8 May 2013 by James Hayes
William Seward Burroughs I (1857-1898) established in 1886 the American Arithmometer Company, which changed its name to the Burroughs Adding Machine Company in 1904, and went on become the biggest adding machine company in the US.
Over the opening decades of the 20th century the Burroughs Adding Machine Company extended its product line to typewriters and other devices. In 1953 it renamed again to the Burroughs Corporation, thus starting its move into computer products which began with the acquisition (in 1956) of the ElectroData Corporation. ElectroData had produced the Datatron 205 computer (renamed the Burroughs Model 205, or 'B-205'). A decade later the D2000/D4000 product range (known also as the Terminal Computer 500) was produced, which had a printer and a 1K (80 bit) disk memory. These sold well in the banking sector, as they could be connected to mainframe computers from vendors other than Burroughs Corp. - a rare example of interoperability in an era when proprietary 'closed' technology was the norm.
In the 1960s and 1970s the Burroughs Corporation went on to develop innovative mainframe computer architectures: their machine instruction sets were based around high-level programming languages such as ALGOL, COBOL, and FORTRAN.
Although never as 'visible' a brand as IBM, the Burroughs Corporation's Model B-205 hardware appeared more often as props and set dressing in several of my favourite childhood telly shows, such as Batman (1966-1968) as the Batcomputer, and Irwin Allen's Lost in Space (1965-1968) as the Jupiter 2 spacecraft's on-board computer system.
Spinning B-205 tape drives, meanwhile, also appeared in other Allen series, such as The Time Tunnel (1966-1967) and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964-1968). A B-205 console is also seen in cult sci-fi movie Fantastic Voyage (1966), and other big screen Hollywood efforts of the time. More recently a B-205 had a cameo in the retro-spoof comedy Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999).
In the early 1980s, like several of its rivals, Burroughs Corporation began producing personal computers - the B20 and B25 lines - with the Intel 8086/8088 family of 8-bit chips as the central processor. These ran the BTOS operating system (licensed from Convergent Technologies), and implemented an early local area network to share a data storage resources between workgroup users.
But the advent of the PC meant that the decade was also one of consolidation and contraction for the traditional big system incumbents, and eventually Burroughs Corporation acquired rival Sperry Corporation in 1986 to form a new IT company, Unisys Corporation.
During these years, William S. Burroughs II had nothing to do with his namesake corporation - his family had long since sold up its shares in the business (but they'd done well out of it). He was instead acquiring a wayward reputation as a 'literary outlaw', as notorious as a dipso drug addict who shot his wife during a drunken game of William Tell as for his controversial novels, such as Naked Lunch (1959) and The Soft Machine (1961).
In his writing Burroughs often targeted the dubious and ruthless self-aggrandisement of corporate culture, exemplified by the big new computer businesses of the 1960s and 1970s, which he deemed covertly political in nature - although I'm not aware that he took any direct satirical swipes at Burroughs Corporation by name.
He did, however, have no qualms about irking the Burroughs Corporation by posing in front of its New York offices for a much-reproduced photo portrait taken in 1972 by sometime Andy Warhol acolyte Gerard Malanga, with the company's logo appearing prominently on the wall behind him.
In the early 1990s Unisys used to invite IT journalists down to its International Management Centre in St Paul-de-Vance, France, to cover conferences and other media briefings. At one of these events I mentioned in passing the distant connection between Unisys and the scribbling scion to a seasoned Unisys staffer who was ex-Burroughs Corp, and they told me that even though he had no formal connection with the company during its glory days, because of his reputation Burroughs' published work was frowned upon by Burroughs Corporation executives, and apparently Burroughs Corporation personnel caught in possession of a naughty Bill Burroughs book faced a stern telling off.
Although he lived well into the personal computer era, Burroughs held an 'anti-computer stance', according to fellow novelist William Gibson: 'When our paths finally crossed, I asked Burroughs whether he was writing on a computer yet,' Gibson later recalled. '"What would I want a computer for?" [Burroughs] asked, with evident distaste. "I have a typewriter".'
Nonetheless, Burroughs was one of the first 20th century writers to become interested in the computer's capability for random sequence generation and its potential applications for creative experimentation through his association with electronics engineer and programmer Ian Sommerville (1940-1976) - more about that in later posts.
Edited: 10 May 2013 at 05:32 PM by James Hayes
Science fiction, science fact...
24 December 2012 by James Hayes
- science, engineering, and technology. But how has it progressed over the 30 years since the film's first release? And what is it that makes 'Blade Runner's 1982 take on the shape of tech to come so much more credible than the cheesy tricorders of 'Star Trek' or Dr Who's sappy sonic screwdriver? Check out E&T's delve into the SET of 'Blade Runner'. Flying cars, companion robots, digital signage, bionic eyes, biometric voice ID, multi-dimensional motion imaging, mega architecture, smart lighting, smart weapons, robo-pets, public videophony, lie detection and interrogation IT, and electron microscopy - they're all in there.
Edited: 24 December 2012 at 01:27 PM by James Hayes
From hype to reality via tipping points
20 August 2012 by James Hayes
Gartner's 2012 Hype Cycle Special Report provides strategists and planners with an assessment of the maturity, business benefit and future direction of more than 1,900 technologies, grouped into 92 areas. New Hype Cycles for 2012 include 'big data', the 'Internet of Things', 'in-memory computing', and 'strategic business capabilities (SBC)'.
