Closer Than You Might Think
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By David Alan Grier
It might be dangerous to volunteer your sister to be a use case for a software project, especially when that software project comes from the startup of a good friend. There are just too many opportunities for problems. Your sister can feel that she is being used. Your friend might…
By David Alan Grier
I was perhaps one of the last PhD candidates in the sciences to sit for language exam. I had done all of my research in English, but before I could complete my degree, I had to show that I could read technical articles that had been published in two different…
By David Alan Grier
He said “control.” I thought “pride.” We were probably both right. I was visiting my friend Peter’s business, which sells a complex software decision tool. He was showing me his offices and took me thorough a large windowless room filled with racks of computers. “What is this?” I asked without…
By David Alan Grier
Over the past year or so, I’ve heard two distinct stories about machine learning. At face value, each story illustrates a different aspect about this technology. At times, the two seem inconsistent. Yet, when viewed together, they suggest the nature of machine learning and the way that we need to…
By David Alan Grier
A new book on software engineering has unearthed an old term, “software crisis.” The author made a strong case that our programmers are not able to create the software that we need. There have “not been similar advances in relation to our software development capability” as there have been to…
By David Alan Grier
Are we in the middle of a new industrial revolution, one based on cyber-physical systems? I have regularly been asked this question as I have traveled the US to visit computer business and research labs. I’ve heard CTOs and CEOs and even computer researchers claim that we are in the…
By David Alan Grier
There is great value in reading classic literature, but computer scientists are often reluctant to read anything but the most recent articles. Statistics from the IEEE and ACM digital libraries suggest that we rarely look at anything more than two or three years old. Yet, by constraining our vision, we…
By David Alan Grier
The “most profound technologies are those that disappear,” wrote the computer scientist David Weisser some 20 years ago. They “weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.” However, some technologies require a substantial public discussion before they take their place as part of the…
By David Alan Grier
Long before we had high-performance computing, we had high-performance computing centers. In spring 1904—almost half a century before the advent of the electronic computer—astronomer Simon Newcomb proposed a “Center for the Exact Sciences.” This center would do a variety of things to support scientific research, but one of its central…
By David Alan Grier
Rumors and rumors of rumors. As the 10th anniversary of the iPhone approaches, we are starting to hear stories about how Apple might celebrate the event. The most common story seems to be one that suggests that the company will release a new version of its smartphone that resembles nothing…
By David Alan Grier
Of all the branches or disciplines of computer science, the field of Monte Carlo simulation is perhaps the least understood. It is often viewed as something quite distant from computer science, an application for computers rather than a body of research that has contributed to the development of computers. Yet…
By David Alan Grier
A recent article on the Google software repository revealed something of the current state of software development. It showed the distance that software production had traveled since its origins in the 1950s and how it keeps returning to a basic set of ideas about the organization of work, ideas that…
By David Alan Grier
Over the past eight months, I have been following stories about bitcoin—an electronic currency that has been available for roughly the past seven years. It is an independent mechanism of exchange, created by no country and managed by no central bank. It presents itself as trustworthy currency. “We have proposed,”…
By David Alan Grier
Situational awareness. This is the trend of the day. Not too long ago, my students wanted to do projects that involved big data or the Internet of Things or machine learning. Now, they want to work on situational awareness. As with much of computing, it is something new and old.…
By David Alan Grier
Eventually, I had to ask for directions to my meeting. I had been wandering the large, mostly empty Orlando Conference Center in search of a committee meeting. I had just arrived in town after a long flight and was unable to make sense of my directions. Most of the people…
By David Alan Grier
Over the past four years, I have been watching the computing community struggle with the name “cloud computing.” When the term first began to appear in the literature, many of my colleagues resisted the name because they claimed that there was no new technology behind it. Some went so far…
By David Alan Grier
The invention of the computer is a contentious subject, and it encourages me to start this column with a little bit of advice, if you will allow me to offer advice. Should anyone ever ask you to debate the origins, invention, or creation of the electronic stored program computer, politely…
By David Alan Grier
I’ve never viewed software as a controversial idea any more than I’ve considered wheels to be controversial. Wheels are simple things. They have an axle and a rim, and are useful for many things. Software is a little more complicated but is little more than a list of instructions. Yet…
By David Alan Grier
One of my former students, a young man named Devin, surprised me recently when he told me he spent about $3,000 to take a course on Ruby on Rails—a Web development framework. Almost immediately, I asked him why he needed to take such a course. I try to educate my…
By David Alan Grier
We put great faith in our electronic libraries of technical articles, such as IEEE Xplore. Time and again, people have told me that these libraries have completely replaced the traditional scholarly journal. “Journals are obsolete,” a friend once told me. “You can get more technical content from an electronic library…
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   Meet the Author
David Alan Grier is a writer and scholar on computing technologies and was President of the IEEE Computer Society in 2013. He writes for Computer magazine. You can find videos of his writings at video.dagrier.net. He has served as editor in chief of IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, as chair of the Magazine Operations Committee and as an editorial board member of Computer. Grier formerly wrote the monthly column "The Known World." He is an associate professor of science and technology policy at George Washington University in Washington, DC, with a particular interest in policy regarding digital technology and professional societies.