A Daily History of Holes, Dots, Lines, Science, History, Math, the Unintentional Absurd & Nothing |1.6 million words, 7000 images, 3.6 million hits| Press & appearances in The Times, The Paris Review, Le Figaro, MENSA, The Economist, The Guardian, Discovery News, Slate, Le Monde, Sci American Blogs, Le Point, and many other places... 3,000+ total posts
I can feel the enormous hail coming down on me right now for this title--but by comparison, this 1981 map of ARPAnet must seem somewhat like the first three minutes of creation in the Big Bang saga, in its way. This was absolutely, positively a remarkable accomplishment for the time, but compared to what it would become--measured in any number of different ways--this map seems proto-historic. Compared to not being able to construct this map because there was no ARPAnet--well, that would have been a devastating thing.
The other thing about looking at the picture of the birth of something was that--unlike many other revolutionary creations--there were many people of high influence who saw the possibilities of the expansion of the thing. Even Graham Bell and Edison had a difficult time looking into the future of the telephone...
Grace Murray Hopper. "Compiling Routines", in Computers and Automation, volume 2, no.4, May 1953. 11x8 inches, ii + 33pp. The Hopper article occupies pp 1-5. Also in this issue, keeping Hopper good company: A.D. Booth "Machine Translation" and Marshall Stone, "Medical Diagnosis", plus a Who's Who in Computers (A-D) and section 2 (C,D,E) of the first edition of the computer glossary.
It was in the article "Compiling Routines" that the pioneer and visionary Grace Murray Hooper (1906-1992, and at last, Admiral Hopper) laid out the foundations of compiling (which is a program that translates a program written in a high-level language into another language, usually machine language). Vassar '28 and Princeton Ph.D. '34, she worked at the Harvard Computation Lab on the Mark I, II, and III, and then seemed to be at a high level just about everywhere else.
[Image source: National Women's History Museum, here.]
The following from Paul Ceruzzi, A History of Modern Computing, page 367:
Computers and Automation, the brainchild of the brainy not-child Edmund Berkeley, was the first popularly-published magazine published regarding the computer, its applications, it programming, and really just about everything else. (It appeared seven years after the Mathematical Tables and Aids to Computation was published in 1943, almost entirely to the mathematics and engineering communities.) Computers was published by Edmund Berkeley & Associates in NYC beginning in 1952., beginning its publishing journey as The Computing Machinery Field, its name changing toComputers and Automation in February 1953 (in volume 2, number 2). All issues have some fair space devoted to advertising, even though the issues generally ran between 32 and 40pp. Berkeley was a real-enough mathematician, engineer and computer pioneer, but he also had a pretty large taste for making these interests pay–which was essential, as the original print runs were not very large, though his advertisers were impressive. (According to the first issue, approximately 1200 people were on the mailing list for the journal, with around 2000 issues being printed each number. All told, this is not a large print run, and thus not many of the early issues have survived.) He was not averse to being somewhat outre with his journal—in addition to having contributors like Grace Hopper and Alton Householder, he also had Fletcher Pratt and Isaac Asimov writing some pretty arresting pieces from the SciFi/Futurama point of view.
I found this very interesting history of calculating machines in the February 1885 issue of The Popular Science Monthly(Volume XXVI, No IV)--it is a wonderful piece, nicely illustrated, too. [Lucas, Eduoard. "Calculating Machines", in the February 1885 issue of The Popular Science Monthly (Volume XXVI, No IV), pp 411-452. ] I thought for sure that I had posted this before because I was so excited to find it--evidently I did not. In any event, here it is:
One of the things I love about working my way through old scientific journals is when I find the issue that I'm looking for and scroll down the list of contributors to find the significant article that I want. Long list, usually; and then, after making my way through 30 or 40 lines of tight type of the index I find it. [This by the way is one of those experiences that is being replaced by the digital library.] Even though the paper on pp 1208 through 1226 of the 15 April 1949 issue of The Physical Review looks like any other, it is today seen as revolutionary. The entry for "Physical Principles Involved in Transistor Action" by John Bardeen (two-time Nobel in physics) and Walter Brattain (Nobel '72) shows up about halfway down the index, sandwiched in some very good company (Enrico Fermi's "Origins of Cosmic Radiation" and a number of others), and does not show up bolded, or highlighted, or with an asterisk. Such is the nature of publication in the academic journal world, everything delivered with equal weight--the bolding stuff will happen later, in other venues. But to see it right there in the flesh, so to speak, fresh and new and revolutionary, and looking like everything else, is really thrilling. [See this entry for a similar report on the most valuable patent in history.]
