Week 4: Winston chapters 9 & 10 + some

Ch. 9: The First Computers
With WWII came the supervening social necessity for something to solve really big math problems quickly. In the case of the U.S. the math problem was ballistic firing tables. Mortar shell trajectories took along time to figure out by hand or many hands for that matter. In the case of Briton it was cracking the German encryption codes. U-boats were running amok in the Atlantic and they needed to be found.

The U.S. developed a machine called the ENIAC to number crunch the firing tables. It wasn’t completed until after the war was over in 1945, but was still successful in accomplishing what it was designed to do.

Briton built a machine called Colossus to help with cryptography. As with America, the need was solved before the device was finished. However, the necessity to solve really big math problems faster didn’t end after the war. WWII was replaced by the cold war and the field of thermonuclear dynamics and trying to build the H-bomb also has really big math problems.

It needs to be pointed out, and this is debatable, that these early machines were not yet computers but really big, and I mean really big, calculators. According to Winston there are two factors to a real computer. 1: It needs a set of built in instructions that can be varied by the machine itself based on results from its own calculations. 2: In order for number 1 you have to have an extensive data store or memory system.

There is a dizzying array of acronyms of the various computers to come along in the next few years leading up to chapter 10.

Ch. 10: Suppressing the Main Frame
There were a couple of guys, Eckert and Mauchly, involved with the early computer development from chapter 9 that wanted to be businessmen. The problem was there weren’t any businesses that wanted computers. This is the suppression factor the slowed the computer innovation down. The perception was still that the only thing to do with computers was to solve really big math problems, the kind only military and academia have. Eckert and Mauchly, as with any businessmen that don’t have a market for the products they’re selling, struggled for backers and customers. Skip ahead a bit, and eventually they were acquired by a company called Remington Rand, that like to buy anything business, and built a computer called UNIVAC and made some money.

At this same time other people were still building computers for the military, they always have big math problems to solve. I’m about to gloss over a big chunk so stay with me, IBM was around since the 1930s, but it was the UNIVAC that got them motivated about ‘magnetic tape’ computers. IBM was big, with money, was able to catch up to UNIVAC and eventually turn it into history.

Another point Winston makes about suppression is had computers been seen in the business world as necessary, easy to use with a programming language, and some of the computer scientist would have stopped worring so much about really big math problems, that innovation could have resulted in cheaper, less complicated and more user friendly computers sooner.

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An additional article about applying computing power to communication is the site Flickr.com. The internet and everything that comes along with it, really has become an amazing tool for information sharing. When you wanted to share pictures of the family vacation with friends and relatives you had a few options, a slide show, passing photos around a room, mailing copies. Now, you can share them with everyone that has an account with Flickr instantly. I sound like a commercial.

Keep in mind, this was written in January and Flickr has since been purchased by Yahoo. I can’t remember how much, but it was a lot more than 5 million.
http://proquest.umi.com.offcampus…

In summary the article points out that the husband and wife team that founded Flickr did everything wrong. The conventional way to start a company like this is with venture capital, they refused all offers. Another wrong turn was to even go into the online photo market at all. There were already big player dominating. The author, in saying these thing were wrong, is trying to be clever in pointing out why Flickr is so smart. The edge they had was they took all the good things from the large services and combined it with, this is the part that makes computers and the internet amazing, online community sharing features.

I don’t use the service much, but I have friends that do and have seen some cool things done with it as well. Check out the links below.
http://krazydad.com/colrpickr/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/brevity/sets/164195/

Lastly, my blog has my thoughts on “Technologies of the Third Mediamorphosis.”

-Craig Maedgen

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