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  • feedwordpress 09:01:24 on 2019/01/10 Permalink
    Tags: computer, , Donald Knuth, , , , , , Upanishads,   

    “Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens”*… 


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    idea_sized-raja_ravi_varma_-_sankaracharya

    You might think that digital technologies, often considered a product of ‘the West,’ would hasten the divergence of Eastern and Western philosophies. But within the study of Vedanta, an ancient Indian school of thought, I see the opposite effect at work. Thanks to our growing familiarity with computing, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI), ‘modern’ societies are now better placed than ever to grasp the insights of this tradition.

    Vedanta summarises the metaphysics of the Upanishads, a clutch of Sanskrit religious texts, likely written between 800 and 500 BCE. They form the basis for the many philosophical, spiritual and mystical traditions of the Indian sub-continent. The Upanishads were also a source of inspiration for some modern scientists, including Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrödinger and Werner Heisenberg, as they struggled to comprehend quantum physics of the 20th century…

    Philosopher and Vaishnava Hindu theologian Akhandadhi Das. a member of the Science and Philosophy Initiative, explains how “Modern technology is akin to the metaphysics of Vedanta.”

    * Jimi Hendrix

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    As we muse on metaphor, we might send carefully-constructed birthday greetings to Donald Knuth; he was born on this date in 1938. A computer scientist, mathematician, and professor emeritus at Stanford, he made numerous substantive contributions to computer science, both practically and theoretically.  But he is probably best known as the author of the multi-volume work The Art of Computer Programming, which he began in 1962, began to publish in 1968… and has (via multiple revisions/additions) still not finished.  Called by the New York Times “the profession’s defining treatise,” it won Knuth the Turing Award in 1974.

    That said, it’s surely worth noting Knuth’s other major contribution to our modern zeitgeist: his “Potrzebie System of Weights and Measures,” published in Issue 33 of Mad Magazine when he was 19 years old.

    192px-knuthatopencontentalliance source

     

     
  • feedwordpress 09:01:59 on 2018/11/20 Permalink
    Tags: , computer, , , , , , ,   

    “There are 10 kinds of people in the world: those who understand binary numerals, and those who don’t”*… 


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    Guide to Computing

    From a collection of vintage photos of computing equipment by “design and tech obsessive” James Ball…

    Guide to Computing

    More at Docubyte

    [TotH to Kottke]

    * vernacular joke, as invoked by Ian Stewart in Professor Stewart’s Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities

    ###

    As we rewind, we might spare a thought for Christian Goldbach; he died on this date in 1764.  A mathematician, lawyer, and historian who studied infinite sums, the theory of curves and the theory of equations, he is best remembered for his correspondence with Leibniz, Euler, and Bernoulli, especially his 1742 letter to Euler containing what is now known as “Goldbach’s conjecture.”

    In that letter he outlined his famous proposition:

    Every even natural number greater than 2 is equal to the sum of two prime numbers.

    It has been checked by computer for vast numbers– up to at least 4 x 1014– but remains unproved.

    (Goldbach made another conjecture that every odd number is the sum of three primes; it has been checked by computer for vast numbers, but also remains unproved.)

    Goldbach’s letter to Euler (source, and larger view)

    (Roughly) Daily is headed into a Thanksgiving hiatus; regular service will resume when the tryptophan haze clears…  probably around Monday, November 26.  Thanks for reading– and have Happy Holidays!

     
  • feedwordpress 08:01:53 on 2017/07/23 Permalink
    Tags: , computer, Curta, , PARC, , Severe Tire Damage, ubiquitous computing,   

    “I like my new telephone, my computer works just fine, my calculator is perfect, but Lord, I miss my mind!*… 


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    Before electronic calculators became affordable in the 1970s, logarithm tables and slide rules were the most common calculation tools used by scientists, engineers, financiers, and navigators.  But in the early 1940s there emerged a purely mechanical, pocket-sized calculator, the Curta; the “pepper mill,” as it was known, was short-lived – only 30 years or so – but it remains a mechanical marvel.

    More at “Curta: a mechanical pocket calculator.”

