Computing Counterfactuals

In an article on how cold war priorities in the development of computing affected the kinds of games that we now play on our post-cold war computers, [Peter Christiansen offers a series of “counterfactual” scenarios][pp]. E.g., what would computing now look like if, instead of being driven by the need to calculate ICBM missile trajectories, the Jacquard loom had continued to develop? Christiansen has a number of interesting sources:

> In his book _From Sun Tzu to Xbox_, Ed Halter (2006) makes a very convincing argument that many of the conventions in videogames that we take for granted can be traced back to constraints that were placed by many of the early developers of computing technology. As he notes, early computers like the ENIAC , with its stored memory and its binary language of ones and zeros, were created for purposes such as calculating ballistic tables.

Jacquard Loom


iPython’s Abilities

Speaking of iPython, Fernando Perez gave a great talk at a Canadian PyCon in 2012 that outlines the relationship between science and computing. It’s a relationship that the humanities would do well to think about.

I’ve been embedding video regularly, and I thought I would give readers’ bandwidth a bit of a break with a link to [watch on Youtube](

Computer History Museum

I love old product literature from the thirties, forties, fifties, and sixties. It’s partly the modernist design impulse; it’s partly the optimism about the future. Mix in the possibility of computation and you have the [Computer History Museum’s collection of brochures](

Go Big Red (2)

You gotta love a university with a can-do spirit: [Indiana University has a home-built supercomputer][iu] that will do 1 petaflop. One petaflop was the computing sound barrier broken by IBM back in 2008, but there are still relatively few supercomputers capable of processing this much this fast. Why is its “home-built” nature so important? Because it isn’t beholding to any particular funding agency, which means it “will be used by IU, for IU to support IU’s activities in the arts, humanities, and sciences, and to support the economic development of Indiana — without any constraints from an outside funding agency.”

You know, I never realized how great it was to work at a place with a fundamental sense of its mission and that that mission bubbled out of an ethic of always trying to do the right thing until I was no longer at a place that worked that way. Oh, how I miss the Midwest…


The Computer History Museum has a terrific ( in the late seventies, early eighties about computing. Nice work.