REVIEW: "A History of Computing Technology", Michael R.
- BKHSCMTC.RVW 20041018
"A History of Computing Technology", Michael R. Williams, 1997,
%A Michael R. Williams
%C 10662 Vaqueros Circle, Los Alamitos, CA 90720-1314
%I IEEE Computer Society Press
%O U$64.95/C$104.95 714-821-8380, 800-CS-BOOKS c.baltes@...
%O tl i rl 4 tc 3 ta 4 tv 4 wq 4
%P 426 p.
%T "A History of Computing Technology"
Yet another timeline from the Pascaline to Babbage to ENIAC? Not so.
How refreshing, and fascinating, to see a history that really tells us
how we got here.
Chapter one talks about the development of numeration itself, and the
various forms of representing numbers (as well as a few systems of
calculation). Early aids to calculation, starting with fingers and
moving through to slide rules, are described in chapter two.
Throughout the book, Williams has included frequent references to how
calculating tools and techniques have given rise to common phrases.
The definition of "point blank" is particularly fascinating, involving
not only a particular gunnery instrument, but also the distrust of the
Arabic numeral zero, which paranoia would have been uniquely strong at
that specific time. Mechanical calculators are discussed in chapter
three, covering much more than the usual reference to the Pascaline.
Chapter four outlines Babbage's machine; noting that he was more
social than is usually thought, and that he succeeded in a number of
fields (inventing, for example, the cow catcher); explains why the
Difference Engine is known as such, and further mentions that it was
hardly a failure, but spawned a bit of a building spree that lasted
over twenty years. Analog, rather than digital, computers are often
neglected, but chapter five notes a number of significant devices.
The large mechanical or electro-mechanical machines of the 1940s are
frequently seen as the beginning of the computer revolution, so it is
interesting that the book is half complete before chapter six takes a
look at the Zuse machines, the Bell relay machines, and Aiken's line.
Chapter seven moves into the electronic world with reviews of the
Atanasoff/Berry computer, ENIAC, and the Colossi. Given the
importance of the work at Bletchley Park in terms of character
manipulation (in cryptanalysis) it is interesting that other forms of
text manipulation technology have not been addressed up to this point.
The early computers dealing with stored programs are reviewed in
chapter eight. As could be expected, the development of memory
technologies is a major component of this material. Chapter nine
finishes off with a review of some other early mainframe type
We tend to pass over the history of computing with varying degrees of
interest. Having a detailed examination of the development of both
ideas and technologies of the basics of computing is both fascinating
and helpful. Those who ignore the history of computing are likely to
buy it again, repackaged under a new name. Professionals willing to
understand the foundations of the industry and operations of the
machinery will be in a much better position to judge what will (and
what will not) be of importance in the future.
copyright Robert M. Slade, 2004 BKHSCMTC.RVW 20041018
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