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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Amazing Grace!

No not the song... I'm of course referring to Adm. Grace Hopper. Quick: Do you know when the first and accurate COBOL compile took place? Bonus Points: On what machine? I'll answer this in a little bit but I first wanted to expand on Roberts' post about National Computer Science Education Week in America and Adm. Hopper.

If you haven't read a good book lately I have an excellent one to recommend. It's "Grace Hopper and the Invention of the Information Age" by Kurt W. Beyer. It was published in September 2009 and provides a fascinating review of Adm. Hoppers early years in technology, as well as the early years of technology. It's amazing to read about the early machines and the limitations they dealt with. Kurt Beyer has done an excellent job presenting the Admirals early years. While we always tend to remember the best things in our past, there are some things we tend to forget. Mr. Beyer reviews the Admirals years at the Hardvard Computational Labratory during the war years (that's World War 2) working under Dr. Howard Aiken (then Commander Aiken, as this was a Navy installation) and the wrok she did on the original Mark 1 computer. At the time the Mark 1 was a rather advanced piece of machinery. It was 3 feet wide, 51 feet long and wieghed 9,445 pounds! Definately not a laptop by any means. And it had electro-mechanical gates! Input was from paper tape and had no disk storage. Everything was read in from the tape. The Admiral was the person who in essecense perfected the operation of coding the machine and wrote the operations manual, which was in essence the first coding manual. She was instrumental in bringing not only the Mark1, but Mark 2 and Mark 3 to life.

Mr. Beyer's book further goes on to her life after leaving Harvard and some of the trials and tribulations she experienced. Her main goal in life was to expand the use of the computer to people who were not in the mathmatical field. You see at the time only people with a math degree were able to work on computers. Admiral Hopper had the unthinkable notion that computers could be used by people not in mathematics for say accounting, inventory, health care, anything that required gathering and processing large amounts of data. Imagine that, a computer for something other than math.

Mr. Beyer presents a wealth of information about the early years of the information age. He has also presented a significant amount of facts on why the Admiral deserves more recognition for her role, and the role of other women, who were the early pioneers in our field.

Winter is getting close and the snow isn't far away. Get ahold of this book, a nice warm cup of coffee or hot chocolate and enjoy! Oh, and the date of that first compile? It's in the book!

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