A Short History of Computing Part I
I was reading the Silmarillion the other day, and I thought I would try to emulate Tokien's style using a different subject. So I banged this monstrosity out.
In the beginning, many years ago as mortal men measure time, was Charles Babbage, he who is the Elder King. Created in his thought were two mighty devices, they that are named the "Difference Engine" and the "Analytical Engine." However, the spirit within him burned as a flame, and ever he would attempt to better his original ideas, and so it came to pass that neither of these legendary machines ever were completed in full. With Babbage worked Ada Lovelace, who was the daughter of the famous bard George Gordon that was Lord Byron, and out of her thought sprang the first "computer program", that, if fortune had been kinder, would have run on the Analyical Engine, and computed the sequence Bernoulli.
Years passed, and in 1890 the sages Hollerith and Powers first developed the "punch card," that greatly facilitated the communication of information and instruction to subtle devices. From this work sprang the mighty council known as International Business Machines, or IBM, as it was often called in the informal speech of later days. This council produced many machines that were capable of such weary tasks as addition, multiplication, and sorting, though the mighty algorithm known as "Quicksort" was not yet known, and lesser processes had to suffice. These computers operated by the method "relay," using the power of the mysterious force born of the union of fields electric and magnetic. For many years this was the chosen method.
In the midst of that great conflict known as "double yu double yu I I" was born the great machine ENIAC that is mighty in the lore of geeks, and this is the manner of its creation. The military was in need dire of information to be used in calculating
trajectories and such, and in 1942 crafty sorcerers at the Moore School, that instructs in the art of Electrical Engineering at the institution of learning known as UPenn, took it upon themselves to devise a new order of computer whose strength and power were built upon "vacuum tubes." And the first child of this order was ENIAC, that possessed 18000 of these tubes, and occupied in the mighty halls of the government 1800 square feet, and was ever fed by 180000 watts of electricity. For each task set to ENIAC, its operators were obliged to reset the wires that transmitted the thought of ENIAC, and this was indeed tedious. And also, the tubes oft and anon grew disgruntled at the heat which they produced, and they failed, and had to be discovered and replaced. And this also was tedious.
Here we diverge unto the realm of the abstract, and we tell, in short, the story of the three great prophets that are known to some as Jon Von Neumman, Alan Turing, and Alonzo
Turing it was who considered the great problem of Hilbert, whose name is one of power in mathematics, that was numbered among those problems towards whose completion
should be aimed the intellects of the twentieth century. This was the Entscheidungsproblem, as it is known in the tongue of the Germans, and in English it is endered as the Problem of Decidability, and posed whether or not there existed a process
by which, for any theorem, could be found its state of provability, that is, if it is possible or not to show by means of formal logic the theorem true. Turing thenceforth envisoned a machine such that there was great correspondence between it and the mind of
mortal men, and based upon logical instructions. Using the concept of this machine, he answered the problem of Hilbert in the negative. Of his mind was born what we now call the Turing Machine, and even that which is the Universal Turing Machine, which is modelled to some extent at least, by all computers great and small, upon whom any algorithm can be performed. Shortly afterward, war broke out between the entities of the world, and the wisdom of Turing was turned to the deciphering of codes and related matters, and he it was who was chiefly responsible for the invention of a device, known as the Bomba (first devised in the land of the Poles) that was capable of the deciphering of the communications of the Luftwaffe that was for a time the scourge of the dome of the sky, and also Turing worked upon the method by which the Enigma communication method could be understood, and so the thought of Hitler and his chieftains revealed to the Free Leaders of the Free. After
he ending of the conflict, he wrought in his mind a concrete Turing Machine, and three years after the annihilation of Hiroshima was first demonstrated such, and principle in its engineering were FC Williams, who loved radar, and Jon Von Neumann, of whom some will be told later in this tale.
Next installment will deal with Neumann, Church, and then maybe Ritchie and AT&T Bell Labs