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Dead At 92, Business Computing Pioneer David Caminer

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the 92-and-holding dept.

Businesses 142

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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142 comments

Daily Telegraph - same story, no registration reqd (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23993605)

Re:Daily Telegraph - same story, no registration r (1)

carlzum (832868) | more than 5 years ago | (#23994251)

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:Daily Telegraph - same story, no registration r (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23995161)

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

frist post (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23993611)

mod me down

I've said it before (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Please hold the milk (1)

ishmalius (153450) | more than 5 years ago | (#23993689)

I love English tea, but the standard milk-and-sugar serving is just too much. Black, please.

Re:Please hold the milk (3, Funny)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 5 years ago | (#23993749)

Sorry,you can't possibly love English tea, at least not the real stuff. English tea cannot be drunk black. It is stewed in a teapot for 30 minutes specifically to turn the stomach lining to leather.
 

Re:Please hold the milk (4, Funny)

jd (1658) | more than 5 years ago | (#23994003)

The water must also be poured onto the leaves at 98.2'c, and preferably still be above 95' when it hits the stomach lining. This helps in the leather-making process. (You don't want it too much colder, say in the 60' temperature range, or you'll get cancer. (pubmed report) [nih.gov] )

Re:Please hold the milk (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23996381)

What? Did you read the report?
It said the hot tea was almost the direct CAUSE of the cancer.

Stop modding this informative! He's got to be JOKING.

Re:Please hold the milk (4, Funny)

Rapid Supreme 17 (916052) | more than 5 years ago | (#23995003)

This makes sense, seeing as you'd need that leather lining to stomach English cooking. To those about to mod me down, I love Yorkshire pudding! Please take that into consideration before you obliterate me.

Re:I've said it before (1)

Pugwash69 (1134259) | more than 5 years ago | (#23994143)

We get chimpanzees to pick the tea in Yorkshire, etc.

Re:I've said it before (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23994487)

We have Mexicans. More expensive, but with genetic engineering the US should be able to keep up with the UK. I don't need a -1 troll

Drool Britannia! (2, Informative)

fm6 (162816) | more than 5 years ago | (#23994215)

And never managed to maintain the loyalty of their colonies and ended up losing them all.

Another nitpick: LEOs were not exactly mini. See the pictures on this enthusiasts web site [leo-computers.org.uk] .

And we've been here before [slashdot.org] .

Re:I've said it before (3, Insightful)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 5 years ago | (#23994329)

According to Douglas Adams, in the future, computers will be making beverages for us that are "almost but not quite, entirely unlike tea"

Re:I've said it before (1)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 5 years ago | (#23996901)

According to Douglas Adams, in the future, computers will be making beverages for us that are "almost but not quite, entirely unlike tea"

And don't tell the computer to try it again, put a real heart into it this time, etc. You don't want that.

So close (1, Interesting)

KasperMeerts (1305097) | more than 5 years ago | (#23993633)

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 (4, Interesting)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 5 years ago | (#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 (4, Funny)

bar-agent (698856) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:So close (1)

blind biker (1066130) | more than 5 years ago | (#23994401)

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.

Re:So close (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23994751)

He would have invented Java if he had worked for a coffee company.

Re:So close (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 5 years ago | (#23997095)

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. :-)

Nah ah! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23993657)

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!). The rest of the World doesn't have this talent. In other words, we are number one and no other can or has created anything. Why we invented the telephone, airplanes, radar, the steam catapult for aircraft carriers, democracy, republics, etc....

So there! And if this fact is proven wrong, then I will completely lose all hope of my country's economic future and my own.

Re:Nah ah! (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 5 years ago | (#23993865)

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

Re:Nah ah! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23994433)

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

Yeah, right. What's your source of information?

Re:Nah ah! (2, Informative)

carlzum (832868) | more than 5 years ago | (#23995211)

Um, pretty much every source of economic data. Take a look at the US Census data [census.gov] since 1980. Total manufacturing output in the 2000's is several times greater. As population grows the number of things made follows. It's not of an indicator of economic health, but the US definitely makes more crap today than it did in 1980.

McDonalds? (3, Funny)

DeadDecoy (877617) | more than 5 years ago | (#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:McDonalds? (2, Insightful)

Stormwatch (703920) | more than 5 years ago | (#23993701)

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:McDonalds? (2, Informative)

Free the Cowards (1280296) | more than 5 years ago | (#23993885)

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.

Re:McDonalds? (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 5 years ago | (#23996121)

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.

No surprise, actually (5, Insightful)

BadAnalogyGuy (945258) | more than 5 years ago | (#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:No surprise, actually (2, Funny)

noidentity (188756) | more than 5 years ago | (#23993731)

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!

Re:No surprise, actually (4, Interesting)

erikharrison (633719) | more than 5 years ago | (#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:No surprise, actually (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23993973)

There is no such thing as a Sofware Engineer- pure title inflation. To be a real engineer you need 2 years of calculus and physics, plus God knows what else. Oh, living in a frat rules you out in many cases, lol.