It makes me wonder though how it would've felt to open this journal for the first time back there in mid-April '49, turning to page 1210 to see the microphotograph of the cutaway of a model of the transistor. This was the defining technical publication on the transistor1, which was the first massive step towards microminiaturization and the explosive new growth in the computer, allowing far more powerful machines to be designed in far less space, in far less amounts of time, and on and on. It is one of the first steps in the Information Revolution, moving the computer from massive racks of electronic tubes to more simple, elegant, nimble and by-far faster circuit boards with transistors (and resistors, capacitors, inductors, diodes, etc.) to make an electronic circuit. This would be the standard for computer construction, only supplemented by Jack Kilby (TI) and Robert Noyce (Fairchild Camera) in 1958/9 with the integrated circuit, where transistors are made smaller still and produced in groups on circuit boards rather than individually.
The photo above shows a cutaway of the transistor, and is the first time it was published--the first photo of what was one of the 20th century's greatest inventions.
1. The paper was published simultaneously in the Bell System Technical Journal; Bardeen and Brattain were with the Bell Labs. The Bell journal also contained another revolutionary paper in the same volume, Claude Shannon's "Communication Theory of Secrecy Systems", which is one of the most important early papers on electronics and cryptology.
The full bit: BARDEEN, John and Walter Brattain: Physical Principles Involved in Transistor Action; Lancaster, Pa: Physical Review, 1949. 1st edition. The Physical Review, Vol 75, Second Series, No. 8 8vo.
This magnificent image was--is--The Comptometer, a key-driven calculating machine made by Felt & Tarrant Manufacturing Company, a glorious instrument, encased in coppery metal, and just larger than a large shoebox. It was invented by Dorr E. Felt (1862-1930) in 1889, and in order to put his idea into production went into business with the Chicago businessman and entrepreneur Robert Tarrant, and the two made an enormously successful go of the whole operation, the machine being easy to carry, and easy to use, and saved a huge amount of time in calculating mounds of long figures.
The image (and ad, below) both appeared in the November 11, 1893 issue of the Scientific American.
This was a surprise, finding M. Bollee's article (Sur une nouvelle machine a calculer) in the issue of an 1889 Comptes Rendus spread out in front of me,pecking around in that big 10-pound volume looking for something else not Bollee. It was very easy to miss this article if you weren't looking for it, just a few pages long in a 1000-page book. But there it was, nestled comfortably in pp 737-739. It these few pages Bollee describes his machine and with particular reference to his innovative approach to direct multipilication--a fine addition (ha!) to the long line of contributions by Babbage and Clement, Scheutz, Wiberg and Grant and Hamann.
Léon Bollée: "Sur une nouvelle machine a calculer", in Comptes Rendus de l'Academie Sciences (Paris), volume 109, 1889, pp. 737-9. Offered in the original printed wrappers, removed from a larger bound volume.
An image of the machine from The Manufacturer and Builder:
I've written elsewhere in this History of Holes series about holes and electricity and the Jacquard loom and early tabulating machines--but I've never seen anything in-print from this period of time using the word "holes" to promote a tabulating device. And here it is in a Remington Rand promotional for scouting field service technicians, and printed ca., 1946:
Remington Rand at one time was Remington Arms, and then diversified to produce all manner of light and heavy electrical goods (and of course famously producing the standard U.S. Army sidearm, the 45-calber Remington M1911 pistol), and by the end of WWII the company produced a vast line of tabulating equipment (of another order of high caliber). Interestingly the pamphlet exclaims that a person working for RR could work there for as long as they wanted, that the company was there to stay.
