Technology

"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.

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  1. . . . McDonald’s had invented the Internet.

    Actually, that one is easier to believe than the Al Gore, Jr. one.

  2. In 1951, years before IBM was a twinkle in an American eye…

    The historians at Reason suck!

  3. The company which became IBM was founded in 1896 as the Tabulating Machine Company[6] by Herman Hollerith, in Broome County, New York (Endicott, New York, Where it still maintains very limited operations). It was incorporated as Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation (CTR) on June 16, 1911, and was listed on the New York Stock Exchange in 1916. IBM adopted its current name in 1924, when it became a Fortune 500 company.

  4. The future ain’t what it used to be.

  5. Wikipedia,

    And it was mentioned in many popular movies of the late 1940s and early 1950s.

    However, by the 1960s IBM had decided to stay away from movies depicting computers as human-killing psudeo-nutcases. In Colossis: The Forbin Project (~1967) IBM equipment is noticeably absent, but Control Data, and others, got the credit for the first networked computer capable of taking over the world, ordering assasinations and nuclear strikes. 1968 found IBM pulling out of 2001: A Space Oddessy with the logo cleverly replaced by the letters HAL.

  6. Speaking of which . . . where are the flying cars? I remember playing nintendo and thinking we would probably have colonies on Mars anyday. Someone get crackin’ on these disappointments.

  7. despite your poor knowledge of history, I absolve you of your sins in the name of my lord the Urkobold (blessed be his name) for making this reference:

    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.”

  8. In 1951, years before IBM Apple was a twinkle in an American eye, they had a usable business computer up and running.

    Better?

    And those Brits couldn’t even make transparent aluminum with their computer!

  9. Apparently, girls can’t do math *or* history.

  10. Trolley McTrollerson wins the thread.

    No claiming the win if you were unwilling to post that under your “real” handle. Wimp.

  11. [faced with a 20th century computer]
    Scotty: Computer. Computer?
    [Bones hands him a mouse and he speaks into it]
    Scotty: Hello, computer.
    Dr. Nichols: Just use the keyboard.
    Scotty: Keyboard. How quaint.

  12. Spock: Your use of language has altered since our arrival. It is currently laced with, shall we say, more colorful metaphors, “double dumb-ass on you” and so forth.
    Kirk: Oh, you mean the profanity?
    Spock: Yes.
    Kirk: Well that’s simply the way they talk here. Nobody pays any attention to you unless you swear every other word.

  13. So I’m a masochist on a diet, am I?

  14. Share and enjoy!

  15. I wear my cowardice as a badge of honor.

  16. IBM was busy in the 30’s helping the Nazis with their identification and cataloging of “certain” individuals. There’s an interesting book on it called (appropriately) IBM and the Holocaust. They were using punch card sorting machines and such, not what we would know as computers today.

  17. KMW rocking the geeks with a Hitchhiker’s reference! Froody.

  18. Marcvs,

    I never read that book. I saw the title and skipped over it assuming it would be a “Boys from Brazil” makeover. I always knew IBM was full of fascists . . .

  19. “IBM was busy in the 30’s helping the Nazis with their identification and cataloging of “certain” individuals. There’s an interesting book on it called (appropriately) IBM and the Holocaust. They were using punch card sorting machines and such, not what we would know as computers today.”

    And today Microsoft is helping The People’s Republic of China in their opression of anyone who would speak out against the Communist Government. This is one of the reasons I now use Free and Open Source Software whenever I am able.

  20. “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.”

    Actually, most information innovations came from businesses not directly involved in what we today would call computer technology. . Even companies like IBM merely enacted ideas generated by people in other companies who needed to solve internal informational problems. As in most history, we see the flash and not the substance.

    Business is the great innovator. Process innovation i.e. ways of moving information through an organization are the most important ones of all. Sam Walton created a system that is being duplicated in every organization that moves material goods. Only a few computer and business geeks know this but it will be one of the histories great innovations on par with Ford’s assembly line.

  21. IBM was busy in the 30’s helping the Nazis with their identification and cataloging of “certain” individuals. There’s an interesting book on it called (appropriately) IBM and the Holocaust. They were using punch card sorting machines and such, not what we would know as computers today.

    [shrill Student Union Cafeteria voice]
    Translation: The German government purchased IBM equipment, making every IBM shareholder, employee and all generations after them Nazis.

  22. Linux? Bah! Bah, I say! They shall go wanting.

  23. Guy,

    If I buy some Lenovo products, am I endorsing industrial scale murder?

