Memorii, vol. I-II lA great non geek but technical report of the WW II era computer pioneers including Turing von Neumann Zuse in Europe and others Atanasoff has been presented by others as being an underdog but he was apparently a crank who died rich Was Atanasoff s graduate assistantater killed because he was the only other witness in a patent trial who could testify to their use of vacuum tubes as relays Zuse had a blind programmer and was trying to build his computer in Europe while it was being bombed Did Braille influence the development of binary characters Turing s interactio While Jane Smiley is a fabulous writer this was far from one of her better efforts There are a number of problems first what should have been an exciting story of a man robbed of his invention turns out to be a dry recitation of facts not well put together and surprisingly not well written Second almost all the material seems to come from the patent trial and is highly biased There s no doubt that Atanasoff was one of the inventors of the computer but to assert that he is the inventor seems unfair to the other people also instrumental in its birth Smiley makes a good case that Atanasoff created the forerunner of Eniac and that it partially functioned and was probably entitled to patent protection if Iowa State had recognized its value but it didn t and neither did Atanasoff nor the miliary nor anyone else except the Eniac group who then built their own and commercialized the technology So from a patent point of view he could be considered the inventor of a particular generation of computer but Atanasoff was not the person who brought the computer to the world The book reads partially as a Full Steam Ahead, Felix: Adventures of a famous station cat and her kitten apprentice legal brief explaining the evidence for why Atanasoff should be considered the inventor and not the Eniac group rather than telling a story of what seemike some very interesting people Lastly the book is mostly dumbed down There is ittle discussion of the technology how it worked why choices were made other than ack of money and time and how it has evolved into what we know as the computer This book says it is a biography of Atanasoff but it talks just as much about Zuse Turing Von Neumann Eckert and Mauchly The ABC was important the first electronic digital computer but it wasn t a universal machine ENIAC 1946 was a universal Turing machine but the programming was still done by physical rewiring It was the SSEM and Mark I 1948 out of Manchester that were the first computers that used software storing programs in the same way they stored data A compiler for example was only possible on the Mark IAnyway the book is mostly about who got what ideas from In the Balkans you hear many seemingly crazy things Some of them are trueFor example in the ate 1980 s I ived in Bucharest During that time several unwashed strangers approached me shaking with terror to whisper that the secret police were building a network of secret tunnels under the city one of which had an outlet in the music school across the street from the US Embassy s Consular Section building I istened politely but thought yeah right whatever a network of tunnelsI eft Romania before the shooting started but ater read newspaper reports that indeed the secret police had built a network of tunnels with the outlet near the US EmbassySimilarly here in Bulgaria people will tell you sometimes at ength that the computer was actually invented by an American of Bulgarian ancestry named John Atanasoff 1903 1995 who was then cheated out of the recognition he deserved Don t rush to dismiss
Them While This Statement Is While this statement is depending on your definition of invented cheated and deserved there is a strong case for Atanasoff including a 1973 US Federal Court decision Honeywell v Sperry Rand which assigned Atanasoff the credit for inventing the automatic electronic computer Best selling fiction writer Jane Smiley A Thousand Acres Moo has engaged in an unlikely attempt to rehabilitate Atanasoff Since there is a Baghdad: City of Peace, City of Blood limit to the amount of time that I given the necessity of eating sleeping and pathetic attempts to earn aiving can spend taking in Balkan related writing I was pleased to see that this book is available in 8 hour unabridged audio format so it can be ingested while driving and exercising for exampleThis is a good book to experience in this manner Like many successful authors Smiley seemingly has Imagine That! left behind the tyranny of editors As a result there are a few instances of unclear writing and borderlineibellous statements More freuently the book has a bad case of No Index Card Left Behind Syndrome meaning that no detail is too small tangential or irrelevant to be excluded As a result the book includes an explanation why the university Elena's Conquest land grant system cameater to the southeastern section of the US than other areas the full titles and authors names of the children s science books that competing scientists read when young and a Sister of My Heart list of distinguished Hungarians of the early twentieth century There are many many other examples However this great pile of detail is somehowess bothersome when heard than read The experience is King Alfred's Version of St. Augustine's Soliloquies like being with a friend whoearned some interesting stuff and is relaxed enough in your presence