Computers

MGF 1107 class for Tuesday, 10 October 2000.

Since we are meeting in a computerized classroom, I want to use this class period to include some "general education" on the use of the WWWeb (invented by Tim Berners-Lee) as well as covering the use of computers. Further, since you can access this page at any time from your home computer as well as the ones at TCC, there is more information here than we can cover in class. If you find a topic interesting, please explore it further.

Objectives:

Computer History

Early History:
The history of computing starts with people, and the simple tools they developed to assist them in doing calculations.

What we will focus on here is the development of the first electronic calculating machines just before, during, and after World War II.

Atanasoff-Berry Computer:
The first electronic computer was built between 1939 and 1942 at Iowa State University. It is less well known than the ENIAC, which was built based on Atanasoff's ideas (a point finally settled in a major court case on computer patents), because of the publicity about the ENIAC after the war. The "ABC" did not store its program in memory; that technology did not appear until 1949.

For additional information, consult which is where the picture links used above originated.

Colossus:
Colossus was an electronic computer that was designed and built during 1943 and put to work breaking German codes (ones more important than the ones created with the Enigma machine) in January 1944. The very fact that these codes could be and were broken was considered the Ultra Secret of World War II and was kept utterly secret until the classification expired after about 40 years. As a result, this computer is not mentioned in most histories of the computer age. There were 10 of these computers built, but all of it, including the plans, were destroyed after the war and its existence kept as secret as the fact that we could read similarly constructed codes used by other countries. Colossus was big, but not as big as the ENIAC:

For additional info you might visit or read any of many books on cracking the Enigma and Fish codes. Books on this subject were very popular in Britain because there were thousands of people who worked on the project who had no idea what they did was important until 40 years later.

ENIAC:
The ENIAC design started in 1943 at the University of Pennsylvania and it was constructed there between 1944 and fall 1945 with some parts of it being put to use as early as mid 1944. It was originally built to calculate firing tables for howitzers and naval guns for the Ballistics Research Laboratory, but was also used for more famous calculations related to nuclear weapons. Its existence was formally announced in 1946, and a number of "schools" at Penn spread the design concepts world wide. The ENIAC was huge:

For more information you can follow these links or do web searches on your own. You can see a few of the panels from the ENIAC at the Smithsonian Museum of American History in Washington DC (in the basement exhibit hall).

Manchester Mark 1:
There were several post-war projects to improve on the ENIAC by storing the program in memory, where it would be more easily modified. The first to succeed (in 1948) was a group at Manchester, in Great Britain, that built a working prototype (called "Baby") of what became the Manchester Mark 1. The Mark 1 itself was completed in 1949. Another computer, the EDSAC was completed a bit earlier in 1949 at Cambridge, in England. The EDSAC also ran a program stored in its own memory, but was not a complete system like the Mark 1. The Manchester Mark 1 had all of the functional elements of a modern electronic digital computer but looked like a piece of junk:

There is a lot of information about the Mark 1 that was assembled for its 50th anniversary: created so they would not be upstaged by the ENIAC celebration.

Later Developments:
The following are some selected pages from The Computer Museum History Center hosted at net.org. I will only use some of these in class.

Other material used here came from the History of Computing Information assembled by Mike Muuss at the US Army Research Lab (successor to the BRL).

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