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Anecdotes: FOR THE RECORD: PIONEERING DAYS IN BRITISH COMPUTING Introduction

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129670D
Original Publication Date: 1990-Jun-30
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-06
Document File: 7 page(s) / 33K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

Herman Berg: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

Herman Berg

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

Copyright ©; 1990 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.

Anecdotes: FOR THE RECORD: PIONEERING DAYS IN BRITISH COMPUTING Introduction

Herman Berg

18964 Pinehurst Street Detroit, MI 48221

History, said Henry Ford, is mostly bunk -- a sentiment with which I can hardly expect Geoffrey Tweedale and the other historians among you to agree. Nowadays it seems to be mostly concerned with debunking those whose greatness was previously thought obvious or at least unchallenged.

I must say that on those few occasions when I have been close to historic events -- i.e., those which, with the advantage of hindsight, are seen to have been important, or which, for often unworthy reasons, have attracted media hype -- the reality has never quite, for me, corresponded to either the hype or the considered evaluation subsequently. In a major battle, such as Kohima, in which I was a lowly participant, it is, of course, well known that the view seen by, say, a young signal lieutenant is likely to be more limited than that of the commanding general. But at least in a battle it is occasionally clear who has won, even if little credit can be attached to the commander for his handling of the resources available to him.

In other so-called great events, the nature of winning may not be everyone's idea of merit. It is arguable (and argued in a recent book) that the only winning done by Crick and Watson in discovering DNA was in publicising their results, which were heavily dependent on the work of others. I knew most of the parties involved in the Cavendish at that time, but was never close enough to do more than acquire some rather negative reactions to their personal attitudes. No doubt this was also a worm's eye view. I thought better of Perutz and Kendrew, both of whom I knew better than either Watson or Crick -- which perhaps also biasses my attitude to their work and their subsequent impact on scientific research.

I do have a kind of cumulative theory of scientific research, based on the observation that there seem to have been long periods of quiescence followed by explosive advance, often in more than one location simultaneously. We seem to spend a lot of time gathering evidence, as it were, until enough accumulates for some, more inspired than the rest, to be able to make sense of it, and discover a new approach, sometimes with far-reaching consequences. We have the habit of hailing such people as geniuses (which they are, of course) and playing down the work of those who patiently accumulated and classified the evidence over, often, a prolonged period. An example is the work of the late 19th century on atomic phenomena -- energy and spectra -- culminating in the Sonnenfelt atomic model, which, when conjoined to the work of the quantum mechanicists -- Schrodinger and Heisenberg in particular -- led to the initial theory of nuclear physics....