IT History Society Blog

The SSEC First Electronic Machine on the Silver Screen

January 1st, 2015 by Allan Olley

The IBM Selective Sequence Electronic Calculator (in use from 1948-1952) pioneered some features of the modern computer such as self-modifying instructions and stood on the indistinct dividing line between the modern computer and the calculating machines that came before. It was also a pioneer in another sphere, the movie business. In the 1952 spy thriller Walk East on Beacon the SSEC plays a role as the new electronic calculator of Professor Albert Kafer. Kafer is working on a top secret project that has caught the attention of Soviet spies who seek to extort classified information out of the professor.

The SSEC

The SSEC as it appeared in Walk East on Beacon

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2014 Year End Review: IEEE Silicon Valley Tech History Committee

December 25th, 2014 by Alan Weissberger

The IEEE SV Tech History committee fulfilled its mandate by holding four technical meetings in 2014.  It was a close call as three of those meetings occured in the last three months of the year.

Our committee’s charter is to have at least four technical meetings per year that will educate, inform and raise the level of awareness of technology history indigenous to greater silicon valley.  In addition, we are open and receptive to holding joint meetings with other IEEE Societies, groups, committees as well as tech non profit organizations.   Our website complements our meetings and provides information on IEEE Milestones as well as upcoming tech history meetings in silicon valley.

Our website:  http://siliconvalleyhistory.com

All of our meetings since inception are listed below, in reverse chronological order:

Dec 2: Perspective of Stanford Archives & Process & Methodology for SV Tech History Research

Panelists: ​Leslie Berlin, Historian of Silicon Valley & author of biography of Bob Noyce​  & Henry Lowood, Curator at Stanford University; Manager-Silicon Genesis Project​​

Moderator: Alan J Weissberger, IEEE Sr Life Member

The link to the Silicon Genesis oral histories is here. In addition, a very small fraction of their holdings is listed here.

Invitation: tech artifacts/data-books/notebooks related to SV tech history may be donated to the Stanford SV Archives. Contact: lowood@stanford.edu

Video of this outstanding event is here 

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Nov 5:  Early History of Silicon Valley​ (4 time periods covered)

Panelists:  Ted Hoff, PhD (x-Intel) & Norm Pond (“Tube Guys”)​

Moderator: Paul Wesling, IEEE SF Bay Area Council​

->97 attendees were treated to a spectacular program!​

Video and snippets/segments are here

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 Oct 9:  History & Origins of Computer History Museum (CHM), Current Status & Future Directions

Panelists:  Len Shustek, CHM Chairman & John Hollar, CHM CEO/President​

Moderator:  Alan J Weissberger, IEEE Sr Life Member

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April  28: History of Wired LAN Competition
Moderator:  Geoff Thompson, former Chair of IEEE 802.3 Ethernet WG; long time contributor to IEEE ComSoc & IEEE member discussion group
Panelists:
  • Joe Skorupa (Gartner) – various “Route 128″ MA networking companies
  • Tom Slykhouse (SurveyMonkey)- FDDI advocate of the period
  • Dan Pitt – (Open Networking Foundation) Token Ring advocate of the period
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2013 Meetings (the committee was officially formed in Sept 2013):

Nov 2013:  Thin Film Memories (joint meeting with IEEE Magnetics)
Moderator:  Tom Coughlin, IEEE Region 6 Director Elect

Opening Remarks & Committee Objectives: Alan J Weissberger, IEEE Sr Life Member

Video is here

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Oct 2013  Intel’s Transition from Semiconductor Memory to Microprocessor Company (Hosted by IEEE CNSV thanks to Brian Berg!)
Panelists: Ted Hoff, PhD & Dave House, MSEE – Intel icons
Moderator: Alan J Weissberger, IEEE Sr Life Member
A standing room only crowd of ~85 people attended after the venue was changed the day of the event.
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If you’d like to volunteer for the committee, or have any comments, suggestions, or feedback on past or future meetings please contact: aweissberger@sbcglobal.net
If you’d like to be added to our email list, please contact: brianberg@gmail.com
Have a wonderful holiday season & happy new year!]
All best
Alan

 


IEEE Milestone: The First Transpacific Cable System (TPC-1) in 1964

November 14th, 2014 by Alan Weissberger

Introduction:

IEEE Silicon Valley Technology History committee co-chair Tom Coughlin attended the dedication of an IEEE Milestone in Hawaii for the first Transpacific Cable System (TPC-1) in 1964.

