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1. When Computers Were Human
2. Barack Like Me: The Chocolate-Covered
3. Why the day is even longer than
4. Barak Like Me
5. When Computers Were Human
6. The Alchemy of Comedy... Stupid
7. Kwanzaa Folktales

1. When Computers Were Human
by David Alan Grier
Paperback: 424 Pages (2007-08-27)
list price: US$30.95 -- used & new: US$27.21
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0691133824
Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Canada | United Kingdom | Germany | France | Japan
Editorial Review

Product Description

Before Palm Pilots and iPods, PCs and laptops, the term "computer" referred to the people who did scientific calculations by hand. These workers were neither calculating geniuses nor idiot savants but knowledgeable people who, in other circumstances, might have become scientists in their own right. When Computers Were Human represents the first in-depth account of this little-known, 200-year epoch in the history of science and technology.

Beginning with the story of his own grandmother, who was trained as a human computer, David Alan Grier provides a poignant introduction to the wider world of women and men who did the hard computational labor of science. His grandmother's casual remark, "I wish I'd used my calculus," hinted at a career deferred and an education forgotten, a secret life unappreciated; like many highly educated women of her generation, she studied to become a human computer because nothing else would offer her a place in the scientific world.

The book begins with the return of Halley's comet in 1758 and the effort of three French astronomers to compute its orbit. It ends four cycles later, with a UNIVAC electronic computer projecting the 1986 orbit. In between, Grier tells us about the surveyors of the French Revolution, describes the calculating machines of Charles Babbage, and guides the reader through the Great Depression to marvel at the giant computing room of the Works Progress Administration.

When Computers Were Human is the sad but lyrical story of workers who gladly did the hard labor of research calculation in the hope that they might be part of the scientific community. In the end, they were rewarded by a new electronic machine that took the place and the name of those who were, once, the computers.

... Read more

Customer Reviews (6)

5-0 out of 5 stars Remember the team sport of complex calculations?
Usually, the word "computer" generates images of a powerful, programmable machine that can perform almost any task. However, a "computer" was originally a person who performed complex math. Some "human computers" were scientists who did advanced calculations, but most were workers who labored over the same types of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing hour after hour, day after day. Scientist David Alan Grier weaves a wonderful story of the history of computing, framed by the discovery of Halley's Comet and its three subsequent appearances. The comet gives the story a nice structure that helps readers see the advances in computing over the past three centuries. Grier introduces colorful personalities and covers pivotal historical events in the rise of mechanical computing. getAbstract finds that this history book informs your understanding of how computerization advanced while also being a terrific read.

5-0 out of 5 stars A tour through the history of human computers and the development of computing machines
Today, we all think of computers as machines we use to do many things.But the term actually refers to a human worker who performed mathematical computations as part of a larger team effort to accomplish a larger goal.This very interesting history takes us through the beginning of that profession through its demise with the rise of powerful computing machines after World War II.

David Alan Grier uses the repeated appearances of Halley's Comet to organize the story and to demonstrate the changes in the profession of computing and the rise of technology since Halley first demonstrated the repeated appearances of the comet in the late 17th Century.While Halley was to make some predictions about the next appearance of the comet in 1758, the Newtonian equations available to him still made the work of predicting the perihelion (the time the comet was closest to the Sun) far too daunting.We learn about the French team who worked for months and were able to predict the perihelion almost within a month window.And with each new appearance the error rate is cut and cut again until it gets down to hours and minutes.

We follow how the need to compute navigation tables led to the creation of computing teams and how they were organized with each computer doing a certain type of computations all day long and putting their work on standardized forms.These forms were then checked for errors and then passed to the next stage of the work.Eventually the tables were organized and printed for use around the world.

World War I led to the use of computing teams to check artillery and proof it for shipment to war.Weapons were so advanced in World War II that tabulation machines were also pushed to their limits and the first computers were used to refine weapons and support intelligence efforts.

We also see how machines were used from the dreams of Charles Babbage to mechanical adding machines and how the 1910 census was conducted using punch cards and machines that could read them using electric current.Where a human computer could only perform hundreds of computations per day the tabulating machine operator could do tens of thousands per shift.With the rise of advanced electronic calculators the die was cast that humans would be machine operators and the machines would do the work.