Certainly the company would hang on for some time in one form or another, but the tabulating card division was about to change drastically. In 1950 RR purchased Eckert-Mauchly Computer Company (ENIAC) and a few years later (1952) secured another giant computer pioneer, Engineering Research Associates (ERA), making Remington Rand about the largest computer company in the world. RR would be purchased a few years later by Sperry in 1955, becoming Sperry Rand, and then simply Sperry a short time after that; later, in 1986, Sperry would merge with Burroughs and become Unisys. Somewhere in there all of these tabulating machine repairmen and techs hired fresh in 1946 would be out of their lifetime job less than a decade later.
["Typical office installations of Remington Rand equipment"]
I was looking around for one of the original references to the earliest human-tech definition of "singularity" and found it in a roundabout way, a classic reference referenced in a classic paper on singularity. Vernor Vinge wrote a breakout paper in 1993 called “The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era"1. Among many other things the San Diego State math prof quotes how the great Stan Ulam paraphrased John von Neumann saying: “One conversation centered on the ever accelerating progress of technology and changes in the mode of human life, which gives the appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not continue.” This was in 1958, and it appeared in Ulam's "Tribute to John von Neumann" in the Bulletin of the American Mathematical Society, (volume 64, number 3, part 2, pp 1-49).
It struck me as ironic that the "singularity" would appear just at the time von Neumann2--perhaps without equal in this century in thinking in terms of the computer and its applications and overall sheer brain-power--died, Ulam surfacing the term in what was basically a memorial/obituary/celebration issue of the Bulletin, the carbon-based life-form container finally failing the great mind.
It was then that I came to realize how much biologicalization has taken place in compsci terminology--not the least of which is the self-replicating and damaging "virus", which itself of course is a massive biological deal, though in the digital world it is not its most abundant entity3. E-viriology is found just about everywhere, much like its bio counterpart, which is located in every ecosystem on Earth.
Even the word "computer" has an earlier biological counterpart--the "computer" was a human tabulator, a person grunting out figures into some sort of tabulating device. (Tracts for Computers, a series that began in 1919 and edited by Karl Pearson, is filled with statistical elements intended for the human computer...)
But what strikes me first are the bio references for the bad stuff. The viruses, and then later, the worms, and Trojan horses. (I should point out the "bug" enters the computer vernacular fairly early, in 1949, via (later Admiral) Grace Murray Hooper, though it doesn't get listed by her in her 1954 glossary of computer terms as published in two parts in Computers and Automation, volume 4, 1954. There's no "bug", though there is "de-bug".)
"Virus" emerges in a science fiction effort by Douglas Gerrold in 1972, a few years before they were artificially produced, which was a few years before a virus was released into the e-phere ("in the wild"). In 1975 John Bruner unleashes a "worm" in his Shockwave Rider.
Others early viruses have biological names: Creeper (1970), Rabbitt (1974), ANIMAL (by John Walker, though not created for being malicious, 1975), Top Cat (1980), Elk (1982), Whale (1990), Hare (1996), Blackworm (2006). There are of course many more names for viruses (and company) that are not biological, but it struck me of how many of the earliest examples do have animal names. I'm not sure that I have much to say about this presently, though I did want to put the general observation out there in this note.
1. The abstract of the paper begins: "The acceleration of technological progress has been the central feature of this century. I argue in this paper that we are on the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth. The precise cause of this change is the imminent creation by technology of entities with greater than human intelligence. There are several means by which science may achieve this breakthrough..."
2. Perhaps of most interest here is von Neumann's 1949 paper, "Theory and Organization of Complicated Automata", which looks as the logic required for the self-replicating machine, in A. W. Burks, ed., Theory of Self-Reproducing Automata [by] John von Neumann, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, pp. 29-87. This was based on transcripts of lectures delivered at the University of Illinois, in December 1949, and then edited for publication by A.W. Burks.
3. "Virus" is an old word, and is Latin for "poison" or "poisonous", and which first appeared in English in 1392. "Virulent" appears in English in 1728, "viral" in 1948, "virion" in 1958. "Virus" as we know it bioloigcally today has a somewhat complicated history, escaping Pasteur and his microscope until it emerges (again) with Martinus Beijernick in 1898.
