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Updated 2022-10-29
A selective history of computers Prologue
 
If you're reading this text, you almost certainly have a computer in front of you and we all know how to use one, thanks to information campaigns conducted by the computer industry (^), which, I think, are best illustrated by the following informational clip from 1989:
 
Download compswMac.webm

MD5: 37b4f85100d5e38c3bafe5040b0a7012
Computers are essential to our lives, because without them, we couldn't play Quake, watch movies or listen to music from the internet. Sometimes, computers are even used to make calculations. In the beginning, however, people didn't have time to play Quake, because they had to hunt animals (^), and back then they didn't have rocket launchers or even super nailguns, so they had to rely on simpler weapons, like spears, which were far less effective. Also, there weren't any health packs or medkits around the landscape yet, so when people got injured or sick, they were in more trouble than they would be today(?). Then some of them started practicing agriculture (^).

Agriculture was the key development in the rise of sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of domesticated species created food surpluses that enabled people to live in cities. The history of agriculture began thousands of years ago.

Because agriculture allowed people to create food surpluses, they started having time for other activities besides trying to survive, like art or weaving unnecessarily complicated textiles, using looms (^).

A drawloom is a hand-loom for weaving figured cloth. In a drawloom, a "figure harness" is used to control each warp thread separately. A drawloom requires two operators, the weaver and an assistant called a "drawboy" to manage the figure harness. [...] The draw loom for patterned weaving was invented in ancient China during the Han Dynasty.

Drawlooms allowed complex patterns to be obtained by raising certain warp threads at a time. The drawboy was a boy whose job was to raise those threads by pulling some cords attached to them, which was a very tedious activity.
 
The Industrial Revolution
 
The Industrial Revolution (^) was the transition to new manufacturing processes in Europe and the United States of America that occurred during the 18th and 19th centuries. The textile industry was dominant in terms of employment, value of output and capital invested and also the first to use modern production methods.

The industrial revolution caused many families from the countryside to migrate to the cities to look for work, as everything was slowly shifting from manual labor to automated machines.
[...]
During this time, as business was booming, some factories couldn’t afford to employ adult workers that required high pay. As a result, they turned to children. Children under the age of 14 years were employed to work at textile factories and coal mines in horrible conditions with low wages.
[...]
There were many reasons why children were employed to work in the factories. As aforementioned, one of the main reasons was the significant difference in pay. Estimates show that children made 10-20% of what adults made doing the same work. Thus, the owners saved money. Second, children were generally more obedient and accepting of punishment than adults, so they were easier to control as well, whereas an adult would retaliate.

Spinning mill 1909 Addie Card 1910

Sometimes, the children weren’t tall enough to operate the machines safely and had to stand on top of the machines to reach the spindles. Furthermore, the owners of the factories gave these children ill-fitting clothing which was meant for adults. This was a huge risk to the safety of the children because it was very much possible for the clothing to get stuck in the various gears of the machine. Unfortunate children have also died because of this.

Possibly with the intention of helping some of the child slaves (^) employed in the textile industry, i.e. the drawboys mentioned above (nobody cared about the other ones), whose problems actually dated back to long before the Industrial Revolution, a French weaver and merchant named Joseph Marie Jacquard (^), who had a passion for gadgets, added a few modifications to some things invented earlier by some other guys and created a new type of loom in 1804, which he called the Jacquard loom, where the drawboy was replaced by a mechanism called the Jacquard machine.

The Jacquard Loom is a mechanical loom that uses pasteboard cards with punched holes, each card corresponding to one row of the design. Multiple rows of holes are punched in the cards and the many cards that compose the design of the textile are strung together in order. It is based on earlier inventions by the Frenchmen Basile Bouchon (^) (1725), Jean-Baptiste Falcon (1728) and Jacques Vaucanson (1740).

Jacquard's loom became successful in 1815, after Jean Antoine Breton solved certain problems with the punched card mechanism. Thanks to Jacquard's achievements, drawboys were no longer needed in the textile industry, so most likely they were now free to work as climbing boys (^), clearing ash and soot form chimneys, for instance.

Boys as young as four climbed hot flues that could be as narrow as 81 square inches (9 × 9 inches or 23 × 23 cm). Work was dangerous and they could get jammed in the flue, suffocate or burn to death.
[...]
They were often put up hot chimneys, and sometimes up chimneys that were alight in order to extinguish the fire. Chimneys with sharp angles posed a particular hazard. These boys were apprenticed to the sweep, and from 1778 until 1875 a series of laws attempted to regulate their working conditions, and many firsthand accounts were documented and published in parliamentary reports. From about 1803, there was an alternative method of brushing chimneys, but sweeps and their clients resisted the change, preferring climbing boys to the new humane sweeping machines.

Some children, however, continued to work in the textile industry, because Jacquard's loom is not yet suitable for all types of patterned textiles (^).