  24. Naga & Ironic,

    It’s actually a very well-researched book that, surprisingly, doesn’t really take sides. It just presents the historical facts as they are and lets the reader make the obvious conclusions. It really had less to do with ideology and came down to money (capitalists and fascists working together!!1!). If you look at how many Americans felt about the Nazis (and fascism) in the 30’s, it’s not all that surprising. Another “interesting” (out-of-print) book is The Coming American Fascism: The Crisis of Capitalism which was first published in 1936. Many people forget that “fascism” wasn’t a dirty word until WWII in the U.S. It was just another state ideology (like Communism) which was going to “save” us from the “horrors” of laissez-faire capitalism (and Communism).

  25. NS,

    If I buy some Lenovo products, am I endorsing industrial scale murder?

    I don’t know what that is, but I would say no you are not endorsing industrial scale murder.

    Jeesh! I even used one of my clever hysterical ranting tags and everything!

  26. 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.

    This isn’t that amazing, really. Walmart is the single biggest reason we’ll be getting RFID technology as soon as we are. Amazon sells books, but has also ushered in the era of cloud computing virtually singlehandedly. Big companies have big technological requirements.

  27. Guy,

    I think you missed my sarcasm. You were supposed to answer in the shrill student union tag. LOL.

  28. Marcvs,

    Fascism was only another flavor of Socialism until the International Socialists got all pissy about them not following the script.

    Then there was that whole attack through Poland thing, which lead to some friction between International and National Socialists.

  29. Tom,

    Big companies have big technological requirements.

    UPS is now a package tracking company that happens to deliver some packages in their spare time.

  30. [Do over]

    If I buy some Lenovo products, am I endorsing industrial scale murder?

    [shrill Student Union Cafeteria voice]

    YES Naga SS! YOU FASCIST! [mocks Hitler salute three times]

    IF YOU WERE A PACIFIST LIKE ME YOU WOULD NOT HAVE ALL OF THESE BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS [sweeps coffee and bagles off table with sling of bookbag and storms out]

  31. Guy,

    I’m well aware of that, as fascism, Communism, and Nazism are some of the topics I study fairly heavily. I think it’s just a weird fascination of mine because I believe so strongly in the freedom of the individual.

  32. I can’t think of a single KMW post on science or technology that wasn’t fundamentally wrong on key concepts.

  33. *In director’s chair*

    Aaaaaaaaaannnnnnnndddddddd CUT!!!! Perfect Guy! Print it!

  34. I can’t think of a single KMW post on science or technology that wasn’t fundamentally wrong on key concepts.

    Then just click through to her picture and forget about it.

  35. The only thing I’m interested in concerning the future is whether Mel Gibson is going to do a remake of The Road Warrior.

  36. Naga Sadow,

    Whew! That was a rough set. Where are the martinis and interns?

    I will have a Cosmotarian up and a blonde down. Hurry assistant, hurry, I am on the way to my trailer.

  37. The only thing I’m interested in concerning the future is whether Mel Gibson is going to do a remake of The Road Warrior.

    Betcha he does that one without adding Nazis.

  38. Guy,

    Oh he’ll find a way. Just give him a chance. It’s the only way Hollywood will take hime back.

  39. Betcha he does that one without adding Nazis.

    But it will still have jew-hatin!

  40. Set in a futuristic apocalyptic nightmarish landscape. Roving bands of Nazis roam the highways of the wastelands in a neverending search for gasoline and victims. Until they run into a hard as steel loner with a thirst for vengeance against the outlaw bands that destroyed his loved ones. See Guy, it works . . .

  41. Linux? Bah! Bah, I say! They shall go wanting.

    Baaah,baaah, indeed, Mister Sheeple.

  42. Nice!

  43. Then just click through to her picture and forget about it.

    Pleasant, but not dramatic. And younger than my daughter to boot.

  44. Pleasant, but not dramatic. And younger than my daughter to boot.

    Pretty sure she looks great in boots too.

  45. Kinnath,

    She’s better than pleasant, she’s interesting. All I ask in women is to be interesting.

  46. Hmmmm . . . maybe she knows how to weld . . . just sayin’ . . .

  47. a remake of The Road Warrior

    If Mel Brooks directs it you can bet there will be Nazis.
    Funny ones.

  48. Kinnath,

    She’s better than pleasant, she’s interesting. All I ask in women is to be interesting.

    All I ask, is that they tell me they want to be left alone before involving any law enforcement.

  49. Involvment of law enforcement shows persistence on your part. Silver lining and what not . . .

  50. She’s better than pleasant, she’s interesting. All I ask in women is to be interesting.

    Freak.

    Well, okay, the welding comment saved you. THAT makes a gal interesting. Oh, and some of that reading stuff.

    BTW, any ladies reading this, I can bring a guest to the drag races @ Budds Creek in MD (Mechanicsville) on 25/26 July.* Will also have a work picnic on 25 July, can bring a guest to that too.

