"Revolution: Computing the First 2000 Years” – by David Laws

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The Neiman Marcus Kitchen computer
The Neiman Marcus Kitchen computer

On Saturday, May 21st, 35 BATW members and friends traveled through 2,000 years of computing history. And, courtesy of Mark Coker of Smashwords, took a peek into the future of their craft.
The May meeting, hosted by the Computer History Museum, began with a generous continental breakfast and special viewing of a unique, decorative wreath fabricated from IBM punch cards that was donated to the collection by BATW member Camille Bounds. In the 1960s, Camille helped her husband pay his college tuition by building these colorful wreaths and selling them outside the local grocery store.
Smashwords founder Mark Coker told how he and his wife wrote a novel and, despite representation from one of New York’s top literary agencies, were unable to sell it to a publisher. The experience inspired Mark, who founded a free ebook publishing and distribution platform to provide an alternative outlet for indie authors and small publishers. (An author uploads a finished manuscript in a variety of popular formats. It is then converted into nine ebook formats and made immediately available for sale.) Smashwords has helped more than 18,000 authors publish, produce, distribute and sell over 45,000 original works. For more information, visit www.smashwords.com.
The Computer History Museum is the world’s largest institution devoted to preserving and presenting the artifacts and stories of the information revolution. Founded in Boston in 1979, the museum is now located in a striking, high-tech building just off Highway 101 in Mountain View. Three docents introduced BATW members to the highlights of CHM’s first permanent exhibit, Revolution: Computing the First 2000 Years, which opened in January. Comprising 19 galleries spread across 25,000 square feet, the exhibit includes more than 1,000 significant historical artifacts, five HD video theaters and 200-plus individual video displays, and represents a $19 million investment in facilities and exhibits. Afterward, members were free to explore at leisure any specific topics that caught their interest.
Two of the more popular displays included the Kitchen Computer and the prototype of the Atari Pong video game. The 1969 Neiman Marcus catalog tried to persuade the housewife who had everything to spend $10,000 to store her recipes (in binary code) on the company’s stylish new minicomputer. It’s probably no surprise to learn that they sold not a single unit. At the other extreme of success, when Atari installed the first Pong game in Andy Capp’s tavern in Sunnyvale, the bar owner called the company after a couple of days to complain that it was broken and his customers were angry. An engineer sent to check on the problem discovered a major design flaw: the small coin box was stuffed full of money and could take no more. The engineer executed one of the fastest bug fixes in Valley history—he installed a larger coin box.
More mathematically inclined visitors were enthralled with an extended dissertation on how Victorian computing pioneer Charles Babbage exploited the method of finite differences for the calculation of 7th-order polynomials to 31 digits of accuracy. Personally, I enjoyed the kinetic sculptural effect of lights flashing on whirling gears as a docent manually cranked Babbage’s 3-ton steel and brass difference engine into life. For more information on the museum visit www.computerhistory.org.
If you were unable to attend the May 21st BATW visit to the Computer History Museum but wish to review the “Revolution: Computing the First 2000 Years” exhibit for a possible article, please contact Marketing Manager Carina Sweet (650-810-1059 or csweet@computerhistory.org) so she can arrange a suitable time.
If you’d like to check out Mark Coker’s presentation on ebook publishing, you can access it easily at this shortcut: http://slidesha.re/lyyJ1z
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