IBM 5100

Saturday, December 15, AD 2012

Hattip to Ann Althouse.  A trip down tech memory lane.  The IBM 5100 came out in 1975, the year I went off to the U of I as a freshman.  I was fascinated by computers, so I would hang around the Foreign Language Research Building until 11:00 PM and play Space War on one of the main frames until the administration put a stop to that the next semester.

Note in the commercial that IBM says the computer cost is “reasonable”.  In 1975 dollars you would pay 11,000 for the 16kb version.  For the 64kb  version the cost was twenty grand, which was the entire annual income for my parents at that time.  When I started practicing law I earned 16,000 my first year out.  The IBM 5100 was definitely only for businesses, the rich or the truly crazed tech heads.  I didn’t obtain my first computer, a Commodore 64, until 1987, and that cost my wife and I $1,000.00 for 64kb  ( Fortunately my wife loves computers as much as I do).  The next year we picked up an IBM with the same memory for a grand.  We then did an upgrade almost immediately so we would have two, count them!, two floppy drives.  An IBM with a harddrive had to wait until 1991.  That first harddrive had 20MB and I recall wondering how we would ever fill up that space.

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The Age of Innovation

Tuesday, October 11, AD 2011

Good post from Carl Olson on Steve Jobs that casts a different light on the man than some of the hagiography that we’ve seen.  What caught my attention and what I wanted to post about, however, was another article that he linked to which was written by Vaclav Smil.  It hits upon a subject I’ve been meaning to blog about since Jobs’s death.  The long and short of it: Steve Jobs was no Thomas Edison.

I have no desire to disparage or dismiss anything Jobs has done for his company, for its stockholders, or for millions of people who are incurably addicted to incessantly checking their  tiny Apple phones or washing their brains with endless streams of music—I just want to explain why Jobs is no Edison.

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10 Responses to The Age of Innovation

  • Perhaps, a stretch but this article makes me recall this exchange in Inherit the Wind with Spencer Tracy and Frederic March:

    Brady: Is it possible that something is holy to the celebrated agnostic?

    Drummond: Yes. The individual human mind. In a child’s power to master the multiplication table, there is more sanctity than in all your shouted “amens” and “holy holies” and “hosannas.” An idea is a greater monument than a cathedral. And the advance of man’s knowledge is a greater miracle than all the sticks turned to snakes or the parting of the waters. But, now, are we to forgo all this progress because Mr. Brady now frightens us with a fable?! Gentlemen, progress has never been a bargain. You have to pay for it. Sometimes I think there’s a man who sits behind a counter and says, “Alright, you can have a telephone, but you lose privacy and the charm of distance.” “Madam, you may vote, but at a price. You lose the right to retreat behind the powder-puff or your petticoat.” “Mr., you may conquer the air, but the birds will lose their wonder and the clouds will smell of gasoline.” Darwin took us forward to a hilltop from where we could look back and see the way from which we came, but for this insight, and for this knowledge, we must abandon our faith in the pleasant poetry of Genesis.

  • I was thinking about something along these lines a while back when I was on a flight checking my email and getting cramps in my wrists and started thinking, “Really? We can put internet access into planes but can’t make flying efficient enough that people don’t have to be crammed in like sardines for it to be sustainable? Is this really progress?”

    On the computer issue, all the basic theory on which personal computing (or any kind of computing) was based had been worked out by 1940; when we talk about the revolution in modern computing, we’re really talking about integrated circuits, which still gets us only as late as the 1950s, and thus even if we take Steyn and Smil to be underestimating the importance of computers, the central discovery of that is almost an exception that proves the rule: one could just as easily take the integrated circuit to be a late bloomer, the last hoo-rah, so to speak — people were working toward things roughly like integrated circuits in the 40s, and it’s just that some tricky issues with materials and precise design took some time to work out (e.g., it took some time to recognize that full integration was in general a better design than modular wafers, and it took a while to realize that silicon was a handier semiconductor than germanium for the chips).

  • Paul,

    Exactly. I have not read the book (read several chapters at B&N and had enough), but I did hear Mark Steyn mention this and when Steve Jobs did pass away, his point of not being as amazed was very succinct and applicable to Steve Jobs.


    Excellent point, but not to be “obtuse”, Steve Jobs didn’t invent the computer. Nor did he build the original Apple (Woz did).

    But Steve’s greatest contribution was how effective he was in combining art and technology. He was a marketing genius and for that he should be rightly commended.

  • Tito-
    Jobs made a lot of tech toys “cool.” That sounds like it might be a putdown, but it really isn’t– “isn’t that so COOL!” has been a motivator for folks to advance.

