[Humanist] 26.196 uppercaselessness & machines of loving grace

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Jul 28 23:12:22 CEST 2012

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 196.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    amsler at cs.utexas.edu                                      (14)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.195 uppercaselessness

  [2]   From:    Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>          (29)
        Subject: machines of loving grace

        Date: Sat, 28 Jul 2012 11:44:11 -0500
        From: amsler at cs.utexas.edu
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.195 uppercaselessness
        In-Reply-To: <20120727235324.697AC2866F5 at woodward.joyent.us>

The story I heard on the origin of all CAPS text for early computing  
was that IBM made the decision because they couldn't have both  
upper/lower case available and reasoned that executives of companies  
would prefer to see their names in all capitals over lower case. Given  
that business computing was outside of scientific calculation, the  
most important revenue source for sale of computers, this makes sense.

IBM also originated the abbreviation convention of dropping as many  
interior vowels from words as needed to shorten them to fit variable  
and file naming conventions (remember 8.3 file names) in programs and  
on the early online systems.

What I always thought was the greatest missed opportunity for text  
processing was not to have separated the many uses of . into distinct  
characters. Oh how nice it would be if abbreviation periods were a  
separate character from sentence periods and decimal points.

        Date: Sun, 29 Jul 2012 07:09:31 +1000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: machines of loving grace
        In-Reply-To: <20120727235324.697AC2866F5 at woodward.joyent.us>

Some here, those of my vintage, may recall Richard Brautigan's poem, 
"All watched over by machines of loving grace". But rather than quote it 
here I will refer everyone to a 3-part television documentary for the 
BBC by that title, made by Adam Curtis and released last year. It tells 
one of many possible histories of computing, starting with the 
intellectual milieu that Ayn Rand did so much to create. Curtis traces 
the equilibrium theory in ecology to cybernetics and so provides yet 
another instance of a technological idea shaping biological theory that 
was then used as inspiration for the technology, and so forth and so on. 
Well worth finding and watching.

One assertion in that documentary that I've run into elsewhere is that 
the flashing lights on mainframe computers were put there for public 
relations purposes, to make the big hulks seem, I suppose, scientific 
and impressive at the same time. I would very much like to know if 
anyone here is aware of reliable documentation on that point. As a young 
computer operator, however, I and my mates would often look for obvious 
repetitive patters in the flashing of the lights for a sign that the 
machine was in a "loop", i.e. caught in a cycle of instructions without 
exit. If so, we'd kill the program and restart. So whatever the original 
intention of the lights they did serve a practical purpose.

Willard McCarty, FRAI / Professor of Humanities Computing & Director of
the Doctoral Programme, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College
London; Professor, School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics,
University of Western Sydney; Editor, Interdisciplinary Science Reviews
(www.isr-journal.org); Editor, Humanist
(www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist/); www.mccarty.org.uk/

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