Q&A: A lost interview with ENIAC co-inventor J. Presper Eckert
On the the 60th anniversary of the unveiling of ENIAC, a newly discovered interview with "Pres" Eckert explodes some ENIAC myths.
J. Presper Eckert
I recorded two days of interviews with "Pres" Eckert in 1989. He was 70 years old. My father was Pres' best friend from childhood and I'd spent my childhood playing with his children. I visited him regularly as an adult. On that day, we spoke in his living room in Gladwyne, Pa. -- most of the time sitting on the floor. We stopped talking about computers only to fiddle with his Nova Chord electronic organ, which predated ENIAC, and we fiddled with stereo speakers. On a second occasion I recorded a conversation at his daughter's home in western Massachusetts. Eckert died in 1995. I've had the interview tapes for many years, but decided to transcribe them for ENIAC's 60th anniversary.
How did calculating machines work before ENIAC?
Well, a person with a paper and pencil can add two 10-digit numbers in about 10 seconds. With a hand calculator the time is down to 4 seconds. The Harvard Mark 1 was the last of the electromechanical computers -- it could add two 10-digit numbers in 0.3 seconds, about 30 times faster than paper and pencil.
When I was a graduate student, the Moore School of Electronics had two analyzers that were essentially copies of Vannevar Bush's machine from MIT.
What could that machine do?
It could solve linear differential equations, but only linear equations. It had a long framework divided into sections with a couple dozen shafts buried through it. You could put different gears on the shafts using screwdrivers and hammers and it had "integrators," that gave [the] product of two shafts coming in on a third shaft coming out. By picking the right gear ratio you should get the right constants in the equation. We used published tables to pick the gear ratios to get whatever number you wanted. The limit on accuracy of this machine was the slippage of the mechanical wheels on the integrator.
That made me say, "Let's built electronic integrators and stick them into this machine instead of those wheel
- 15 Non-Certified IT Skills Growing in Demand
- How 19 Tech Titans Target Healthcare
- Twitter Suffering From Growing Pains (and Facebook Comparisons)
- Agile Comes to Data Integration
- Slideshow: 7 security mistakes people make with their mobile device
- iOS vs. Android: Which is more secure?
- 11 sure signs you've been hacked
- 4 Customers who never have to refresh their PCs again This paper illustrates a common theme: the combination of desktop virtualization and thin client computing helps organizations deliver an up-to-date user experience more...
- Mobile Devices: The New Thin Clients Get essential guidance for understanding the role thin clients plus virtual desktops play in the enterprise today.
- Taking Windows Mobile on Any Device Taking Windows applications mobile has many advantages, but the process of identifying a solution is complex. Learn how to solve this complex problem...
- PaaS - Powering a New Era of Business IT Why PaaS has suddenly become relevant and irresistible to many organizations. Dive into the opportunities and considerations associated with using PaaS from an...
- Redefine Your IT Operations: Remote Office IT Has Never Been Simpler Join us to see why PC Pro named Dell PowerEdge VRTX the "2013 Server of the Year." PowerEdge VRTX may be just what...
- Meg Whitman presents Unlocking IT with Big Data During this Web Event you will hear Meg Whitman, President and CEO, HP discuss HAVEn - the #1 Big Data platform, as well... All Hardware White Papers | Webcasts