Welcome to another "Weekly Concerns". This is a post-a-week series of interesting links, relevant to programming and programmers. You can check out previous Weekly Concerns posts in the archive.

If you have an interesting link that you'd like to see in Weekly Concerns, leave a comment or contact me.

Brief Bio: John W. Mauchly

August 14, 2014 mgroves 1 comments
Tags: Brief Bio

Welcome to the latest installment of the Brief Bio series, where I'm writing up very informal biographies about major figures in the history of computers. Please take a look at the Brief Bio archive, and feel free to leave corrections and omissions in the comments.

A special note about this week's Brief Bio. It is a guest post from my good friend Pete Shearer. Pete runs a tech blog called Pete on Software, and also has a podcast, The Pete on Software Podcast. I have made some minor edits to his post, but otherwise it's completely his own work, and all the credit goes to him.

Pete's official bio: Pete has spent his career as a technologist working on projects large and small for organizations of all sizes. He has a passion for technology and more specifically, for finding the right technology solutions to fit the needs of his clients. Currently, he is trying to do as much in the mobile and cloud space as possible because it's the future and because it's fun!

If YOU would like to do a Brief Bio guest post (or any other guest post), I'm always open to it, and I even have a list of names to suggest for you. It's a great way to learn a little history.

John Mauchly

John Mauchly (on Left) and J. Presper Eckert - Image from willemtanja.com

John William Mauchly was born on August 30, 1907 in Cincinnati, Ohio (O-H!). His father, Sebastian, was a high school science teacher. When John was 8 years old, his father received an appointment in Washington, D.C. to become chief physicist at the Carnegie Institute.

Due to the salary that his father's position afforded him, John was able to get a very good education. He put that education to good use and had quite the aptitude in electrical wiring and construction. While he was still in school, he earned money by replacing mechanical doorbells with electrical versions for people. And when his neighbors had household wiring issues, who did they call? That's right, our Johnny boy.

John breezed through high school and ultimately enrolled in Johns Hopkins University in 1925 to study in their Electrical Engineering program. Like all great minds, he was soon bored and at the end of his Sophomore year, he felt like engineering was too boring. Fortunately, Hopkins had the ability for great students to enroll in a Ph.D. program before their undergraduate degree was completed (what?!?) and in 1927, Mauchly became a graduate-level physics student.

Unfortunately, Mauchly's father died on Christmas Eve, 1928. He was able to remain at the university on scholarship, however, and he was awarded his doctorate in 1932. He eventually began teaching physics at Ursinus College near Philadelphia, PA. Ursinus College was a small institution and couldn't afford the kind of laboratory that Mauchly wanted to be able to do his research. During his research, he came across an abundance of worldwide meteorological data. The data was easily obtained, but analyzing it was another problem altogether (later, the UNIVAC would be applied to weather forecasts). Mauchly began to think about better ways to perform the calculations for the analysis, both from his own perspective and research as well as for his students. This naturally led him into calculating machines, beginning with a used Marchant calculator.

In 1936, Mauchly took a job as a temporary assistant physicist and computer at the Carnegie Institute's Department of Terrestrial Magnetism, working for his father's old supervisor. Faithful computer science history buffs will catch the "computer" in his job title and realize that "computer" in this sense just means a person who does long tedious calculations. During this time, he attempted to get an article published, but it was rejected for not analyzing a large enough set of data. This set him off on ways to easily perform greater volumes of computation. His first thought was to outsource, and he attempted to use students as human computers. At the same time, he also sought an automated solution using tabulating machines.

Mauchly's interest in tabulating machines led him to the University of Pennsylvania's Moore School of Electrical Engineering in 1941. The Moore School was working with the U.S. Army to train engineers to work weapons and communication systems for the military due to World War II. Mauchly joined up and studied electrical engineering at the school. During his time there, he met John Presper Eckert, who would become his historically famous collaborator.

ENIAC - Image from Wikipedia, Licensed for reuse

The Moore School had a device called the differential analyzer. It was an analog computer that solved differential equations by integration. The U.S. Army had the school use the device to compute artillery shell trajectories. Both Mauchly and Eckert were very involved in the project and it was this project that eventually led them to create ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer), the first electronic general-purpose computer. ENIAC was Turing-complete, digital, and programmable to solve a wide array of problems.

In 1947, the duo left the Moore school and founded the Eckert and Mauchly Computer Corporation (EMCC), the first computer company. At EMCC, their first product was called BINAC (BINary Automated Computer). At EMCC, Mauchly was responsible for the programming and applications for the production hardware. After meeting with many individuals who were interested in using computers to crush (note from Matthew: I think Pete meant "crunch", but I love the idea of "crushing" numbers, so I left this in) numbers for them, he sought out to make the software that they'd need to do their jobs. Because of this, EMCC began to hire coders.