    * anonymous

    ###

    As we add it up, we might send intricately-interconnected birthday greetings to Mark D. Weiser; he was born on this date in 1952.  After earning an MA and a PhD in computing at the University of Michigan, Mark worked for a variety of computer-related startups.  But in 1987 he joined Xerox PARC, and began the work for which he is best remembered: he widely considered to be the father of ubiquitous computing, a term he coined in 1988 to describe the field he pioneered.

    Mark was also the drummer of Severe Tire Damage, a garage (pun intended) rock band, the first band to perform on the internet: on June 24, 1993, the band was playing a gig at PARC while elsewhere in the building, scientists were discussing new technology (the MBone) for broadcasting on the Internet using multicasting.  As proof of their technology, the band was broadcast and could be seen live in Australia (by a scientist there alerted by the Palo Alto crew) and elsewhere.

    Then. on Friday, November 18, 1994, the Rolling Stones decided to broadcast one of their concert tours on the Internet. Before their broadcast, Severe Tire Damage returned to the Internet, this time becoming the “opening act” for the Stones– so instead of an obscure Australian researcher, the entire world press was watching, and Severe Tire Damage was elevated from obscurity to Warholian fame.  Newsweek described STD as “a lesser known rock band.”  The Rolling Stones told The New York Times: “the surprise opening act by Severe Tire Damage was a good reminder of the democratic nature of the Internet.”

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:38 on 2016/10/18 Permalink
    Tags: , Analytic Engine, , computer, , , , , , , thought experiment,   

    “in this case there were three determinate states the cat could be in: these being Alive, Dead, and Bloody Furious”*… 


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    Of all the bizarre facets of quantum theory, few seem stranger than those captured by Erwin Schrödinger’s famous fable about the cat that is neither alive nor dead. It describes a cat locked inside a windowless box, along with some radioactive material. If the radioactive material happens to decay, then a device releases a hammer, which smashes a vial of poison, which kills the cat. If no radioactivity is detected, the cat lives. Schrödinger dreamt up this gruesome scenario to mock what he considered a ludicrous feature of quantum theory. According to proponents of the theory, before anyone opened the box to check on the cat, the cat was neither alive nor dead; it existed in a strange, quintessentially quantum state of alive-and-dead.

    Today, in our LOLcats-saturated world, Schrödinger’s strange little tale is often played for laughs, with a tone more zany than somber. It has also become the standard bearer for a host of quandaries in philosophy and physics. In Schrödinger’s own time, Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg proclaimed that hybrid states like the one the cat was supposed to be in were a fundamental feature of nature. Others, like Einstein, insisted that nature must choose: alive or dead, but not both.

    Although Schrödinger’s cat flourishes as a meme to this day, discussions tend to overlook one key dimension of the fable: the environment in which Schrödinger conceived it in the first place. It’s no coincidence that, in the face of a looming World War, genocide, and the dismantling of German intellectual life, Schrödinger’s thoughts turned to poison, death, and destruction. Schrödinger’s cat, then, should remind us of more than the beguiling strangeness of quantum mechanics. It also reminds us that scientists are, like the rest of us, humans who feel—and fear…

    More of this sad story at “How Einstein and Schrödinger Conspired to Kill a Cat.”

    * Terry Patchett

    ###

    As we refrain from lifting the box’s lid, we might spare a thought for Charles Babbage; he died on this date in 1871.  A mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer, Babbage is best remembered for originating the concept of a programmable computer.  Anxious to eliminate inaccuracies in mathematical tables. By 1822, he built small calculating machine able to compute squares (1822).  He then produced prototypes of portions of a larger Difference Engine. (Georg and Edvard Schuetz later constructed the first working devices to the same design which were successful in limited applications.)  In 1833 he began his programmable Analytical Machine (AKA, the Analytical Engine), the forerunner of modern computers, with coding help from Ada Lovelace, who created an algorithm for the Analytical Machine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers— for which she is remembered as the first computer programmer.

    Babbage’s other inventions include the cowcatcher, the dynamometer, the standard railroad gauge, uniform postal rates, occulting lights for lighthouses, Greenwich time signals, and the heliograph opthalmoscope.  He was also passionate about cyphers and lock-picking.