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Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:
The first transpacific undersea coaxial telephone cable linking Japan, Hawaii and the U.S. mainland was completed in 1964. President Lyndon B. Johnson and Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda inaugurated this communications link on 19 June 1964. This joint project involving American Telephone and Telegraph, Hawaiian Telephone Company, and Kokusai Denshin Denwa improved global communication and contributed to deep water submarine cable technologies.
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Backgrounder:

The Transpacific Cable System No.1 “TPC-1” was the first submarine telephone cable connecting North America and Asia with a total length over 10,000km. TPC-1 became operational on 19th June 1964 with the congratulatory speeches of President Lyndon B. Johnson of U.S.A. and Prime Minister Hayato Ikeda of Japan noting the importance of the project for the U.S.A. and Japan. It has contributed to a closer relationship and to the mutual development in culture and economy between U.S.A. and Japan.

TPC-1 was a US$83 Million project, which was jointly constructed by AT&T, HTC and KDD, by applying the state of the art technology (“SD” type cable system design) which was developed by Bell Laboratories of AT&T (following previous SA & SB designs).  It’s deployment was the first step in the rapid development of submarine telephone cable networks in Eastern Asia, providing large communications capacity between Eastern Asia and U.S.A./Europe.

A newly established Japanese company, Ocean Cable Company (OCC), also manufactured some portions of the submarine cable under AT&T’s supervision. TPC-1 was composed of three cable networks; 1) TPC-1 connecting Japan with Hawaii via Guam, Midway and Wake, 2) HAW-1 and HAW-2 connecting Hawaii and the mainland U.S.A. and 3) Guam-Philippines Cable, a branch of TPC-1. TPC-1 was also cross connected at Hawaii with COMPAC, the British Commonwealth cable linking Canada, New Zealand and Australia. TPC-1 and COMPAC formed the Pan Pacific coaxial submarine cable network. TPC-1 began operation in June, 1964, and was followed by joining of Guam-Philippines Cable in December, 1964.

Since then, TPC-1 was in operation more than a quarter century, and will achieve its 50 year anniversary in 2014.The quality of telephone circuits of the longest multi links through TPC-1, land cables on the North American Continent and submarine cables in Atlantic Ocean was proven to satisfy the CCITT (now ITU-T) voice quality recommendations the very first time. The technology developed in the SD type cable covers the implementation of cables undersea. This included machinery on board a cable ship and methodologies of cable laying and repairing, which became the standard going forward.

Extremely high reliability was necessary for the repeaters due to the vacuum electron tubes contained inside, which amplify the transmission signal in tandem. The requirement of high reliability was achieved by means of the quality control developed by Bell Laboratories and proven by the system’s longevity. The quality control methodology used in SD type cable systems was succeeded by the fiber optic submarine cable systems in service today. In addition, it was necessary for TPC-1 to cross the Mariana trench and to be deployed on the complicated features of the sea floor. Ocean floor geologists from U.S.A. and Japan jointly examined the hydrographic survey data obtained by Japanese Oceanography Service and determined a safe and stable cable route in the region. This knowledge established through coordination between the academic field and the business field contributed to the planning of future trans-ocean submarine cable projects.

The technology developed in TPC-1 continues to be the foundation for the construction and maintenance in current fiber optic submarine cables used for international telecommunications today.

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More information on this TPC-1 IEEE Milestone is here.

Check the IEEE Silicon Valley Technology History committee website for event notifications/follow-ups and information on other IEEE Milestones.  We will be announcing the details of two RISC milestones – scheduled for Feb 2015- when details become available.


New Information Age Gallery at the London Science Museum

October 10th, 2014 by Frank Land

Information Age tells the story of how information and communication technologies have transformed our lives over the last 200 years. Through a remarkable display of unique and historic objects, the gallery will illuminate our long history of information networks. But this is not just a gallery of technology, it’s a gallery of astonishing stories and incredible people that shows how we have created, used and been affected by each new wave of change.

Objects at the heart of the gallery

Objects form the heart of Information Age. Over 800 objects, of different shapes, sizes and materiality will be displayed in the gallery. Objects act as illustrations of technological change, but also as markers in history and agents of change, transporting visitors to a time and place of use.

The Networks: Six networks that changed our world

Information Age is divided into six content clusters – called ‘networks’. These are not only technological networks, they are networks that bring people together, unite ideas, connect devices and support organisations. These Networks are:

  • The Cable – telegraphy

Looks at the speed and growth of the electric telegraph network from the 1830s and features stories of pioneering adventures, charismatic characters, dramatic races and discovery.

  • The Exchange – telephony

Brings the power of the human voice to our visitors to illustrate the democratisation of the telephone and its effectiveness as a tool of social change.

  • The Broadcast – radio and television

Reveals how the ability to transmit the same message to millions of people at the same time has transformed news and entertainment.

  • The Constellation – satellite communication

Bridges the mystery and ubiquity of the satellite; making links between the familiarity of the satellite’s services and the – quite literal – remoteness of its operation and orbit.

  • The Web – computer networks

Exposes the quantity of information and data people share, from a point where computers stand alone, to the moment they begin to reveal their networks.