  • Jobs sure has had a lot written about him since his death. Then why is it that I do not own an iPad or iPhone or iPod and don’t want one? It must be the ever growing influence of popular (slopular) culture on our society.

    George Westinghouse was a far more important “inventor” than Jobs. Westinghouse invented the air brake, which made rail travel safe. the same basic technology is still used today on trains, buses and trucks. Tesla invented alternating current, but Westinghouse obtained the patent and Westinghouse kicked Edison’s butt with AC.

    Before the destructive Michael Jordan (not the NBA player) became CEO of Westinghouse Electric Corporation, Westinghouse was a far more important company than Apple. Westinghouse started the world’s first commercial radio station. As stated earlier, I can live without anything Apple makes. Westinghouse air brakes, light bulbs, refrigerators, radios, power generation. defense contracting and broadcasting had a far greater positive impact than Jobs’ toys.

    Mr. Green, please state the scientific proof that Darwin’s evolution has been proven to be fact. The last I read, it’s still a theory.

  • The best innovation of all that makes all the rest possible is access to low cost energy. As fossil fuels run out and their burning continues to adversely affect the environment, that age is coming to a close…


    We get over over our paranoid fear of nuclear energy. Those nations (like communist China) who embrace nuclear energy will have low cost access. Those nations (like the US) that let events like Fukushima instill unreasoning fear will fail. (PS, less than a dozen people died outright from Fukushima Daiichi, but 1800 people in a nearby village died when renewable energy – a dam – failed.

    Innovation such as what Steve Jobs provided us requires low cost energy. But fear stands in our way. There’s snout thorium and uranium in Earth’s crust to provide everyone the same standard of energy consumption and style of living that the average American enjoys, and to do so for 100 thousand years or more simply by breeder reactors.

    Instead, what we have is an anti-nuke NRC Chairman who is keeping North Anna shutdown after the August earthquake that resulted in no nuclear significant damage, and who is hamstringing the industry with more and more regulations out of Fukushima scare tactics.

    Sometime I think our greatest innovation is a government bureaucracy that stifles anything promising to grow the economy.

  • Sometime I think our greatest innovation is a government bureaucracy that stifles anything promising to grow the economy.

    That was basically the point Steyn was making in coming up with the time machine scenario.

  • Kevin Drum has a response to this line of thinking: Why the Future Is Brighter Than You Think

    A lot of recent innovation is behind the scenes. Wal-Mart could not exist in 1950. Paul Krugman said that, except for the microwave, the kitchen of today is pretty much identical to the kitchen of 1950. To which Megan McArdle, responded, “try cooking like it’s 1950.” No frozen ingredients. No food processor. No coffee maker. Most importantly it means cooking in summer without air conditioning. These are things you don’t think about when you look at only the stove and the refrigerator.

    Every new technology is a luxury. Today, of course light bulbs are indispensable but in Edison’s time, they were as necessary as smartphones. Instead of comparing the utility of smartphones vs. light bulbs to us, we should compare the utility of smartphones to us vs. the utility of light bulbs to someone in 1890. Making the comparison that way, it isn’t so clear which had the greater impact.

  • Wal-Mart could not exist in 1950.

    The A & P existed. Woolworth’s existed. J.C. Penney existed. Associated Dry Goods existed.

    “try cooking like it’s 1950.” No frozen ingredients. No food processor. No coffee maker. Most importantly it means cooking in summer without air conditioning.

    The house I spent my childhood in was equipped with the original refrigerator, installed in 1942. It was equipped with a freezer only slightly smaller than the one in my home today. Drip coffee tastes just fine. People where I live seldom if ever have air conditioners in their kitchen. My grandmother lived most of her life in metropolitan Washington and had, after 1955, window units deployed everywhere but the kitchen. A food processor is an implement fit only for Rod Dreher (who for six years lived in a house with all the windows painted shut and the a/c running 24/7 to boot).

  • Has anyone ever seen Steve Jobs smile? I mean for a guy who supposedly connected up a world with no strangers he was one surly Buddhist. Bill Gates, who is usually cast as Darth Vader in these proceedings could always manage a smile now and then. Apple is a creepily manipulative company, they ran an advertising campaign in the 80s feauturing a faux rebellion with Pink Floyd’s “Brick in the Wall” as background music. The impression I had was that the rebel students were being primed for a much more subtle enslavement. Apple is not alone in this; Google is on course to becoming the most hated IT company out there.

