computing-history

“President Ronald Reagan greets CAPT. Grace Hopper as she arrives at the White House for her promotion to commodore, 12/15/1983”

Did you notice today’s Google Doodle dedicated to computing pioneer and U.S.Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper’s 107th birthday ?  Our colleagues at the National Archives at Kansas City found this photo of then-Captain Hopper during her promotion to Commodore 30 years ago in December 1983. 

(There are dozens more photos of Rear Admiral Hopper in our online catalog.)

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Happy Birthday Margaret Hamilton! The computer scientist who helped make the Apollo 11 Moon landing possible turns 80 today.

Hamilton earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and, at age 24, got a job at MIT as a programmer to develop meteorology software. In 1961 MIT was contracted by NASA to develop Apollo’s guidance system, and four years later Hamilton was put in charge of the software for navigation and lunar landing guidance. For Hamilton, programming meant punching holes in stacks of punch cards, which would be processed overnight in batches on a giant Honeywell mainframe computer that simulated the Apollo lander’s work. Her hard work paid off as the Eagle lander descended toward the Moon’s surface on 20 July 1969. The Apollo computer suddenly became overwhelmed, tasked with performing calculations unnecessary for the landing. But Hamilton and her team had prepared for such a possibility, coding in instructions that enabled the computer to correctly prioritize the most important commands.

Hamilton stayed on at MIT to head the software programming for Apollo and Skylab. Now an independent computer scientist, she described in 2009 her contributions to the Apollo software — which last month was added in its entirety to the code-sharing site GitHub: “From my own perspective, the software experience itself (designing it, developing it, evolving it, watching it perform and learning from it for future systems) was at least as exciting as the events surrounding the mission… There was no second chance. We knew that. We took our work seriously, many of us beginning this journey while still in our 20s. Coming up with solutions and new ideas was an adventure. Dedication and commitment were a given. Mutual respect was across the board. Because software was a mystery, a black box, upper management gave us total freedom and trust. We had to find a way and we did. Looking back, we were the luckiest people in the world; there was no choice but to be pioneers.”

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A perfect, minute-long survey of 1980s/90s computer animation created by Brummbaer for SIGGRAPH ‘95.

The finished LEO, which had less than 100,000th the power of a current PC, could calculate an employee’s pay in 1.5 seconds, a job that took an experienced clerk eight minutes. Its success led Lyons to set up a computer subsidiary that later developed two more generations of LEO, the last with transistors, rather than the noisy vacuum tubes used in the first two models.

LEOs were sold to the Ford Motor Company, tobacco companies, a steel maker, South Africa, Australia, the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia, among other buyers. When the British government chose the last LEO to handle its telephone billing system, Tony Benn, postmaster general, praised Lyons for “standing up to and beating on its own merits” the competition from overseas.

There was an urgent need for staff to look after accounts, sale, marketing, personnel and all the other ‘non-productive’ functions of these businesses - functions that today seem to dominate the world of work, but which a century ago came a distant second to the business of making things.
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(via UNIVAC: the troubled life of America’s first computer) - early 1950’s commercial for Remington Rand UNIVAC

fastcompany.com
Fast Company: How Two Bored 1970s Housewives Helped Create The PC Industry
Vector Graphic became one of the best-known computer manufacturers of its era. It went public. Then the IBM PC changed everything.

“In 2015, the tech industry’s gender gap remains a topic that generates headlines. It would be easy to conclude that this gap was an original sin of a male-dominated industry. But we’ve forgotten how two women from California ran a firm that pioneered influential practices such as attention to product aesthetics, vertical integration (Vector has its own in-house software developers), and establishing training networks, providing packaged PC solutions, and treating employees like an extended family. Some of what Vector pioneered is now intertwined into the tech industry’s DNA.

“Thanks to Vector, the origins of the personal computer cannot be separated from the story of women in technology. The personal computer has always belonged to all of us.”

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Did you know that the first computing center on campus at UNCG was established in Fall 1967? The Administrative Computer Center was located in the Petty Science Building and placed under the direction of Dr. Roscoe J. Allen, Sr. It was formed to serve the administrative staff as well as the academic and research needs of its faculty and students. The demands of the center were met by an IBM 1401 computer that utilized IBM cards.

