A heatsink made from diamond and copper by Noctua.
If you cannot calculate, you cannot speculate on future pleasure and your life will not be that of a human, but that of an oyster or a jellyfish.
– Plato in Philebus
There is considerable evidence of the mainframe era, the rise of the PC, and the early internet, but the more mundane details of computing history are often lost to software updates and hardware trends. The era before digital computers, when “computer” meant a human performing calculation, has left considerable records of the “how” of this work: where it was done, for what purpose, and by whom. The work of scholars studying human computing, notably Grier and Campbell-Kelly, focuses on the social, political, and scientific aspects. We know the details of William Samuel Stratford’s Nautical Almanac in England and the long narrative of the Mathematical Tables Project in New York City, but little has been written on the physical infrastructures of human computing such as office layouts and furniture, or the ephemera like the worksheets used to complete calculations. Because most of the physical infrastructure exists only in snippets of written material or in the background of photographs, I will only sketch some of the physical objects used in human computing, and mostly focus on 20th-century projects.
This account omits discussion of mechanical, electronic, and digital computing aides for human computers. Those devices are well researched, and many artifacts and detailed descriptions exist. Instead, this essay focuses on the lost fragments of physical infrastructure, namely worksheets, offices and furniture, and posters and other ephemera.
While working on a piece, I made a list of every computer I’ve owned or used regularly. I thought that we be 5-6, but the list kept growing and is not at 18.
|1988-96||Apple IIGS||Used in elementary and middle school, mostly to play Number Munchers and Oregon Trail|
|1994-96||486 of some kind||Used at home for DOS games (didn't really know how to do anything else)|
|1996-98||Compaq Presario 5140||Used at home, used for games, going on AOL, graphics programs - all with that distinctive power/sleep button|
|1998-2000||Some kind of eMachines desktop||Used at home for games, going on the real internet, using a cracked version of Corel Draw that Steve gave me, building webistes using hand-written HTML and launching on Tripod|
|2000-2004||Apple Power Macintosh G3 (Blue & White)||Used at college (I'm pretty sure this is the kind we had), used mostly for Photoshop, Illustrator, and writing papers|
|2002-2004||Toshiba Tecra 8000 laptop||Used while in college (passed down from my dad's office), recorded some crappy little songs using the built-in sound recording app and a plastic mic|
|2004-2006||Gateway laptop (still unidentified)||Also used in late college and in early grad school, used for recording music on a cracked version of Cakewalk, making art using cracked versions of all kinds of software|
|2006-2009||Mac PowerBook 12" laptop||Used during grad school and after for EVERYTHING, mostly on cracked software, too :)|
|2009-11||iPhone 3GS||My first smartphone, bought after I lost the charger to my crappy cellphone, played lots of Scrabble on this|
|2009-13||MacBook Pro 15" (2x)||Used at first teaching job with NO cracked software! (2 different computers of the same model)|
|2011-13||iPhone 4||Replaced my previous smartphone, donated the old one to Angeles, played lots of Angry Birds on this|
|2012-present||Raspberry Pi Model B||Bought very early on, now runs all my bots|
|2013-prese||Nexus 10 tablet||Bought using a grant, mostly to run Processing sketches|
|2013-present||MacBook Pro 15" w Retina Display||Current workhorse|
|2014-present||Mac Mini||Also bought using a grant, mostly for installations (and formerly for and running bots)|
|2014-present||iPhone 5s||Current smartphone, mostly use for email and directions/maps|
* A note: by computer I mean anything that can do significant processing, like a smartphone, not anything that does computation or runs programs. I’m also excluding computers that I’ve used but don’t work here, like supercomputers :)
Using the command
lsof, below is part of the list of all 4,962 files that my computer has open right now.
/System/Library/ColorSync/Profiles/Generic RGB Profile.icc
The full list is available here (about a 300k text file).
The Neurogrid, a low-cost, low-power computer that simulates 1 million neurons and 6 billion synapses in real-time (via Hackaday)