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Comments, Queries, and Debate: Applied Math 218

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129605D
Original Publication Date: 1988-Mar-31
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-06
Document File: 2 page(s) / 14K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

Caxton C. Foster: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

P. O. Box 488 E. Orean, MA 02643 In the spring of 1953 I took a course in Large Scale Calculating Machinery -- Applied Math 218. It was given at Harvard and taught by Howard Aiken. Before I took this course, I thought of myself as a physicist. After I took it, I knew that these were the toys I wanted to play with, and I have -- for the next 36 years. How do you summarize one of the pivot points of your life? It was new. It was exciting. It was challenging. It was the future. The things he taught I have ";always"; known. At least since 1953.

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Copyright ©; 1989 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.

Comments, Queries, and Debate: Applied Math 218

Caxton C. Foster

P. O. Box 488 E. Orean, MA 02643

In the spring of 1953 I took a course in Large Scale Calculating Machinery -- Applied Math 218. It was given at Harvard and taught by Howard Aiken. Before I took this course, I thought of myself as a physicist. After I took it, I knew that these were the toys I wanted to play with, and I have -- for the next 36 years.

How do you summarize one of the pivot points of your life? It was new. It was exciting. It was challenging. It was the future. The things he taught I have "always" known. At least since 1953.

We learned about relays, vacuum tubes, and the logical circuits you could build from them. We learned Boolean algebra and circuit minimization using the Harvard charts. We learned about the arithmetic and logic unit (ALU) and about computer arithmetic, about subroutine units to calculate complicated functions, about various number systems, acoustic and magnetic delay lines, card readers, paper tape readers and punches, and we learned a lot about Mark I and a little about Marks II and IV.

More interesting than what we were taught are the things that were assumed and those that were ignored. We took it for granted that nine's complement decimal arithmetic was the only way nice people designed computers. Relay machines were still of interest because they were cheap enough so that you could consider going digit parallel rather than serial. Vacuum tubes, of course, were so expensive (about $50 each by the time they were wired in) that they simply had to be serial. But that was all right because they were so fast that you could get a machine cycle down under a millisecond.

Computers were expen...