TOTALLY USELESS INFORMATION
Can we all agree that the phrase, “Faster than a speeding bullet,” aptly describes how things in the computer industry have been progressing over the past, say 40 years? Well, maybe not all of us; I suppose there are those who feel things should be moving along a bit faster then what they are. But for the most part, us “Joe-six-pack” types can’t help but be amazed at how far computer technology has advanced.
Point in fact:
In 1946 there was a computer called ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Calculator). We’re talking state-of-the-art here. It was capable of multiplying a five digit number by itself 5,000 times in half a second. Why anyone would want to multiply let’s say, 60,520 x 60,520 five thousand times is beyond my simple mind, I mean heck, once I saw that the answer was the same (3,662,670,400) after the first 2 or 3 times, I’d be satisfied with that. After all, we’re not talking rocket science here. Oops! I take that back. I see here in the Universal Almanac that that’s exactly what it was used for, “to calculate ballistic trajectories.”
The ENIAC could also store up to twenty (20) words in its memory. That’s not much more than a simple grocery list! However, it took up 2,000 square feet of space, weighed in at 50 tons, and used 18,000 vacuum tubes. Not too practical to be using as a laptop or even a desktop computer, but hey, this was 1946!
Can’t you just picture this conversation taking place back in 1946:
“Hey honey, I’m gonna run to the store, do you need anything?”
“Yes, Ozzie, I made a list, it’s on the ENIAC.”
“I wish you wouldn’t do that Harriet! Now I have to go all the way out to the computer building in the back yard, just to get your grocery list.”
“Sorry Ozzie, but I was out there dusting, and I remembered a few things we needed, I didn’t have a pencil, so I just entered it into the computer.”
Mumbling and grumbling, Ozzie goes out to the computer building. He returns ten minutes later, obviously upset.
Harriet, I can’t get at the grocery list!”
“Why’s that Ozzie?” Harriet asks.
“Cause it’s busy calculating ballistic trajectories, that’s why!”
“Well, don’t blame me Ozzie! I’m not the one who bought a computer incapable of multi-tasking.” says Harriet.
“They haven’t invented multi-tasking yet,” screams Ozzie.
“Well, that’s not my fault now, is it?” answers Harriet.
Albeit unfair to compare the vacuum tube computer (ENIAC) with today’s integrated circuit computers (OUR MAC’S), which, by the way, outperform the ENIAC by a factor of about one million, I’ll do it anyway, because I find this kind of useless information intriguing.
By 1992, the silicon chip inside our Mac’s–measuring one quarter inch across (not 2,000 square feet)–could store 800,000 words in memory. As one computer analyst calculated, had the auto industry’s efficiency progressed at this same level, it would have yielded a Rolls Royce costing $1.00 and capable of going 1 million miles on a gallon of gasoline. Imagine that!!
For more totally useless information, please read on.
The following is a chronology of “information processing.” Or as I like to think of it: “What led up to me sitting here in front of this plastic encased machine with the multi-colored apple on the front, typing this article!”
Bead-and-wire abacus used in Egypt.
Probably used to keep a tally of the number of stones being used to build the pyramids so the contractor could accurately bill the King for materials used. Of course, this is just a guess on my part!
Computing trays in use in China and Japan.
I’m not sure what these were, but the name suggests a holder of some kind, probably clipped onto the side of their abacus’s to hold their cups of sake and bowls of rice while they used both hands to move the beads! Once again, just a guess on my part!
Double-entry bookkeeping originates in Lombardy.
Slide rule invented by William Oughtred.
Now guys, don’t confuse this with when you used to slide your ruler off your desk in high school just to check out the legs in that mini-skirt at the back of the room!
Blaise Pascal invents “pascaline”–the first calculating machine, capable of addition and subtraction.
Fingers and toes no longer needed for addition and subtraction!
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz perfects binary system of notation that eventually will be used by all computers.
Was this guy smart or what?
Charles Babbage designs and builds prototype of “Difference Engine” for calculating logarithms.
You’d think this would be enough for any one guy to do in his lifetime, but Charlie wasn’t finished yet, read on!
Babbage designs “Analytical Engine,” a computing machine featuring printed card input, memory, and printed output and capable of being programmed to perform different tasks. Forerunner of modern computer.
This guy liked to tinker with engines, but I’ll bet he never got his hands as dirty as the mechanic who works on my truck!
George Boole publishes Mathematical Analysis of Logic, which treats logic as a branch of mathematics (Boolean Algebra).
William S. Burroughs develops first commercially successful mechanical adding machine.
Billy had the right idea; build a better mouse trap and the world will beat a path to your door!
U.S. Census Bureau holds competition for device to speed up computation of census information; Herman Hollerith designs winning tabulating machine. Later develops mechanical sorting machine. His, Tabulating Machine Co. becomes IBM in 1924.
