5.0127 Humanities Computing Pasts and Futures (4/120)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Thu, 6 Jun 91 16:55:35 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 5, No. 0127. Thursday, 6 Jun 1991.

(1) Date: Wed, 05 Jun 91 16:03 PDT (14 lines)
Subject: Re: 5.0121 Disappearance of Humanities Computing

(2) Date: Wed, 05 Jun 91 22:13 PDT (20 lines)
From: "Vicky A. Walsh" <IMD7VAW@UCLAMVS.BITNET>
Subject: Re: 5.0118 Humanities Computing Disappearing?

(3) Date: Thu, 6 Jun 91 12:54:16 -0500 (73 lines)
From: Alan D Corre <corre@convex.csd.uwm.edu>
Subject: Historical Lucubration

(4) Date: Thu, 6 Jun 91 19:16 GMT (13 lines)
From: George Aichele <0004705237@mcimail.com>
Subject: Humanities Computing

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Wed, 05 Jun 91 16:03 PDT
Subject: Re: 5.0121 Disappearance of Humanities Computing

Dear Willard, apart from all else, there is over the coming few years,
the ques tion of...$$$! Investment in the hardware is the last thing
administrators may want to hear about until 2000. Right now in
California the ruin is spreading, t o quote Auden, like a gradual stain.
teaching slots are disappearing like slash and burn forests in Amazonia,
and classes are getting to be huger and huger, a nd support is going
going...go...aaaah....! Meanwhile, the machinery, such as b rian
describes is getting to be more and more available and cheaper, etc. this
is also a question to be addressed, i surmise. Jascha Kessler

(2) --------------------------------------------------------------114---
Date: Wed, 05 Jun 91 22:13 PDT
From: "Vicky A. Walsh" <IMD7VAW@UCLAMVS.BITNET>
Subject: Re: 5.0118 Humanities Computing Disappearing?

Reply to Willard:

A trend that seems to be occuring in many universities, especially larger
ones, is to a collaboration between central and distributed computing.
The need has been recognized and is being acted on, finally!, to put
the service as close as possible to the user. Therefore, the need for
Humanities (and others) computing support should remain strong for some
time to come. That doesn't mean it won't change in various ways, but
until faculty really want to do it all themselves, I don't see us
disappearing quite yet. The need for computing support should only grow
as people start doing the really innovative stuff for instruction and
research that we have only talked about so far.

Optimistically (??) yours,

Vicky Walsh, UCLA
(3) --------------------------------------------------------------71----
Date: Thu, 6 Jun 91 12:54:16 -0500
From: Alan D Corre <corre@convex.csd.uwm.edu>
Subject: Historical Lucubration

The changes that have taken place in the world of computing in a period
appreciably less than my lifetime I find truly awesome. It is
contemplating such casual miracles that makes me religious. Here are
some quotes from the early literature of computing that point up the

"The most important...assurance of efficient operation is to have
intelligent operators...

"The actual coding of a problem is very much an individual effort. A
good notation would be a real help here, but we have unfortunately
inherited...a set of machine orders which are probably as complex as any
in existence...we have minimized the disadvantages by providing
convenient cards with the order code and notation precisely summarized...
"All is not as dismal as might seem from the long list of difficulties."
---C.C. Gotlieb, JACM 1 p. 124, (1954)

There were no higher languages at that time. Each computer had its own
assembly language which dealt with the computer procedure, rather than
the human problem. In fact, people did not even know whether a higher
language was feasible. A "letter to the Editor" in 1959 read:

"It is extremely desirable to have a language for stating problems.
Existing programming languages are procedure-statement languages in
which a problem to be solved cannot be stated---only the procedure for
solving it can be stated...Could a usable language of this sort exist?
We are not certain."

Nowadays, the US government does not permit assembly language to be used
in software it commissions. Yet thirty years ago, this writer was
wondering if the other kind could even exist. The eruption of FORTRAN
and LISP right at that time showed that there was not only "a usable
language" but potentially many. Around the same time the Share
committee on universal languages dismissed the possibility that a
universal language could exist:

"...any attempt at universality of problem-oriented languages will result
either in inadequacy...or such extensiveness as to become useless."

Computing in the fifties was a little bit sexist despite the existence of
that remarkable lady Grace Hopper, who claims that the original "bug"
was a moth that got into her computer:

"Computer conferences are becoming a family affair...An extensive
program of scheduled activities has been planned for ladies attending
the Western Joint Computer conference May 6-8 [1958] in Los
Angeles...shopping...visiting Disneyland..." (Comm.ACM 1.3 (1958) p. 22)
The word "ladies" is italicized.

In 1958 the Science Education Newsletter declared: "Computers are here
to stay." True. About the same time the financial statement of the
Association for Computing Machinery declared its 1957 income from the
sale of publications. The amount---one dollar and fifty cents. I was
buying ten rides on the Philadelphia subway for that at the time, but it
still wasn't much money. The U.S. civil service was advertising for
electronic engineers then to work on computers at annual salaries
ranging from $4,000 to $11,000.

The last quote is my favorite. You can barely manage on 640K in your
laptop? Read this from 1954. It refers to the IBM 702, which you would
not have wanted to have on your lap:

"The high speed could not be very effective, were it not supported by a
large internal storage capacity...the main storage device is the
electrostatic memory with a capacity equivalent to 125 punched-cards,
and it can be supplemented by one or more magnetic drums each storing
750 cards worth." (JACM 1, p. 149)

Let's see, 125 x 80 = 10,000. WordPerfect, anybody?
(4) --------------------------------------------------------------23----
Date: Thu, 6 Jun 91 19:16 GMT
From: George Aichele <0004705237@mcimail.com>
Subject: Humanities Computing

It's not exactly about humanities computing, but David Brin's recent
sci-fi (but _not_ "cyberpunk") novel *EARTH* presents a
thought-provoking (and, I think, credible) image of computer networks in
the near future. The networks play both an important part in Brin's
story, and in the way the story is told.

George Aichele