Iqbal Masih ([...] 1983 – 16 April 1995) was a Pakistani child labourer and activist who campaigned against abusive child labour in Pakistan.
[...]
At the age of four, he was [sold as a slave] by his family to help them pay off their debts. Iqbal's family borrowed 600 rupees (less than US$12.00 at the time) from a local employer who owned a carpet weaving business. In return, Iqbal was [forced] to work as a carpet weaver until the debt was paid off.

Download compswIqbalMasih.webm

MD5: e1d31ab45713a027af6e3f2b6bee89f8

At the age of 10, Iqbal escaped his slavery, after learning that bonded labour had been declared illegal by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. He escaped and attempted to report his employer Ashad to the police, but the police brought him back to the factory seeking a finder's fee for returning escaped bonded labourers.
[...]
Following his death, Pakistani economic elites responded to declining carpet sales by denying that they were using bonded child labour in their factories and by employing the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to brutally harass and arrest activists working for the BLLF. The Pakistani press conducted a smear campaign against the BLLF, arguing that child labourers received high wages and favourable working conditions.

The first computers
 
The use of replaceable punched cards to control a sequence of operations is considered an important step in the history of computing hardware (^), having inspired Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine (^).

The Analytical Engine was a proposed mechanical general-purpose computer designed by English mathematician and computer pioneer Charles Babbage. It was first described in 1837 as the successor to Babbage's difference engine, which was a design for a simpler mechanical calculator.
 
The Analytical Engine incorporated an arithmetic logic unit, control flow in the form of conditional branching and loops, and integrated memory, making it the first design for a general-purpose computer that could be described in modern terms as Turing-complete (^). In other words, the structure of the Analytical Engine was essentially the same as that which has dominated computer design in the electronic era. The Analytical Engine is one of the most successful achievements of Charles Babbage.

A computational system is considered Turing-complete if it can simulate a universal Turing machine (^), as described by Alan Turing in 1936-1937. This means, in principle, that it can solve any computable problem. A problem is considered computable if an algorithm that solves it and that can be performed by a computer with unlimited memory in finite time exists. Therefore, for a system to be Turing-complete, it must have unlimited memory. Since no system has unlimited memory, systems are usually referred to as Turing-complete if, with unlimited memory, they would be Turing-complete. The game of chess, for instance, can be solved in finite time (^) and with finite memory.

In 1950, Shannon calculated, based on a game tree complexity of 10120 [, that] a computer [...] [which] could evaluate a terminal node in 1 microsecond would take 1090 years to make its first move.

I wrote a program that can solve the game of chess and it's possible that (on a modern computer) it could accomplish the task even a little faster, though it would still take significantly longer than the estimated age of the universe, which is less than 1011 years.
 
Unlike in the case of Jacquard's loom, which was not programmable because the punched cards encoded only the patterns to be woven, the cards used by the Analytical Engine would encode instructions (programs) as well as data. Babbage was not able to complete any of his machines. In 1941, Konrad Zuse, a civil engineer, completed the first working programmable, fully automatic digital computer, Z3 (^), which was electro-mechanical and didn't have conditional branching (^). Its programs were stored on punched 35 mm film and initial values were entered manually. The original Z3 was destroyed on 21 December 1943 during a bombardment of Berlin. In 1941, Konrad Zuse also founded one of the earliest computer businesses, which produced the Z4, the world's first commercial computer. From 1943 to 1945 he designed the first high-level programming language, Plankalkül. Z3 was not Turing-complete due to its lack of conditional branching, but it was shown in 1997 that, through some very unusual (and inefficient) programming techniques, it could, in principle, function as a Turing-complete machine.
 
The first Turing-complete computer was ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) (^), which was completed in 1945 and was the first programmable electronic general-purpose digital computer, designed and used to help people, make their lives better and aid the progress of humanity.

Although ENIAC was designed and primarily used to calculate artillery firing tables for the United States Army's Ballistic Research Laboratory (which later became a part of the Army Research Laboratory), its first program was a study of the feasibility of the thermonuclear weapon.

Home computers
 
Vacuum tubes used in the first electronic computers were eventually replaced by transistors and integrated circuits, leading to increased speed, efficiency and reliability. Various types of computers were developed, called mainframe computers, minicomputers, Lisp machines (^), microcomputers, home computers (^) and so forth.

Home computers were a class of microcomputers that entered the market in 1977 and became common during the 1980s. They were marketed to consumers as affordable and accessible computers that, for the first time, were intended for the use of a single nontechnical user.
[...]
Their most common uses were playing video games, but they were also regularly used for word processing and programming.

