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Krawtchouk's Mind 260

Posted by Hemos
from the piecing-together-the-beginning-of-computers dept.
A reader writes: "Central Europe Review is running an article on a gulag-condemned Soviet scientist whose contribution to the first computer is virtually unknown because of the Cold War mentality that infected much of society on both sides of the Iron Curtain. The story tells of how in 1937, American digital computer pioneer John Atanasoff came across a Myhailo Krawtchouk paper on a new method for finding approximate solutions to differential equations. Atanasoff tried sending a letter to him, but received no response. Krawtchouk had been attainted for giving a favorable review of the work of "enemies of the people" and shipped to Siberia for 20 years of gold mining, where he died four years later. Krawtchouk's biography gives a more detailed account of how Krawtchouk was labeled a "Polish spy" and "Ukrainian nationalist," stripped of his Academy of Sciences membership, and forced to sign a confession -- that he later retracted -- under torture and threats upon his family. "
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Krawtchouk's Mind

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  • err... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Joe the Lesser (533425) on Monday April 28, 2003 @09:37AM (#5824234) Homepage Journal
    ..the Cold War mentality that infected much of society on both sides of the Iron Curtain. The story tells of how in 1937...

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but the Cold War and the Iron Curtain didn't begin until after WWII, in the late 1940's.
  • Re:err... (Score:5, Informative)

    by LizardKing (5245) on Monday April 28, 2003 @09:46AM (#5824278)

    Correct me if I'm wrong, but the Cold War and the Iron Curtain didn't begin until after WWII

    Correct, Churchill gave the Iron Curtain speech after World War II. However, a "cold war" did exist between the Soviet Union and leading western states ever since the October Revolution. Until the Axis invasion of 1941, the Soviet Union was seen as much of a bogeyman as Hitler's Germany. In fact, Britain had toyed with the idea of declaring war on the USSR in the Winter of 1939 - under the pretext of aiding Finland which was being invaded by Stalin at the time, but really as an excuse to occupy ore-rich Sweden.

    Chris

  • Hrm, (Score:4, Informative)

    by autopr0n (534291) on Monday April 28, 2003 @09:48AM (#5824285) Homepage Journal
    Just to let everyone know, Atanasoff was an Iowa State professor.

    Go Cyclones! :P
  • Re:err... (Score:2, Informative)

    by pkunzipper (652520) on Monday April 28, 2003 @09:50AM (#5824295)
    True, but it was in 1937 that this scientist made his "discovery", but the information was not spread until after the Cold War. In the 1930s, Lenin was in power in Russia and he started the gulag camps in Russia, which after only a few years grew to some 4800 camps throughout the USSR, enslaingmillions of "traitors". This scenario was followed by Stalin, who upheld the gulags under his regime, as well as severe control over the flow of information.

    We should thankful that this piece of scientific history was uncovered, sugnificant or not, since here in the Western world we take our liberites for granted.

    ---
  • Re:Geek Persecution (Score:5, Informative)

    by LizardKing (5245) on Monday April 28, 2003 @09:53AM (#5824313)

    This isn't really even a communist thing. Geek persecution on both sides of the wall was rough. I mean, where's Alan Turing?

    While the establishment's treatment of Turing was a disgrace, I think it pales into insignificance compared to Stalin's terror. For an excellent introduction to life at the time of the purges, I can highly recommend Solzhenitsyn's "One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich", closely followed by his "Gulag Archipelago". It's a while since I read the latter, but I'm pretty sure it's the one that fictionalised Russian scientists working in an "intelligentsia prison".

    Chris

  • Ripped off! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dot.Com.CEO (624226) on Monday April 28, 2003 @09:54AM (#5824318)
    From K5. Here [kuro5hin.org]. It has the EXACT wording of the k5 article...
  • unless he is the "a reader" that submitted the story

    http://www.kuro5hin.org/story/2003/4/27/5153/73626 [kuro5hin.org]

    note the word-for-word plagiarization/ lifting

    just trying to keep it honest
  • Re:Actually... (Score:2, Informative)

    by stratjakt (596332) on Monday April 28, 2003 @10:02AM (#5824371) Journal
    Zuse's machines had no type of a branch instruction, they could only perform a sequence of calculations. Ie; no conditionals (ifs) or loops (for, while, etc).