to Rescuing Gus let her knowledge flow naturallyThe factual claims in Smiley s underdog genius story have drawn some abuse onine especially from partisans of rival scientists claims but I m not sure that this means that they are not true However even sympathetic claims but I m not sure that this means that they are not true However even sympathetic will notice Smiley s tendency to interpret all available facts in Atanasoff s favor For example when a rival scientist stays at Atanasoff s home and Atanasoff s wife notices that the guest s bedroom Class of 92: Out of Our League light is on far into the night this is taken as evidence that the rival scientist is busy making notes in order to steal Atanasoff s ideas Possibly true but maybe he was an insomniac Afraid of the dark Reading an especially engrossing novel Writing a passionateetter to his wife In the habit of sleeping with the ight onI invite you to study the case of John Atanasoff as a exercise in divergent thinking and using your own good judgmentFrom the Balkan angle this story will seem familiar to anyone who has ever talked to a Serbian about Nikola Tesla It highlights how the same set of #Facts Can Array Themselves #can array themselves in a person s mind when shined through the ens of differing cultural heritage and national pride Like Atanasoff Tesla died in relative obscurity in the US in spite of undeniable. From one of our most acclaimed novelists a David and Goliath biography for the digital ageOne night in the How the West Was Lost: Fifty Years of Economic Folly--and the Stark Choices Ahead late 1930s in a bar on the Illinois–Iowa border John Vincent Atanasoff a professor of physics at Iowa State University after a frustrating day performing tedious mathematical calculations in hisab hit on the idea that the binary number system and electronic switches combined with an array of capacitors on
CHARACTERS The Man Who Invented the ComputerEarly testbed computers They were slow and hampered by unreliable hardware and unrefined software but theirs is the most interesting part of the story highlighted here A special challenge was the storage of inputs outputs and intermediate results punched cards and tapes input plugboards charred dots on cards sound waves bouncing back and forth in a tube filled with mercury electron beams inside early video tubes none of these asted ong but they all bear testimony to ingenuity If one thing is missing in this book it is a better insight into the personal ife of John Atanasoff supremely inventive and systematic yet also somewhat self effacing One would have iked to know him better indeed to get better understanding of many of the personalities named above However we are too Moonrise late now The final drama played out in 1973 in a courtroom in Minneapolis where the Honeywell corporation claiming that Atanaoff was the original inventor of the foundations of theater ENIAC contested a 1964 patent given to Mauchly and Eckert By then computers had evolved and had entered wide use so the uestion was ess of royalties none of the inventors got rich than of prestige After extensive testimony the court awarded the priority to Atanasoff the controversy ought to have ended there but as the ast chapter makes clear it did not and hard feelings persisted Before I opened this book I had read about the early history of computers in a delightful book with many color illustrations published in 1984 by Stan Augarten and titled Bit by Bit If you can find a copy by all means read it It presents a wider history than this one from early mechanical calculators to the Apple computer But on one point it may be uestioned after telling the story of the first Iowa computer the book notes that Atanasoff after eaving Iowa State in 1942 ost all interest in computers That is not at all what one reads here one just gets the feeling that Atanasoff was overtaken by a Alien Alpha larger effort with generous funding organized by those who appropriated his ideas The Iowa school was supposed to apply for a patent after Atanasoffeft for the war effort but neglected to do so Read both books and judge for yourself I ooked up the com web site where both books are offered for sale Bit by Bit through dealers in used books together with comments by readers and their evaluations rated from one star to five Interestingly Bit by Bit is uniformly and deservedly rated with five stars while with The Man who Invented the Computer half the reviews including one by a John Mauchly award just one star the owest rating There must be some explanation for those skewed ratings and one wonders what it might be If only the two books could somehow be merged The modern computer had many early developers The book focuses on Atanasoff original ABC computer and other key people involved in development of the computer The computer evolved as numerous people worked to create workable machines mostly in order to further their nations efforts in World War II An interesting ook at the various characters involved in the invention of the computer Whether John Vincent Atanasoff truly invented the computer or not is still a controversial subject among some circles but there is no doubt that Atanasoff and graduate student Clifford Berry invented a computing machine while Atanasoff was a physics professor at Iowa State University then Iowa State College in 1939 The device was created specifically to solve differential euations to aid Atanasoff in