Math in the Media

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Mathematical Digest

Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

"From Bourbon to Binary," by Paul Collins. New Scientist, 22 November 2003,pages 52-53.

This article, which appears in the "Histories" column, tells the little-knownstory of John Atanasoff, who around 1940 built what was probably the firstelectronic binary computer in a dingy basement at the University of Iowa. Hewent off to the Naval Ordnance Laboratory in Washington during World War II,and when he returned to the university, his machine was gone. Since then,disputes have erupted about the capability of his machine, which was calledABC. To see what the ABC could actually do, a team at the University of Iowabuilt a replica in 1997. "With the building of the replica, the magnitude ofthe ABC's achievement has become clearer," the article states. "Unlike thebase-10 behemoths that followed, the ABC was an affordable, desk-sized binarymachine."

--- Allyn Jackson