    A lot of comp. sci folks hold that it's not a computer until it can branch and do conditional logic. Zuse's work was impressive, especially considering they were built way cheap (they used like recycled tin from soupcans and whatnot - very MacGyver) but they were really more like an automated adding machine than a computer as we know it.

    At least that's what I was taught about it.
  • Re:err... (Score:3, Informative)

    by sql*kitten (1359) on Monday April 28, 2003 @10:02AM (#5824376)
    Correct me if I'm wrong, but the Cold War and the Iron Curtain didn't begin until after WWII, in the late 1940's.

    You are correct, Winston Churchill coined the phrase "Iron Curtain" on March 5, 1946, while accepting an honorary degree in the US.

    From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow.

    Far be it from a /. editor to have the slightest grasp of history...
  • Re:err... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Mister Black (265849) on Monday April 28, 2003 @10:04AM (#5824392)
    In the 1930s, Lenin was in power in Russia and he started the gulag camps in Russia, which after only a few years grew to some 4800 camps throughout the USSR, enslaingmillions of "traitors".

    Wow, that's quite an accomplishment for a guy that died in 1924 [marxists.org]. Must have been all the borsch and vodka.

    From '22 to '53 it was all Joe
  • Re:err... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Snart Barfunz (526615) on Monday April 28, 2003 @10:18AM (#5824495)
    True. However, 70,000 people were interned in the UK, most of them European Jews. Unless, like my grandfather, they were unfortunate enough to be forcibly repatriated to Germany. Bogus asylum seekers indeed.
  • by hughk (248126) on Monday April 28, 2003 @10:25AM (#5824536) Journal
    was the one devised by Charles Babbage around 1832. It was started but never completed. However, part of the calculating section was produced in 1832. Babbage revised his design to simplify it but the second version was not produced. The Difference Engine No. 2 was produced from Babbage's plans by the Science Museum in Britain [sciencemuseum.org.uk] to verify that it would work. The team building it restricted themselves to manufacturing accuracies attainable 150 years ago. It worked after the correction of some small errors, which were felt to be deliberate (the Victorians feared espionage and frequently introduced a few deliberate mistakes into technical drawings.

    The printer [bbc.co.uk] was completed in 2000. It featured variable spacing and line wrapping. Not bad for something that is 100% mechanical.

    It should be noted that as with the machine talked about here, this was a machine for solving simple differential equations (tides) as well as more standard types of maths (i.e., logs, sines and so on) for the production of tables. It was not a general purpose computer, that term was reserved for his Analytical Engine - which was designed but never produced. However Ada Byron, Countess of Lovelace wrote some programs for it, converting equations into algorithms and generating register settings which could be punched on the Jacquard cards (Babbage pinched this idea from the manufacturers of automatic-looms, a long time before Hollerith).

    If Babbage had completed the Analytical engine, we could have been in a very different world. One version would have been hypothesized in William Gibson's "The Difference Engine".

  • by leereyno (32197) on Monday April 28, 2003 @10:30AM (#5824571) Homepage Journal
    To anyone familiar with Scientology, and especially its RPF, this story sounds eerily familiar.

    The secret Library of scientology:
    http://www-2.cs.cmu.edu/~dst/Library /

    Operation Clambake:
    http://www.xenu.net

    (I'm still waiting for my goldenrod)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 28, 2003 @10:47AM (#5824691)
    Actual, true Marxism has never been practiced in any country, wether said country claims to be Communist or not. Stalinism, and to a lesser extent Leninism, is hardly Marxism but more a form of totalitarian dictatorship with a planed economy. It suited the west to call those countries Communist, however, and the terminology has stuck.

    I agree that most kids who espose Communism do not understand the distinction, or if they do, do not understand what actually happened under these Stalinist "leaders".
  • Cold Wars (Score:4, Informative)

    by hughk (248126) on Monday April 28, 2003 @10:47AM (#5824694) Journal
    You are absolutely correct, but Stalin in the thirties was already feeling insecure and taking desparate measures to keep the USSR from fragmenting and the resistance to his land reform program (which caused the death of millions from starvation). He was less concerned about western influences after the twenties as it was already difficult to enter the USSR uninvited or to travel outside. Krawtchouk being a nationalist Ukrainian, was extremly lucky not to be immediately shot. In any case, Stalin disliked intellectuals, hence the Doctor's "plot" in 1953 [cyberussr.com], and killing off the officer corps [trussel.com] which almost led to the defeat of the Russian Army in the Winter War against Finland [winterwar.com].

