The history of computing is rich and multi-layered. Most popular books on the subject focus on the technology, or the people behind the technology. But the machines themselves are also works of art--stunning in their thoughtful design, or magnificently bizarre in the curious forms that came from the focus on function. Core Memory is a new book, an art book in fact, that profiles 35 important and/or bizarre machines from the collection of the Computer History Museum in Silicon Valley. (The book's creators will do a signing there on Monday, June 4, at 6pm.)
Veteran tech writer John Alderman's brief exposés of these significant computers--from the Z3 Adder (1941) and Johnniac (1954) to Seymour Cray's CDC 6600 (1964, seen here) and the Osborne I "luggable" from 1981--are like wonderful secret histories of dead technology, long-forgotten but highly influential. For example, the CDC-6600 was cooled by pumping Freon through the chassis. Most of the machines were sold to nuclear weapons facilities, where they were commonly used to play Spacewars. Another military machine included in the book, SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment, 1954-1963), analyzed radar data and featured a built-in cigarette lighter and ashtray. Alderman's text supports Mark Richards's magnificent portraits of the machines' pretty faces and equally beautiful guts, a stunning series of "glamour shots" for nerds.
The book was birthed by BB pal Alan Rapp, design and photography editor at Chronicle Books, and is right in line with that publisher's impeccable production values. Core Memory: A Visual Survey of Vintage Computers is a masterpiece that can only get better with age.
UPDATE: Robert Scoble posted a great video of Mark Richards discussing the book at the Computer History Museum. Link