martedì 12 maggio 2015

Landing on the Moon

Maybe none of you knows this guy. After all, I myself didn't know him until last Saturday, May 9, when I entered the cafeteria of the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Trieste, where a Mini Maker Faire was going on.
The guy was sitting at a desk, "playing" with an old calculator and talking with someone about something.
My fiancé and a good friend of his, both intrigued by and experienced in Information Technology, stopped there to listen to the conversation. So did I, as I was intrigued by guy's look and gestures (I'm not so much interested in calculators, computers and anything similar).
The guy, dressed in a simple way, with a nice way of speaking, was pressing some buttons on a little keyboard, while talking about the basic arithmetic operations. Or so it seemed to me, but I was completely wrong. After a while, in fact, I realized that he was showing to the audience how to program the device in his hands and he showed this by developing in real time a real program, a real software. And the miracle was that I understood everything.
"Who's that guy? What's the name of the device he's using?" I asked myself. A men next to me explained that he was Gastone Garziera and that he was using the Program 101, the world's first desktop programmable calculator, that may be considered as the very first ancestor of today's personal computers.
Designed by Pier Giorgio Perotto (the team leader), Giovanni de Sandre and Mr. Garziera himself, the P101 was developed by the Italian enterpise Olivetti between 1962 and 1964 and was in production from 1965 to 1971.
In 1965 the P101 was announced in the United States, during a specialized faire and, in October of the same year, the New York Times wrote about the device, noticing that it "can automatically run programs calling for a series of arithmetic operations. It can also store or remember these programs internally as well externally, and through these programs can make simple logical decisions. The Olivetti device displays its calculations of a paper print-out. Numerous functions allow it to be used for both business and scientific purposes." (The New York Times, October 15, 1965)
As for scientific purposes, it's worth mentioning that since 1966 the Olivetti Underwood, the US  Olivetti's partner, provided the P101 devices to NASA, which used them for the Apollo 11 mission (the first lunar landing in 1969). In particular, the P101 was used to calculate the lunar maps, the orbital trajectory, the best landing site.
In conclusion, I would not be wrong in saying that Mr. Garziera, Mr. Piergiorgio Perotto and Mr. de Sandre may be considered not just the fathers of today's personal computers but a team that played a little big role in the first human landing on the Moon. This is the reason why today's winners are these three special guys.
That's all.

Olivetti P101, quando gli italiani erano Steve Jobs by Alessandro Marzo Magno; on the same page you can also find the New York Times' article about the P101;
Alle origini del personal computer: l'Olivetti Programma 101 by Associazione Archivio Storico Olivetti.

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