Events and Sightings Web Extras
Mary Croarken and Nathan Ensmenger, Editors
Because of space considerations in the April-June 2002 issue, we were unable to feature the following items in the Events and Sightings department.
Computer Museum History Center Lectures
The Computer Museum History Center continues to hold its regular series of lectures on the history of computing. This past year the Center has sponsored talks by numerous computing pioneers, including Donald Knuth, Frederick Brooks, Jr., Douglas Englebart, and Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux. During his 19 September 2001 lecture, Torvalds told the story of how he went from writing code as a graduate student in Helsinki in the early 1990s to becoming an icon for open-source software by the end of the decade. On 6 November, Donald Knuth opened the floor to questions about anything and everything you ever wanted to know about computer programming, spontaneously answering questions posed by audience members.
Upcoming lectures at the Computer Museum History Center include talks by Steve Russell and Nolan Bushnell on "The Early Years of Computer Gaming" (7 May), Regis McKenna on "Early Technology Marketing Efforts" (4 June), and Al Shugart on "Half a Century of Disk Drives" (5 September). The full schedule of lectures and events can be found at http://www.computerhistory.org/events/.
University of Pennsylvania
Action this day
When Alan Turing and his colleagues at Bletchley Park wrote to Winston Churchill in 1941 to complain about the lack of computing resources for code breaking, Churchill responded by allocating the necessary equipment and wrote "Action this day" on the orders he issued. To commemorate this significant event, the Bletchley Park Trust held a series of six lectures in October 2001 at both the Royal United Services Institute in Whitehall, London, and Bletchley Park. The lecture of most interest to Annals readers was given by Jack Copeland from the University of Auckland, New Zealand who spoke on "Colossus and the Birth of the Modern Computer."
A print version of Jack Copeland's lecture-with the slightly different title of "Colossus and the Dawn of the Computer Age" can be found in Ralph Erskine's and Michael Smith's Action This Day (Bantam, London, 2001).
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
Conservatoire Nationale des Artes et Métiers
The collections of the Conservatoire (CNAM-France's national academy for arts and trades) include numerous historic objects relating to the history of computing, such as the 17th century adding machines of Blaise Pascal, the tabulating system Herman Hollerith exhibited at the Parisian Exposition Universelle of 1889, and more diverse modern instruments. Historians will be pleased to know that the catalog of the museum is now online (http://www.cnam.fr/). For an object, the catalog gives its size, the materials from which it is made, the date it was received by the museum, the date it was made, the maker and/or designer, and general categories in which it is placed (such as mechanical calculation). There is also a provision for mentioning associated collections, listing references, and providing images and animations. These aspects of the catalog are still very much a work in progress. The information provided is in French.
Great Computer Myths: A talk by J.A.N. Lee
J.A.N. Lee volunteered to address a meeting of some 40 members of the Computer Conservation Society at the Science Museum in London on 16 December 2001 on the topic of "Great Computer Myths." As many of the audience were contemporaries of the events in the history of computing (who have been accorded mythical status) this was a daunting task.
He noted that the most important thing in defining a historical event is to ensure that there are enough adjectives added to it to make an indisputable case. The world's first, stored-program, electronic computer defines the Small Scale Experimental Machine in Manchester in terms that are difficult to dispute.
The other issue with defining important events-one that affects all history-is that events are "remembered with advantages" not necessarily by those involved but by those who relate the tale. The famous story of Grace Hopper's discovery of the first computer bug stuck in a relay (and her subsequent pasting of said bug into the error log), is one such example. J.A.N. Lee's presentation provoked some lively discussion and brought some alternative myths to light.
The Newcomen Society, London