Grier ends looking towards the next appearance of Halley's Comet in 2061 and wonders what technology scientists will be using then and how primitive our most advanced technologies will seem to them.

Entertaining as well as very informative.

I recommend it to you.

Reviewed by Craig Matteson, Ann Arbor, MI

4-0 out of 5 stars When a browser was a person
Once, before 1992, a browser was a person who browsed a set of books. But now it more commonly refers to a computer program used to browse the Web. No doubt, since you are reading this in the software program, to you the latter meaning is more common. Well, Grier takes us back to days when a computer was a person who did many math calculations. Often by hand.

He starts with Isaac Newton and the laws of gravitation. This led to Edmund Halley and others trying to predict the orbit of "his" comet. The problem is that this involve many tedious hand calculations. People did this! One's writing hand must ache, just thinking about all the manual effort.

Then later in the 19th century, the book describes more such mindnumbing ventures. Yet there was precious little alternative. Until late in that century, when mechanical calculators started becoming useful, due to people like Herman Hollerith, who founded IBM.

The narrative reaches its peak in the Second World War. Due to the vast computational needs. Richard Feynman makes a cameo appearance. At Los Alamos in the Manhattan Project, he was in charge of a group of female computers. Basically, he grouped them into a set of cellular automata, with each doing simple calculations.

Grier's book will be very revealing to some. You get an appreciation of what it was like to get numerical results, before machines appeared.

5-0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Book
A wonderful book, filled with fascinating facts about important people and activities that most of
us have never heard about.I hope it makes more people aware that the original point of electronic computers was to do computing, to speed up the essential work that had been done by human computers for centuries.We often say that electronic computers can do in seconds what used to take months.This book describes what it was like for human computers to actually spend months doing it.Like all good history, this book teaches us that the legacy of human achievement that we enjoy did not grow on trees.

5-0 out of 5 stars It is a shame that these people are being forgotten
Once upon a time, equations that could not be solved analytically were solved numerically by teams of people who were, in many cases, capable of only rudimentary mathematics. More gifted mathematicians broke complex problems into algorithmic steps small enough to be worked by hand, and they would then be tackled by teams of "computers". This was normal for over 250 years, until they were replaced by digital computers in the mid-20th century.

Grier does excellent research, meeting with surviving computers and finding letters and other material. In one amusing source, he extracts details of the lives of the women who computed for Harvard Observatory in the late 19th century from a satire of a Gilbert & Sullivan opera written by a junior astronomer there.

As many of these computers through the history of the industry were women, this book may be of particular interest to those who follow the history of women in science. Grier is particularly taken by the story of Gertrude Blanch at the Mathematical Tables Project run by the National Bureau of Standards in the U.S., and devoted many pages to her life and work.

If the book has any weakness, it is only that these teams of computers were typically employed by governments, and descriptions of their work sometimes amounts to descriptions of bureaucratic politics, not a very interesting topic. This is offset, however, by amusing observations and excellent photographs illuminating the lives of these mostly forgotten precursors to modern computers. ... Read more

2. Barack Like Me: The Chocolate-Covered Truth (Touchstone Books)
by David Alan Grier
Hardcover: 239 Pages (2009-10-06)
list price: US$24.99 -- used & new: US$0.01
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 1439154929
Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars
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Editorial Review

Product Description
FROM GROWING UP IN DETROIT, where he marched as a ten-year-old with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., to attending the inauguration of President Barack Obama, where he narrowly avoided the Purple Tunnel of Doom but still saw nothing, David Alan Grier examines how he -- and America -- have changed for the better and the funnier.

Within these pages, Grier imagines being called to serve in President Obama's cabinet as the "secretary of mirth"; takes you to a wild and emotional election night party he hosted that didn't go as planned; explains the true meaning of the "magical Negro"; recalls the formative episodes from his life -- including being rejected by the Black Panthers at their headquarters door and turning down the initial offer to work on In Living Color -- and for the first time ever sneaks you backstage at Dancing with the Stars, where he exposes the inner workings of the show -- the camaraderie between dancers and stars, the excruciatingly painful rehearsals, the outrageous preparations, and each hysterical moment of his four-episode appearance and subsequent public meltdown.

