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Brian Beckman: A Brief History of Computing

1 hour, 9 minutes, 47 seconds


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I recently got the chance to sit down with Brian Beckman, physicist, programmer and Channel 9 celebrity, to learn about the history of computing. As you know, Brian is a great teacher. This lesson focuses on the evolution of computing devices and delves into some of the not-so-obvious uses of hand-held programmable calculators in the not-so-distant past.

Did you know that the 1975 Apollo Soyuz international space mission incorporated a programmable calculator, the HP-65, to calculate precise course corrections for the rendezvous and linking of Apollo and Soyuz space crafts? A calculator!! Indeed, programmable calculators are the predecessors of today's computers. But what came before the hand-held computing titans of the 70s? What was the first computer?

Brian has quite a collection of computing devices in his office, some of which, as expected, predate digital devices. We get a look at these and learn about their place in history.

Of course, Brian is a software developer with uncanny capability for designing accurate simulations (remember the Forza math interview?) so he decided to write an innovative application that simulates the HP-97, precisely. Brian works on the Data Programmability team (SQL, LINQ, Entity Framework, etc) so he implemented the HP-97's programmability and storage in ADO.NET and SQL. Brian will be producing a C9 Screencast to dig into what he did, so look for this showing up soon!

As always, it was a pleasure to converse with Brian and learn about how computers got to where they are today. It's a long interview, so get comfortable, relax, and learn from a master.


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  • Jonathan MerriweatherCyonix Me
    That was fun Smiley
  • I for one, would love to see a regular "Brian Beckman" show here on C9.

    Just a quick note, tried to stream this and I was having some problems, then I went to download it. Isn't 1.2 gigs a bit large for an hours worth of video?

    Now don't get me wrong, it's Brian Beckman, I truly feel like you could just film that guy ordering lunch and somehow I'd learn...., so I'll download it size be damned Smiley

  • ChadkChadk excuse me - do you has a flavor?

    More Brian Beckman! This is so awesome.


    I cant thank both you, Charle, and Brian, for all good shows Big Smile

  • martin_lovickmartin_lovi​ck vi all the way!
    great stuff
  • Vesuviusvesuvius Count Orlock
    Excellent title, absolutely excellent!
  • Cool video...

    "I for one, would love to see a regular "Brian Beckman" show here on C9."
    At least, he has allready his own tag.
  • alwaysmc2alwaysmc2 It's not stupid; It's advanced!
    I loved that.
  • Chris PietschmannCRPietschma​nn Chris Pietschmann
    Awesome! I really loved this one. We need more!
  • It's one of the shortest hours on Channel 9.
  • That was a nice video ....

    cool staff

  • Loved that!
  • vzczcvzczc VerbierBack​OfMontFort

    Nice interview.

    I actually wrote my first program on the HP calculator with memory cards around 1980.

    Brings back memories of a similar kind, in 1983 I was in high school and wrote a simulator of a NORD-100 (mini computer from Norsk Data) using Microsoft MBasic (when Microsoft was a somewhat more modest outfit) that ran on a MP/M terminal based Mycron machine running a 80186 processor.


  • CharlesCharles Welcome Change
    Glad you liked this! I know I sure did.

    Brian is very busy, so I can't promise a regular show (as you can imagine, his team relies on his engineering skills to ship products)... However, as you see, I've given him his own tag Smiley When time permits and good topics arise (no problems here!), you will see more Brian on C9.

    We're lucky to have him at Microsoft.

  • Christian Liensbergerlittleguru <3 Seattle
    I have been watching the first 8 minutes and I can't stop anymore... Wonderful! I hope he's still speaking very long about missing mass and dark matter...
  • I loved every minute of it! Keep going Brian, please!

    @Charles: I just found the tag, great idea!
  • Christian Liensbergerlittleguru <3 Seattle
    I like astronomy and physics... we need more of it Smiley Nice work guys!
  • Great video! I really like all of Brianbec's stuffs. Smiley If you have a guy at Microsoft with such deep knowledge of computing and calculators, why did not you implement the sqrt function in the scientific mode of Windows calculator? Anybody noticed it's available in normal mode only? Big Smile
  • I really like stuff like this. Since I am watching Channel 9 for hours on end (while I am working) I am through anything that peaks my interest and almost anything that doesn't. 

    There really should be a Brian Beckman show (and also a Jeffrey Snover and Scott Guthrie show for that matter. although you probably should let him have a long vacation first! he looks like a two year crunch at least)

    Well and since I am at it already: THANK YOU Charles!
  • martin_lovickmartin_lovi​ck vi all the way!
    any idea where to get the simulator app that he demoed..? it would be nice to have a play with
  • I'm hoping to update the code to VB9 "real soon now." When I do, I plan to release it. I'll keep y'all posted.
  • Dr. Beckman: you're really a ROCK-STAR!

    (You must have a big talent for teaching, for explaining things...)

    Thank you very much for the time you took from your busy schedule, to offer us such a great video!

    Thanks also to the Channel 9 interviewer.

    I'm looking forward to download the historical-HP emulator code.

    BTW#1: the RPC notation is also used in more modern HPs like HP49, and you are right: it's great!

    BTW#2: Is there any reason to develop the emulator GUI using WinForm and not WPF? Speed of execution?

    Greetings from Italy



  • Dear Dr. Beckman,

    we are having a very long thread on the MFC newsgroup about floating point numbers, precisions, how to compare them, discussions about significant digits, why "25/30*30 - 1" is not 0 in float, how to increase precision, etc.

    Could you please use your talent for teaching and explaining things and your math knowledge and background to discuss in a Channel9 interview about topics like floating point numbers, how computers store them, how to *correctly* manage them, how can we use arbitrary precision (if possible), difference between Decimal and Float, how Windows calculator works, a BIGNUM class, etc. ?

    Thank you very much

  • Great video! Dr. Beckman, you're awesome! Big Smile
  • That was pretty cool. I did something similar using Wpf  - took a couple weekends



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