Culture

"Almost, Not Quite, Entirely Unlike Tea"

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tea, cakes, computers

This month in retro-futurist news: The sad death of David Caminer, who "found the earliest ways to use a computer for business purposes, including standardizing flavorful, cost-effective cups of tea."

Caminer worked for a huge tea-cookies-meat pies-and-other-Britishy-things company called Lyons. The company needed faster clerical work to handle the math required to figure out efficiency stats and employee wages at its growing empire. In 1951, years before similarly useful* IBM computers were a twinkle in an American eye, they had a usable business computer up and running.

To help us laymen comprehend this development, New Scientist made this comparison: "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."

All this brings to mind the greatest instance of automated tea in all of fiction: Arthur Dent's noble, computer-handicapping struggle to get a decent cuppa after the Earth is destroyed. The ship's computer eventually manages to produce a substance "almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea."

I've never tasted the fruits of Caminer's labors, but I believe he managed to do slightly better by not asking the computers to make the tea directly.

More delicious retro futurism here.

*Updated: IBM had, of course, been around forever, puttering around with big clunky mainframes.