Science and Technology in World History

Monday, July 5, AD 2010

Technological history is a unique point of view that always caught my eye.  David Deming of the American Thinker gives us a brief synopsis of his latest contribution in this genre.  Keep in mind how integral Christianity was to the recovery of Europe after the barbarian invasions and the safekeeping of knowledge by the monastic system that allowed Europe to recover and blossom into what we now call Western Civilization:

Both Greece and Rome made significant contributions to Western Civilization.  Greek knowledge was ascendant in philosophy, physics, chemistry, medicine, and mathematics for nearly two thousand years.  The Romans did not have the Greek temperament for philosophy and science, but they had a genius for law and civil administration.  The Romans were also great engineers and builders.  They invented concrete, perfected the arch, and constructed roads and bridges that remain in use today.  But neither the Greeks nor the Romans had much appreciation for technology.  As documented in my book, Science and Technology in World History, Vol. 2, the technological society that transformed the world was conceived by Europeans during the Middle Ages.

Greeks and Romans were notorious in their disdain for technology.  Aristotle noted that to be engaged in the mechanical arts was “illiberal and irksome.”  Seneca infamously characterized invention as something fit only for “the meanest slaves.”  The Roman Emperor Vespasian rejected technological innovation for fear it would lead to unemployment.

Greek and Roman economies were built on slavery.  Strabo described the slave market at Delos as capable of handling the sale of 10,000 slaves a day.  With an abundant supply of manual labor, the Romans had little incentive to develop artificial or mechanical power sources. Technical occupations such as blacksmithing came to be associated with the lower classes.

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2 Responses to Science and Technology in World History

  • The Europeans developed the stirrup which made possible heavy cavalry of armored knights. Before that cavalry rode in on the flanks of infantry and either fired arrows or threw javelins. Then retired. With the stirrup, the knight would remain on his war horse even waffter he skewered his foe.

    In my wasted youth (I was drinking more tha I was thinking) I had to take a course in European history in the Middle Ages. One of the books assigned was on technological developments in the Age. That was Spring 1970.

  • Could this be why BHO has just made ‘reaching out to the Muslim world’ foremost mission for NASA?

    That’s a great idea, they are killing us with low tech, so we should help them acquire high-tech so they can kill us better. Liberals are so smart.

Res & Explicatio for A.D. 3-20-2009

Friday, March 20, AD 2009

Salvete AC readers!

Here are today’s Top Picks in the Catholic world:

1.  Seems like priests and their habits have been ruminating around the blogosphere as of late.  Now Fr. Z has followed up this with insight concerning those for and against this trend.

For the link click here.

2.  Speaking of religious, after enduring the many innovations following the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, vocations have rebounded:

“Nearly 70 percent of Catholic religious communities have seen a jump in vocation inquiries in the past year”

The vast majority of those entering the religious life are tradition-minded adults under the age of 40.

For the link click here.

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8 Responses to Better Living Through Robotics?

  • (Guest comment by Cathy): PS — The janitor at our parish church uses an even larger Roomba (a commercial-grade model?) to vacuum the sanctuary after Mass.

  • While the algorithms to program up a vacuum cleaner like the Roomba aren’t too horribly complicated (tedious, I would imagine, especially if it uses some learning algorithm to help it better fit to your house), I wouldn’t get too excited about full-fledged robots in our households. Something like Rosie from the Jetsons will never really happen unless there’s a huge revolution in computers that we simply can’t imagine right now.

    Being a theoretical computer scientist, I don’t work very much the A.I. field, though my research does pull heavily from computational learning theory. But I have read enough A.I. literature to know that we’re nowhere close to building a computer that has anything close to intelligence.

    Hmm. Now I’m half-tempted to write a post on Computer Science and the Soul, talking about one of the key issues of my field and how it affects how I think about our human nature. Any takers?

  • It’s all you Ryan.

    Is that the McClarey house cat taking a ride?

  • nice article. i too just plain like the idea of delegating tasks like vacuum cleaning to a robot. i’m not sure how well it would work in my cluttered apartment, but for a spacious home i’d imagine it would be a great addition to the appliance list. also makes for a good conversion piece when you throw a cocktail party 🙂


  • “Is that the McClarey house cat taking a ride?”

    No, Tito, just an anonymous cat featured in a video on You Tube. Our cowardly dog, aptly named Baby, steered clear of the Roomba.

  • I’m surprised the cat seems to be enjoying the ride.
    Cat bumper cars, anybody?

  • I noticed that too cminor. The way the tail of the cat just drags along behind indicates that the cat is quite comfortable and probably often rides the Roomba.

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