[Cryptography] Computing Artifacts

Arnold Reinhold agr at me.com
Wed May 15 16:00:56 EDT 2019

On Tue, 14 May 2019 16:42 Jim Windle informed us:

> This isn't strictly about cryptography but there are two interesting
> computer history items in a current online auction at Christie's.  One if
> the first published computer program.
> https://onlineonly.christies.com/s/shoulders-giants-making-modern-world/first-publication-computer-program-3/70040 <https://onlineonly.christies.com/s/shoulders-giants-making-modern-world/first-publication-computer-program-3/70040>
> The second is the first Apple computer, there's also a link for a detailed
> condition report.
> https://onlineonly.christies.com/s/shoulders-giants-making-modern-world/first-apple-computer-50/70080 <https://onlineonly.christies.com/s/shoulders-giants-making-modern-world/first-apple-computer-50/70080>
Christie’s story that the initial Apple I’s were built in the kitchen and garage does not match the account I heard from Steve Wozniak at a talk at the Computer Museum many years ago when it was still in Boston. The Woz story is more interesting and has some relevance to cryptography since it involves complex trust management. 

According to Woz, the Apple I boards were to be professionally made and assembled. The problem was that the Byte Shop did not want to buy all the 50 boards they ordered at once, but would only take them and pay in smaller batches. Steve Jobs found a vendor who would build them in batches, but the parts supplier would only kit the full order. The parts supplier would not give the assembly shop all the parts without payment—if the assembly shop went under, the parts supplier would not be able to recover the parts. Jobs had no credit and didn't have enough money to to buy all the parts, and the assembly shop would not advance the cash. 

So Jobs came up with a very clever solution. There was a closet at the assembly shop that got designated as temporarily property of the parts supplier and all the parts for 50 boards were stored there under lock, except for the initial batch. When done, Jobs took the first batch of completed boards to the computer store, got a check in payment, brought it back to the assembly shop, who got paid for their work and paid the parts supplier who then released the next batch of parts. This process repeated until it was clear that the Apple kids had a going business.  

There were four parties to this transaction, Apple, the Byte Shop, the assembly shop and the parts supplier, with little trust between any of them.   By figuring out how to chop the risk into pieces small enough that trust became possible, Jobs was able to start a $1T business with almost no capital. By the time Apple finally did need venture capital they had a thriving business and could command very favorable terms, giving up only 25% ownership, if I remember right. Perhaps this is the sort of thing blockchain advocates are dreaming about.

I also recommend reading Ada Lovelace’s translation and notes on the first item, a journal article, being sold. It’s amazing how much she foresaw about computing back then.

Arnold Reinhold

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