  • The Cell – mobile communications

Looks at the influence mobile phones have had on our lives, from their earliest days as an expensive, showy gadget to today when they form an essential part of many peoples’ daily routine across the world.

The Stories: twenty-one transforming events

Each network contains three or four Transforming Events; discrete historical moments which illustrate the significance of a network to users’ lives. An event could be a major technological development (such as the first patent for a telephone), one with mass impact (such as the first moment that Britain came together to watch television), or reveal major social change (such as the shift from women operating manual exchanges to mechanical devices).

A participatory gallery

A key part to the creation and ongoing development of the gallery is audience and visitor participation. During the gallery build, innovative public participation projects have uncovered the personal stories that will help shape development of the gallery and bring each of the six networks to life.


Gordon Bell: Information on the old The Computer Museum in Boston, MA

October 5th, 2014 by Alan Weissberger

Note:  This blog post was authored by Gordon Bell and edited by Alan J Weissberger.

The Computer Museum website is a place to view all the extensive material of The Computer Museum (which was relocated to Mt. View, CA in 116/97), whereby one can go immediately to an exhibit, event, etc. and 350+ files (10K pages) of computer history.

For the nostalgic visitor or historian, downloading the Museum Reports, 1979-1988 and Annual Reports 1988-1998 describe the events from the opening in 1975 at Digital and in Marlborough MA, though the museum’s move to Boston and eventually to Mountain View’s Moffett Field, CA. It is a work in progress that will continue to evolve and hopefully attract more content. However with all the files and publications, the files are valuable reference. 

The website is a living cyber museum providing accessibility to all aspects of The Computer Museum (c1979-2000) to the extent content was preserved.

Ideally, a visitor can walk along the timeline as a guide  to:

·         View and attend a lecture e.g. the first ones by JV Atanasoff, the inventor of the Atanasoff-Berry Computer

Or hear what the first useful stored program computer was and how it was programmed by Prof. Maurice V. Wilkes, of Cambridge U.  Or listen to Bob Noyce explain the first integrated circuit invention at the opening of TCM, Boston in  xxs, 1984.  Or a talk by me on The Computer Pioneers…

·         Replay or recall  the East-West Computer Bowls over their 10 year history.

View all the book of questions from this 1988-98 era when the web was born.

·         Visit the various exhibits

The large scale walk-through computer can be revisited with a guide Computer Chronicles toured TCM, Marlboro, MA in 1983

·         Marketing Material  is where you can download various press kits about  openings, store catalogs, and especially about 100 posters of pioneer lectures, the Computer Bowl, and Historical/Taxonomic trees.

·         The Museum Catalog (namely what are the museum’s holdings) as a publication.  Ed Thelen scanned the original  A Museum Catalog is itself an artifact of 20th century museums before search. The catalog was eventually published in the Reports (see 400 page compendium of all the reports xxx)

·         View all  the documents that described the Museum in roughly 350 scanned files: Reports, Annual Reports, posters announcing the lectures and pioneers, store catalogs, Timeline Posters and Product Trees, flyers, awards, PR releases, and more.

·         Backroom look at artifacts

·         Back Office working files used for design etc. All the available scanned  files including deliberation and sounds of gnashing of the teeth especially all the correspondence of Gordon Bell asking for support   Note some of the 30+ year ago, 1984 Asks (Begs( include Brook Byers, Ed DeCastro, Bill Gates, Bernie Gordon, Regis McKenna, Heinz Nixdorf Max Palevsky, Tom Perkins, Bill Perry, John Pierce, Ben Rosen, Al Shughart and many more.

·         Governance files of BOD, etc. especially later ones from Gardner Hendrie’s period as Chairman that he had retained.

·         A BLOG (TBD) Participate in a blog e.g. comments by former board members, comments re. particular artifacts, talks, etc.

The timeline is a nice  way to visit the TCM.

Note the 1000 x 15,000 pixels timeline on the site chronicling events and exhibits.

The goals is to be able to traverse it and to see and hear content of those days. You have to look at the items and then use some imagination but eventually all will be hot linked to something interesting to see/hear! We will be experimenting with wider, deeper, and different timelines—this one was events that were rendered from XLSX.

The Computer Museum, Boston on Wikipedia has the story of TCM.  Oliver Strimpel used archived items and made a really complete and compelling story Wikipedia.

 TO BE BUILT:

A site search is still needed that will reveal the documents if you know a name or phrase. Also crawlers need a way to find it and its content. CHM will post a few links to enable the TCM part of the museum to be found (l think we can say/prove the museum will be 40 years old next year).

The site is beginning to fulfil a view of a Cyber Museum  being a dusty place that you might want to visit because you once visited it in physical space and want to see it again or get an artifact..

The particular joy of this site is that it is an experiment… so if you have something that you believe someone else associated with TCM will want, we’ll host it.

REFERENCE:

Computer History Museum: Celebrating 35 Years: Sept 26,2014