Director's Desk
Charles Babbage Institute

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Director’s Desk

“So Tom, how are things going at CBI?” someone asks, innocently enough.  Usually I’ve been able to give two or three highlights and feel reasonably confident that I’ve conveyed the gist of our activities.  Lately, however, the volume of activities has ratcheted upward and the range of activities has expanded outward.  When I composed my CBI Friends annual appeal letter this year, it took me two pages just to enumerate the 28 carefully chosen highlights (and you can see them here).

Since my basic theme is the health and breadth of computer history, I have a palpable sense of growth and progress.  A decade or so ago, computer history was making a transition from hardware to software as a critical emphasis.  Coming back from the annual meeting of the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT) and the successful day-long SIGCIS workshop, one cannot but be amazed and impressed at the range of topics, literally ranging from automation to wearable computing.  CBI’s Arvid Nelsen discussed his research project on social issues in computing, “Debates on Automation in the 20th Century: Interpreting New Sources at CBI.”

New archival donations—both paper and digital—continue to enrich the evidentiary base on which computer history depends.  Especially intriguing are collections that help understanding of interactive and personal computing, such as new materials on PLATO used in education and printed matter, including a long run of Byte magazine and ongoing collection of the quarterly Apple II publication Juiced.GS.  We had the great pleasure this September of spending the day with Gideon and Sarah Gartner, who visited CBI to see the location of the Gartner Group reports and research materials they had recently donated.  The Gartner records are not only documentation of a notable information technology business but also one that shaped much of the IT landscape through its influential analyses and recommendations. For those who can’t wait to dig into the archives, you may whet your appetite with the recently released biography, About Gartner.

We report elsewhere in this Newsletter on CBI’s three active externally sponsored projects.  But I would like to spotlight one development that has taken us by pleasant surprise.  One component of our NSF project on the history of computer security is a “knowledge networking” wiki site.  You can click through to it from here.  It has an unparalleled set of research materials on the history of computer security: two dozen oral histories with many of the top figures in the field . . . write-ups on two dozen government and industry initiatives and institutions . . . 30 publications and report series, including a timeline of computer-security conferences (1973-94) . . . major security-enhanced computer systems, including Multics and DEC’s VAX security kernel . . . as well as notable events and key mechanisms.  The word is out: in recent months we have been recording 4,000 page views each month on a variety of these topics.  We invite you to have a look-see for yourself!

Thomas J. Misa

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