ACM Books and Computing History
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ACM Books and Computing History

ACM Books is a new publishing venture launched by the Association for Computing Machinery in partnership with Morgan & Claypool Publishers. It covers the entire range of computer science topics—and embraces the history of computing as well as social and ethical impacts of computing.  I was delighted to accept a position on the Editorial Board with responsibilities for recruiting in this broad area.  I looked at it this way: history of computing plus social and ethical impacts of computing—what couldn’t we publish under this rubric?

In the Spring 2015 CBI Newsletter we featured the first computing history book in the ACM Books series.  Software entrepreneur John Cullinane assembled a unique memoir–oral history collection based on CBI oral histories with his notable colleagues, his sources of inspiration, and his own oral history.  Smarter Than Their Machines: Oral Histories of Pioneers in Interactive Computing (2014) contains John’s personal viewpoint on the emergence of interactive computing, involving time-sharing, databases, and networking—including excerpts from 12 CBI oral histories.  We mentioned that the unusually quick production cycle of 2.5 months allowed the volume to be out in time for Christmas last year.

Bernadette Longo’s Edmund Berkeley and the Social Responsibility of Computer Professionals appeared this fall.  In her research Bernadette extensively used the Edmund Berkeley papers at CBI, as well as archival sources at Harvard University, Berkeley’s FBI file, and several collections at the Smithsonian including the Grace Murray Hopper papers.  Last month we enjoyed a publication countdown.  The book was first available on the ACM Digital Library and Morgan & Claypool websites and, a couple weeks later, on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the usual “fine bookstores.”

Berkeley will be familiar to CBI Newsletter readers for multiple reasons.  He was an early advocate of computing within the insurance industry, and so figures in Joanne Yates’ Structuring the Information Age: Life Insurance and Technology in the Twentieth Century (Johns Hopkins 2005).  His notable book Giant Brains, or Machines That Think published in 1949 was the very first book on computing written for a popular audience, an emphasis that Berkeley kept throughout his career in selling inexpensive computer “kits” and publishing the journal Computers and Automation (1951-73).  His strongly voiced anti-military stance across these years did not always endear him to Grace Hopper and other computer professionals whose careers were in the military services.  The book creates a memorable portrait of a quirky and yet unforgettable person.

The third volume in the ACM computing history series is just published.  In 2013 Robin Hammerman and Andy Russell, along with their colleagues at Stevens Institute of Technology, hosted a conference to celebrate the many facets of Ada Lovelace, including her contributions to early computing (with Charles Babbage), her notable place in Victorian culture (her father was the noted poet Lord Byron), her iconic status within today’s contemporary “steampunk” movement, and her enduring inspiration for women in computing.  It is quite a legacy over two centuries.  Or, to be precise, exactly 200 years since the bicentennial of her birth is coming soon in early December 2015. 

We aim to have Ada’s Legacy contribute a bit to the burgeoning media interest in her accomplishments and career.  At the least the volume covers an immense and varied terrain in appraising Ada’s legacy: we know of no other 19th century woman who, in addition to significant mathematical attainments and early computer programming, has a programming language named for her (covered in the book’s chapters 3-5), figures prominently in a contemporary science-fiction literary genre (in chapters 8-10), and inspires contemporary computing reform.  The book contains Ada’s “Notes to the Menabrea Sketch,” where her contributions to mathematics and computing are set down for readers to examine themselves, as well as historical information on the Ada computer language.  Sydney Padua, author of the recent graphic novel, The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer (2015), contributes three original drawings including the one that graces the book’s cover.

It so happened that these three books have meaningful connections to the Charles Babbage Institute, but this is no requirement.  Other volumes in preparation include a technically oriented history of software and a history of early networking.  Please give me a holler if you have an idea that might become an ACM Book.

Thomas J. Misa


Adas Legacy

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