I am a voracious and insatiable reader. I go absolutely bats**t if I experience an idle moment without a book. I would rather skip a meal than sit somewhere eating without a book. That’s why I eat lunch at my desk while I work the vast majority of the time–I can’t abide stopping to eat without doing something else because it’s such a waste of time. All that to say I read constantly unless prevented from doing so and I will read just about anything as long as it feeds this addiction to learning and stimulation. So, in short, I’ve read a lot of books (and sides of cereal boxes, and local Small Town Shopper articles about knitting circles … anything … except sports-related nonsense) and I really thought I’d never find another book I enjoyed as Hackers by Stephen Levy. If I could find another copy, it would become one of the few books I’ve read more than once.
If you haven’t read Hackers (first of all, go read Hackers!), it’s about … well, it’s full title is Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. It’s largely about the men (and women, right? Weren’t there women in that book?) in the 50s and 60s who invented computers as we know them today. Every little advance they made is terribly exciting.
Last night with my son at the library, I stumbled across … yes, actually stumbled … my son was crawling and climbing all over me because … well, for two reasons … first, he has–like his dad–extreme ADHD. Second, he selects his books much faster than I do. So, I’m trying to walk through the stacks like a homo sapien but can barely stand or move when I find … drum roll, please …
ENIAC: The Triumphs and Tragedies of the World’s First Computer by Scott McCartney
So far, it’s even better than Hackers and I’m only 37 pages into it.
Some of McCartney’s references to things like “living in a wired world” and “You’ve got mail!” are rather quaint considering the book was published in 1999 (Woo-hoo! Space 1999 and Prince, yo!) but he can weave suspense stories, however short, about Blaise Pascal and a, thankfully, much longer, story about Charles Babbage like nobody’s business. I’ve known about their work since I first started learning about the invention(s) of computers in 2000, but McCartney puts them in context, personalizes them, and brings them to life.
Hmm … I find it interesting to realize I started to learn programming (just BASIC) in 1980-81 and 1985-86 but didn’t begin learning about computers themselves until fifteen years later.
ENIAC In My Life
My personal encounter with ENIAC is, I think, pretty darn cool. While working as a training designer at Little Caesar’s world headquarters in Detroit, MI (313 represent!), I made oodles of short films for training, motivational, and entertainment purposes. For one, “The History of Little Caesar’s” (more fun than fact), we showed the history of Little Caesar’s through scenes depicting prehistoric times (cave people trading bones for pizza), ancient Rome, and others, eventually working through the introduction of computers. The University of Michigan was kind enough to let us film inside–yes, inside–the ENIAC display! Our brave protagonist in a Little Caesar’s uniform served pizza reaching around vacuum tubes and through massive amounts of wiring–it was most awesome.
There’s a third or fourth movie coming out about Mr. Steve Jobs, the man who destroyed my career by killing Flash–what made eLearning (and creating it) great once upon a time. I’ve seen two or three of them myself and, if you’re in it for the awesomeness of computer history instead of the cult of personality, the only real choice is still The Pirates of Silicon Valley. If you haven’t seen it, find a copy (which isn’t easy) and enjoy.