Grier unabashedly muses on politics, culture, and race while recounting his own life story in this edgy, timeless, hilarious, and revelatory memoir and look at all things Barack.

Barack Like Me is David Alan Grier at his best -- the man, comic, and twenty-first-century thinker -- funny, brilliant, and original. ... Read more

Customer Reviews (5)

4-0 out of 5 stars Honest, Funny Look at the Cult of Personality
Because of my particular interests, I believe this is the first book by an African-American author that I have read since Arthur Haley's Roots.While Haley's Roots raised America's consciousness about our complicity in slavery and the black man's struggle to survive and thrive under hellish, demeaning conditions, Grier's Barack Like Me shows us why there was a Messiah-like aura, in the eyes and minds of many black Americans, surrounding Obama.This is important for non-black folks like me to understand and, in the only way I know how to, experience as a reader.Even if, in the end, I cannot hold onto that perception of Obama as savior or, at this point, even a wise leader.

David Alan Grier--known to his fans and friends as "DAG"--has written an honest rendition of the effect Barack Obama's candidacy and rise to the Presidency had upon Grier's personal and business life and on his hopes and dreams.You can tell that it is honest, because DAG does not pull punches in his self-portrayal as an often imperfect husband, father, son, or performer or in his contrasting adoration of Mr. and Mrs. Obama...at the expense of Mr. Grier's own dignity.

This book is a fast read, very funny at times--laugh out loud, doubled over funny--yet it is deeply personal and even troubling at other times.It is riddled with profanity including the f word and mo-fo etc., language no doubt part of the Hollywood lifestyle, but probably only detrimental in a book of this type.Interestingly, when I came across the funny parts on the second time through the book, they were not quite as funny, but kind of sad and touching, as they reflected a bitter-sweet part of Mr. Grier's journey and his observance of those around him.

It's also a sad comment on life in America that so many people understandably got such a spiritual lift from just being alive in the days when a black President assumed office.It doesn't seem likely that Mr. Grier would subject himself to the crushing throngs of the "Purple Ticket" holders for the next black President.

DAG's tales of childhood were poignant and candid, a type of "Everybody Hates Chris" but with tears and gritty realism added.The part about the ten-year-old DAG's conversation with his divorced father was brilliant and his method of dealing with the bully about to pound him into the pavement was cool.I have to say this: DAG, your own story was every bit as compelling to me as is the story of Obama's rise to power.Of the two men, DAG seems more real, more trustworthy, more human.It was interesting to note that, along with Obama's slick style and charismatic charm, and the fact that he is a man of color, there was not much else to commend him as President.Nothing about his values, his viewpoints, his accomplishments thus far in office, certainly nothing negative...except his willingness to install his mother-in-law into the White House.

I found two copies of "Barack Like Me" in the African American book section of my local Wal-Mart.Arranged beside it were some of Oprah's recommendations, some crime novels, and some spicy romance books that looked like throwbacks to "Mandingo."I bought one copy of "Barack Like Me."The other copy I placed between Sarah Palin's "Going Rogue" and Glenn Beck's "Arguing With Idiots."I think that is where a thoughtful commentary on our political times belongs.

4-0 out of 5 stars Funny book by a funny man
David Alan Grier (DAG) tells his life story, framed by Barack Obama's inauguration. Part fantasy, part memoir, and mainly funny, this quick read shows another side of DAG. Tales of his Detroit youth - singing in the car with his friends - blend with glimpses of his career. It's too bad that "Chocolate News" is gone, because what the world needs now is DAG, more DAG.

