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Issue No.01 - January-March (2007 vol.29)
pp: 85-89
Walter F. Bauer , Encino, California
Recollections of Walter Bauer's career, which he began as operations director at Ramo-Woolridge, and which primarily involved Informatics, which he cofounded. Numerous anecdotes about early computers, notably involving IBM, CDC, and Univac, are recounted.
Informatics, early computers, IBM, CDC, computer humor
Walter F. Bauer, "Computer Recollections: Events, Humor, and Happenings", IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, vol.29, no. 1, pp. 85-89, January-March 2007, doi:10.1109/MAHC.2007.2
1. The adjectival phrase "stored program" was an important distinction among computers. Many card or plug programmed computers existed and were regarded as some kind of "poor relation." In 1950, approximately five stored-program computers were operating: Whirlwind at MIT, the SEAC (Standards Eastern Automatic Computer) at the National Bureau of Standards, a "Machine 13" in the intelligence community (an early 1103), the EDSAC, in England, and the SWAC (Standards Western Automatic Computer) at the University of California, Los Angeles. The word "approximately" is used advisedly since some of these might well be described as "non-operative" at the time because of the technology's newness.
2. One of my earliest recollections was that of an embarrassment. On looking at my first SEAC program, I noted that the first eight words called for the paper tape to be read into the computer to fill the memory. But how in the world, I wondered, did the first eight words get into the computer? I couldn't show my naivete by asking someone. I finally learned: when the paper tape was put into the computer and the start button pressed, the tape's first eight words were automatically read in.
3. One of my mentors, John W. Carr III, who later became ACM president, was most prescient about the new technology. He once amused me with an exchange that occurred when he was talking with a linguist interested in automatic language translation. John said: "He asked, 'Can it handle phonemes?' I said, "Sure it can.'" Then John said to me, "Hell, I don't even know what a phoneme is."
4. In the 1950s and 1960s, there were many attempts to develop specialized computers. Computers were developed especially for inverting matrices, and for the solution of partial differential equations. None of these gained a foothold in the technology, as the general-purpose computer continued to be most efficient and most economical. However, many special-purpose computers were being developed for control systems and specialized military applications.
5. Some have likened the transition in computers over the decades from the few "Priests" of the profession to the common, general-public usage and understanding of the machines (via personal computers) to that of the Reformation; however, there is no record of Bill Gates having nailed 95 theses on IBM's door.
6. American Totalizator was the premier company for computing and displaying pari-mutuel odds at racetracks throughout the country.
7. It was commonly believed that IBM's success was in large part due to its lead in peripheral equipment such as printers and card punching machines.
8. The event is related in T.J. Watson's book, Father, Son, & Co. , (Bantam, 2000 ) but does not include the spicy ending of the sulfuric acid in the tank car.
9. This on the theory that names like Cellophane and Xerox came into general use to the detriment of their respective companies because they were not protected.
10. The "MARC" part of Bomarc stood for Michigan Aeronautical Research Center, the predecessor name of the Willow Run Research Center.
11. J.W. Carr and W.F Bauer, "On the Demonstration of High-Speed Digital Computers," J. ACM, vol. 1, no. 4, 1954, pp. 177–182.
12. The SEAC was developed by the National Bureau of Standards and began operation in approximately 1949. It was fully stored-program in design and used magnetic delay line memory with 512 (16 bit) words of storage, whether or not that much storage was necessary, and a command execution time of approximately 16 milliseconds.
13. To be rigorously accurate, some programs for matrix calculation associated with game theory and multivariate optimization were sold in the early 1960s but were priced in the range of hundreds of dollars, and total sales were modest. One of these sellers was CEIR, Council for Economic and Industrial Research.
14. Informatics purchased one of the Hughes Dynamics pieces of business. It was the Mark I File Management System, which later devolved into Mark IV—the first software program in the world to reach cumulative revenue levels of $19 million and later, $100 million. Most of Hughes' projects were in very early stages and, except for Mark IV, did not materially or directly affect the computer industry.
15. The capitalization of software development costs was unknown through about 1967. At that time, Arthur Young allowed us, Informatics, to capitalize certain Mark IV improvements. This is believed to be the first time a software-type asset was allowed to appear on a balance sheet.
16. Perhaps the continuing success of Mark IV, the first computer program to accumulate substantial sales, was a major factor in changing minds in the financial industry.
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