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Dead At 92, Business Computing Pioneer David Caminer 142

Posted by timothy
from the 92-and-holding dept.
Brooklyn Bob points out this fascinating obituary of David Caminer, the first systems analyst. "The tea company he worked for developed their own hardware and software — in 1951! Quoting New Scientist: 'In today's terms it would be like hearing that Pizza Hut had developed a new generation of microprocessor, or McDonald's had invented the Internet.'"
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Dead At 92, Business Computing Pioneer David Caminer

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    • Is there a more useful Slashdot post than a simple link to the story w/out registration? I wish the editors would "correct" links that require registration before posting. I nearly always search for an alternate source or skip the story when faced with a registration form.
      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Yeah, just skip the story instead of using bugmenot. That'll show them!

    • Not sure why, but I got into TFA without any nags.

      Furthermore, the other article isn't the same; for instance you missed this great quote:

      "Let it be remembered that throughout almost 14 years of life he worked a 24-hour shift on one dreary problem after another without complaining and spent, at the most, only a few hours off sick," the computer's obituary said.

      Except for the "without complaining" part, I'd think they must be talking about Marvin.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 29, 2008 @04:43PM (#23993631)

    And I'll say it again. The British take their tea very seriously. It should surprise nobody that a tea company would be working on microcomputers. After all, these are the same companies that started wars and colonized new lands.

  • So close (Score:1, Interesting)

    by KasperMeerts (1305097)
    And still no first post.
    Strange isn't it. This is one of the brighter minds of Computer Science and still I, a computer geek, have never heard of him.
    • Re:So close (Score:5, Interesting)

      by petes_PoV (912422) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @04:49PM (#23993671)
      Why haven't you heard of him?

      My guess is because he was on the commercial side of the business (though the FT referred to him as a "systems analyst" in their obit. yesterday). From the little I know of academic teachings, it's not considered trendy to focus on such areas - particularly as he didn't program in Java

      • Re:So close (Score:5, Funny)

        by bar-agent (698856) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @05:01PM (#23993745)

        From the little I know of academic teachings, it's not considered trendy to focus on such areas - particularly as he didn't program in Java

        Yeah, he probably programmed in T.

        • Hahah, I was *so* going to make that comment, if you hadn't preceded me - you bastard ;o)

          Seriously though: what's the point dragging Java in this discussion? These facts happened three decades before Java even appeared.

          • There is only one point - the poor humour.
          • These facts happened three decades before Java even appeared.

            Four decades, I would say. And three decades before T [wikipedia.org] appeared. Of course, true hackers drink T instead of Java. :-)

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by SimonGhent (57578)

      I learned about this guy during my Computer Studies degree course. Really interesting chap, it's amazing how few people have heard of LEO compared to Colossus... but then I guess that an accounting computer for a chain of cafes is a lot less interesting than WW2 code breaking!

      Interesting (sort of) related fact - the Lyons Tea Houses which were a fixture of pretty much every English town became Wimpey, the British burger chain, now confined to run down shopping centres. And another (on a roll here): The An

    • I came to this thread hoping to find puns involving Big MAC addresses.

      You have failed me for the last time, Slashdot! *laughs evilly and writes mean things about CmdrTaco on Wikipedia*

  • Nah ah! (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    âoeAmericans canâ(TM)t believe this,â Paul Ceruzzi, a historian of computing and curator at the National Air and Space Museum, said in an interview last week. âoeThey think youâ(TM)re making it up. It really was true.â

    And we don't! AS our manufacturing and the rest of our economy is rotting away (Thanks for nothing corp America), we are constantly reassured that our talent as a country is creativity (at least that's what the economists say - everything is for the better!). Th

    • by maxume (22995)

      What isn't funny is that the United States manufactures more goods today than it did in 1980. It's fantastic.

  • McDonalds? (Score:3, Funny)

    by DeadDecoy (877617) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @04:47PM (#23993661)
    Is it me or does it just a bit off-putting to use an analogy to equate some of the world's more innovative pioneers with the mc'nugget?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Stormwatch (703920)
      Is it an analogy at all? "Wow, a food shop made their own computer. That's just like... another food shop making their own computer!"
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      I don't think you actually understood that comparison.

      They're not saying that it's like McDonald's inventing the McNugget. They're saying that it would be like McDonald's, the fast food company, inventing a computer from scratch.

    • Glidden, the paint company, used to be involved in making medicines as a significant side business. Think about that if you ever spread enamel on your wall or pop a prescription.