I'm not sure how to investigate this right off-hand, but I think that there is a special category in the history of art, subcat history of art and technology, subcat history of computer art, subcat using the image of the computer in art. The image above comes from the front cover of one of the early issues of the "new" Physics Today magazine (volume 2, number 10), in October 1949--it is the artwork of Paul Bond, who created this portrait of a juggler "on a matrix sheet used for plotting computor [sic] plug board diagrams", and is one of 11 such images. It illustrates an interesting article by pioneers R.D. Richtmyer and N.C. Metropolis ("Modern Computing"). Richtmyer/Metropolis have a very sober approach to the computer--mostly speaking about the ENIAC--and address its romance, possibilities, but seemingly (to me) most of all "a need for defining the limits of computing machine operation, as well as its promise". In effect, then, the authors really only address the known quantities of computing capacity in 1949, and even though tempted by looking into the future, they really do not. Their vision of the future is very pragmatic: when speaking to future applications, they conclude "by their very nature, these applications are not easy to foresee, and perhaps, therefore, this is the point at which this discussion should close".
Certainly there have been much earlier images of automated steam-driven robots with some sort of calculating brain, and images of imaginative computer-like objects...but art made by the computer seems to come a fair bit later than this issue, later still than what might be considered the first art generated via the computer (which were images made from manipulating an oscilloscope) in 1952. In any event, I think at the very least that the Bond artwork is very curious, interesting, and probably very early for what it is.
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.
I found this very interesting history of calculating machines in the February 1885 issue of The Popular Science Monthly (Volume XXVI, No IV)--it is a wonderful piece, nicely illustrated, too. The entire article is reproduced below and the original is offered for sale on our website.
By M. EDOUARD LUCAS.
Fig. 13. — The Table of Pythagoras on Slats (see below).
I was a little boy, I sometimes went for the bread to a short distance
from the house. The baker would take my tally-stick, put it alongside of
his, and cut a notch in both. Then I would go away with my bread and
the baker's account on the tally-stick.
At the end of a fortnight or a month the tally-notches were reckoned up
and the account was settled. The number of notches represented the
number of loaves of bread bought, and this number, multiplied by the
price per loaf, gave the amount of money I had to take to the baker. [Lucas, 1842-1891, above.]
Although in our present article we shall make use of systems of
numeration, and particularly of the decimal system, it is proper to
observe that the most important properties of numbers are independent of
such systems, and that they are used by the arithmetician in his
calculations only for aids, as the chemist uses bottles and retorts. We
give two specimens of properties of numbers, which we see illustrated in
the problems called the flight of cranes and the square of the
cabbages. Cranes in their flight dispose themselves regularly in
triangles. We wish to get a rule for finding the number of the birds
when we know the number of files; or, supposing that we have arranged
the files with increasing numbers from unity to a determined limit, we
seek to find the total of the unities contained in the collection. To
make the matter plainer, let us seek the sum of the first six numbers,
or the number of units represented to the left of the broken line in
Fig. 1, by the black pawns. We will represent the same numbers, in an
inverse order, by white pawns, to the right of the same line. We shall
see at once that each horizontal line contains six units plus
one; and, since there are six lines, the number of units in the whole
square is six times seven. The number we are seeking, then, or the
number in the half-square, is half of forty-two, or twenty-one. The same
reasoning may be applied
The Burroughs Adding Machine company did about as much as anyone to objectify the worker in America during the 1880-1915 period, making the worker a part of a machine within the machine. In a way it was like creating the Ford assembly line for people sitting down.
The company was founded on the work of William S. Burroughs' grandfather, William Seward Burroughs (1857-1898 and native son of Rochester, NY), who created a mechanical calculator to help him add long columns of numbers in his job as a bank clerk. American Arithmometer Company was founded by him and others in 1886, later evolving into Burroughs Adding Machine Company (1904), Burroughs Corporation (1953), and then into Unisys (combining with Sperry Univac in 1986) before sliding away.
