Category Archives: Historical

[Video 437] Dermot Turing: The other Alan Turing

Alan Turing is one of the most famous early computer scientists: He provided us with many of the theories of computation (e.g., so-called “Turing machines“) that are seen as fundamental to computer science. But beyond the headlines, stories, and even a movie about Turing’s life, there is much that many of us don’t know. In this talk, Demont Turing — Alan Turing’s nephew — provides insights, depth, and stories about his uncle, including both professional and personal information.

[Video 424] Russ Olsen: To the Moon

Has your boss ever come to you with an impossible task? Well, just be thankful that your boss isn’t the President, and your task doesn’t involve going to the moon. In this talk, Russ Olsen describes the many seemingly-impossible tasks that engineers were handed when John F. Kennedy decided that the United States should put an astronaut on the moon.  Not only does this project make for an exciting and interesting story, but it also provides us with a terrific tale of how to break a seemingly impossible project into smaller parts, iterating closer and closer to success.

[Video 383] Colin Fulton: String Theory and Time Travel: the humble text editor

Once upon a time, developers all used text editors — supercharged programs that allowed them to write and edit their programs. These text editors seemed simple on the outside, but were designed for developer productivity, and included a huge number of features meant for that purpose. How are text editors different from today’s IDEs (integrated development environments)? More importantly, how are they better than IDEs, and what can they teach us about programming, software design, and the tools that we use? In this talk, Colin Fulton traces through the history of text editing (especially on Unix), and how understanding this history can provide us with a greater appreciation of the power these programs offer developers.

[Video 370] Alvaro Videla: Harmful GOTOs, Premature Optimizations and Programming Myths

How many times have you heard that goto is a bad idea? Or more specifically, “GOTO considered harmful?” The odds are that you’ve heard this many times, along with many other statements that have made their way through computer-industry lore. In this talk, Alvaro Videla introduces a number of these myths and statements, describes the circumstances in which they were made, and helps us to understand the reasons why such smart people would make such seemingly dogmatic, inflexible, and unqualified statements. If you’re interested in the history of the computer industry, or the ways in which our programming languages, techniques, and tools have evolved over time, this talk should be quite enjoyable.

[Video 359] Melissa Pierce: Grace Murray Hopper: The Original Pirate Hacker

Many programmers (especially older programmers) have heard of Grace Murray Hopper, the American Navy admiral who contributed greatly to the field of programming. But just what did she contribute? How much of an impact did she have on the technology, and on the culture of software? In this talk by Melissa Pierce, it would seem that Hopper was not only a gifted technologist, but also someone who liked to push the envelope — even within the US Navy. If you never knew who Grace Hopper was, and even if you did, this talk is likely to provide you with many insights into a woman whose work has influenced our lives and careers, many decades later.

[Video 354] Brian Troutwine: The Charming Genius of the Apollo Guidance Computer

The Apollo space program, which resulted in the United States putting astronauts on the moon, was challenging in a number of ways. Among them was the fact that they needed to design, build, and implement a computer that would fit into a spacecraft, and would control the flight operations of that spacecraft. The result, the first fly-by-wire system in the world, was surprisingly elegant and clever, and is interesting for modern software engineers. In this talk, Brian Troutwine introduces us to the Apollo guidance system, describing its specifications and engineering challenges in ways that modern software engineers can understand and appreciate. If you have ever complained about the extreme constraints placed on your work, you’ll be impressed by the ways in which these engineers created a computer, programmed it, tested it, and ultimately led to the moon landing.

[Video 300] Douglas Engelbart: The Mother of All Demos

Back in 1968, Douglas Engelbart demonstrated a number of new technologies. These included the mouse, hypertext, real-time editing collaboration, and videoconferencing.  This demonstration, which is nearly 50 years old, is amazing for the numerous technologies that were introduced as breakthrough technologies — almost all of which are commonplace parts of our world today. For our 300th video, we present this historical demo, far less exciting in its presentation than what we get from Silicon Valley, but far greater in its impact than almost any presentation before or since.