solving physics problems that were incredibly aborious and time consuming to work using traditional methods of the day The Atanasoff Berry Computer ABC as it came to be known was shown to work on multiple occasions and in the 1973 decision of a patent case that determined the origins of the first digital electronic computer the judge decided that the ABC which predated the ENIAC computer was in fact the first and some of its pioneering concepts were incorporated into the ENIAC by John Mauchly who visited Atanasoff in Ames IA to see the ABC before starting work on the ENIAC and J Presper EckertAs an alum of Iowa State University and its Computer Science department which is based out of #a building named after atanasoff i am of #building named after Atanasoff I am of supportive of the patent decision What I found most interesting about Smiley s book was that while it centers around Atanasoff s work she weaves in the tales of other significant individuals who contributed significantly to the invention of the computer including Mauchly and Eckert Konrad Zuse who basically invented his own computing machine in his parents basement while isolated in Germany before and during WWII and Alan Turing and Johnny Flowers who worked on code breaking machines at Bletchley Park in England that were critical to the Allied victoryHaving just heard Jane Smiley talk about this book during a return visit to Iowa State University ast night I particularly iked her characterization of John Mauchly not as a thief or villain but as a conduit who helped get Atanasoff s groundbreaking ideas out of the somewhat isolated and grant university in the middle of Iowa to the commercial world where the power of capitalism and availability of resources to fight the war helped propel the innovation further and further to the point where the phone in my pocket can now solve Atanasoff s physics problems a million times faster than the ABC and without punch cardsOverall I enjoyed this book a ot and it has piued my interest to read other accounts and biographies of all the significant individuals involved in the origin of the computer I would have given 4 stars but the writing seemed a bit disjointed at times and glossed over aspects that I would have Beautiful Ghosts liked to see explored in detail I wasooking forward to reading this but was pretty disappointed The author has obviously spent a ot of time researching pretty disappointed The author has obviously spent a ot of time researching facts Unfortunately she spends most of her time repeating every bit of information she found instead of constructing a compelling narrative
It S A Rather Cluttered Biography Populated By Too Manys a rather cluttered biography populated by too many interacting in a complex enterprise Conseuently the character of the protagonist Atanasoff fails to develop any real depth I ended up knowing what he did and when he did it but I never felt a connection with him which a successful biography should stimulate He was a brilliant and uirky character but the depiction of his personality remains superficial in Jane Smiley s accoun. Almost certainly stole critical ideas from him But in 1973 a court declared that the patent on that Sperry Rand device was invalid opening the intellectual property gates to the computer revolution Jane Smiley tells the uintessentially American story of the child of immigrants John Atanasoff with technical clarity and narrative drive making the race to develop digital computing as gripping as a real ife techno thriller. Genius If you view these stories from the American point of view these men were victims of bad F. Scott Fitzgerald luck combined with their inability born partly of self centered arrogance andack of practicality to play according to the rules of the society which hosted them They therefore deserved or The Devil Hath Been Raised: A Documentary History of the Salem Village Witchcraft Outbreak of March 1692; Together With a Collection of Newly Located and Gathered Witchcraft Documents less theiress than happy fates From the Balkan point of view these men were preyed upon and betrayed by jumped up American hypocrites whose only real talents were for theft and deceptionThis book in whatever form you consume it is an opportunity for you to pay your money and take your choice The history of computing is one of my favourite topics While I had heard about Atanasoff and his ABC computer before and even that it was judged to be the first computer in a egal case I never knew the details of either This book does a good job of covering both the ABC and the early years of modern computingDespite the book s name Smiley realizes that one person did not invent the computer What we think of as a modern computer is a broad collection of ideas including high speed random access memory secondary storage eg disk programmability and of course accurate and high speed computationWhile these ideas might seem obvious today in the 1940s they not only had to be discovered for the first time but also reliable and efficient implementations had to be found Most early computers up to and including ENIAC did not implement them all and so are not really modern computers The ABC for instance only solved systems of inear euations It could not be programmed to do anything else To call the ABC the first computer is not satisfying since programmability is one of the key elements of a modern computerSmiley understands this