In any event the adding machine connected millions of people to a mechanizing process of what had previously been a mental operation--the flywheel in the side of the head of the clerk/accountant in this add for Technical World (More Fascinating than Fiction) for August 1915 wasn't too terribly far from the truth. Interesting that on the other side of the head of this fellow, behind the other ear, is a pencil.
These are some of the earliest holes in one of the very first personal computers--they were made for ease of wiring and other applications in the Geniac, a 1955 DYI kit from the indomitable Ed Berkeley, a machine well in advance but much of course the inferior of the Mark 8 (1974) and the Altair 8800 (1975), the later of the two seen as being about the very first modern "personal computer". There weren't too many empty holes in those two machines.
What had no relays, or transistors, or tubes, and was manually self-sequencing and human bit state switching, the name ending in "-iac", and made in 1955? The "Geniac", made and manufactured by the smart and enterprising Edmund Berkeley and Oliver Garfield--the "Genius Almostt Automatic Computer". It was I think the first in a line of early non-computer-computer-that-really-was-a-computer-according-to-Alan-Turing computers that a person could own and own at home, and it was followed pretty close on heals by the Tinyac, the Weenyac, and the Brainiac.
The Geniac was/is a pretty neat tool--I hesitate to call it a "toy" as others have, mainly because it takes itself pretty seriously and still have fun, and includes diagrams and drawings for interesting sets of problems and tasks, from playing tic-tac-toe, to "testing" I.Q., to determining the male/female-ness of the respondent, to playing a very very mildly interactive game of uranium prospecting and alien hunting. It was a fine construction, and introduced the user to Boolean equations and the concepts of a working computer, all with hands-on education and a dry cell power course. And that's pretty good.
This was a surprise, finding M. Bollee's article (Sur une nouvelle machine a calculer) in this 1889 Comptes Rendus, pecking around in that big 10-pound volume looking for something else. It was very easy to miss if you weren't looking for it, just a few pages long in a 1000-page book. But there it was, nestled comfortably in pp 737-739. It these few pages Bollee describes his machine and with particular reference to his innovative approach to direct multipilication--a fine addition (ha!) to the long line of contributions by Babbage and Clement, Scheutz, Wiberg and Grant and Hamann.
Léon Bollée: "Sur une nouvelle machine a calculer", in Comptes Rendus de l'Academie Sciences (Paris), volume 109, 1889, pp. 737-9.
An image of the machine from The Manufacturer and Builder:
“The most ignorant person at a reasonable charge, and with little bodily labor, may write books in philosophy, poetry, law, mathematics, and theology, without the least assistance from genius or study.” Jonathan Swift, in Gulliver’s Travels (Actually, Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of several Ships). 1726.
I've produced the beginning of an alphabet of --Punkisms for variations of robot.machine/computer past and futures, science fiction indicators of possibility. Why should we stop at "Steampunk" when there's FuturePunk and DeadPunk and such to be had? So, please find folllowing a few possibilities, and accept them in the playful way in which they are offered--also, the very abbreviated descriptions of the science fiction works desscribed are open to interpretation. And please give this a "pass" for the over-abundance of hyphens.
ActorPunk: Walter Miller, 'The Darfsteller' (1954), human actors are replaced by robots on stage, as compared to being replaced by digital figures online. Some steps have been made with great care over the years by “perfecting” the imaging of women in magazine advertisement—in this way even the models who appear in the ad and are modified find it impossible to live up to the expectations of what their ads depict.
Anti-technologicalPunk-topia: Samuel Butler, Erewhon, (1872).
AutomatoPunk: Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano (1955), like Brazil and 1984, but with machines.
BiologoPunk: Philip K. Dick, 'Autofac' (1955), machines find that they can reproduce themselves in a '50's iron-bio kind of way.
BrainPunk: Miles J. Breuer, 'Paradise and Iron' (1930).
ConsciousnessPunk: Philip K. Dick, Vulcan's Hammer (1960) and the development of computer consciousness. Also David Gerrold, When Harlie Was One (1972); Frank Herbert, Destination Void (1966); Harlan Ellison, 'I Have no Mouth and I Must Scream' (1967); Robert Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966), and many others.