Sunday, August 14, 2011

Computers: An Illustrated History

This book, by Christian Wurster, is an excellent history of the major developments in computing hardware from the 40's to 2002, when this book was published. It is a mixture of straightforward reporting on the facts, combined with reminiscences from people who were there, and fascinating photographs of hardware, interfaces, and people making use of them. It is rare to find a book that so clearly lays out the history so that you can see how dramatically things have continuously changed for the last 70 years. There is something in us that wants to master a technology, and see it stay, and so we act as if it will stay. I can still remember, vividly, the intensity with which I tried to master coding the PDP-11 back in 1985, building castles of code, as if it would always be there, forever and ever. And of course, a year later, I was doing the same thing with VAX/VMS. And now, we're all acting like iOS is some kind of permanent entity. I'm definitely keeping this book, as a handy reference to talk to students about how things used to be. It's weird to see it, and not see any smartphones and tablets -- the only touchscreen in the whole book is the HP 150 from 1983 -- and its only good app was checkers. I remember seeing that back then when I got to take a tour of the HP plant, and thinking "that is not going to catch on." It finally did, it just took about 25 years.

Sheesh! I wonder what is next?

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