    If you don’t know how to weld, sorry, will be looking for a gal at the track instead.

    *Could be an excuse for an unofficial reasonoid event.

  51. Guy,

    I can’t pretend to like stupid people. My undoing as far as women seem concerned. I don’t care about their pets, hair, nails, shoes, what their friends of their friends said about whats his name, etc.

  52. NS,

    Me too. Well, I prefer they wear heels most of the time, but otherwise, like yea.

  53. Not much hope of KMW responding to this thread, considering the direction it’s taken, but I’m still hoping she’ll explain how public transportation “continues to prove itself to be unpopular” given all the recent and easily-found evidence to the contrary.

  54. Pretty sure she looks great in boots too.

    Thigh boots, leather bustier, and a riding-crop . . . .

    Wowsa!

  55. Thigh high boots?(we in the biz call em’ hooker boots) Absolutely. Riding crop? No. Nothing sexy about a women who might beat the shit out of me.

  56. but I’m still hoping she’ll explain how public transportation “continues to prove itself to be unpopular”

    Why should she do that any more than having to explain that a sharp stick in the eye is undesirable?

  57. e,

    Okay, I will finish the rest since I left it so open. Lines in the old Soviet Union were not a vote of popularity for standing in lines for bread, or for the bread either.

  58. e,

    Technically speaking, just because something is more popular than it used to be doesnt mean it isnt unpopular. If Barr gets 1% of the vote this fall, that doesnt mean the LP is popular.

  59. “Public transportation has become so popular that Peorians are marching on Springfield to demand more rail and bus service.”

    No, I really don’t think that we will be seeing that headline any time soon.

  60. Riding crop? No.

    Self-flagellation?

  61. OK, I’m seriously curious about the sort of facial expression KMW might adopt if she saw where this thread was heading. Fucking bachelors.*

    *Full Disclosure: I’m a bachelor.

  62. Lines in the old Soviet Union were not a vote of popularity for standing in lines for bread, or for the bread either.

    Montag employs the Russian variant of the classic Godwin maneuver as another exiting H&R chess match gets underway.

  63. Oh goodie. The perfectly fitting mention of anything from the Soviet Union automatically invalidates any disagreement with e!

  64. Oh why oh why must any reference to a lady’s photograph lead to sexual innuendo?

  65. I know a couple of people that have started riding the bus because of gas prices and now like it as an option so much that they probably wont stop when/if prices go back down (none do it 100% of the time, they still drive 1 or 2 days a week). One of them has become like anti-smokers, the worst kind of zealot.

  66. Montag, it is always a pleasure! See you in the next thread.

  67. Oh why oh why must any reference to a lady’s photograph lead to sexual innuendo?

    Not always, just for the hotties.

  68. e,

    Whatever. If you think people being all but forced onto public transportation means it is “popular”, go right ahead.

  69. Full Disclosure: I like public transportation.*

    *But still, you gotta use your car or bike or sneakers sometimes.

  70. Great article. My day has not been wasted. I learned something neato cool and important.

  71. Guy, Just a minor improvement, humbly suggested,

    IF YOU WERE A PACIFIST LIKE ME YOU WOULD NOT HAVE ALL OF THESE BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS [sweeps coffee and bagles off table with sling of bookbag made in China and storms out]

  72. Oh why oh why must any reference to a lady’s photograph lead to sexual innuendo?

    Because that’s how we (men) are wired. That’s pretty much it.

  73. I thought the thread was appropriate and more interesting without the public transportation discussion.

    *shakes head and sighs*

  74. I seem to remember that Kmart was doing all it’s in-store accounting by hand as late as the mid- 1990s. I’d hate to think what the world would be like if they’d had something like this in their arsenal way back when, there might not even any be Walmarts, for god’s sake.

  75. Then there was that whole attack through Poland thing, which lead to some friction between International and National Socialists.

    But as long as the International and National Socialists were both attacking Poland, as they did in September 1939, it was all good.

  76. “where are the flying cars”

    No flying cars, but in Phoenix we do seem to have flying trucks out on the I-10 heading west.

  77. Thats “almost completely, but not quite entirely unlike tea”.

    Get it right.

  78. IBM refuted the “aiding Nazis” charge long ago. They were selling tabulating machines on the open market. People who sold shoe polish were likewise “aiding Nazis.”

    As for mainframes being “clucky” … I dare you Windows or Lynx partisans to match this: I recently had a conversation with a customer who uses his z/OS parallel sysplex to handle hundreds of transactions EVERY SECOND. His system has been up — without missing a single second — since 1992. Yes, IBM allows for upgrading operating system, application software, and even hardware — all without interrupting service. Try that with your MS BS. Clunky, indeed!

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