Re:No surprise, actually (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23997093)

I think it should be required of engineers that they never use the string "lol" in seriousness.

In fact, I think that should be required for all professions, and even non-professions. I think it should be the prerequisite to continue breathing, that sounds pretty fair to me.

Re:No surprise, actually (2, Insightful)

Kjella (173770) | more than 5 years ago | (#23994641)

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 widely idealized rumor that companies are so dynamic and innovative - once you get some experience you realize most struggle at reaching "not dysfunctional". If I was in any software business and had a not dysfunctional design team, not dysfunctional development process, not dysfunctional test/QA process, not dysfunctional sales and marketing team and a not dysfunctional HR and recruitment process, I'd be ecstatic. Why? Because I'm sure almost any product we'd go for would be a winner.

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, and probably took about five minutes, and the business requirements aren't far behind. Creating the system to actually deliver on that was all the hard work, and it's far from the only example. Many companies have really simple business plans when it comes down to it, they just execute them exceptionally well. Unless you're heading into completely new dotcom economy fields you can be pretty sure there's money in doing things better than the competition.

Re:No surprise, actually (1)

moosesocks (264553) | more than 5 years ago | (#23995273)

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 business model successful. According to Wikipedia, the company grossed $73 million in its first year.

Re:No surprise, actually (1)

o1d5ch001 (648087) | more than 5 years ago | (#23995155)

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.

Oh, and make sure you never ever call yourself an Engineer unless a very special school (for Special people don't you know) has said you are a real Engineer!!

Now that we have looked after the poor Engineers, the poor dears, back to my point. It is people who the faculty to be creative and rational that make things happen, or happen better. Also keep in mind these are the first types to go crazy, suicidal and postal because all the pinks in the world are so fucking stupid... but I digress..

Re:No surprise, actually (1)

jimmydevice (699057) | more than 5 years ago | (#23996585)

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.

Re:No surprise, actually (1)

Mike610544 (578872) | more than 5 years ago | (#23996617)

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.

Re:No surprise, actually (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23996821)

Actually it was an operational research problem that inspired this. The question Lyons had was what was the optimal ratio of different baked goods to produce with the resources that were available on a given day to maximize profits.

Another "Inventor" (1)

AllIGotWasThisNick (1309495) | more than 5 years ago | (#23993683)

... McDonald's had invented the Internet

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

Re:Another "Inventor" (4, Funny)

JustOK (667959) | more than 5 years ago | (#23993815)

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

Re:Another "Inventor" (2, Insightful)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 5 years ago | (#23993873)

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....

Re:Another "Inventor" (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 5 years ago | (#23994037)

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.

Re:Another "Inventor" (1)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 5 years ago | (#23994741)

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.

Re:Another "Inventor" (0)

Orion Blastar (457579) | more than 5 years ago | (#23994131)

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.

Re:Another "Inventor" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23994787)

You've missed the point: it was an analogy, not a comparison.

Tea company? (3, Insightful)

HJED (1304957) | more than 5 years ago | (#23993685)

The article said the company owned tea shops not that it was a tea company.

Re:Tea company? (1)

AllIGotWasThisNick (1309495) | more than 5 years ago | (#23993727)

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:Tea company? (2, Interesting)

SteveAstro (209000) | more than 5 years ago | (#23993755)

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

Re:Tea company? (1)

o1d5ch001 (648087) | more than 5 years ago | (#23995179)

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).

Pizza Hut technology (2, Funny)

professorfalcon (713985) | more than 5 years ago | (#23993791)

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!

"noisy vacuum tubes used in the first two models." (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23993839)

Um, what?

This would be an American article then... (4, Informative)

The Famous Druid (89404) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:This would be an American article then... (1)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 5 years ago | (#23994073)

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

To create a overwhelming sense of national pride.

Re:This would be an American article then... (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#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....

   

Konrad Zuse (1)

Werrismys (764601) | more than 5 years ago | (#23994429)

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:This would be an American article then... (2, Informative)

Rostin (691447) | more than 5 years ago | (#23994453)

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.wikipedia.org/wiki/LEO_(computer) [wikipedia.org]

The NY Times claim is stronger and more arrogant than is really warranted, but (assuming Wikipedia is accurate) it does seem to have some basis in reality.

Re:This would be an American article then... (4, Informative)

mangu (126918) | more than 5 years ago | (#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:This would be an American article then... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23995311)

The tone of your post reveals that you are the one who needs to "deal with it". The Germans also had some help from IBM... not exactly one of their finer movements.

Re:This would be an American article then... (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 5 years ago | (#23996647)

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.
     

Re:This would be an American article then... (1)

oldhack (1037484) | more than 5 years ago | (#23996967)

...Blah blah America sucks blah blah...

Deal with it.

No. And screw druids.

