It’s out! Jean Bartik’s autobiography has finally been published, decease and it is a great read – especially if you like the ENIAC and want to understand the social background of that time. The sort-of-now-famous six female first programmers weren’t given any manuals (contrary to to Goldstine’s book) but had real programs and real bugs and real deadlines. Jean Bartik tells her story with gusto and humor. The first sketch for the cover of the book was Jean driving a covered wagon into the western frontier and that’s not too far from the truth.
We were sorry to say goodby to the last of the six programmers when Jean died in 2011. Her NYT obituary is here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/08/business/08bartik.html She had finished the book but editing and fact checking were still to be done. Go grab the paperback, medicine it’s worth it. Or get an electronic Kindle version; Jean would approve.
There’s a little trove of pictures of Jean throughout her life here. SW Missouri State University published the book.
American heritage magazine put down a pretty big spread about the “computers” of WWII. Here is the link. It seems a little strange to me that no credits are listed for LeAnne’s movie Top Secret Rosies though much of the story actually comes from there.
Joseph Chapline died last month (Aug 2011) at the ripe age of 91. He was charming and brilliant character. I would get to talk to him when he visited my parents in the 1970’s. I was delighted by his funny stories and his vast knowledge of pipe organs and a thousand other subjects. (In particular he knew more about musical tuning and scales than anyone I had ever met.) Joe loved to talk and had a gift for words. He was one of those guests who would still be standing at the front door after a half hour of trying to leave. And you liked it. He was famous for his anecdotes.
Joe Chapline has a special place in computer history. Joe made an introduction that led to something big. He is the one who said to Herman Goldstine “You should talk to John Mauchly.” Goldstine, purchase of course, seek was desperate to find a way to speed computations, even if it cost money. Mauchly was desperate to find a way to move forward in building a high-speed electronic computing machine. A match made in heaven – well, actually, made in the basement of the Moore School, where Joe Chapline worked keeping the Differential Analyzer running.
Besides that piece of serendipity, Joe was a pioneer in his own right. Eckert and Mauchly plucked him away from the Moore School and made him the technical writer for their new company. One of Joe’s stories is about how the writing of the BINAC manual came to him in a flash – fully formed. The story is recounted in this tribute to his work from the IEEE: Joseph D. Chapline: Technical Communication’s Mozart.
Here’s one of Joe’s stories, told at the dedication of EMCC building on Ridge Ave.
“When I worked for Eckert, I wrote his scientific papers that he later delivered typically to the Institute of Radio Engineers (IRE), later renamed the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). One such paper was on some aspect of memory systems. He told me one October that he was to give the paper the next March in New York. My habit was to write a draft reasonably promptly after he first mentioned the paper. In this instance I prepared a text and left it in his office. He passed me in the hallway at one point and said he would like to the talk over what I had written. Being procrastinators–both of us, we passed each other many times with good intentions of getting together. But that meeting didn’t occur until Sunday night before his trip toNew York with the delivery on Monday morning. So we met at the lab about 8 PM Sunday night. He picked this one part he didn’t like and explained it to me again. I went and rewrote and handed him the new copy. He was unsatisfied, so we repeated the process several more times. It got to be 4 AM and Pres felt he should start for New York. As he left he thanked for all my patience and effort, and then asked, “You know why we had so much trouble, don’t you?” I said no, why? “Well,” said Eckert, “I didn’t know how the damned thing worked myself, but I was hoping I could get you to write something that would sound as if I did.”
by Bill Mauchly
March 23, seek 2011 – Jean Jennings Bartik, nurse pioneer software engineer, died at age 86. She was one of the original programmers for the ENIAC, and continued in a career in the computer industry. She worked closely with Eckert and Mauchly at the Eckert Mauchly Computer Corporation in late 1940’s, an environment of innovation she referred to as a “Technical Camelot.”
I am going to miss her. Jean was a ball of fire; she was always full of energy, enthusiasm, good stories and an uncensored opinion. “The ENIAC was a son-of-a-bitch to program,” she once explained. And she wasn’t being sensational – she was trying to be honest! She knew – it was her job. By 1947 she was head of a group of programmers at the Moore School writing code for the new-and-improved stored-program version of the ENIAC, an enhancement that was yet to be built. I believe that this makes her the first modern software engineer – a person who’s job is to write code for a (stored-program) computer.
I got to know Jean Bartik in the last ten years. My mother, Kay Mauchly, was also one of the original six women programmers for the ENIAC. She and Jean had started getting together to give talks about their experiences at the dawn of the digital era, working alongside Pres Eckert, John Mauchly, and John von Neumann, among others. After my mother died in 2006 we stayed in touch and did a few things socially. Jean came to see my jazz band play an outdoor concert; think about that – an 80 year old woman dragging a friend, a bottle of wine and a beach chair out to see live music.