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:57 on 2016/09/06 Permalink
    Tags: computer, , fines, , , , , ,   

    “Goodness had nothing to do with it”*… 


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    “Restaurants are a classic way to move money,” says Kieran Beer, chief analyst of the Association of Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialists. Beer adds that pretty much any cash-intensive business can be used to launder money — laundromats, used car dealerships, taxi services — but restaurants tend to crop up again and again in money laundering cases…

    “In basic terms, money laundering is when a business has ties or connections to organized crime and suddenly starts to book incredible — or even normal — sales,” says Beer. “That’s what criminals want to achieve — take dirty money from drugs or human trafficking or another criminal endeavor, and put into the system to make it look clean. Then, they can buy homes and cars, and it looks like the money was made legitimately.”…

    Cleaning dirty money along with the dirty dishes: “How Do Criminals Launder Money Through a Restaurant?

    * Mae West

    ###

    As we think about tipping, we might recall that it was on this date in 1989 that the Treasury Office of the City of Paris confessed to a computer glitch:  41,000 Parisians with outstanding traffic fines had been sent official notices charging them with major criminal offenses– murder, extortion, prostitution, drug trafficking, and other serious crimes.  For example, a man who had made an illegal U-turn on the Champs-Elysees was ordered to pay a $230 fine for using family ties to procure prostitutes and “manslaughter by a ship captain and leaving the scene of a crime.”  The City subsequently sent letters of correction and apology.

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:18 on 2015/07/25 Permalink
    Tags: , computer, CP/M, DOS, , , , , , Vector Graphic   

    “In any field, it is easy to see who the pioneers are — they are the ones lying face down with arrows in their backs”*… 


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    The story of Vector Graphic, a personal computer company that outran Apple in their early days: “How Two Bored 1970s Housewives Helped Create the PC Industry.”

    * Anonymous

    ###

    As we try to remember what “CP/M” stood for, we might recall that it was on this date in 1991 (on the anniversary of the issuing of IBM’s first patent in 1911) that  Microsoft Corp. for the first time reported revenues of more than $1 billion for its fiscal year (1990).  As readers who followed the link above will know, Microsoft, founded in 1975, was an early purveyor of the CP/M operating system on which the Vector ran; but (unlike Vector) Gates and Allen embraced IBM’s new architecture, creating DOS (for younger readers: the forerunner of Windows)… and laying the foundation for Microsoft’s extraordinary growth.

    Bill Gates in 1990

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:35 on 2015/07/12 Permalink
    Tags: computer, Daniel Burnham, department store, , , icon, , , , Wanamaker   

    “If you’re lucky, people will get the message”*… 


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    From the early 80s to today, a graphic look at “The History of Icons.”

    Special bonus:  browse through the sketchbook of pioneer Susan Kare.

    * “If you look at that blank canvas and say, ‘Now I’m going to create a masterpiece’ — that’s just foolhardy. You just have to make the best painting you can, and if you’re lucky, people will get the message.”  – Susan Kare

    ###

    As we point and click, we might send mercantile birthday greetings to John Vansant Wanamaker; he was born on this date in 1838.  A gifted merchant who helped define the modern consumer era, Wanamaker’s flagship store in Philadelphia– an enterprise that helped define the “department store”– was designed by famed architect Daniel Burnham, featured a pipe organ, an art gallery and a 2,500-pound bronze eagle that became a favored meeting place for Philadelphians.

    Wanamaker was a committed innovator:  he was the first to use electric arc lighting in a retail setting (in 1878); and starting in 1910, sensing its potential as an advertising medium, he used his stores as a base for experimentation with radio– starting a radio broadcast station in the store in 1922 to initiate radio receiver sales.

    Wanamaker served as Postmaster General in the late 19th century, introducing the first commemorative stamp and laying the groundwork for Rural Free Delivery.  And in the early 20th century, he helped establish Mother’s Day as an observance.

