Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Nostalgic Trivia

When I was but a wee nerdling, I took a course taught by a grizzled veteran of the computer industry. I can no longer remember the subject matter of the course, but I do remember that at one point he referred to the main players in the computer business as "IBM and D'BUNCH". D'BUNCH were DEC, Burroughs, Univac, NCR, Control Data, and Honeywell. (And yes, I had to resort to Wikipedia to remember all these names.)

The moral of the story? Computer manufacturers come and go, but IBM remaineth eternal, apparently.

Dating myself even more, in the early part of my career I used machines made by the first 3 of these. The Univac had the distinction of having the most obtuse, unwieldy, difficult-to-use OS I have ever encountered. DEC, in contrast, had the best OS (of proprietary ones, that is - *nix blows 'em all away).


Regina Obe said...

Are you old enough to remember IBM's name before IBM became IBM? and what important role in American history did the young IBM play?

Dr JTS said...

Gosh, Regina, you have a few years on me, don't you? 8^)

Um... let me think. Without looking, wasn't it something like the Hollerith Tabulating Company, and an early success was assisting with tabulating the results of the 1910-ish census?

(Sound of Wikipedia links being clicked...)

Hah! Close... the Tabulating Machine Company, and it was the 1890 census.

Trivia question for you - what event of national significance for the US was announced by the Census in 1890?

Trivia #2 - what famous movie character had a name that some say was derived from the initials IBM?

Regina Obe said...

1890? Hmm I wish I could ask my great grand ma, but she's dead now. Wild guess - Was it the first to use punch cards?

Regarding second question - I pre-date TV and motion pictures. Honestly haven't watched TV in such a long time that I'm very out of touch with reality :)

Dr JTS said...

Ok, I'll give...

1. The US Census Bureau announced after the 1890 Census that the frontier was officially closed. (And maybe someday someone will tell the Republican party 8^)

2. HAL was the evil computer in 2001 A Space Odyssey. Arthur C. Clarke apparently denied that it was a one-letter left shift of IBM. Just a coincidence? I think not!

Regina Obe said...

I didn't think HAL was evil. One letter shift I think is stretching it a bit.

I always thought HAL stood for Human Abstraction Layer like the HAL.dll in windows. You knwo when your windows pc hits the fan its always some message like HAL.dll is missing.

Dr JTS said...

I have the backing of wikipedia on this one, Regina:

HAL 9000 (Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic Computer) is a fictional computer in Arthur C. Clarke's Space Odyssey saga. The novels, along with two films, begin with 2001: A Space Odyssey, released in 1968. It was ranked #13 on a list of greatest film villains of all time on the AFI's 100 Years... 100 Heroes and Villains.

Regina Obe said...

You really can't trust everything you read - villain vs. non-villain is a subjective term. One man's villain is another's savoir.

I prefer to think of it as a case of Leaky Abstractions producing unpredictable results. I prefer Human Abstraction Layer better too. It is an abstraction designed to model human behavior. Heuristic blah blah bah acronym would be HALC 9000. What the hell is a HALC.

Dr JTS said...

Well, sure, Regina, you're allowed to have whatever opinion of HAL you want. I actually always thought he (?) had a very nice voice - but I think blasting an astronaut into the void can not be considered as being a good team member. 8^)

Regina Obe said...

From my memory of watching it, the astronauts seemed more like drones than HAL. That probably confused poor HAL. Here he is obviously a robot behaving more human than a human.

What's a sentient feeling robot to think? He probably missed having stimulating company? He was understanding to their feelings, he tried to carry on a conversation - they gave him one word responses.

I don't know I might have blown them out too under such conditions. They were human in form without the multi-faceted dimensionality of a human. Look human - behavior not human?

That's enough to drive any Heuristically programmed ALgorithmic Computer nuts.

Regina Obe said...

Ah here is an interesting analysis of the movie


"In this and subsequent scenes of daily life aboard the space ship, we see that indeed HAL acts more human than the crew members. Not only was HAL programmed to emulate human emotions, but the astronauts were no doubt selected for their ability to carry out months of tedious duty with machine-like reliability; they were chosen for this mission because they were especially boring people. Forcing both HAL and the humans to relate on the same intellectual level -- expecting a programmed machine to deal with the complexities and ambiguities of the human psyche -- contributes to HAL's breakdown."

Dr JTS said...

Wow, Regina, that's a great analysis. I'm a big fan of the movie, and this provides a lot of depth that I'd previously missed.

(A regretful side note - I even bought 2001 as one of my first HD-DVD purchases - 2 weeks before Toshiba capitulated...)