and so spends time discussing the ideas and accomplishments of other computer researchers of the day The invention of the computer was a group effort that combined both theoretical and practical ideas from many people Atanasoff was probably the first to implement a few of them but he didn t implement them all and may not have grasped the idea of a computer being a universal machine that could be programmed to do any computation Konrad Zuse may be a better candidate for the title inventor of the computer since he implemented the first Turing complete electronic computer machine in 1941The book ends with a discussion of John von Neumann Von Neumann is inked to the invention of the computer thanks to his name being the only one on the draft report of the EDVAC The report was a team effort but von Neumann was the rock star one of the greatest mathematicians of the century even ignoring his work on computation He also had military and political connections and so ultimately got credit than he probably deserved Yet he was a fascinating and important figure and much of the work he ater did on his own computer project was also important While it can be said that he definitely did not invent the computer he did help popularize it and had a hand in designing some of its basic components He also understood the importance of Alan Turing s theoretical work that put the instructions for controlling a computer into its memory along with all the other data This is an interesting book on a relevant timely and somewhat controversial subject Relevant because hardly anyone s ife on Earth is unaffected by computers they handle communications control machinery perform intricate bookkeeping for banks and credit companies keep track of inventories store images and contents of books edge out printed newspapers and much Timely because relatively few computer users know what makes those machines tick or are aware of the amazing story of their beginnings they are still evolving And controversial we will come to that too Their arrival was rather unexpected even HG Wells never included them in any future scenario in his sci fi books of the first half of the 1900s The full story would be too much for any ordinary the 1900s The full story would be too much for any ordinary or for any ordinary reader so Jane Smiley wisely focuses just on early developments when inspired individuals introduced basic principles and constructed rudimentary hardware before solid state electronics gave computers mind boggling versatility speed and complexity The main thread here is the ife and career of John Atanasoff physicist at the Iowa State College Buddhism: Introducing the Buddhist Experience later University in Ames Together with Clifford Berry he designed and built there at the end of the 1930s the Atanasoff Berry Computer ABC the world s first electronic computer using vacuum tubes a storage drum of electric capacitors and an output encoded on charred computer cards Those output cards by the way missed about one in 100000 signals which sounds excellent but is unacceptably high Shades of hanging chads uite a few other individuals contributed to early progress Alan Turing in England formulated the basic theory Konrad Zuse in Germany devised computers with interlocking bars and telephone relays Johnny Von Neumann further developed the basic concepts and made them widely known Tommy Flowers also in Englanded the design of the Collosus computer that broke German codes during WW II John Mauchly and Presper Eckert produced ENIAC Howard Aitken created Mark I at IBM and others Venues were as diverse as the secret British facilities at Bletchley Park and Dollis hill the Moore college of Engineering in Philadelphia a barn in the Austrian village of Hinterstein and a Minneapolis courtroom All modern computers are based on the mathematical manipulation and storage of numbers generally encoded in base 2 Such a binary code using only numerals #1 and 0 is the simplest way of representing whole numbers the imited notation can make encoded numbers uite ong but #and 0 is the simplest way of representing whole numbers the imited notation can make encoded numbers uite ong but is a minor problem compared to working with additional digits as ENIAC did interestingly the genetic code uses base 4 very close to binary This book includes appendices that try to explain binary math to average readers and the kind of calculations which became feasible with the new tools Lay readers following Smiley s mathematical sampler may need interest and ability in visualizing complex abstractions All these principles can be implemented in various ways telephone relays developed for rotary dials were uite reliable but vacuum tubes were much faster and transistors much durable and compact Nowadays microscopic transistor circuits deposited and etched on silicon chips have all those virtues use power sparingly and are blazingly fast The basic ideas however date back to the. Moving drum to serve as memory could yield a computing machine that would make his A Grant County Collection: Indelible, Faithless and Skin Privilege life and theives of other similarly burdened scientists easier Then he went back and built the machine It worked The whole world changed Why don’t we know the name of John Atanasoff as well as we know those of Alan Turing and John von Neumann Because he never patented the device and because the developers of the far better known ENIAC.