To Amelia Earhart, Francis Parkman, Marco Polo and the many other bold and resolute adventurers who proved that no frontier is beyond the reach of man.
Although one can trace the origins of digital computers to the Analytical Engine of Charles Babbage or the punched card tabulating machines of Herman Hollerith, the real beginning of the computer age was in the late 1930s and early 1940s, sparked in large part by various aspects of World War II. In Britian, Alan Turing's group at Bletchley Park was trying to build a computer for code-breaking purposes. In Germany, Konrad Zuse built a relay-type machine that could store 64 floating point numbers for rocketry calculations. In the U.S., several developments were proceeding in parallel, but by far the most influential was the work of John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert at the University of Pennsylvania on a machine which was eventually christened ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer).
The Purpose of ENIAC was to integrate ballistic equations for gunnery tables. Such tables show the required angle of elevation of a gun for various target distances, shell weights, and wind speeds. A significant accomplishment at the dedication of ENIAC in February 1946 was the computation of the trajectory of a 16" naval shell in less than real time. Since World War II had ended by the time ENIAC was operational, there was no longer the urgent need for the firing tables that motivated its design. Thus, after it was moved to Aberdeen Proving Ground, it was put to use in atomic energy calculations, cosmic ray studies, thermal ignition research, wind tunnel design, and weather prediction as well as for its original purpose of computing ballistic tables for the Army and Air Force.
Unfortunately, today we tend to get a somewhat distorted view of the history of digital computers. Books written by writers in the computer field tend to focus on the early technology (vacuum tubes, mercury delay lines, paper tape), capacity, speed, and occasionally, people. On the other hand, general history books tend to focus on data processing and financial applications, and ignore the incredibly important role of the military in perhaps the most momentous development of the 20th century.
Equally salient is the fact that virtually all of the early applications of digital computers were simulations—of an artillery weapon, a nuclear reaction, a wind tunnel, the weather. It was not until some years later that computers were put to work in data processing, financial applications, and communications.
MY EARLY INVOLVEMENT
In 1957, just 11 years after the first digital computer was demonstrated, in my sophomore year at Cornell University, I got my first taste of computing. By then, of course, computers were being widely used for data processing and related applications, but I was far more fascinated with their ability to simulate the real world. Summers during college, I worked at Grumman Aircraft refurbishing war-worn airplanes, testing antenna configurations, and writing programs with the computer group. I'll never forget the countless hours I spent in the computer room as our project team tried to simulate the actions of an airplane pilot in various situations.
The following summer, I was in a group charged with writing programs to simulate the movements of an early satellite, the orbiting astronomical observatory (OAO). The experience I gained working on these simulations put me in a good position to undertake my senior project at Cornell, a massive program (in ALGOL) that simulated the acoustics of a concert hall. Given the size, shape, seating configuration, wall covering, and ceiling material of the hall, the program calculated the acoustical properties of various seating locations. Today, such a program seems almost primitive, but in 1960 it was a major accomplishment.
A year later, in the MBA program at Carnegie-Mellon University, I had the opportunity to work with the team that wrote the first management game, a simulation of three companies competing in the detergent market. Since then, as my career has progressed through positions at Management Science Associates, Digital Equipment Corp., AT&T, and Creative Computing, I have had fewer and fewer opportunities to program. However, over the years, in the back of my mind I tucked away ideas for future programs.
Thus, when Ziff-Davis decided to fold Creative Computing magazine, it was with a sense of anticipation that I remembered some of these program ideas. Claudette Moore, formerly an editor at Creative Computing, now at Microsoft Press, and I were chatting one day and I mentioned the idea of doing a series of travel simulations. She, with some enthusiasm, asked me to put together a proposal for a book. I did, and this is it. Now, I can only hope that you, the reader, learn as much from the stories and have as much fun taking the simulated journeys as I had researching and writing them.
In closing let me thank Betsy Staples for her enormous help and fanatic attention to detail in editing the manuscript, Claudette Moore for encouraging me to write the book in the first place, and Jody Gilbert, David Rygmyr, and all the other folks at Microsoft Press for seeing the project through to completion.
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