I like the name Tabulating Machine Co. better than IBM. Herman shouda’ insisted on keeping the original name. It describes what those IBM’s are good for. A little tabulating, period!
Hollerith’s electromechanical machine, using perforated cards, processes U.S. Census results in six weeks–one third the time taken in 1880.
If I was in charge of taking the Census, I’d just have everybody line up and make them count off!
Otto Stiger develops “Millionaire,” the first commercially successful machine capable of direct multiplication, as opposed to multiplication by repeated addition. Nearly 5,000 sold between 1894 and 1935.
Way to go, Otto!
Vannevar Bush completes “differential analyzer,” first computing machine to use electronic components (vacuum tubes in which values could be stored as voltages).
Not to be confused with vacuum cleaners in which dirt could be stored in a throwaway bag!
Zuse’s Z2 machine introduces electromagnetic relays to store numbers. (Relays were capable of switching, i.e., calculating, five times per second.)
I know you’re all wondering if these are the same “electromagnetic relays” as used in telephone switching gear. I won’t keep you in suspense. Yes, they are!
Thus completes the first 2,440 years of “information processing.”
From 1940 to the present, the advances made in “information processing” are divided into three generations of computers, and are far too many to list each one separately here and quite honestly, pretty boring to read.
So, in a nutshell, it goes something like this:
First Generation: Vacuum Tubes
Pete Miner is born. Whole world hails his birth!!!
UNIVAC (Universal Automatic Computer). First commercially successful machine. Selling over 50 models.
And who say’s Apple makes too many models!
First use of term, “artificial intelligence”
Not to be confused with the term, “politician”!
Second Generation: Transistors
1958 – 1960
First fully transistorized computer. The CDC (Control Data Corp.) 1604. Designed by Seymour Cray.
Another real smart fellow!
IBM markets it’s first transistorized computers, the 1620 and 1790.
The PDP-1 by Digital Equipment Corp. is the first commercial computer to use a keyboard and monitor instead of punched cards.
Now we’re cooking! Notice how fast things are moving? A whole generation only lasted three years!
Third Generation: Integrated Circuits
1965 – Present Day
So many things took place, and are still taking place in this generation that I’ll only touch on the events that are really interesting or directly relate to us Mac people.
Pete Miner joins the navy. Whole world hails his patriotism!
Who is this guy?!
Graduate student Allen Kay writes doctoral thesis describing hypothetical “personal computer.” Later becomes top designer with Apple Computer Co.
I think he belonged to “Sigma Apple Pi.” Just guessing again!
First electronic pocket calculator produced by Texas Instruments: it weighed about two and a half pounds and cost $150.
About half of what a PowerBook weighs. Though not half the price, unfortunately!
Apple Computer Co founded by Stephen Wozniak and Steven Jobs in the Wozniak family garage: first Apple “boards” (self-assembly personal computer kits) go on sale.
While they were making “Apple boards,” all their friends were too busy to help because they were riding their “surf boards.” Bet their friends are still kicking themselves!!
Apple markets Apple ll-the first widely accepted personal computer.
$$$$ Need I say more!
Apple introduces Apple lle and “Lisa,” an important step toward development of the Macintosh.
$$$$$$$$ Things looking pretty good for Stephen and Steven!
Apple introduces Macintosh. List price of $2,495, it includes Apple’s first “Mac” software programs, MacWrite and MacPaint. Fifty thousand are sold within three months.
Let’s see, 50,000 x $2,495, Holy Cow! That’s $124,750,000! Divided by 90 days, gives them a daily gross of $1,386,111. Not too shabby!
Apple introduces Macintosh SE and Macintosh ll.
More cool machines!
The Thinking Machines Inc. CM-200 massively parallel supercomputer can perform 9.03 billion calculations per second.
What this means is, not only could you calculate a whole bunch of ballistic missile trajectories, but also play Marathon, surf the net, do some PhotoShop rendering and write a letter all at the same time without worrying about it freezing or crashing on you!
Apple introduces the first personal computers to use the PowerPC RISC Chip.
Not to be confused with Ruffles new “Mesquite Barbecue Flavor Potato Chip.”
Pete Miner purchases his first ever computer. Happens to be a Macintosh, only because a saleskid steers him in that direction.
Whole world hails his computer acumen! (For more on Pete’s computer shopping experience, read his article in My Mac issue’s #7 and#8)
Pete Miner sits in front of his Mac typing an article of useless information, a chronology, if you will, about “information processing” or as he likes to think of it, “What led up to him sitting in front of a plastic encased machine with a multi-colored apple on the front, typing this article!”
Whole world hails his………………….
See ya all next month.