Gartner analysts say that these technologies have 'moved noticeably' along the Hype Cycle since last year, while consumerisation is now expected to reach the Plateau of Productivity in two to five years, down from five to 10 years in 2011. Bring your own device (BYOD), 3D printing and social analytics are some of the technologies identified at the Peak of Inflated Expectations in this year's Emerging Technologies Hype Cycle, Gartner adds.
"The theme of this year's Hype Cycle is the concept of 'tipping points'," says Hung LeHong, research vice president at Gartner. "We are at an interesting moment, a time when many of the scenarios we've been talking about for a long time are almost becoming reality. The 'smarter smartphone' is a case in point. It's now possible to look at a smartphone and unlock it via facial recognition, and then talk to it to ask it to find the nearest bank ATM."
Edited: 20 August 2012 at 03:42 PM by James Hayes
'Turn the server up - it's chilly in here'
28 July 2011 by James Hayes
spoofery. Its authors - Microsoft's Jie Liu, Michel Goraczko, Sean James, and Christian Belady, plus Jiakang Lu and Kamin Whitehouse of the Computer Science Department, University of Virginia - 'argue' that servers can be sent to homes and office buildings and used as a primary heat source.
These domestic 'micro-datacenters' it calls 'data furnaces'. 'The problem of [server] heat generation can be turned into an advantage,' is the claim; 'computers can be placed directly into buildings to provide low latency cloud computing for its offices or residents', while at the same time serving as a premises heating source.
And although the paper evinces some convincing theoretical analysis of the potential energy savings for its 'data furnaces' instals, the proposition is less beguiling when it comes to addressing some of the other operational issues faced by data centres; such as the fact that domestic environments cannot usually ensure the clean-air conditions desirable in ordinary data centres facilities; and whereas, once fitted, conventional heating systems tend to remain in situ for at least a decade, server replacements have, typically, been around three-to-five years. There's the question also of power redundancy (will these household data centres need to be fitted with expensive UPSs?), and emergency maintenance access.
That said, in the workplace, the 'data furnace' notion carries a certain amount of sense and logic in regard to the heating of the typical open plan office, when you think about how many have, during cold months, air conditioning sucking away heat emanating from thousands of desktop PCs while central heating is simultaneously wafting warmth into the workspace.
Edited: 29 July 2011 at 09:08 AM by James Hayes
BBC puts surviving Reith Lecture recordings online
27 June 2011 by James Hayes
the news that BBC Radio 4 has released hundreds of hours of The Reith Lectures from its archives to coincide with the broadcast of this year's first lecture.
Available to download and keep as podcasts or to listen to on demand on the Radio 4 website, the archive includes 240 recordings of some of the great thinkers of the last 60 years. The site will also carry every Reith Lecture transcript from 1948 to 2010.
The audio archive is imcomplete, the BBC admits: recordings of some lectures given in the first 30 years were not retained, and the appeal is out to the public if they happen to possess any of the missing items.
Reith Lectures 1948-1975 Reith Lectures 1976-2010
Cops crackdown on social networking-addicted drivers
23 March 2011 by James Hayes
Arrogant and complacent motorists who jeopardise road safety by checking social networking sites while driving are among drivers being targeted by Devon and Cornwall Police's Operation Vortex campaign.
The problem of drivers distracted by in-car infotainment and other comms applications in on the rise - cited stats from the RAC reckon that 53 per cent of drivers admit to checking who a call or text is from; 21 per cent are prone to check a social media alert while driving, and the number admitting to texting at the wheel has gone up from 11 per cent to 31 per cent over the last eight months.
Martin Reber, CEO of embedded speech solutions firm SVOX, has taken Operation Vortex as his cue to plug the advantages of text-to-speech and voice recognition capabilities that some phones provide, and slip-in a wee pun in the same breath: "If motorists can make the most of this technology, which is often already available to them on the latest smartphones and in-car infotainment systems," says Mart, "we can drive down the number of people manually using their mobiles while at the wheel".
Reber has a point to make, and indeed a living to make; but even using voice control to select music tracks and radio stations, or conduct "point of interest" searches, is liable to compromise accident avoidance, Buzzsore would contend; and are we really reaching the point where the rudiments of safe driving must make allowance for the demands of in-car infotainment and infantile obsessing with social media inanity?
Edited: 23 March 2011 at 02:38 PM by James Hayes
Facebook leads list of online 'marriage-wreckers'
9 March 2011 by James Hayes
Facebook proves the biggest source of evidence, with 66 per cent of uncoupling couples citing it as 'a primary source', according to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. MySpace follows with 15 per cent citation, then Twitter at 5 per cent, and other social media sites listed totalling 14 per cent.
The Guardian reports that self-published personal information on social nets has also become a primary source of evidence in custody battles.
"We're coming across it more and more. One spouse connects online with someone they knew from school. The person is emotionally available, and they start communicating through Facebook," says clinical psychologist and marriage counsellor at Loyola University Medical Centre Dr Steven Kimmons.
Another source of marital discord is users posing as singletons in order to attract illicit romantic interest.
Stateside lawyers now demanding to see their clients' Facebook pages as a matter of course before the start of proceedings, the story claims.
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