Today Is ENIAC Day..Celebrate w/ a Ridge..(long/historical/boring)

Today is ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) Day, celebrating the dedication of this first computer at the Moore School of Engineering/Univ of Pennsylvania on March 15, 1946.
Johnny von Neumann was a celebrated Princeton mathematician that was heavily involved in the Manhattan Project during the War yrs. When he heard about development of the ENIAC at Moore, he instantly recognized its value to calculations for the design of a ThermoNuclear weapon. Though the ENIAC was designed to calculate firing tables for artillery shells for the USArmy, its actual first use was in the design of the Hydrogen bomb by LosAlamos scientists.
Johnny left Moore School and went to the IAS (Institute of Advanced Study) at Princeton to pursue his work on stored program computers. There, he planned to develop a machine (later called the JONIAC) based on his seminal ideas of stored program computing.
The original ENIAC was programmed by plugboard wiring. It would take several weeks of connecting wires into these plugboards to program a calculation. A little known fact is that all of these original programming was done by…women. The physicists & engineers considered it below their pay grade to actually do the programming of ENIAC. LosAlamos eventually, in the early '50’s, developed their own version of the ENIAC, which Nick Metropolis labeled the MANIAC.

After serving in the War as a radar technician, Hewitt Crane went to work for IBM ('49-'52) as a computer maintenance technician. In 1952,he was tapped by von Neumann to come to the IAS. Johnny realized that to build his machine, his soldering skills were not up to the task and he needed someone good with a soldering iron (iron…not soldering gun). Hence HewCrane entered the scene. However, the hiring by Johnny at the IAS of a mere…pffffttt (in my finest Bill the Cat accent)…technician was thought to degrade the lofty principals upon which the IAS was founded. The physicists & mathematicians (including Albert Einstein and the renowned Kurt Godel) were up in arms over the hiring of Hew onto the IAS staff. Fortunately, their objections were overruled by the director of IAS, J.Robert Oppenheimer (“Oppie”), who had been the scientific director of the Manhattan Project during the war.

OK…we’re getting there. After his stint at IAS, Hew then went to Calif to work for SRI (Stanford Research Institute), where he made many noteworthy contributions, including the electronic transmission of check images. In the late '50, Hew and other SRI scientists (Dave Bennion, Norm Rosen, Howard Ziedler) purchased an abandoned property high above PaloAlto on MonteBello Ridge, which had vnyds and a defunct winery. And, of course, the rest is history.

So to celebrate ENIAC Day, it is appropriate to hoist a glass of Ridge MonteBello or JimsomareZin to the memory of Hew and all these other early computer pioneers. Realizing, of course, your iPhone has within your hand the computing power that would dwarf that of the ENIAC.

It’s a good story Tom. My brother got his doctorate from Moore and I saw ENIAC there - it looked like a dispatch center but was just one computer. I don’t think any of those guys would have dreamed there would be such a thing as an iPhone one day, where you could just stream porn and sports feeds all day long.

Yeah they would, Greg…in those days DickTracy was already wearing & communicating with a wrist radio, the precursor to an iPhone.

The ENIAC was a pretty crotchety machine. Based on vacuum tube technology. The MTF (Mean Time to Failure) was something like
8-12 hrs. They eventually were able to improve that to two days. Can you imagine the hue & cry if your iPhone failed every two days!!

Yours doesn’t?

Great story, thanks for sharing.

Nice story!

Two randomly tangentially-related personal notes:

  1. When I first lived in Berkeley 20 years ago, I rented the house of a woman who had just died, and it turned out she had been one of the women who worked on ENIAC. I vividly recall leafing through her math textbooks in the basement with her penciled notes and feeling like she must have incredibly smart and probably never got the recognition she deserved. It’s a complete shame that I have forgotten her name. :frowning:

  2. I popped the first of my '16 Ridge Geyservilles last night… and it was a pretty pretty wine. I liked it better than the '15 at the same stage - a touch more restrained and with lots of class.

Hi Tom,

Thanks for the great story. BTW, I’ve never heard von Neumann referred to as Johnny before; did you know him? NYT Mag just had a big story about women in programming…Of course, I did not know of the Hewett Crane/Ridge tie in. Might get to a Montebello, maybe a '92 next weekend and have a toast!


Yup, Joshua. His close friends usually called him Johnny.
He was quite the peacock/dandy…always very well dressed. I’ve seen pictures of him in LosAlamos with Fermi/Segre/Bohr, who were dressed in work shirts and pants, and there would be Johnny dressed in a dark blue suit and tie.
I never met him, he was dead by the time I got to LosAlamos.

The Wikipedia entry for ENIAC list the names and pics of the 5 ladies who did the programming.

Thanks for the reminder, Tom. Tremendous legacies in two very different worlds. I’ve been tearing into my latest ATP shipment this week if that counts. [cheers.gif]

There are the ENIAC 6, who were the famous women who got it started… but there were many other women who toiled in obscurity as well. She was not one of the 6, as far as I recall.

So…some of the best minds in Science (or as we call it at LosAlamos…SCIENCE) frittered away almost an hour of time this morning working this problem.

Most of them were unaware that Fri was ENIAC Day. Just no sense of history, I guess.

The ENIAC was developed for/funded by the USArmy to calculate artillery firing tables. I got to thinking about this problem this weekend & it was driving me crazy. Why would you need the ENIAC for such a simple calculation??

You are given a (presumably non-moving, a moving target would complicate the problem…but only slightly) target X miles away. You have an artillery shell that weighs W pounds. You load the cannon (not the Pacabel one, though) with enough HE (High Explosive) to put J joules of energy into the shell. What angle A do you aim your cannon to hit the target X miles away??

If you assume a point artillery shell (like we sometimes assume a spherical cow for certain purposes), the arc will describe a parabola under the Earth’s gravitational field. That trajectory requires only the mere solution of a quadratic equation that you can do with a slide rule (Post or K&E are the slide rules of choice). Why would you need an ENIAC for a back-of-the-envelope calculation??

However, an artillery shell is not a point. It is a projectile that has a volume and, therefore, there is air-resistance during its flight to include in the calculation. There is also the air temperature/density that affects the air resistance, so the coefficient of friction varies. To correctly do this calculation of angle A requires the solution of a differential equation. Usually a Runge-Kutta numerical solution of this time-dependent differential equation. Hence, the need for the ENIAC. Since artillery commanders are not skilled in solutions of differential equations and have no ENIAC at their side, they need a set of tables to determine the firing angle A. So this was what the ENIAC was designed to provide the USArmy.

This group of high-level scientific types decided that in less than an hour, we could write an iPhone app that would do this calculation for these artillery commanders and free them from hauling those ENIAC-generated tables around with them out in the field. We plan to sell it for big $$'s to the USArmy.

And you all thought we had bigger problems to solve at LosAlamos!!


Thanks Tom. It actually would be fascinating to know how they did the calculations. I would assume they accounted not only for resistance/friction but also wind in a constant direction. I can imagine a couple different ways to do the integration.

Seems like a good day to announce Aurora (one quintillion calculations per second)

Very enlightening and enjoyable thread. Thanks for posting Tom