Mauchly's experience with ENIAC led him to create "Short Code" (more on Short Code available in a paper called "The UNIVAC Short Code"), which was the first programming language actually used on a computer. Konrad Zuse's Plankalkül language was envisioned first, but remained unimplemented for 50 more years. Mauchly put his money where his mouth was about the importance of applications, too. His software mindset led to him hiring Grace Hopper to develop a compiler for the UNIVAC computer.

Unfortunately, like many tech-types who go into business for themselves, they weren't very good with money and ran into financial issues. They eventually sold the company and its patents to Remington Rand in 1950. At Rand, they created UNIVAC (UNIVersal Automatic Computer), most famous for predicting the 1952 presidential election as a landslide for Eisenhower, when human polls all favored Adlai Stevenson. The outcome was so shocking that CBS went on the air downplaying the computer's effectiveness and prediction. Look about 45 seconds into this video for Walter Kronkite introducing the UNIVAC:

After Rand, Mauchly formed his own successful consulting companies, Mauchly Associates and Dynatrend. He retired to Pennsylvania and died on January 8, 1980.

Mauchly's legacy is certain. He was a founding member and president of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and also helped found the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM), serving as its fourth president. He was a was a life member of the Franklin Institute, a Fellow of the IRE, and a Fellow of the American Statistical Association. He received several honorary degrees as well as the Scott Medal, the Goode Medal, the Howard N. Potts medal, the Pennsylvania Award, the Emanual R. Piore Aware, and many others.

Tuesday Tube is back. One programming/technology video, highlighted here every week.

This week is a keynote from OSCON 2014 by Andrew Sorenson called "The Concert Programmer".

Andrew is using the Extempore programming environment in this video with xtlang (a combination of Lisp, Scheme, and C according to the site).

Welcome to another "Weekly Concerns". This is a post-a-week series of interesting links, relevant to programming and programmers. You can check out previous Weekly Concerns posts in the archive.

If you have an interesting link that you'd like to see in Weekly Concerns, leave a comment or contact me.

Brief Bio: Konrad Zuse

August 06, 2014 mgroves 0 comments
Tags: Brief Bio

Welcome to the latest installment of the Brief Bio series, where I'm writing up very informal biographies about major figures in the history of computers. Please take a look at the Brief Bio archive, and feel free to leave corrections and omissions in the comments.

Konrad Zuse

Konrad Zuse (zoo-sah) was born in 1910 in Berlin, Germany. Some of you may be looking at that city and date and already saying "uh oh". Well, you didn't think it was just the allies making advances in computing, did you?

Zuse's father, Emil Zuse, was a postal worker, and in 1912, they moved to Braunsberg, East Prussia, which became Braniewo, Poland after World War 2. In college, Zuse studied engineering and architecture, eventually settling on civil engineering (there is some speculation that the film Metropolis influenced Zuse to pursue civil engineering).

After getting his degree, Zuse worked at an aircraft factory, where there were a lot of calculations that had to be made by hand. Zuse found these tedious (sound familiar?), so he thought about how much better it would to get a machine to do this work. He created a computer in his parents' basement in 1936 called the Z1. It was programmable, used boolean logic, and read programs off tape. It was destroyed in the bombings of Berlin in 1943 along with the plans. However, in 1986-1989 Zuse rebuilt a Z1, which is now on display at the German Museum of Technology.

Skip ahead to the 20 minute mark on this video, an episode of the The Machine That Changed the World, for some brief soundbytes with Konrad Zuse.

Zuse was drafted into the infrantry during the war, but persuaded the military to let him build a computer instead. Zuse worked in relative isolation from other major computing advances at the time. He even claims that he had never heard of Charles Babbage. The Nazis funded his work on the Z2 computer and then the Z3, which were electro-mechanical in nature. They also funded the S1 and S2 machines, which were not general purpose computers--they were designed for aerodynamic calculations of glide bombs.

This next video is an introduction to the Z3. However, unless you understand German, you should hop over to the YouTube page for the video, turn on captions, and then turn on translations to understand (at least partially) what is being said:

Zuse stared work on the Z4, privately, from 1942-1945. In February 1945, the unfinished Z4 was moved so that the Soviets would not get to it. It was later developed into a finished product, and sold to a university in Zurich, to be used until 1959. Zuse formed a company and delivered 251 computers by 1967.

It was while working on the Z4 that Zuse decided that the low level machine language was too difficult to write complex programs in. So he created a programming language called Plankalkül (the next time you get any ideas about how your favorite language is the best, maybe you should consider how many umlauts it has). This language did not get much attention, but he wrote a book about it and a compiler for it was eventually created in 1998.

Zuse's company was eventually purchased by Siemens, and Zuse retired, though he continued writing, applying for patents, etc.

Zuse wrote a book, Calculating Space, that suggests that the universe is one giant computation, which pioneered the idea of digital physics.

Zuse died in December, 1995, 85 years old. Konrad's son, Horst Zuse, was born in 1945, and is currently a professor of CS at the Technical University of Berlin.

Matthew D. Groves

About the Author

Matthew D. Groves lives in Central Ohio. He works remotely, loves to code, and is a Microsoft MVP.

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