Sunday, December 20, 2009
The other morning when I awoke to the familiar voices of NPR Morning Edition hosts, I heard discussion about a full-size, working replica of the first electronic digital computing machine built in 1939 at Iowa State University in Ames, IA. That caught my attention. I knew exactly what they were talking about. This computer sits in the lobby of the Durham Center here on campus.
My son went to school with the children of the man who was on the team who built this replica . One evening in the late 1990's, over pizza in the Crawford Elementary gymnasium at Carnival Night, I sat transfixed listening to this man talk about his current project. I remember his frustration when he talked about how his team was struggling to find and/or build parts for the machine. The $350,000 price tag reflected the difficulty they encountered in putting together this functioning replica of the first digital computer. Like the original team of Atanasoff and Berry, it took 4 years to accomplish this monumental task.
Over the past several winters, I have often cut through Durham on my way to the College of Design. On occasion, I have stopped to check out this piece of history that has transformed our world. This particular morning I heard Steve Inskeep relate that this computing machine was heading out on April 1st to its new home in the Computer History Museum in California. This
7 ft.x3 ft.x3 ft. machine has been a permanent fixture in the lobby of Durham since the early 2000's, so I decided to stop by and check it out one more time.
I had forgotten about these incredible memory drums. They're so big and clunky compared to the tiny microchips currently produced. There is something in their design, color, and texture that I find beautiful in an industrial sort of way. I can't help but wonder at the fun Atanasoff and Berry might have playing with our computers today.