      • by karnal (22275)

        Think about that if you ever spread enamel on your wall or pop a prescription.

        You can do both at once and come out with a screwed up mess of a wall.

    • by Alioth (221270)

      Well - why?

      An undertaker, after all, invented the automatic telephone exchange.

  • Output (Score:5, Funny)

    by JustOK (667959) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @04:47PM (#23993663) Journal

    The first output was something almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

  • by BadAnalogyGuy (945258) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Sunday June 29, 2008 @04:50PM (#23993675)

    The best solutions don't come from engineers sitting around brainstorming. It's almost exclusively domain-specific knowledge that only practitioners have that makes good systems good. Lyons needed account tracking software for their tea and bakery business, and it's likely that there was simply no idea at IBM or any other "computer" shop that such a need existed.

    Engineers are pretty much replaceable cogs in software development. It's the people who have real world needs that require real world solutions that bring these things into existence.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by noidentity (188756)

      Engineers are pretty much replaceable cogs in software development. It's the people who have real world needs that require real world solutions that bring these things into existence.

      That's what I've been telling mom for years about me living in the basement. Think of all the innovations we'd lose if I moved out!

    • by erikharrison (633719) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @05:02PM (#23993747)

      While I recognize and agree with the point you're trying to make, I think it's a bit overstating the case to call engineers replaceable cogs. If you're working withing a relatively solved problem domain, and we're talking about a certain minimal level of skill, then this is true.

      But in _this_ case we're talking about a completely nascent problem space. Caminer's brilliance was recognizing that computers could solve the problem. Yet it still took John Pinkerton with heaps of assistance from the Math Lab at Cambridge to design and build a computer with operating system sufficient to the task.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Kjella (173770)

      Engineers are pretty much replaceable cogs in software development. It's the people who have real world needs that require real world solutions that bring these things into existence.

      Try looking at a real mechanical machine with a broken cog. Not only does it tend to bring the machine to a halt, it can also do permanent damage. Yes, you can replace good cogs with other good cogs but try replacing good cogs with poor cogs and see how far you'll get. Sure all requirements come from the "real world", I'd just like to point out that often the requirements have been there, the money/manhours to it has been there and yet it's spectacularly failed at bringing things into existance.

      It's a widel

      • Just to throw out an example, take Dell. "Sell low-cost custom-assembled computers directly over the Internet" basicly sums up the whole original business idea

        .

        Not to be pedantic, but Dell have been around since 1984, and their original business model revolved around selling custom-build high-end machines through the mail (at reduced costs, due to the low overhead associated with such a model, as well as the fact that it was the only way they could compete with IBM and Compaq). The shift to selling low-end machines via the Internet didn't come until the mid to late 90s.

        Your point does still hold, however, as Dell were the first company to actually make that busi

    • by o1d5ch001 (648087)

      Eh, maybe. But my experience has been that it is a certain personality that brings new ideas to life. Don't pick on engineers, the poor little dears have feelings to you know. And you know how they get when they are upset. They go talk to their Engineer boss, and the Engineering fraternity with the rings that have cut off the circulation to that part of the brain that made them interesting people. Its really not their fault. They were made that way, or maybe they were that way before they became Engineers.

    • Programming computers has always been about solving problems. Computers are machines.
      They move signals and data and return pay checks and nuclear plant control rod down commands.
      Most of my life consists of developing systems that move data and large, dangerous chunks of machinery.
      Some of the best and worst engineers I have worked with had a BS or MS, MA and BA usually caught on.

    • So true. In any software project the guy who understands the problem is better than 10 guys who don't (regardless of technical skill.) Most effective engineers get involved with a field they're interested in. Learning all the intricacies of a system you don't care about is no fun.
  • ... McDonald's had invented the Internet

    In the Al Gore sense of "invent the Internet", perhaps. They commercialized someone else's invention.

    • by JustOK (667959) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @05:09PM (#23993815) Journal

      Super-size your internet, drive-thru downloads, I'm lovin' it.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Darkness404 (1287218)

        Super-size your internet, drive-thru downloads, I'm lovin' it.



        Didn't MS already do that? I mean your browser has to look rather super-sized with all those spyware toolbars, and drie-thru downloads are a lot like the drive-by downloads that IE has....

        • by westlake (615356)
          Didn't MS already do that? I mean your browser has to look rather super-sized with all those spyware toolbars, and drie-thru downloads are a lot like the drive-by downloads that IE has....

