The first recorded use of the term computer was in 1633, although not to describe what we would consider a computer today. It was originally coined to describe people who performed complex calculations. It wasn't until 300 years later people began to realise machines could do the same job. There are several contenders for the first computer, you can read about them here, as computers gradually evolved over a number of years.
However it's a safe bet that most of the names that spring to mind are men. Such as Charles Babbage, whose difference engine was the world's first automatic computing machine; and Alan Turing (The Imitation Game) whose theories laid the foundations of modern computing. There are of course some people who believe all our computer technology derives from the UFO that crashed at Roswell.
It hard to believe now, with more computing power under your desk than the mainframes I use to programme in the 1980's and 90's, that during the 2nd World War the US army relied on women to calculate artillery firing tables. Women who have largely been airbrushed from the history of computing, which has come to be seen as a male dominated history.
ENIAC, considered to be the world's first electronic general-purpose computer, was conceived in 1943 to simplify the process of calculating those artillery firing tables. Although it wasn't completed till 1946 and subsequently used to develop the hydrogen bomb. At today's prices it cost around $6 million and when unveiled to the public it was its male designers that got all the glory. The women standing in the background dismissed as office clerks.
Yet these women, Kay McNulty, Betty Jennings, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Wescoff, Fran Bilas and Ruth Lichterman, were what could be considered the world's first computer programmers. No mean feat, considering there were no computer programming languages to work with. FORTRAN, the first major computer programming language, didn't emerge till 1957. The programme had to be figured out manually on paper, then programmed into ENIAC by manipulating its switches and cables, after which it could be tested and debugged. The input/output for its first programme, exploring the feasibility of the hydrogen bomb, took up one million cards.
Jennifer S. Light's 1999 essay, "When Computers Were Women" is well worth a read if you want to find out more about the often under-rated role of women in computer science. Sadly the Gamergate controversy suggests sexism is still alive and well in at least in some quarters of the computer industry.
On a lighter note the reason I choose 'Abort, Retry Fail?' as a heading was to sum up my week. Last weekend I foolish spent the best weekend (weather wise) of the year so far clearing out the garage. Then discovering how to assemble/disassemble a roof bars and roofbox, in preparation for our road trip to the Isle of Skye. Apparently its going to take as long to drive to Skye as it does to fly from London to Beijing. If you see a car driving round with cryptic stickers on the roof bars (FL, FR, RL, RR) its mine.
The plan was to celebrate BST with a trip to the mountains this weekend. Fat chance, as the mountains within in reach are being lashed by a combination of heavy rain, snow, and gale to storm force winds. Making, in the words of the Met Office, walking on exposed ridges and summits 'difficult'. I guess its what you call back in the heyday of my favourite home computer, the Amiga, a Guru meditation error, but that's a whole new blog.
Oh, and I nearly forgot there's a new short story on the blog as this week, 'Project Ares'. In the light of recent tragic events I've modified the story slightly to remove a reference to a mountain so as not to cause offence.