Tabulating The 1890 Census


A report of the tabulation of the 1890 US Census from the Chicago Tribune, which, for the first time, used Hollerith punch cards for automated counting. Below is an excerpt of a particularly stark depiction of the role statistics played, and the narratives they told:

“The main Census Office is on G street, near the Pension Building. The edifice is of brick and six stories high. It is here that the returns are tabulated by special classes. Lists of the blind, the deaf, the dumb, paupers, and criminal classes are made, with special information about each. In compiling these lists machines invented by a former employee of the bureau are used. The system is very ingenious. A young lady sits at a little table upon which there is a metal plate containing 240 holes. These holes are marked by letters. “B.” means black; “M.,” male; “En.,” speaks English; “O. K. ” free from disease; “Bu.,” guilty of burglary; “Wd.,” widow or widower, according to sex, and so on. With the enumerator’s special returns before her the young lady places a blank card beneath the metal plate. She looks at the special return. The person is a negro. She shoves a punch through the hole marked B. The person is a male. She punches the hole marked M. He speaks English. She sends the punch through the hole marked En. He is free from disease. The punch goes through the hole marked O. K. He is guilty of burglary. The Bu hole is punched.

Continue reading “Tabulating The 1890 Census”

Notes: “The Future Was Here” by Jimmy Maher

A few notes on The Future Was Here: The Commodore Amiga by Jimmy Maher, part of MIT Press’ “platform studies” series:

+ I am fascinated by the idea of the institutional computer (ie: mainframe that one logs into as a shared resource) versus the personal computer (pg 6) – a distinction that might be obvious to someone who did not grow up around PCs.

+ Images we see on the computer screen “also exist within the memory of the computer itself.  The latter image is in fact the original of the image that is mirrored to the monitor” (page 23).

+ Early digital artist Rodney Chang (top) in 1989: “My work helps document the progress the software makes” (pg 79 – originally from Mindy Skelton’s article “Rodney Chang: Artist on the Edge” in Info #25, pg 45).

+ For old-school ray-tracing, the Maher suggests Principles of Three-Dimensional Computer Animation by Michael O’Rourke (pg 89).  O’Rourke breaks the 3d rendering process into six pieces: object geometry, the camera, the lights, the surface characteristics, the shading algorithm, and the rendering algorithm.

+ Another old-school rendering technique and alternative to the slower ray-tracing is the “scanline snapshot” method (pg 105).  Little information is available online, but a brief mention in a Spanish page about the Amiga also has some cool screenshots of Amiga art.

+ The Digi-View which captured video frames but could be used as a rudimentary scanner as well – for color, one must capture the same frame four times with “a set of colored filters, one each for red, green, and blue (pg 122).  Since most subjects can’t sit still for the 30-seconds or so required for each image (of three), images were often captured from printed photographs.

+ One of the first known computer viruses was called the “Elk Cloner”, which would incidentally be a fantastic band name (think high school sci-fi punk, if such a genre exists).  Created in 1982 by “a 15-year-old American high school student named Rich Skrenta [using] an Apple II… spread from floppy disk to floppy disk, displaying a mocking limerick on every fiftieth infection”.  The virus, intended as an inside joke among friends, but was eventually seen as “threatening enough to be the subject of a presentation by the Department of Defense/National Bureau of Standards Computer Security Conference that year” (page 171).  For a full digital version of Fred Cohen’s paper from that conference, see:

+ Finally, the 1984 game Elite, developed by David Braben and Ian Bell.  Fascinating because the designers were able to squeeze “eight galaxies, each of which houses 256 star systems… [each of which] has its own name, economy, even system of government” – all fitting into 32kb.  The game also featured algorithmically-created graphics, built in realtime to avoid being saved as assets (pg 216).

Mother of All Demos

Above image (and below video) of Douglas Engelbart’s amazing and somewhat freaky 1968 demo of their new computing system.  Not only was it online (and they used that term) communicating with the computer terminal remotely, but included lots of weird overlays and cyborg-looking accessories, it almost looks like one of those keyboards that we use to play video games with elo boost services.  From the video description:

On December 9, 1968, Douglas C. Engelbart and the group of 17 researchers working with him in the Augmentation Research Center at Stanford Research Institute in Menlo Park, CA, presented a 90-minute live public demonstration of the online system, NLS, they had been working on since 1962. The public presentation was a session in the of the Fall Joint Computer Conference held at the Convention Center in San Francisco, and it was attended by about 1,000 computer professionals. This was the public debut of the computer mouse. But the mouse was only one of many innovations demonstrated that day, including hypertext, object addressing and dynamic file linking, as well as shared-screen collaboration involving two persons at different sites communicating over a network with audio and video interface.

Part one of the video below (9 total, if you have the patience for the whole thing – also available for download from the Internet Archive):

Via: Hackaday