    Churchill's famous speech referred to the effective extension of Soviet borders to that of the European countries under their influence after the war.

  • Re:Actually... (Score:2, Informative)

    by stratjakt (596332) on Monday April 28, 2003 @11:08AM (#5824841) Journal
    That doesn't disprove anything I said. It was programmable, sure, but it had no conditional or branching instructions. It could only execute code sequentially.

    From your link:

    The Z3 did not contain the conditional branch. The ENIAC or MARK I did not have the conditional branch, either

    And like I said, some consider it the first computer because of this, some dont (nor do some consider ENIAC or MARK I fully programmable either).

    It could do math, but it couldnt make decisions.
  • Re:err... (Score:4, Informative)

    by crawling_chaos (23007) on Monday April 28, 2003 @11:27AM (#5825000) Homepage
    Of course, ore-rich Sweden was shipping as much iron ore as possible to Nazi Germany because they were afraid that if they didn't, Hitler would invade and take it anyway. The Brits and the French tried to convince the Swedes not to do this, but the supposedly neutral Sweden continued to ship ore to the Germans until it became obvious that Germany had lost the war. At that point, faced with an invasion threat from the Soviets, they chose to stop shipments. Many of the tanks and U-Boats that the Allies faced in the war were built with Swedish iron.

    So, you see, Churchill's plan to invade Sweden was designed to distrupt the German war effort, not simply a land-grab.

  • Re:Cold Wars (Score:3, Informative)

    by LizardKing (5245) on Monday April 28, 2003 @11:33AM (#5825059)

    ... killing off the officer corps which almost led to the defeat of the Russian Army in the Winter War against Finland ...

    The loss of a good proportion of the officer corps contributed to the Red Army's lousy performance throughout the Winter War, but there were other reasons why an invasion was going to be difficult. It was the coldest winter in living memory, and the Soviet troops were poorly clothed for it. Tanks proved ineffectual in the forest conditions above Lake Ladoga. Along with the small number of roads, this meant a lack of mobility that prevented any "fanning" out of Soviet forces to form a broad front. Long columns hemmed in by forest made perfect conditions for Finnish hit and run tactics.

    Another fundamental flaw in the Soviet invasion plan was that it occured under a banner of "liberation". Many ordinary folk in the Soviet Union actually believed this propaganda, and the leadership didn't want the same kind of bad press abroad that the Fascists got after Guernica. Therefore, bombing of Finnish towns and cities was sporadic, despite the likelihood that intensive bombing would have broken the Finnish resolve to fight. There again, the utter ineptitude of the Soviet air force didn't help.

    Ultimately though, the Finns were doomed to lose the Winter War. Britain was too slow in deciding whether to assist the Finns, dithering over what advantages could be gained (such as a good excuse to put Swedish iron ore beyond Hitler's reach). The US was still wrapped up in its isolationaism, and an international brigade like that which gave the Spanish Civil War such a high profile weren't going to be of much use. Even if the war had dragged on until Spring, a massive offensive along a snow free Karelian Isthmus would have overcome the Finns in the same way it did the Axis several years later. The sheer weight of numbers, and Stalins willingness to sacrifice them would have seen to that.

    Chris

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 28, 2003 @03:20PM (#5827539)
    http://tangra.bitex.com/eng/atanasoff/who_is.htm
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 28, 2003 @06:09PM (#5829467)
    You Americans are so bad on recognizing other nations. You even did not read the article you are
    referring to - guys father was Ukrainian,
    mother was Polish - how the f... does it
    make him Russian ? He was born in Austro-Hungary,
    then move to Russian part of Ukraine that
    became Ukrainian Republic of the Soviet Union.
    For me he was clearly Ukrainian.

    I guess everything occupied by Russia is Russian
    for you.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 28, 2003 @09:04PM (#5830651)
    haha.. please come on.. you're right about finland, but sweden was neither attacked nor invaded, please read up. (and yes, i'm from sweden)

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