Learn more about the history of campus computing at UNCG in our online exhibit.

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The story of what went on at Bletchley Park during World War 2 is inspiring but what happened to the people, the equipment and the intellectual property at the end of the war is shocking.

Here is a short film made by Google to celebrate Colossus and those who built it, in particular Tommy Flowers. Colossus was the world’s first electronic computer, used for code-breaking at Bletchley Park during WW2. A working rebuilt Colossus can be seen at The National Museum of Computing in the UK.

For more information see: http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2012/03/remembering-colossus-worlds-first.html

Grace Hopper was an American computer scientist and United States Navy Rear Admiral. She was a pioneer in computer technology, and invented the first compiler for a computer programming language, which led to the widely used COBOL language.

Hopper was born in 1906 in New York City. As a child, she became interested in how things worked and at the age of seven began dismantling alarm clocks to figure out their inner workings. It took seven alarm clocks before she figured out how to reassemble them. She graduated from Vassar College in 1928 with a bachelors degree in mathematics and physics, and then continued her education at Yale University. Hopper earned a master’s degree in 1930, and four years later was awarded a Ph.D, becoming one of the first woman to earn such a degree. During this time, she began teaching mathematics at Vassar, and in 1941 was promoted to associate professor.

In 1943, during World War II, Hopper joined the United States Navy Reserve and served in the WAVES. A year later, she graduated first in her class and was assigned to the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard University as a lieutenant, junior grade. Hopper was one of the first programmers of the Harvard Mark I computer, serving under  Howard H. Aiken with whom she coauthored three papers on the computer. Despite requesting to be transferred to the Navy, Hopper continued to serve in the Navy Reserve until 1949. Hopper worked with both the Mark II and Mark II computers as a research fellow at Harvard, and is said to have invented the term “computer bug” when, in investigating a problem, she found a moth had short circuited one of the 17 000 relays in the Mark II.

In 1949, Hopper moved into the private sector and joined the Eckert–Mauchly Computer Corporation (later Remington Rand) as a senior mathematician overseeing programming of the UNIVAC I computer. In 1952, Hopper’s team created the first compiler for computer languages, the Flow-Matic. This led to the widely used Common Business Oriented Language (COBOL), which allowed computers to respond to words as well as numbers. She retired from the Naval Reserve in 1966 with the rank of Commander, but was was recalled to active duty a year later. From 1967 to 1977 served as the director of the the Navy Programming Languages Group in the Navy’s Office of Information Systems Planning before being promoted to Captain in 1973. Hopper worked to develop validation software for COBOL and its compiler to create a COBOL standardisation program for the Navy.

In the 1970s, Hopper developed the implementation of standards for testing computer systems and components which were then utilised by the the National Bureau of Standards (NBS), known today as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). In 1983, Hopper was promoted to Commodore by special Presidential appointment. She was awarded special approval by Congress to work with the Navy beyond the age of mandatory retirement and in 1985 was made a Rear Admiral. A year later, she retired once more and was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the highest non-combat decoration awarded by the Department of Defense. At the time, Hopper was the  oldest active-duty commissioned officer in the United States Navy, and served aboard the oldest commissioned ship in the United States Navy. Hopper then worked as a senior consultant for the Digital Equipment Corporation until her death in 1992, when she was interred with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery.

Hopper received a number of awards during her lifetime, including the National Medal of Technology in 1991—becoming the first female individual recipient of the honour. Hopper’s work in programming has led to young people being inspired to learn how to program, and The Grace Hopper Celebration of Women In Computing Conference is now held annually to encourage women to become computer programmers. The Association for Computing Machinery offers a Grace Murray Hopper Award, and in 2016 the Grace Hopper Academy opened in New York City. It aims to increase the proportion of women in software engineering careers.

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in the film Licklider explains the potential for technologies like the ARPANET to improve the lives of average people by stripping out unnecessary elements like the paper a message is printed on:

“There isn’t any real need to change things just for the sake of changing, but I tend to believe that things are going to be considerably better for a lot of people when and if we ever get changed over to an essentially electronic base. It’s just fundamental that if one wants to deal with information he ought to deal with the information and not with the paper it’s written on.”