Sunday, November 11, 2012

Pittsburgh tech möbius

Friday it would have been Carl Sagan's 78th birthday last week.  Of note for lots of reasons, but some realize he named the Googol,(so maybe I should have Sagan 'popularized' the term... remember Cosmos? .. see comments and read more on Edward Kasner) as in the number equaling 10^100.  By some folklore 'Google' is just a misspelling of the number.  Must be the most widely used spelling error in history at this point. Like me somebody probably was taught spelling by phonics. I don't feel so bad.

More on technology. Today the PG has this tech snippet on the history of computers in predicting the 1952 presidential election.TechMan: Origins of computer use for Election Night results worth mentioning. Seemed like magic at the time, sort of like 538 does for some today; yet, it really was just a bunch of counting, just like 538 today.  The story there centers around the use of one of the first UNIVAC computers used by CBS on election night. 

The PG story reminded me of a far more locally relevant story.  It touches upon the story of UNIVAC, the first commercially produced computer sold by the Remington Rand Corporation in 1952.  I've mentioned this before, but in the early 1950s Pittsburgh had by far the most disproportionate number of commercial UNIVAC installations. By this Wikipedia list (I have a copy of the book cited somewhere), I count Pittsburgh with 2 of the first 10 commercial installations.  Only New York City had more with 3. Yes, Pittsburgh of the 1950s was cutting edge. So if you want to really trace why Google is sitting there at Bakery Square, you have to go back a bit farther than most do.

If the Steelers win Monday maybe I will blog next week about how the Steelers were early adopters of computer assisted drafting. Also not a coincidence and just one little example of the power of clustering in human capital. 

For those who think Siri is some newfangled invention: