Monday, April 27, 2009

Books I'm Reading 11) ENIAC by Scott McCartney

A few years ago while I was leaving engineering, trying to decide whether or not to pursue IP law, I was reading a story about a guy named Eckert who's name I recalled in relation to being the primary engineer on the first computer (ENIAC) but who's story I didn't really know. By chance I came across this book one day and was surprised how much of the narrative of Pres Eckery and John Mauchly that I didn't know.

I had always associated the first computer with John Von Neumann and didn't even recall the name of John Mauchly in the whole story. Reading this book the first time is something like revising history. But in a good way. There's something comfortable in the idea of computers coming about because of some eccentric scientists desires to predict the weather.

Overall the book is a well written historical narrative. There are pieces of the lives and stories of Eckerty and Mauchly that I think could be expanded to better understand the men, but given that the focus of the book is on their work, it's an oversight I can excuse.

As far as history goes, I actually came across this book because at the time I was looking at pursuing Intellectual Property Law and the patent case filed with regards to some of the earliest computers was an interesting case. Invalidated by the federal courts mostly because it was the right social decision at the time (for the newborn computer industry) and not really on the technical merits of the case, the patent lawsuits and the many indignities before and after would have made anyone bitter.

Overall a good book and one worth reading if you're in a computer field. Understand where you come from and it gives you a better idea of where you're going Pres Eckert was an astounding engineer and I'm astounded by how his predictions with computers have turned out.


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