    An aggressive advertiser and promoter, Wanamaker is credited with the famous observation, “half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:00 on 2015/03/24 Permalink
    Tags: , chronometer, computer, Dick Tracy, Harrison, , , prize, , watch   

    “I want the entire smartphone, the entire Internet, on my wrist”*… 


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    As the world watches the clock for the release of the Apple Watch, the Computer History Museum reminds us that watches-that-compute have a very long history…

    Ubiquitous, wearable computers have been a dream since at least the 1930s. Chester Gould’s comic strip Dick Tracy introduced the 2-Way Radio Watch worn by members of The City police force. At first merely a combination radio and wristwatch, eventually Tracy’s watch added television and other technical capabilities.

    This comic strip, in turn, influenced Gene Roddenberry’s communicators on the television series Star Trek, and other images of watch-like communication/computation devices can be found throughout science fiction. The recent announcement of the Apple Watch has renewed interest in computerized wristwatches and revived the idea of a wrist-worn computer that is cool. Of course, the idea is hardly new but it took a long time for the wristwatch computer to reach levels that Dick Tracy achieved.

    The earliest combination of the watch form factor with a computational device dates from late 19th century. English company Boucher’s received a patent for a circular slide rule in a pocket watch shape in 1876.

    Boucher’s Calculator – circular slide rule

     

    French company Meyrat & Perdrizet made a slide rule chronograph in 1890. The central portion of the device was a standard pocket watch face, with a circular slide rule with an independent hand surrounded it. Two dials at the top of the watch allowed it to perform calculations…

    Follow the story– the introduction of wrist instruments in the early 20th century, the advent of electronics– at “It’s About Time: The Computer on Your Wrist.”

    * Steve Wozniak

    ###

    As we strap it on, we might send timely birthday greetings to John Harrison; he was born on this date in 1693.  A self-educated English carpenter and clockmaker, Harrison invented the marine chronometer,  In the absence of a way for ships at sea accurately to ascertain their longitude, sailing was dangerous; cumulative errors in dead reckoning over long voyages led to ship wrecks and loss of life.  Indeed, the perceived threat– thus, the desire of a defense– was so great that Parliament offered a Longitude prize of £20,000 (£2.75 million) for a solution.  Harrison’s approach, which won that prize, was to create a clock so accurate that it could eliminate those errors. His “chronometers” were accurate to within seconds over long periods; his winning clock was off only 39.2 seconds over a voyage of 47 days… and helped create the conditions in which the Age of Sail flourished.  (More detail on the longitude problem and Harrison’s answer here.)

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  • feedwordpress 08:01:04 on 2014/05/30 Permalink
    Tags: , , computer, , , quartz, Ralf Baecker, ,   

    “Man is still the most extraordinary computer of all”*… 


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    German artist Ralf Baecker gives technology a life of its own. His new piece Irrational Computing, which debuts June 10 at the International Triennial of New Media Art, use semiconductor crystals (quartz sand) and connects them to interlinked modules to create a primitive macroscopic signal processor. In other words, he’s using quartz (a natural resource that’s one of the basic commodities for all information technology), to create a raw mineral computer.

    Baecker used quartz crystals taken directly from nature and industrial waste products and connected them to the modules, which use the electrical and mechanical specifics of the mineral to form a visual display, of sorts. Simultaneously, the crystals work as sound generators, as the electrical impulses from the modules force the quartz to vibrate. Through speakers, gallery visitors can both see and hear these quartz crystals. They even appear to have an unpredictable, life-like “conversation” with the other materials in the installation set-up, as the impulse signals and responses are organically random (thus, the “Irrational” part of the installation’s title)…

    See more, and read an interview with Baecker, via The Creator’s Project (a JV of Intel and Vice), at “An Artist Has Made A Primitive Computer Out Of Earth Crystals, And Little Else.”

    * John F. Kennedy

    ###

    As we muse on minerals, we might spare a thought for a key intellectual ancestor of Hacking and “Making”: the Father of the Age of Reason and author (in Candide) of the immortal– and sardonically ironic– advice that each of us should “tend his own garden,” Francois-Marie Arouet, better known as Voltaire; he died on this date in 1778.

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