What on earth would they do with this computer? (0, Troll)

ShooterNeo (555040) | more than 5 years ago | (#23993919)

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:What on earth would they do with this computer? (2, Funny)

eclectro (227083) | more than 5 years ago | (#23994039)

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:What on earth would they do with this computer? (2, Informative)

jd (1658) | more than 5 years ago | (#23994053)

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 where an analogue computer will outperform a digital computer at the same task.

Re:What on earth would they do with this computer? (2, Informative)

Scrameustache (459504) | more than 5 years ago | (#23994087)

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

Re:What on earth would they do with this computer? (3, Insightful)

westlake (615356) | more than 5 years ago | (#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.

Re:What on earth would they do with this computer? (1)

robertjw (728654) | more than 5 years ago | (#23994151)

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 table, complicated calculations had to be done with a slide rule. Now your phone probably does all that.

Re:What on earth would they do with this computer? (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 5 years ago | (#23996705)

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

That's not true. Mechanical calculators were common in calculation-intensive businesses. Further, IBM sold semi-programmable mechanical tallying and report-writing equipment based on punched cards since roughly the 1920's. Programmers wrote programs by using a "patch-board" panel with point-to-point plugs and switches. True, such a system was not as flexible as an electronic computer can be, but a lot of business calculations were done this way since the 1920's.
       

Re:What on earth would they do with this computer? (1)

robertjw (728654) | more than 5 years ago | (#23996779)

Fair enough, should have said there were no electronic calculators.

My point stands that math was much more complicated and expensive 60 years ago than it is now - something that's hard to understand for many of us. I remember when my hich school chemistry teacher told us about using slide rules when he went to the Colorado School of Mines. Now there probably aren't even many teachers that remember those days.

Re:What on earth would they do with this computer? (1)

mikerich (120257) | more than 5 years ago | (#23994337)

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 original tasks was payroll automation - a huge task in a massive company with hundreds of pay grades and pre-decimalised coinage. But LEO came into its own when it was to process orders from these shops.

At the end of each day's business, managers would telephone a summary of their day's trading and their next order to Lyons HQ where the information was put on to punch tape and sent to LEO. The computer could then produce a collation of the orders to go to the bakeries, print dispatch slips, even generate a packing order for the trucks so that fragile items were added last!

LEO was even used to predict buying patterns - which foods were most popular at certain times of the year or in certain regions and ensure that supplies were ready for timely manufacture.

LEO was so successful it was then put to work for the government determining tax information for the Chancellor's budget and timetabling British Railways. Naturally it was such an advanced computer that it had to be killed off by one of the Labour Party's periodic bouts of nationalisation. The spin-off LEO Computers Ltd. was folded into the larger English Electric to become English Electric LEO, which then became English Electric LEO Marconi and finally ICL who eventually disappeared into the maw of Fujitsu.

There's an excellent book about LEO: 'A Computer Called LEO' by Georgina Ferry, ISBN 1841151866, Harper Collins UK, 2004. Well worth anyone's time. And the LEO project is remembered at LEO Computers Society [leo-computers.org.uk] .

Tea and bombs (4, Informative)

Dynamoo (527749) | more than 5 years ago | (#23994119)

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.

First systems analyst from the UK? (1)

Orion Blastar (457579) | more than 5 years ago | (#23994155)

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.

Re:First systems analyst from the UK? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23995937)

System analysts research, design, and organize computerized solutions for business/government problems/tasks. Babbage and Lovelace are just mathemeticians/engineers.

Re:First systems analyst from the UK? (1)

Orion Blastar (457579) | more than 5 years ago | (#23996271)

The British government paid them a lot of money to develop the analytical engine to research, design, and organize computerized solutions for business/government problems/tasks.

"Pray tell me, Mr. Babbage if the wrong numbers are entered into the computer, will the right results come out?" British Parliament to Charles Babbage on his work and what they are funding it for.

uhh (3, Funny)

nomadic (141991) | more than 5 years ago | (#23994185)

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.

huh... 44 years old and never heard of him. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23994197)

huh... 44 years old and never heard of him.

Food Networking (1)

unixan (800014) | more than 5 years ago | (#23994207)

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.

A Computer Called Leo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23994327)

The book "A Computer Called Leo" by Georgina Ferry covers the story and is well worth a read. It's not so much about the technology of the computers themselves but that they were looking at the clerical work done by the business and how they could write unique software to make it more efficient.

It's quite a sad tale too - they had developed state of the art technology but because they had done so within an existing business they were forced to forgo some of the opportunities for expansion in favour of supporting the parent company.

Damn Americans (2, Interesting)

Haxx (314221) | more than 5 years ago | (#23994575)

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 revealed a hint of anti-american sentiment. It is my experience that any American interested in the first systems analyst wouldn' care where he/she is from.

Would You Like a MacOS With Those Fries? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#23995615)

And Apple would be so screwed if MacDonald's invented the Internet instead of Al Gore doing it.

Martin Prince (1)

Skee09 (987325) | more than 5 years ago | (#23996607)

Martin (fingers crossed): Systems analyst, systems analyst.
Dr. Pryor: Systems analyst.
Martin: All right!
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