          I think I would count the number of extensions that weight down the typical Firefox browser before I began pointing fingers.

          • I think I would count the number of extensions that weight down the typical Firefox browser before I began pointing fingers.



            Well lets see... On my Firefox 3.0 install on my EEE... I have one extension, Tiny Menu. As for greasemonkey, I have little need of it, AdBlock Plus? I have a configured /etc/hosts file that takes care of it, as for any other extensions... I just don't use them.

      • Actually McDonald's partnered up with AT&T to provide Wifi Internet access from local McDonald's restaurants and yes you can access their Wifi via the drive-thru line and outside of the building. AT&T customers can pay a small fee per month for access to various Wifi hotspots in McDonald's, Starbuck's, etc without paying them an extra fee.

        Some McDonald's also have flat screen LCD TV sets on their wall with Fox News or CNN playing on them with the sound turned off and CC captions playing.

  • Tea company? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by HJED (1304957) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @04:52PM (#23993685)
    The article said the company owned tea shops not that it was a tea company.
    • The article said the company owned tea shops not that it was a tea company.

      FTA:

      In addition to running the tea shops

      ... tea plantations

      Tea plantations and tea shops. Not a tea company? Is there a portion of the industry left other than growing, refining, distributing, and retailing tea? :D

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by SteveAstro (209000)

      It also owned Tea plantations and flour mills.

      In further trivia, Nigella Lawson, the TV chef is the daughter of the Lyons Heiress Vanessa Salmon

      • by o1d5ch001 (648087)
        Yeaahhhh! Someone actually read the fucking fine article!!

        And about Nigella, she always seemed out of touch with reality.... I'd still do'er though. I bet she'd be a right good shag eh?! (No, I'm Canadian).

  • like hearing that Pizza Hut had developed a new generation of microprocessor

    You didn't see that commercial yet? It's the one where they also introduced the Extreme Cheesy-Cheesy Extreme Pepperoni Pizza. The microprocessor is in the crust!

  • by The Famous Druid (89404) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @05:26PM (#23993913)
    From TFA: So it was only natural it would look at the electronic brains that scientists in the United States were developing for scientific and military purposes as a way to streamline its own empire

    Why do Americans have this urge to claim the credit for everything?

    The Germans built a computer during WWII, and the brits built Colossus computers to break German codes. The University of Manchester built their first computer in 1948, and another in 1949, even the aussies had built CSIRAC in 1949, two years before LEO, and yet the NY times has to claim the LEO was based on what 'American Scientists' were doing.

    There's a whole big world out there, and America doesn't have a monopoly on innovation.

    Deal with it.
    • Why do Americans have this urge to claim the credit for everything?

      To create a overwhelming sense of national pride.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday June 29, 2008 @06:17PM (#23994231)

      As far as I recall the history, they didn't ask Americans anything. They were examining business methods round the world, and had discussions with other businessmen - both in America and Europe - as a matter of course. Computers (or Electronic Brains!) were being thought about at the time, and Lyons staff wrote a report saying that they should be investigated.

      So a meeting was held with Maurice Wilkes of Cambridge, and the upshot was that Lyons sponsored the manufacture of the first commercially designed computer (and, more importantly, the first Business and System Analysts). There was no particular pressure or direction from any other company or country.

      Oh, and another error - Lyons was NOT a tea company. It was a chain of restaurants, placed in city centres; they were called 'Lyons Corner Houses' because Joe Lyons, the owner, figured that a corner position got trade from two streets simultaneously. They typically served the office lunchtime trade - their waitresses were known as 'Nippies', because of their fabled speed of service. Tea would have been served, or coffee, and cakes, sandwiches or light meals. It's like calling McDonalds a Dairy Farmer because they serve milk shakes....

         

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        As a matter of fact, Lyons sent Oliver Standingford and Raymond Thompson over to the US in the summer of 1947, to meet with Herman Goldstine at Princeton - it was Goldstine who recommended that they visit Professor Hartree (Wilkes' boss) at Cambridge.

        There's a damn fine history of the LEO computers, written with input from Caminer himself: A Computer Called Leo [amazon.com], by Georgina Ferry.

        I just dug out my copy to get all the names right :o)

    • Suse is a wordplay at Zuse, AFAIK.

