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Steve Jobs, whose vision domesticated the computer, is dead at 56

Steve Jobs (Photo credits: Apple Inc., original photo by Albert Watson)

In a sad but expected follow-up to Chris's post from a little over a month ago, this entry marks the passing of Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, who has died at the age of 56.

Babbage's Notes to be Digitized in Order to Build Working Analytical Engine

Close up of analytical engine model

Recently, the BBC reported that the London Science Museum plans to add to its collection in the history of computing by digitizing Charles Babbage's huge store of design notes on the Analytical Engine. Though the 19th c. Analytical Engine is often pointed to as a machine that presaged the modern computer, a working version was never fully built in Babbage's lifetime (although the notes on the potential machine resulted in the first computer program, written by Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace). And historians have not been the only ones fascinated with this machine--alternate histories in which the Analytical Engine was successfully built form the bedrock of a significant amount of science fiction, particularly in the steampunk subgenre.

Computer (Art) World

Ben Fino-Radin, “Personal Computer,” or a fibrous reinterpretation of the Macintosh 128k. Plastic canvas and yarn, 2007
Cody Trepte, Binary cross-stitch of “Can technology be understood outside of itself?” Fabric, 2006

Those of you in or around NYC might be interested in the exhibit series called the Silent Series at the New Museum, which aims to present interactions between contemporary art and technology.

Questions for the Closing Plenary Session (SIGCIS Workshop, 2011)

SIGCIS Workshop 2011 Logo

Our Closing Plenary this year will ask panel participants and audience members to consider questions on the theme of Cultures & Communities in the History of Computing, with an eye to exploring where the field of the history of computing has been, and where it is going. We're very fortunate to have a great line-up of speakers, including Tom Misa of the Charles Babbage Institute as moderator, Alex Bochannek of the Computer History Museum, Nathan Ensmenger from the University of Texas at Austin, Eden Medina from Indiana University, Bloomington, Andrew Russell from the Stevens Institute of Technology, and Jeff Yost of the Charles Babbage Institute.

Each participant has been asked to provide a question in advance to jump-start discussion. Click on "read more" below to see the current questions. Feel free to leave comments if there are other issues that you would like to see delved into at the closing plenary--we hope to involve the audience as much as possible.

The End of the Jobs Era

Steve Jobs

The Internet has been inundated with stories about Steve Jobs' resignation as CEO of Apple.

Computerized Education: Déjà Vu?

Image from Parts of a cell, Khan Academy lesson

A recent Wired article on Khan Academy gave me a distinct sense of déjà vu.  A pre-programmed set of lessons that are written once, and then can be used by kids anywhere in the country?  They allow students to proceed at their own pace, simulating the advantages of one-on-one tutorial instruction?  They ensure that a student have mastered a given concept before allowing him or her to move on to more advanced material?  Data on student performance is automatically collected for analysis by educators?  A claim that all of this is totally new and is going to revolutionize the staid old American education system?  Where have I heard this all before...

Historical Computer Science

Java Logo

Like any well-trained Ph.D. student, I have come to see my own discipline as the master discipline, upon which all other forms of knowledge are based. For instance, I have repeatedly pestered my fianceé, who works in math education, with the idea of teaching mathematics historically. What better way (I enthuse) to teach, say, imaginary numbers than to understand why they were invented in the first place; the historical context that led to their emergence.Still convinced (perhaps quite foolishly) that this is a brilliant idea, I have begun to think recently about how the same concept might apply in computing--how, that is, the history of computing might be used to teach computer science.

A database of interviews

Various organizations have archives of interviews, for example, CBI, the Computer Museum, and the IEEE History Center.  Of course, for a researcher seeking past interviews on a subject the interviewer is studying, it is easy enough to check each of the major archives, such as those just listed.  However, there are no doubt other archives containing such interviews.  I think it would be a useful resource to have posted on the web a comprehensive list of all such archives with their home-page URLs.  Better yet would be also to list all the interviews in each of the archives, sorted by interviewee name and interview date plus the URL of the archive containing the interview. 

Unpublished history documents and interviews

In my blog entry of June 20, I was concerned with capturing websites containing useful computer history so that the information survives the website maintainers' ability to maintain the websites. 

Summer reading for historians of computing -- suggestions needed.

Please consider helping the community sharpen its engagement with new ideas. Back in graduate school I read feverishly in labor history, business history, history of technology social history, organizational sociology, etc in preparation for my oral examinations. My classes covered still more eclectic topics, ranging from a "greatest hits" of literary theory to nonparametric methods. Over the ten years since I physically left Penn I've been focused on an ever more specialized set of literatures, primarily the burgeoning history of computing field, which I know in ever more depth. In general I've also been doing more writing and less reading.

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