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REVIEW: "Makin' Numbers", I. Bernard Cohen/Gregory W. Welch

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  • Rob, grandpa of Ryan, Trevor, Devon & Ha
    BKMKNNMB.RVW 20031214 Makin Numbers , I. Bernard Cohen/Gregory W. Welch, 1999, 0-262-03263-5, U$40.00/C$67.50 %E I. Bernard Cohen %E Gregory W. Welch
    Message 1 of 1 , May 3, 2004
      BKMKNNMB.RVW 20031214

      "Makin' Numbers", I. Bernard Cohen/Gregory W. Welch, 1999,
      0-262-03263-5, U$40.00/C$67.50
      %E I. Bernard Cohen
      %E Gregory W. Welch
      %C 55 Hayward Street, Cambridge, MA 02142-1399
      %D 1999
      %G 0-262-03263-5
      %I MIT Press
      %O U$40.00/C$67.50 +1-800-356-0343 fax: +1-617-625-6660
      %O http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0262032635/robsladesinterne
      %O http://www.amazon.ca/exec/obidos/ASIN/0262032635/robsladesin03-20
      %P 279 p.
      %T "Makin' Numbers: Howard Aiken and the Computer"

      In teaching about emerging technologies, I frequently point out to the
      classes that those who fail to learn about computer history are going
      to buy the same old failed ideas again, repackaged with new buzzwords.
      Nowhere have I found this more amply demonstrated, within the compass
      of a limited total of pages, than in "Makin' Numbers." Time and again
      I found intriguing tidbits addressing concepts which we currently
      consider highly advanced.

      There is, for example, the concept of pipelining, and the speeding up
      of execution time within the central processor. The devotees of this
      practice would be astounded to find the lengths to which Mark I
      programmers took the idea. Not content with simply preparing in
      advance of an operation, they would actually start extra operations
      with unused parts of the machine, such as getting in some extra
      additions while the multiplication or division unit was crunching
      through a multi-cycle function.

      In one piece, Grace Hopper speculates on what Howard Aiken meant by
      his continual reference to computing "engines," concluding that he saw
      a computer as a kind of number factory, in which were employed a
      number of specialized machines with differing functions. This
      corresponds with the prevailing thinking about embedded or pervasive

      As a virus researcher, I am very sensible of Aiken's antipathy towards
      von Neumann architecture, with no distinction between instructions and
      data, and his pursuit of the forgotten Harvard architecture. Making a
      division between code and information that is processed would
      eliminate viruses as a possibility. It is, however, intriguing that
      Aiken championed the idea, given his insistence on the pursuit of
      usability in computers, and his prediction that programmers would be
      more important than the fabricators of computing machinery: von
      Neumann architecture is certainly much easier to use in developing

      Even more than in the companion "Howard Aiken: Portrait of a Computer
      Pioneer" by Cohen (cf. BKHAPOCP.RVW), "Makin' Numbers" provides a
      wealth of ideas from the history of the field.

      copyright Robert M. Slade, 2003 BKMKNNMB.RVW 20031214

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      http://victoria.tc.ca/techrev or http://sun.soci.niu.edu/~rslade
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