Welcome to Computing Then

Lars Heide

While Computing Now focuses on hot-topic articles and the latest developments in the technology world, Computing Then is designed to take a step back — to contemplate, explore, celebrate, analyze, and learn from the past.

The site draws considerably from articles and documentation of IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, the leading source of scholarship and pioneering accounts in this field. Computing Then presents materials in both traditional (PDFs) and new, multimedia formats (including podcasts). The site will continue to explore new mechanisms and means for producing and distributing a wide variety of content on the history of computing, software, and networking.

— Lars Heide, Editor in Chief, IEEE Annals of the History of Computing

New from Annals

"Wat For Ever:" Student-Oriented Computing at the University of Waterloo

by Scott Campbell

University of Waterloo crest in black and whiteIn 1965, four undergraduates at the University of Waterloo wrote Watfor, a fast student-oriented Fortran compiler for the school's IBM 7040, largely because the available Fortran compiler was slow and offered weak diagnostic and debugging tools. This article describes the birth and evolution of the Watfor family and explores how it fits into the University of Waterloo's unique-within-Canada cooperative education program and pedagogical philosophy.

Click here for a PDF (903 KB) of the entire article (12 pp.).

Starr Roxanne Hiltz: Pioneer Digital Sociologist

by Ramesh Subramanian

StarrRoxanneHiltzStarr Roxanne Hiltz, coauthor of the acclaimed 1978 book The Network Nation, was one of the earliest sociologists to study online and virtual communities. Her groundbreaking work with Murray Turoff forecast the future development of virtual communities and their effects on society, politics, and law as well as helped to set a precedence for online learning and group decision-making research.

Click here for a PDF (549 KB) of the entire article (8 pp.).

Interview with Jonathan Koomey

In today's era of battery-powered mobile devices, computing is being driven as much by energy efficiency as by performance. Research by Stanford University associate professor Jonathan Koomey discovered that since the 1940s, computers' energy efficiency has doubled about every year and a half. The Inside Story interviewed Koomey to learn more about his research and his predictions for the future »

New from CS Press:
Scientific Freedom and Human Rights

by Jack Minker

IBM Century Cover

There is a great deal of difference between feeling empathy for those whose human rights are being violated around the world and actually doing something about it. This memoir, written by the Vice-Chair Computer Science (CS) of the Committee of Concerned Scientists (CCS), 1962-present, and Vice-Chair of the Committee on Scientific Freedom and Human Rights (CSFHR) of the ACM, 1980-1989, is a first-hand account of computer scientists working with numerous other constituencies to safeguard or advance the human rights of scientists throughout the world.

Drawing from the author's considerable archives from the period, Scientific Freedom and Human Rights is a treasure trove of historical information about a critical — and relatively unsung — human rights campaign, its successes and heartbreaking challenges, and possible lessons to be applied to future human rights campaigns.

Jack Minker is Professor Emeritus, Computer Science (CS), at the University of Maryland. He is a leading authority in artificial intelligence, deductive databases, logic programming, and nonmonotonic reasoning as well as an internationally recognized leader in the field of human rights of scientists.

Minker has had a long and distinguished career in CS, and has received numerous awards both for technical contributions and for his truly unprecedented role in organizing and stimulating scientific discourse around the world. Organizations that have recognized Minker's work include IEEE, ACM, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the American Association for Artificial Intelligence (AAAI), and the New York Academy of Sciences.

Read an excerpt from the book (PDF)

Purchase the book — enter code DZWE5FVE at checkout to receive a 15% discount.

Annals through the Years

For three decades Annals has been publishing path-breaking academic scholarship, pioneer accounts, and department pieces detailing the rich history of computing around the world.

"Annals Through the Years" highlights this material with a few selections from each year. These selections, chosen for their importance and/or continuing interest, will be rolled out on Computing Then every several weeks from the earliest volumes forward.


Stalking the Elusive Computer Bug

by Peggy Aldrich Kidwell

Stalking the Elusive Computer Bug The terms "computer bug," "software bug," and "debugging" have long been ubiquitous in the IT world, and in recent decades, with the broader public. In this engaging short article, historian Peggy Kidwell examines the history of the term "bug," and its use in engineering, and more specifically, in computing and software. She unravels truth from myth as she explains how a moth was actually found in 1947 in one of the relays of the malfunctioning Harvard Mark II (a tale commonly cited as the origin of the term). The moth was removed and taped to the Mark II logbook (and now resides at the Smithsonian Institution), but the term had been used by engineers for many decades to designate a problem or roadblock to the successful design or operation of various technologies, and had been adopted by Harvard personnel, and perhaps others, for at least several years in reference to problems with the operation of digital computer systems. The very fact that the moth was saved was because of the existence of the terminology, the language was not the result of this incident—though the story probably has lent weight to the accelerating usage of the terms "bug" and "debugging." Kidwell provides a highly interesting exploration of the history of this computer terminology, while making an important broader point of our need to more thoroughly study the history and processes of debugging computer hardware and software. In general far more attention has focused on design of hardware and software than on its maintenance—despite the tremendous time, skill, and expense of fixing systems and keeping them running.

Click here for a PDF (731 KB) of the entire article (5 pp.).

The ENIAC Patent

by Charles E. McTiernan

The ENIAC PatentThe ENIAC patent, and particularly the testing of the patent in the famous Honeywell versus Sperry Rand court case (180 USPO 670), were pivotal moments in the computing field with significant potential ramifications for innovation in computing technology, and the trajectory of firms within the computer industry. The author of this Anecdote, Charles E. McTiernan, was an U.S. Army captain first stationed at Aberdeen Proving Ground's (APL) Ballistic Research Laboratory in 1944, and later APL's Instrumentation Section (in both cases giving him exposure to the ENIAC project as it progressed). After the war, McTiernan became a patent attorney, working in the U.S. Patent Office, and later, a corporate patent attorney—first for IBM, and in 1960, for Sperry Rand. From his unique set of vantage points he traces the history of the development of the ENIAC patent application, the violation of the property rights of ENIAC's inventors J. Presper Eckert and John Mauchly, the nearly decade-long period where the patent was not examined, negotiations with computer industry firms on royalties for the Sperry Rand-held ENIAC patent (Sperry Rand's UNIVAC division was in part the legacy of the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation), and the trial and ruling that invalidated the patent in 1973.

Click here for a PDF (260 KB) of the entire article (6 pp.).