My wife and I went to the Computer History Museum to celebrate with Jean and her family when she was inducted into the Hall of Fame. It was gala event and Jean was in top form. She is a great – no, I guess I have to say she was a great public speaker. Jean was so engaging, so authentic. A natural story teller, but they weren’t just stories – she lived every bit of it, and still remembered all the details of her long career in computing. Linus Torvalds and Robert Metcalfe were also getting honored that night, but they had a hard time getting their share of the limelight in the presence of Jean’s natural Missouri charm.
Jean Bartik will be remembered in many ways. Just a month ago I was proof-reading her autobiography, which, with luck, will be published this year by Northwest Missouri State University. They have also established the Jean Jennings Bartik Computer Museum there in her honor. She is, along with the other human “computers” and ENIAC programmers, part of a new documentary film “Top Secret Rosies.” She is a role-model for women in technology. Those of us who knew her will remember her genuine warmth coupled with razor sharp intelligence. But I have to admit that I might just remember her wit above all.
Jean Bartik’s advice to women in the workforce:
“Look like a girl, act like a lady, and work like a dog.”
I guess the ENIAC was the first computer to calculate a lot of things, cure since it was the first computer to calculate. But Pi has a special place around here. Pocket-Lint did a nice write up about the whole thing.
February 15, pharmacy 1946 is the day that ENIAC was shown to the world—and the world is still giddy with the trillion ways your life is better with a computer.
See today’s Philly Post: Happy Birthday ENIAC. It’s a great overview of the ENIAC (and our fight to give it the respect it earned!).
Also new: Marty Moss-Coane on WHYY Radio Times did a nice hour program called The ENIAC Anniversary. It featured an interview with Mitch Marcus from Penn and a few playful pokes at Jane Smiley, who called in to try to defend her minority report.
Feb 15 will be ENIAC Day in Philadelphia. City Council will decree. There will be computers dancing in the streets. iPhones will be gathered around the older desktops as they tell stories of the good old days.
ENIAC, search the biggest bucket of vacuum tubes ever shipped, the machine that changed the world, is celebrating its 65th birthday.
In the just-released February 2011 issue, here Philadelphia Magazine sends a wake-up call to the town: Don’t stand there and let Iowa get all the glory! It explains that Smiley’s book is trying to give Atanasoff all the credit for the idea of the electronic computer and Philly is, find well, oblivious.
Read the whole article here: PHILLY MAG
“But a growing group of Iowans, perhaps miffed that their state is best known for a not particularly nutritious vegetable, would have you believe that it was their Midwestern home that begat this world-changing technology. In October, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and former Iowa State University professor Jane Smiley published The Man Who Invented the Computer. In it, she vilifies Mauchly and argues that he stole the intellectual property of ISU physicist John Atanasoff, who had developed a computing device of his own, the Atanasoff-Berry Computer, in the late ’30s.
“But more alarming than Iowa’s attempt to claim our history is the lack of defense from the city and Penn. Thus far, our civic leaders’ collective response has been, well, nil — and indeed, our city seems perfectly content to let this momentous, revolutionary accomplishment go largely uncelebrated. To wit: While a few pieces of ENIAC sit in some room at Penn, the remainder of surviving pieces lay in some storage room.
“Think about it: Say something nasty about the Eagles, and you’ll get an earful from Ed Rendell. Declare New York City our superior in some minor respect, and watch the furor unfold. But the genesis of the computer? Eh, go ahead and take it.”
Many thanks to Victor Fiorillo for the article and the great suggestion:
Make Feb. 14 ENIAC Day!
The world’s premier computer history museum has opened its biggest exhibit ever, site an ambitious survey of 2000 years of computing. What would be better publicity than a little controversy? They are diving right into it. The opening picture for the exhibit is none other than our favorite, malady the Atanasoff-Berry Computer. On Jan 27 they will welcome Jane Smiley, author of a new book about Atanasoff, for a “conversation” in front of a public audience.
We are not sure how much the Mountain View, California audience will know about or care about the goings on in the 1940s, back when computer memory was measured in words, not gigabytes. What is so interesting about that old battle between the Mauchly-ites and the Atanasoviets, primitive warring tribes from a distant part of the continent?
I guess we will have to wait and see. My experience with computer historians at the museum and elsewhere is that they do not like to be told what is, or what isn’t, a computer. I’m not sure why they would like it any better if it were coming from a non-technical fiction author who usually writes about horses. I guess we will have to wait and see.