Monday, November 28, 2011

Burton Bloom and the now-forgotten Computer Usage Company

Burton Bloom's original paper on Bloom Filters is entitled Space/Time Trade-offs in Hash Coding with Allowable Errors, and his by-line is given as
Burton H. Bloom
Computer Usage Company, Newton Upper Falls, Massachusetts
with the additional parenthetical note that
Work on this paper was in part performed while the author was affiliated with Computer Corporation of America, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Now, I'm quite familiar with Computer Corporation of America; I was an employee of theirs from 1985-1988, and I vividly remember my days working in the 4 Cambridge Center building.

But that was 15 years after Bloom's paper was published, and when I was there, I don't recall anything about "Computer Usage Company".

What was Computer Usage Company?

Unfortunately, a web search reveals only the slightest details:

But there is very little else. George Trimble's homepage no longer exists, and most of the links from the existing summary pages at Wikipedia and elsewhere point to articles in the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing, which (like Bloom's original paper at the ACM site) is protected behind a paywall and can't be read by commoners.

Computer Usage Company is credited with being "the world's first computer software company", but it seems on the verge of disappearing into dust. It's a shame; you'd think the software industry would work harder to keep information about these early pioneers alive.

I wonder if the IEEE keeps any statistics regarding how many people have actually paid the $30 to purchase this 20-year-old, five page memoir? I would have been intrigued to read it; I might even have paid, say, $0.99 or something like that to get it on my Kindle. But thirty dollars?

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