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1 Commentary for SHOT/SIGCIS 2010 on Place and Space session in the history of computing by Peter B. Meyer, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics * * Findings.

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Presentation on theme: "1 Commentary for SHOT/SIGCIS 2010 on Place and Space session in the history of computing by Peter B. Meyer, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics * * Findings."— Presentation transcript:

1 1 Commentary for SHOT/SIGCIS 2010 on Place and Space session in the history of computing by Peter B. Meyer, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics * * Findings and views are those of the author, not the BLS 3 October 2010

2 2 Fairchild Semiconductor 1957-1961 by Brock and Lécuyer Logics of the story / action:  opportunities and challenges in silicon materials  leading user interest and demand (digital aircraft control)  competition frame (“race” against Texas Instruments) Sources: Brock and Lécuyer saw documents that have not been available before. Military “requirements” re reliability, miniaturization, cost, weight, digital  Specifically (from book): reliable connections, under vibration; and greater power flow  Noyce & colleagues examined military / IBM needs for transistors, in late 1957. “No transistor on the market met IBM’s needs.”  Tangent: “Requirements” can rachet very high in U.S. military context. Alic, 2007, Trillions for Military Technology: how the Pentagon innovates and why it costs so much  Here, the requirements are not yet possible ; but within a year or two Fairchild Semi meets them and improves that technology further. Q: How contingent is all on this? Spinoffs start already in 1961. “These spinoff microchip firms populated Silicon Valley.” This is a powerful, reverberating fact.  There was a pattern of this in that area already. Other technological takeoffs have this property, e.g. Klepper (2010) on the genealogy of the early American car companies  In evolutionary language, the unit/form of interest starts reproducing and can take over.

3 3 Hypothesis: British managers in India (e.g. from ICT) planned for women to work punch card machines, but it didn’t fit the situation and failed or was adapted. Author’s earlier work shows that in Britain, women held most computer operating and programming jobs in the British public sector early, then workforce shifted more male as technical jobs were seen to be aligned with management. Q: In India: How many are in that work force? (>1000 in 1960?) How female was it? How differently gendered proportionately from Britain’s? Powers-Samas/ISI service bureau had 23, and they punched on the order of 5 million cards in first year Air India staff mixed men and women Perhaps 25 trainees out of the Tata Iron and Steel Corp in 1961. (p11) New technology in the Indian context could call for experimentation, including work force. (They might not call it experimentation.) Q: Did Indian supervisors hire differently from British supervisors? Example ICT vs Tata. Q: Punch-card trainees maybe saw this as a path to good work in the future. Accurate? Possible data source: has Indian census data from 1983, 1987, 1993 and onward. Samples are of ~600,000 Indians. Possibly computer operators are in there. Levels and trends then might frame our understanding further back. It would be brave & valuable to become expert in the history of Indian computer work. Gendered punch card work in Britain and in India by Marie Hicks

4 4 WATFOR at Univ. of Waterloo by Scott Campbell On the IBM 7040 compiling a FORTRAN program that only started and stopped took a minute, partly because the complier was designed to optimize the output code. Diagnostic feedback to the user was poor. Classes of students needed to do that, and would make mistakes and need to iterate (e.g. FORMAT statement) Universities made student oriented FORTRANs, notably U of Wisconsin’s FORGO. (Used at Waterloo in 1964 by 800 students.) Manager/entrepreneur Wes Graham starts a student project to make WATFOR Fortran. Distributes it to other universties; feedback is positive and the activity extends for decades and improves education and productivity Networks/open-source analogues:  Several universities made FORTRANs.  Was WATFOR built directly from FORGO? Did the first released WATFOR include the source code and build environment for WATFOR?

5 5 WATFOR at Univ. of Waterloo by Scott Campbell Students wrote a fast FORTRAN compiler with diagnostics in a summer, besting IBM  In the paper this technical achievement passes by in a paragraph.  (.... then a miracle occurs.... ) Q: How’s that possible? Framing info: U Waterloo is a place where people go to do applied activities; to get things done ; by selection and training and opportunity, they CAN. It may not have been known that such a speedy compiler was possible (tech uncertainty) IBM didn’t (systematically) care about student programmers at all? Focused elsewhere? Not enough programmers to address this? These particular programmers were geniuses. What were their later careers like? Was WATFOR very buggy or limited? Did IBM support the effort? “... cards were driven one hour to IBM’s Data Centre in Toronto for testing on the weekends.”

6 6 Barclays bank 1961-3 computer centre by Ian Martin... Cavernous reception area, a massive space... black granite floor... (p7) Long term design of center was secondary to the impact Barclays intended to make. The (material) computer center was framed to create an impression (immaterial). There is an economic analysis of this sort of investment: commitment device brand advertising/identity, advertising, public relations, conspicuous investment It demonstrates deep and serious investment and commitment and expertise. So when someone thinks of Barclays they also think: they seem forward thinking, smart, well- equipped. Visible, heavy, trustworthy. Not fly-by-night. They’ll be there. In accounting language the impression created is an intangible; if acquired by another company its value is called “goodwill” in the US system. “Generating publicity through technological ‘firsts’ was a [recurrent pattern] among the banks.” Maybe specially relevant in “oligopoly” situation (“big five” and “little six.”) Q: Who decided to make a public exhibition of the computer? What reasoning pro/con? Q: How’d the bank change its functions from before the computer? It “upheld traditional patterns” wrt the customer in the branches but was there change?

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