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Biographical Sketches Wrapup

I won't pretend that the above list of biographical sketches is anything more than an idiosyncratic sampling. Here are some additional books by or about people who one way or another have had a major influence on computing:

Hackers Stephen Levy, Dell Publishing 1984, ISBN 0-440-13405-6

Looks like a Hollywood instant book, but actually very well done. Has the only worthwhile biographical material I've seen on Richard Stallman, among others. A fascinating read which includes coverage of the first Lisp implementation, although I found the last section (on kids developing video games) of less interest.

Programmers at Work Susan Lammers ISBN 0-914845-71-3

Somewhat fluffy series of interviews with nineteen programmers from the microcomputer era, including silly stuff like their doodles.

Steve Jobs: The Journey Is The Reward Jeffrey S Young ISBN 0-673-18864-7

How the son of a used car salesman graduated from phone phreaking, peddling illegal "blue boxes", sleeping in the ceiling and attending an Indian guru to cofounding and running one of the world's major computer corporations and then getting fired by his handpicked top aide.

John Sculley: Odyssey with John A Byrne ISBN 0-06-015780-1

How a guy whose great intellectual achievement was putting Pepsi in bigger plastic bottles wound up firing Steve Jobs from Apple and putting the Mac in bigger plastic boxes.

The Great Mental Calculators Steven B Smith ISBN 0-231-05640-0

Okie, this is a trifle off topic, but: Up until WW II, "computer" meant a person who computes. Much of the computation for the atomic bomb -- built in three years start to finish, remember -- was done by parallel processing machines consisting of women called "computers" armed with mechanical calculators, computing and exchanging results according to programs written by mathematicians. In modern terminology, this was a highly pipelined Multiple Instruction-stream Multiple Data-stream (MIMD) computer with an extraordinarily slow cycle time.

Before any sort of computing machinery, people factored millions of numbers and tabulated the results, among many other computing achievements stunning to contemplate today.

Particularly amazing were the folk who did prodigious computations entirely mentally. This is the only good book I've found on this subject, ranging from Jedediah Buxton, the dimwitted English rustic who never discovered that multiplying by ten can be done simply by adding a zero (he multiplied by 5 and 2) but nevertheless earned vast (and meticulously accounted for) quantities of beer by performing prodigious computations on bets, to mathematicians like Karl Gauss and Srinivasa Ramanujan, both with a credible claim to being the greatest human mathematician, and both indefatigable computers.

Not mentioned in this book: One Ramanujan formula was for many years the best known algorithm for electronically computing pi to many places, and used in a number of record-breaking computations, despite nobody having managed to prove that it was correct. Gauss's results are of course used daily in too many ways to count, not least his favorite least-squares technique for fitting a line to unreliable data points and Gaussian blurring to scale digital images to another size.

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