      "From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
      Konrad Zuse (pronounced [ËkÉ"nÊat ËtsuËzÉ(TM)]; June 22, 1910 Berlin - December 18, 1995 Hünfeld) was a German engineer and computer pioneer. His greatest achievement was the world's first functional program-controlled Turing-complete computer, the Z3, in 1941 (the program was stored on a punched tape)."

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Rostin (691447)

      Point taken, but FYI:

      "J. Lyons and Co., one of the UK's leading catering and food manufacturing companies in the first half of the 20th century, sent two of its senior managers to the USA in 1947 to look at new business methods developed during the Second World War. During their visit they came across digital computers then used exclusively for engineering and mathematical computations. They saw the potential of computers to help solve the problem of administering a major business enterprise."

      http://en.wiki [wikipedia.org]

    • by mangu (126918) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @06:58PM (#23994489)

      Why do Americans have this urge to claim the credit for everything?


      People in most nations seem to have this urge. Brazilians claim the airplane was invented by a Brazilian [wikipedia.org] and Italians claim the telephone was invented by an Italian. [wikipedia.org]


      When you consider a "computer" as a generic machine capable of performing calculations, maybe it could be claimed the Greeks [wikipedia.org] did it, but if you limit your definition to an electronic equipment doing calculations by binary logic, then it's true, an American [wikipedia.org] has the earliest claim.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        An 'electronic machine doing binary logic' is the WORST definition of a computer I ever heard of. You might almost think it was specified simply in order to shoe-horn and American (/Bulgarian!) into the frame!

        Atanasoff simply re-created Babbage's Difference Engine in electronics. So I would still go with the British as the first 'computer' inventors - Babbage and Turing between them defined the concept of the first general purpose machine which worked numerically. Adding electronics is not really an 'invent

        • by mangu (126918)

          Atanasoff simply re-created Babbage's Difference Engine in electronics


          Well, if you think Babbage predated Atanasoff, then certainly the Antikythera mechanism predated Babbage -- by 2000 years -- with one difference: it was actually built. What Babbage invented the technology of his age couldn't build.

      • And even within a country it doesn't stop with Alexander Graham Bell stealing credit from Elisha Gray [wikipedia.org].
    • by Tablizer (95088)

      Why do Americans have this urge to claim the credit for everything?

      I'm not sure it really was an issue of "credit", such as "firsts". They were looking for practical solutions and the US was one of the top countries for emerging computer technology, perhaps because our large military budget was funding the most computer projects. The internet and microchips were largely pushed forward by military contracts (existing or hoped-for), for example. It's still this way to this day more or less.

  • What sort of calculations could possibly be worth the expense of building an early computer to do them with? That's one thing I have wondered about : these machines had about as much memory as a sheet of notebook paper, and were glacially slow at calculations. What kind of tasks could be worth the expense of building one?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by eclectro (227083)

      What kind of tasks could be worth the expense of building one?

      To calculate taxes. Or you could just throw your tea in the harbor.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        LEO was actually used to calculate and print the income tax tables for the British Inland Revenue in 1955 - the task was completed overnight, as opposed to taking several weeks if done manually.

        Not only did Lyons build the first industrial computer, they even had a bureau service running as soon as the machine was ready to take on the extra work.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jd (1658)
      The tea industry was so big at one point that it was profitable to build an entire class of ship specifically for tea and nothing else. Lyons deals with all kinds of commodities, many perishable, so high-power optimization was viable. As for "glacially slow", Colossus may have been slow per calculation but performed thousands of calculations in parallel and in benchtests compared favourably with a Pentium doing the same work. Early computers could, if built well, be damn fast and there are still problems wh
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Scrameustache (459504)

      What sort of calculations could possibly be worth the expense of building an early computer to do them with? That's one thing I have wondered about : these machines had about as much memory as a sheet of notebook paper, and were glacially slow at calculations. What kind of tasks could be worth the expense of building one?

      FTFA: millions of daily transactions

    • by westlake (615356) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @05:58PM (#23994115)
      these machines had about as much memory as a sheet of notebook paper, and were glacially slow at calculations. What kind of tasks could be worth the expense of building one?

      glacially slow by what standard? the mechanical adding machine? you could have half your office staff performing routine calculations with all the opportunities for error that implied.

    • by robertjw (728654)

      What sort of calculations could possibly be worth the expense of building an early computer to do them with? That's one thing I have wondered about : these machines had about as much memory as a sheet of notebook paper, and were glacially slow at calculations. What kind of tasks could be worth the expense of building one?