The most successful home computer series in Europe and America were Apple II (^), Commodore 64/128 (^) and ZX Spectrum (^). The Commodore 64 (1982) was a cheaper version of the Apple II (1977), but the ZX Spectrum, also released in 1982, was technically superior and cost less than half the price of a Commodore 64. However, an Apple IIc, made in 1984, is the only known computer that was ever used to control a spaceship made from scrap metal and electrical waste, according to instructions sent by aliens, through telepathy. Some technical details are explained in the following excerpt from a documentary film released in 1985:
 
Download compswExplorers1985.webm

MD5: 25b6cba21037bc8248c366caf4ea04fb
The video above shows some very advanced technology which could have been available to us thanks to some well-intentioned extraterrestrials and the visionary behind the Apple company, Steve Wozniak (^), who designed the Apple II computer. However, there was another guy in that company, whose name was also Steve and who contributed to the creation of some fonts, which were quite a significant achievement, because if those fonts hadn't been created, nobody would have needed them. Unfortunately, the second Steve treated Steve Wozniak pretty badly, causing him to leave the company.

The Apple II division - other than Wozniak - was not invited to the Macintosh introduction event, and Wozniak was seen kicking the dirt in the parking lot. Although Apple II products provided about 85% of Apple's sales in early 1985, the company's January 1985 annual meeting did not mention the Apple II division or its employees, a typical situation that frustrated Wozniak.

Therefore, thanks to the second Steve, we no longer have access to a technology which would have solved all our problems related to energy, transportation, global heating, resource exhaustion, pollution and persistent environmental toxins.
 
Apple II Original Apple II Commodore SX-64 Commodore SX-64, the first commercial full-color portable computer

HC 85 HC 85, a Romanian version of ZX Spectrum (other similar models were made, called HC 90, HC 91 etc. and around 50000 units were made in total, between 1985 and 1994) HC 85 HC 85 with green monochrome monitor and 5¼ inch floppy disk drive (picture taken in 1992)

Some time after their introduction, home computers gradually started being referred to as personal computers, or PCs. Two types of PCs, made in 1995 and 1999, are shown below.
 
Macintosh Performa 5200 Macintosh Performa 5200 (1995) running a ZX Spectrum game Macintosh Performa 5200 Macintosh Performa 5200 running GNU Chess

Macintosh Performa 5200 Macintosh Performa 5200 Macintosh Performa 5200 Macintosh Performa 5200

PC running Quake PC with Intel CPU at 400 MHz (1999), running Quake (with tyrquake-0.61) PC running Freedoom PC running Freedoom (with PrBoom+)

A few programs running on the Macintosh PC from the pictures above are shown in the following video: a program for making calculations, GNU Chess, some ZX Spectrum games running in an emulator and some educational software (^). This computer is not as good as a ZX Spectrum though, because it's not compatible with all the games.
 
Download compswMac5200.webm

MD5: abf4edcfce55d811873264eed1de8d45
Current situation
 
We are living in times of rapid scientific and technological progress, which constantly makes our lives better and easier. A few (translated) quotes from a Romanian almanac published in 1968, called Science and Technology, are below.
 
Page 8: According to Jean Fourastié's assumptions, the man from the year 2000 will work only 30 hours a week, 40 weeks a year, 35 years in his lifetime and about 42000 hours in his entire existence. An existence estimated on average, for the same year 2000, at 80 years and 700000 hours of life respectively.
Page 10: Every day brings us more and more news about the use of robots in all areas of life, which causes, we could say, "miraculous" changes in technology, in industry, transport, agriculture etc. Essential in all of this is the fact that the physical effort exerted by people in productive activities decreases and the productivity of labour increases rapidly.
As the almanac from 1968 shows, computers and automation greatly reduce the effort exerted by people in productive activities (^).

The Foxconn suicides were a spate of suicides linked to low pay and brutal working conditions at the Foxconn City industrial park in Shenzhen, China,
[...]
The 2010 suicides prompted 20 Chinese universities to compile an 83-page report on Foxconn, which they described as a "labor camp". Interviews of 1,800 Foxconn workers at 12 factories found evidence of illegal overtime and failure to report accidents. The report also criticized Foxconn's management style, which it called inhumane and abusive.

Computers have improved transport, enabling cars to achieve better performance by faking emission tests (^). They are also responsible for enhancing the engineering design process (^).

Car Design Was Better Before Computers
[...]
corruption in the car industry goes way beyond manufacturers' faked emission-tests, their mass-participation in war crimes, and the children they force to work in the cobalt, mica, and lithium mines. In fact, the corruption in Car Land begins the moment you switch on a computer and load your CAD software.
[...]
Almost every modern computer is manufactured in a Communist dictatorship, often by children. This is, after all, the reason companies manufacture in these regions: It is cheap to manufacture in the 'Slave Zones' because there are few human rights, and children are often used as labor.
[...]
The solution here is obvious: [GNU/]Linux.

The following video also illustrates how people's lives have been improved by computers and technology.
 
Download compswCobalt.webm

MD5: 8fdac59d7a2593607378745f76696683
Furthermore, the video shows how technology has helped the progress of agriculture, so that sufficient food can be available to everyone:

Dorsen hasn't eaten for 2 days now.

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