Christie's auction and other computer history events

From: Tom Jennings <>
Date: Fri Feb 18 00:41:49 2005

On Thu, 17 Feb 2005, William Donzelli wrote:

>> Unfortunately, yes! For example, someone who knows better --
>> relegates most of the British computing development to an appendix
>> in hos book is the oft-quoted THE COMPUTER FROM PASCAL TO VON
>> NEUMANN by Goldstine. He vastly downplays the british work, like
>> EDSAC etc. He does mention it, but almost in passing.
> Well, I guess it does happen, although most people I know don't really see
> it that way.

Most people don't, I agree, but that doesn't make it right; even a
simplistic list of the first 20 or so stored program computers
that actually operated is mostly british. There's a reason for that.
The fact they were poor at the business side only amplifies the
leap they had (I realize you can take that two or more ways :-)

> On the flip side, it really bugs me how many give the lion's
> share of radar (and electronic innovation) invention in World War 2 to the
> British. I suppose it is the "history written by the victors" effect.

Well I sort of agree with you, but huh!? -- 'victors'? US at war
with Britain? Wrong century! :-) The brits did make the magnetron
(no small feat) but certainly, absolutely, the americans developed
the shit out of it!

>> Having recently been bombed into rubble may have had some
>> influence... and the U.S. industry in the opposite state... ahem.
> But it wasn't "recently". By 1960, when computers were really starting to
> make serious inroads into business, most of Western Europe was well back
> on it feet.

Well, two points. One, most of the early developmental work of
electronic devices was 1946 on, where England was still ruinated
(that's a perfectly cromulent word). Two, personally, I don't care
about nor follow the business of computing, only the ideas and
mechanisms, software and hardware.

Though I'll grant -- assuming for argument that Europe (you define
:-) was on equal footing w/respect to U.S. on ability to
business-ize computing, they likely would have failed, relatively
speaking. Though Bull etc are hardly failures -- and in *any*
startup industry, most of the early players all drop dead. (In the
U.S. automobile business there were something like 200+ distinct
manufacturers of automobiles in 1915; the numbers evaporated like
alcohol on a hot rock.)

> A previous poster mention IBM being the driving force. I don't think
> so. According to the MIT book, in the late 1950s, when IBM was not yet the
> dominant figure in the computer business (in the US, anyway, it was
> still a free for all until 1960 or so), they did
> manage to really roll over everyone in Europe. Why did IBM gain this
> dominance in Europe a few years before they gained it in the US? What was
> the difference? That is perhaps my question.

Herb Grosch can answer a lot of that, his autobio is on the web!
In short, as I recall it, IBM had a solid, expensive presence, and
were reeeeeeeally good at 'well you coooould by the cheaper one,
but what if it breaks?' logic. Be warned, he's a self-admitted
sonofabitch, very self-centered, but his biases are fairly obvious
and honest enough. He *really* covers the European business scene
late 50's/early 60's, as a salesmammal for GE mainly. He kept his
notes, visited amazing places and talked to amazing people.
Cheated on his wife in front of her, a real party pig and
womanizer. Larger than life, etc.

Regeneration of Grosch's Law that's in COMPUTER LIB:

Grosch's Law:
official: Computer performance increases as the square of the

informal: If you want to do it twice as cheaply, you have to do it
four times slower.

conclusion: No matter how clever the hardware boys are, the
software boys piss it away!
Received on Fri Feb 18 2005 - 00:41:49 GMT

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