      Not sure for this one, but most of the early computers had to do mathematics. You have to remember that there were no calculators then. To calculate anything from a business perspective you would have to lay it all out and do the math manually - a time consuming and error prone process. With the computer they could input all the raw data and get the right result out the other side.

      I think most of us can't imagine living in a world where math had to be done by hand, logarithms had to be looked up in a

    • by mikerich (120257)
      Lyons was a huge company. It didn't just make tea, it had a massive bakery division and also ran a very successful line of high street tea and coffee shops (think Starbucks - they were that common). It also did almost everything in-house - from vehicle maintenance to manufacturing its own machinery.

      Finally, the company was seen as a very progressive concern - from the way it treated its workers (many of whom were women), through to adopting the latest business techniques - often from the US.

      One of the o

    • by gatkinso (15975)

      Very easy repetitive tasks? Just a guess.

    • by MrCreosote (34188)

      From TFA

      "The finished LEO, which had less than 100,000th the power of a current PC, could calculate an employeeâ(TM)s pay in 1.5 seconds, a job that took an experienced clerk eight minutes."

      Thats a 320 times increase in speed. Plus less likely to have manual processing errors. And that is for every pay run.

    • by LWATCDR (28044)

      Well the first ones in the US where used to calculate ballistics tables. The first ones in the UK where used to break the German code in WWII.
      The computer that sent men to the moon was probably in the same league as a cell phone.
      You can do a lot with a little if you don't have to make it idiot proof and don't have to have little pictures for every command.

  • Tea and bombs (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dynamoo (527749) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @05:58PM (#23994119) Homepage
    It's not about tea - but as the New Scientist says, the exact equivalent to Lyons is something like Pizza hut. Lyons were the absolute masters of logistics in their time - they ran a huge network of outlets to a consistent quality with a very large turnover. So, they were really an ideal company to experiment with this new technology. Lyon's logistical expertise was such that during the Second World War they ran one of the largest bomb making factories in the world, just a couple of miles from where I live. One in seven bombs dropped on Germany came from the Lyons factory at Elstow.
    • by Fred_A (10934)

      And each bomb was perfectly brewed with milk added just as it left the bomb bay.
      Later versions even came with biscuits !

  • I guess if you ignore Charles Babbage and Ada Augusta Lovelace? They too invented their own software and hardware long before 1951 aka the Analytical Engine, etc. While it didn't actually work right, IBM fixed the problems and made a working version later, and they can be considered Systems Analysts before that term was phrased.

  • uhh (Score:3, Funny)

    by nomadic (141991) <nomadicworld@nOSpaM.gmail.com> on Sunday June 29, 2008 @06:06PM (#23994185) Homepage
    The tea company he worked for developed their own hardware and software -- in 1951! Quoting New Scientist: 'In today's terms it would be like hearing that Pizza Hut had developed a new generation of microprocessor, or McDonald's had invented the Internet.'"

    Uhhh...actually we didn't really need a redefinition in "today's terms." I mean, it's still like hearing a tea company developed their own hardware and software.
  • or McDonald's had invented the Internet.

    McDonalds may not have invented the internet, but they did advance food networking...

    Not only are two people in New York and Los Angeles testing the same flavor when they eat their hamburgers, they may have even come from the same cow.
  • For slashdot now is yoda writing titles, hmm? Yes, hmmm.
  • Damn Americans (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Haxx (314221)

    First the historian says,

    "Americans can't believe this," Paul Ceruzzi, a historian of computing and curator at the National Air and Space Museum, said in an interview last week. "They think you're making it up. It really was true."

    Then the article says, .Lyons sent employees to the United States to study office automation, and American experts said they should go to the University of Cambridge, where Maurice Wilkes was developing an early computer.

    Seems like the historian doesn't know the history and reveal

  • by FrankDrebin (238464) on Sunday June 29, 2008 @07:49PM (#23994909) Homepage
    ... were originally two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions and a sesame seed bun.
  • Ya learn something new every day.

  • Ok , you wouldn't find a tea company today building its own hardware , but you may well find them writing their own software. Many many non tech companies still do this - banks, insurance , market research to name but a few. Possibly even McDonalds and pizza hut do too but I'm just guessing.

    I actually work in a market research company and we DO design our own set top box and handheld hardware though obviously the actual manufacturing is outsourced because the functionality we need from it is simply not avai

  • Was he ever the systems analyst interviewed weekly in The Onion's American Voices [theonion.com] feature?

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