3-0 out of 5 stars Easy Read
David Alan Grier seems to feel that he's a funnier person than he really is.
He was funny on "In Living Color" when others were writing for him.
His short-lived "Chocolate News" had humor; however, he just couldn't "carry
the whole show".
He's definitely not a "one-man show" Comedian. I was somewhat disappointed
in the book; however, I read it from cover-to-cover. I've passed it on to
one of my sister's to read.She doesn't need to return it and I won't
ask for it to be returned.
I did not find his commetary on attending the Inauguration for President Obama humorous at all.
It saddened me to think that this was the central theme of his book.
Elizabeth C. Riley

5-0 out of 5 stars Suprisingly Heartwarming and Hilarious
I've loved David Alan Grier since his In Living Color days and was sad to see the Chocolate News canceled. I really thought it would be his big break--a long overdue break. Very happy to see this book at the store. The read was fantastic. It's definitely an interesting mix of his life story and also his views on society and American politics and celebrity culture. I had no idea he was a Yale graduate. I loved reading about how DAG felt when the Chocolate News was canceled by Comedy Central, that he turned down the initial offer to be on In Living Color (wait till you read about what happened when Mike Tyson was upset that he'd been made fun of on the show), and gives us quite possibly the first-ever behind-the-scenes look at what it's really like to be on Dancing With the Stars (DAG was on steroids! Basically all of the contestants are!) I remember seeing the meltdown on youtube. DAG took his dancing very seriously. Ha! Reliving Obama's ascent to the presidency through DAG's eyes was also really great and kind of brought tears to my eyes which was a surprise. All in all, a great book. And I love the cover, looks great on my shelf. Everyone asks about it. Definitely worth the money.

5-0 out of 5 stars Hilarious
In "Barack Like Me: The Chocolate-Covered Truth," comedian David Alan Grier takes a comic look at last year's historical election, interspersing it with personal stories from his own life. The book itself is thus half memoir and half political commentary switching between the chapters. Through his own unique and hilarious perspective, Grier recounts the evening he hosted the election party, shares his attitude toward the political mood sweeping the nation, and details his subsequent efforts to secure a ticket to Obama's inauguration.At the same time, Grier recounts growing up in Detroit, the adolescent period during which he was fascinated with drugs and rock concerts, dropping out of college to move to New York, as well as backstage anecdotes from his celebrity life on shows like "In Living Color" and "Dancing with the Stars." Through it all, Grier is not afraid to acknowledge his mistakes and share some behind-the-scenes gossip. Grier's humor tends to stay charmingly self-deprecating as he laughs at his own big ego, anger management issues, and child-like adulation for Barack. The frequent re-appearance of his sarcastic wife Christine also adds to the overall humor. The writing itself is witty and conversational, light and informal. There are constant flashbacks between Grier's past and present, with the stories themselves reminiscent of anecdotes told to friends at a dinner party or shared with viewers during an evening of stand-up comedy. Overall, this book was a quick and entertaining read. ... Read more

3. Why the day is even longer than it seems (The Christian Science Monitor)
by David Alan Grier
 Unknown Binding: Pages (2002)

Asin: B0006S2FOA
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4. Barak Like Me
by David Alan Grier
 CD-ROM: Pages (2009-01-01)

Asin: B002TK1O5E
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5. When Computers Were Human
by David Alan Grier
 Hardcover: Pages (1980)

Asin: B000MU57YM
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6. The Alchemy of Comedy... Stupid
by Edgar Arceneaux
Paperback: 96 Pages (2007-04-01)
list price: US$20.00 -- used & new: US$14.99
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 0945323115
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Editorial Review

Product Description

Edgar Arceneaux: The Alchemy of Comedy . . . Stupid documents a multi-channel installation by contemporary video artist Edgar Arceneaux. Centered on video footage of popular comedian David Alan Grier, the artwork examines the nuances and structures of comedy routines, jokes, and humor itself. Arceneaux shot footage of Grier over the course of a week performing at three sites in Chicago; the resulting artwork calls into question the relationship between performer and audience, comedy and comedian, and laughter and pathos. Alongside stills from the video, the book presents facsimile reproductions of pages from a notebook kept by Arceneaux during the production of the work, as well as transcripts of some of Grier's routines; together, the materials offer a revealing look into the formative processes of both comedy and art.
... Read more

7. Kwanzaa Folktales
by Gordon Lewis
 Audio Cassette: Pages (1994-12-01)
list price: US$9.98 -- used & new: US$9.94
(price subject to change: see help)
Asin: 1570421404
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Product Description
Celebrating the African-American holiday of Kwanzaa, a collection of original folktales illuminates the seven principles of the celebration-- faith, creativity, collective work and responsibility, purpose, unity, self-determination, and cooperative economics. ... Read more

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