Tags: computing



A Brief History of Women in Computing – Faruk Ateş

An excellent rebuttal of that vile manifestbro, and an informative history lesson to boot.

You can’t cherry-pick a couple of scientific studies you like and use them to justify your arguments against diversity programs, while carefully ignoring the mountains of other scientific studies that show both how and why diversity programs are good, beneficial to all, and worth investing in.

I wish I could be this calm in refuting pseudoscientific bollocks, but I get so worked up by it that I’d probably undermine my own message. I’m glad that Faruk took the time to write this down.

The Orrery at The Interval: An Invitation to Long-Term Thinking — Blog of the Long Now

The Long Now Foundation has been posting some great stuff on their blog lately. The latest is a look at orreries, clocks, and computers throughout history …and into the future.


The Internet Archive is now hosting early Macintosh software emulated right in your browser. That means you can play Adventure: the source of subsequent text adventures, natural language parsing, and chatbots.

Colossal Cave Adventure (also known as ADVENT, Colossal Cave, or Adventure) is a text adventure game, developed originally in 1976, by Will Crowther for the PDP-10 mainframe. The game was expanded upon in 1977, with help from Don Woods, and other programmers created variations on the game and ports to other systems in the following years.

In the game, the player controls a character through simple text commands to explore a cave rumored to be filled with wealth.

Less Bro-gramming: Net Natives host and sponsor Codebar | Net Natives

An excellent potted history from Cassie on women in computing.

NASA’s “Keypunch girls” would work in cramped rows translating programming instructions onto paper pads, whilst the machine operators would sit in comfort, feeding the code decks through card readers and enjoying the esteem of the end result (I imagine it a bit like Mad Men, but with more sexism and astronauts).

Turing Complete User

A superb 2012 essay by Olia Lialin. J.C.R. Licklider, Vannevar Bush, Ted Nelson, Douglas Engelbart, Don Norman, Lawrence Lessig, Jonathan Zittrain, Douglas Rushkoff and Cory Doctorow all make an appearance.

There’s a lot to think about here. I’m particular struck by the idea that calling people “users” isn’t necessarily the dehumanising Lakoffian language we think it is; users have power and control. If we stop treating people like users, we may end up infantilising and disempowering them.

But when you read it in a broader context, the denial of the word “user” in favor of “people” becomes dangerous. Being a User is the last reminder that there is, whether visible or not, a computer, a programmed system you use.

Man-Computer Symbiosis

J. C. R. Licklider’s seminal 1960 paper. I’ve added it to this list of reading material.

The title should, of course, read “Person-Computer Symbiosis.”

Untangling the Tale of Ada Lovelace—Stephen Wolfram Blog

A detailed history of Babbage and Lovelace through the lens of Wolfram’s work today:

Ada seems to have understood with some clarity the traditional view of programming: that we engineer programs to do things we know how to do. But she also notes that in actually putting “the truths and the formulae of analysis” into a form amenable to the engine, “the nature of many subjects in that science are necessarily thrown into new lights, and more profoundly investigated.” In other words—as I often point out—actually programming something inevitably lets one do more exploration of it.

If this piques your interest, I highly recommend the Babbage biography The Cogwheel Brain by Doron Swade.

Meet Walter Pitts, the Homeless Genius Who Revolutionized Artificial Intelligence

The fascinating story of logic, learning, and the origins of electronic computing. Russell, Shannon, Turing, Wiener, Von Neumann …they’re all in there, woven around the tragic figure of Walter Pitts.

It is a sad and beautiful world.

Thanks to their work, there was a moment in history when neuroscience, psychiatry, computer science, mathematical logic, and artificial intelligence were all one thing, following an idea first glimpsed by Leibniz—that man, machine, number, and mind all use information as a universal currency. What appeared on the surface to be very different ingredients of the world—hunks of metal, lumps of gray matter, scratches of ink on a page—were profoundly interchangeable.

The Queen Of Code

A short documentary on the wonderful Grace Hopper.

Seeing Like a Network — The Message — Medium

How computers work:

One day, a man name Alan Turing found a magic lamp, and rubbed it. Out popped a genie, and Turing wished for infinite wishes. Then we killed him for being gay, but we still have the wishes.

Then we networked computers together:

The network is ultimately not doing a favor for those in power, even if they think they’ve mastered it for now. It increases their power a bit, it increases the power of individuals immeasurably. We just have to learn to live in the age of networks.

We are all nodes in many networks. This is a beautiful description of how one of those networks operates.

Girls Imagineer the Future | Curiosity Hub Event

Jacqueline Currie is running Robotics/Bioengineering/Computing workshops for girls (ages 6-16) this Saturday at the University of Brighton.

Powerful Ideas Need Love Too!

Alan Kay’s written remarks to a Joint Hearing of the Science Committee and the Economic and Educational and Opportunites Committee in October 1995.

1995 Vannevar Bush symposium: closing Panel

So Doug Engelbart, Alan Kay, Ted Nelson, and Tim Berners-Lee walk into a panel…

WarGames Magazine Identified By Michael Walden

Now this is what I call research:

Through the use of my knowledge of computer magazines, my sharp eyes, and other technical knowledge, I have overcome the limited amount of information available in the video content of WarGames and with complete certainty identified the exact name and issue number of the magazine read on screen by David L. Lightman in WarGames.

Kids can’t use computers… and this is why it should worry you - Coding 2 Learn

This is a really well-written and worrying piece that pokes at that oft-cited truism about kids today being “digital natives”:

The parents seem to have some vague concept that spending hours each evening on Facebook and YouTube will impart, by some sort of cybernetic osmosis, a knowledge of PHP, HTML, JavaScript and Haskell.

The causes of this lack of digital literacy can be traced back to school:

We’ve mirrored corporate networks, preventing kids and teachers access to system settings, the command line and requiring admin rights to do almost anything. They’re sitting at a general purpose computer without the ability to do any general purpose computing.

Also, this article has the best “TL;DR” description ever.

The Future of Programming

A wonderful presentation by time-traveller Bret Viktor.

NSA: The Decision Problem by George Dyson

A really terrific piece by George Dyson taking a suitably long-zoom look at information warfare and the Entscheidungsproblem, tracing the lineage of PRISM from the Corona project of the Cold War.

What we have now is the crude equivalent of snatching snippets of film from the sky, in 1960, compared to the panopticon that was to come. The United States has established a coordinated system that links suspect individuals (only foreigners, of course, but that definition becomes fuzzy at times) to dangerous ideas, and, if the links and suspicions are strong enough, our drone fleet, deployed ever more widely, is authorized to execute a strike. This is only a primitive first step toward something else. Why kill possibly dangerous individuals (and the inevitable innocent bystanders) when it will soon become technically irresistible to exterminate the dangerous ideas themselves?

The proposed solution? That we abandon secrecy and conduct our information warfare in the open.

The Hut Where the Internet Began by Alexis C. Madrigal in The Atlantic

A wonderful article looking at the influence that Vannevar Bush’s seminal article As We May Think had on the young Douglas Engelbart.

A few words on Doug Engelbart

A beautiful eulogy for Doug Engelbart by Bret Viktor, not celebrating the laundry list of his inventions, but celebrating his intent in making the world a better place.

Engelbart had an intent, a goal, a mission. He stated it clearly and in depth. He intended to augment human intellect. He intended to boost collective intelligence and enable knowledge workers to think in powerful new ways, to collectively solve urgent global problems.