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Oct. 2009 - Computer History on the World Wide Web

A monthly discussion of computer history topics inspired by recent web browsing


Vintage Computer Fest East 2009
Past, Present and Future Computer Designs
Prescient Ads
FORTRAN announcement


Vintage Computer Fest East 2009

We received news of the 6th annual VFC-east held
in Wall Township, New Jersey USA in September. Videos from the event are announced here but I am having problems viewing them on my Linux system. Ars Technica has a good write-up.

VCFe is an offshoot of the original Vintage Computer Fest held in Silicon Valley and which for a decade was an annual
event celebrating the history of computing. The first VCF was held in 1997. Based in Silicon Valley,
the organizer, Sellam Ismail, had his pick of celebrity speakers to attract visitors many of whom were computer veterans themselves.

In 1997 I was visiting Silicon Valley on a business trip and met Sellam. I clearly recall our visit to the San Jose flea-market where we
loaded up on all kinds of old (even then) computer equipment. I needed to buy two suitcases to bring home my selection ! A visit to Sellam’s
home to see his collection was a real treat : seeing machines which, till then, had been mere names to me. Sam kindly invited meeting of
friends he was arranging, the topic was the very first VCF.

Living in Europe made visiting Silicon Valley at any particular date an expensive proposition and it was not until 2001 that I was presented
with the opportunity of experiencing a VCF, and visiting the Computer History Museum in Mountain View California. That year’s VCF coincided
with the week-end I was in Atlanta on a business trip. I duly cashed in my air-miles and reserved flights to spend the weekend in sunny California.
But history intervened and my eagerly anticipated excursion had to be canceled following the tragic events of September 11, three days after
my arrival in Atlanta.

Europe has its own VCF, appropriately called VCF-Europe, held annually in Munich Germany, the eleventh edition is being organized for the weekend of 1st and 2nd May 2010 - mark your calendars.


Past, Present and Future Computer Designs

Computers are not generally known for their physical design which is usually a plain rectangular box.
That said, the iPod Touch and iPhone, themselves essentially plain rectangles, are a tour-de-force in
industrial design. There have been computers in the past which have transcended the usual trend trend.

The design of the Cray-1, is an example of engineering constraints
leading to aesthetic design. The C-shaped of the CPU cabinet allows shorter wires on the back-plane on the
inside of the C.

In 1969, the Honeywell 316 Kitchen Computer
was possibly the first computer designed for home use. It was offered briefly by the up-scale
department store Neiman-Marcus for a mere US$ 10,600 (the equivalent of almost US$ 600,000 in 2008). It
came complete with a two-week programming course. It was of course totally impractical and as far as is known none were sold.

Apple have always paid particular attention to the physical design of their computers, eschewing the "beige box" syndrome which still appears to rule the home computer market.

As computers become less of a strictly utilitarian item, industrial designers are paying more attention to their styling. The evolution of computer games shows that their styling has developed almost as radically as the console capabilities and as this article shows,even the lowly computer mouse has come a long way since its conception by Douglas Englebart in 1963.


Prescient Ads

Predictions of future technologies are often seen as quaint when viewed from the future they were supposedly predicting. Sometimes though the predictions come uncomfortably close to the reality.
David Pougue the New York Times tweets to alert us to some advertisements run by AT&T in 1993 which, viewed today, make some startlingly prescient predictions of how the then nascent internet technologies will impact daily life.

It would be interesting to find out how these ads were developed and by who.


FORTRAN announcement

As reported by Wired’s This Day in Tech October 15 1956 was the day on which the FORTRAN language was first publicly announced.
In development by IBM since 1954 by a team led by John Backus, the first FORTRAN compiler was released in 1957. The language definition was officially standardized in 1966, but before even that it had been adopted by many manufacturers and compilers were available for several machines making programs "transferable" if not "portable".

The late 1950’s brought us three important languages : in 1956, FORTRAN, in 1958 ALGOL, and in 1959 COBOL. While FORTRAN and COBOL established themselves as usable languages which are still in use and in development today, ALGOL seemed to wither on the vine. An attempt to update the language in 1968 was fraught with controversy and the language languished.
But where FORTRAN and COBOL became the programmers daily hand-tools, ALGOL laid the foundations on which computer science would be built.
The time-line of computer languaes shows COBOL and
FORTRAN as single threads but ALGOL almost immediately spawned a plethora of different languages and created a rich tapestry. Many of the important languages of today (JAVA, C, C++ etc.) owe a large debt to the ALGOL language and the concepts it pioneered.

ComputerWorld online has an ongoing series entitled A-Z of programming languages, though COBOL is on the list, neither Fortran nor Algol have made it yet. Each article is in the form of an interview with a personality closely connected to the language under discussion.

One of the very first ALGOL compilers was written by Edgser Dijkstra in 1960. It has been resurrected, documented and transcribed from its original assembler to PASCAL in a 300 page PDF document.


Première publication :
Mise en ligne le lundi 23 novembre 2009

Article écrit par :
Pufal Hans



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