Deep LA Conference at The Huntington

I’ll be presenting a paper at the “Deep L.A.” graduate history conference taking place at The Huntington on October 3rd.

The conference is sponsored by UCLA and USC, with a focus on Los Angeles and Southern California regional history:

I’m presenting a portion of a chapter in my dissertation, which focuses on mainframes, paperwork, and the electrical utility company Southern California Edison during the postwar era.

Deep LA conference image

The Census Has Always Been “Big Data”

The Census has always been “Big Data,” with or without computers and the automation of information.

Census and Sensibility: A Little History of Big Data at IEEE

Consider just one use of today’s big data with a deep history and a major impact on computational technology: keeping track of a country’s citizenry. This has often been accomplished through a periodic counting, or census. Many references to censuses exist in the ancient world, from Egyptian tomb inscriptions and the Hebrew Bible to, perhaps, most famously, the “worldwide” Roman census described in the Book of Luke in the New Testament.

The Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph register for the Census in Ancient Rome
The Virgin and Saint Joseph register for the census before Governor Quirinius. Byzantine mosaic at the Chora Church, Constantinople 1315–20 — via Wikipedia

Digital Imaginaries at AoIR

AoIR sponsor image
Something tells me I should have applied to the Association of Internet Researchers annual conference this year — the theme is “Digital Imaginaries.”
The CFP has already passed, but the conference itself is coming up in late October, 21-24th, in Phoenix, Arizona.

The 16th annual Internet Research conference will provide an opportunity to question the ways that networked technologies are imagined and enter into collective imaginaries. In what ways do we culturally apprehend and make sense of digital media? These imaginaries influence our actual and potential uses of technology, as well as how we constrain, encourage, and dream about those uses.

People Working in Computer Room

As part of my dissertation I’m working with the Southern California Edison Photographs and Negatives collection at the Huntington Library. The photographic collection is now available online at the Huntington Digital Library. A few years ago when I first came across this collection, it was only available in-person on a single computer.

The two photos below are from “People working in computer room with 1″ tape drives”. These before and after photos taken in 1966 at SCE appear to show how people would fit alongside and interact with the mainframe computer.

Photographs such as these often show many people in the room, mostly trying to look busy, with a few of them staring at equipment or pretending to use the machine. These staged photographs for internal use are similar to those used for marketing. In both cases the images are designed to show how people and computers would work together.

SCE computer room animated gif
An animated gif I created, showing the transition within computerized space. The photographs are from “People working in computer room with 1″ tape drives,” in the SCE collection at the Huntington.

The mainframe in these photographs is a Control Data Corporation mainframe, and it appears to be a CDC 3200 system.

The Museum Victoria in Australia has some photographs online of a similar CDC 3200.

The Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley has a brochure for the CDC 3200 mainframe (PDF) available online as well.

a man working at a CDC 3200
This image is from the Computer History Museum’s brochure, “Control Data 3200 Computer System / Real Time Applications” (PDF)

Univac 494 marketing photographs

I came across this Univac photograph online, showing three people working in a computer room. Using a reverse Google Image Search, it appears that this image and a few others like it were posted online around 2006. From there it looks like the pictures were blogged here and there, recently posted to Pinterest, then making their way to Instagram. I can’t seem to find the original image online, but this one looks like a scan of a partially damaged photo most likely used for marketing. It’s possible that this image could be printed in a brochure other other advertisement.

univac 494 marketing photo

The image above is a little fuzzy, but the mainframe appears to be a Univac 494. This would date the photograph to 1965 or 1966 or so. The additional photographs below offer a closer view of the mainframe console and its peripherals. There’s also more information on the Univac 494 at Ed Thelen’s website.

univac 494 console

Univac 494 marketing diorama

Univac 494 mainframe room

Finding the Death of the Mainframe

Stewart Alsop, editor for Infoworld magazine in the 1990s eating his words, “Death to the Mainframe,” 2001 (via Computer History Museum)

I came across a blog post discussing the 50th anniversary of the IBM System/360, and it mentioned a prediction about the so-called “death of the mainframe.”

I had seen the photo before, of Stewart Alsop literally eating his words “Death to the Mainframe” with a knife and fork, but I had not seen the original quote in print, and I couldn’t find a citation.

Alsop’s Wikipedia page is in disrepair, and the quotation listed there didn’t have a proper citation — neither did the image at the Computer History Museum.

Back issues of InfoWorld magazine are online at Google Books, but searches there were not helpful. I kept finding references to the prediction, but not the original statement itself.

Then I happened across this forum discussion about the “Death of the Mainframe” on Google Groups, and one of the members noted that the original statement did not happen in the InfoWorld magazine, but at a conference.

The first reference in print to the death of the mainframe by Alsop is in the February 22, 1993 issue of InfoWorld magazine on page 4. The article reads:

Last week, we held the second InfoWorld Editorial EXPOsure, where 35 vendors from the Northwest showed hot new products to 26 of our editors and reporters and more than 70 of our readers (plus an odd assortment of other insiders and cognoscenti).

We also had a fun panel featuring columnists Cheryl Currid and Brian Livingston, along with four of our staff. The panel gave a lively discussion about the role of the mainframe in future information systems. I predicted that the last mainframe will be unplugged on March 15, 1996.

Alsop predicted the last mainframe would be unplugged in 1996 – InfoWorld, February 22, 1993.

[citation] Alsop, Stewart. “Microsoft’s Hermes: key network management system or myth?” Distributed Thinking, InfoWorld magazine. February 22, 1993. page 4.