August 26, 2008

From 0 to 1 in 1K

by Nick Montfort · , 6:33 am

From 0 to 1From 0 to 1: An Authoritative History of Modern Computing
Edited by Atsushi Akera and Frederik Nebeker
Oxford University Press
xi, 228 p.

The fifteen short essays barely cover the basics, sometimes repeat information, and focus doggedly on industry, not creative or personal use. Yet this is a valuable, interesting collection. The essays identify forces and lineages in computing history, rather than just laying out the bare chronicle. Information technologies before electronic computing are discussed, although the first part of Campell-Kelly and Asprey’s Computer: A History of the Information Machine is better overall on that topic. Also, the authors manage, in their compressed writings, to dip into delightful details: how Vannevar Bush’s invention of the torque amplifier allowed for analog integration to be done via a disk-wheel; why William S. Burroughs’s “crank-activated adder” was a success; the story of ADR’s AUTOFLOW, the first software product, which produced largely useless but obligatory flowcharts. There are some notable omissions, such as the notebook computer, along with great “further reading” lists and appendices on sources.