details?
- If magnetic flip-flop or equivalent storage is used?
- If magnetic drum is used, what are the specifications as to construction and operations?
- What are the requirements for maintenance personnel to number (shifts), education, training?
- How many operators are required (for 1, 2 or 3 shifts)?
- How many proposed installations have been made?
- What is the plan of the floor space required for all units…?
- Have any acceptance tests of any part or whole of the proposed installation…been held?
- What are floor and elevation plans with dimensions, weights, power requirements, cabling and ductwork requirements (including under-floor and special overhead spaces)?
Components and Parts
- What are types of tubes, crystal diodes and similar critical items?
- To what extent have chassis sections or similar sections be standardized?