Shift CTRL 2016 Conference Trip Report

The Shift CTRL (#shiftCTRL)—New Perspectives on Computing and New Media conference was held at Stanford University Humanities on Friday & Saturday, 6–7 May 2016, organized by Thomas S. Mullaney (@tsmullaney). This gathering was a follow-on to the American History Association 2016 Annual Meeting (@AHAhistorians) session Shift Ctrl: Computing and New Media beyond the US and Europe that Tom chaired on 10 January 2016, 11am–1pm EST, in Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

Each session topic included two to three presentations, giving a glimpse into the papers the participants had shared among themselves ahead of time. Afterwards, the presenters gathered at a table to answer grouped questions from the audience. As the discussions happened, the participants found unexpected connections between different areas of work. Some of that is what can happen when presentations are combined like that. A great conference.

My notes were minimal, though I enjoyed all the talks. Squeezing this writing in between my type design work means this trip report will also be minimal with raw notes and links as opposed to nice prose.

One of the challenges of an independent researcher like myself is getting access to resources while being unaffliated with a university. It’s still possible but sometimes requires a bit more effort. This conference reminded me of some of the things I like about a good research community. I will also be looking for funding sources for projects on:

  • the oral history of some type designers related to my past research, and
  • typeface design to support preserving endangered languages and minority languages.
The Shift CTRL conference aligned well with my background in technology development and history. My type design work includes research into history for each script & language, but also for technology used in printing and writing. Some of that research was included in the talks I gave on Resurrecting Type of the IBM 1403 about the mainframe line printer, its use around the world (Iceland’s first computers, Vietnamese land titles & first legal documents printed on computer), and the development of my resultant 1403 Vintage Mono Pro typeface.


Languages & Logics

    • Mention of English only. Though not the same, common language for air traffic control is English. So, all pilots need to know English. Think it would be okay to have programming language with keywords based in another language. The issue comes when one wants to involve others who may not speak that language. Same issue with English-based programming languages.
    • There have been programming languages that were not based in English. If I had more time, I would dig up references. For now, here’s the Wikipedia page on Non-English-based programming languages.
    • Games.
    • Assumptions built into development tools, based on past major games and structure.
    • New meanings to familiar core elements, e.g., collision.
    • Jason Rohrer’s (@jasonrohrerPassage — Two others attending the conference wrote about it, also.
    • Mainichi — an experiment in sharing a personal experience through a game system.
    • Dys4ia — spatial and conversation.
      • layoff and carry(??) life
    • My own note: Are these types of games becoming more common, now, or are we just seeing them more often because of greater connection?


  • Janet Abbate (@JanetAbbateVT), Virginia Tech — Code Switch: Rethinking Computer Expertise as Empowerment
    • How and why we teach computer science is important.
    • mentioned Anita Borg Institute (@anitaborg_org) re: diversity and inclusion. I worked with Anita at the DEC research laboratories back in the 1990s.
    • (@codeorg) — but noted focus on coding and diversity in PR materials, then videos mostly from older white guys. Not getting into what one could do other than program, be successful. (My simplification of her more clear statements.)
    • #YesWeCode (@yeswecode) — founded by Van Jones and musician Prince.

Authorities & Truths

  • Honghong Tinn, Earlham College — Econometric Models and Computers: Manufacturing Economic-Planning Projects in Taiwan
    • “explores the early use of mainframe computers to assist in econometric-knowledge production and economic-project planning in Taiwan in the 1960s.
      … Specifically, this paper explores the computer-assisted production of inter-industrial input-output analysis in Taiwan. Harvard economist Wassily Leontief developed the method in 1941.
      In the case of Taiwan, a Cornell University Professor, Ta-Chung Liu, visited the country in 1964 to help form an economic-planning project. Liu helped a Taiwanese government agency to produce inter-industry input-output analyses of Taiwanese industries with the IBM 1620 computer. The limited capacity of the IBM computer however, hindered the process of producing such analysis. The Taiwanese team, thus, had to reconfigure economic data to accommodate the capacity of the computer. By using Taiwan as an example, this paper reveals the underlying historical tensions and contingencies in visualizing, representing, and making sense of economic activities during the Cold War.”
    • Taiwan 1964–1969
    • Cold War
    • IBM 1620
    • Ta-Chung Liu’s “A Macro-Econometric Model for Taiwan’s Economy,” CIECD, 1965.
    • The Econometric Practice of Ta-Chung Liu [PDF] by Hsiang-Ke Chao and Chao-Hsi Huang, 2010.


  • Nick Montfort (@nickmofo), Massachusetts Institute of Technology — Shifting to Free Software
    • Think argument could be made stronger. Focusing on longevity of access to information (archival and beyond).
    • Same for all tech and archiving.
    • Note that there’s also a risk that free software stops being maintained or requires more work than one is able to put to be able to use again. 

Infrastructures & Economies

Liza Loop (@LizaLoopED) mentioned that in 1987 that the way they had copies of a book made in Russia was retyping because copy machines were so regulated. Meant to ask if same for printing presses. I assume so?
For some reason, I had a note “to Fred Turner: Critical Systems Interdependency & Failure Modes Failure Analysis” referring to the Clinton Presidential Commission Report in the late 1990s. Alas, I do not recall why I wrote that down. So, I’ll just leave a link to PDD-63 on Critical Infrastructure Protection, 22 May 1998.

Final Discussions and Computer History Museum Tour  

Some random quotes during the fabulous Revolution Exhibit tour at the Computer History Museum (@ComputerHistory)…
  • Both Jenna (@jennaburrell) & Janet (@JanetAbbateVT) asked “where’s the Discourse key?” when looking at lovely old computer keyboards. 😉
  • “Innovation under constraints”—Jenna (@jennaburrell)
  • “My Drunk Computer History”—Tom (@tsmullaney)
During the Computer History Museum tour, there was only time to explore the Revolution Exhibit. Next time, check out the demo labs:
  • PDP-1 Demo Lab with working demonstrations of the DEC PDP-1 and the Spacewar! game on 1st & 3rd Saturdays, 2:30pm & 3:15pm. Learn about the PDP-1 and restoration and the Spacewar! game.
  • IBM 1401 Demo Lab with working demonstrations of the IBM 1401 mainframe and the IBM 1403 line printer that inspired my 1403 Vintage Mono Pro typeface. Demonstrations in the lab are on Wednesdays at 3pm and Saturdays at 11am. A custom version of my font to more closely match the original printer chain was used in the short film 6EQUJ5, directed by Trevor Brymer, New Zealand. Coincidentally, I worked at both IBM and DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) research laboratories.
The shiftCTRL conference brought together a great group. It sounds like there will be a longer-term publication to bring their ideas together in some cohesive form. One of the goals seems to be to encourage more discourse and research. Some of the things that could be done to foster continuing conversations include:
  • Book, journal of the papers with commentary added to encourage more discussion. An important aspect of the Shift CTRL conference: the discussions that happened after the talks, connecting and exploring the topics presented.
  • Periodic articles, blog posts, etc. in shorter form. Perhaps all linking with the #shiftCTRL as a connector keyword. Note that shiftCTRL may be used for other topics.
  • Continually updated collection of related publications, posts, resources.
  • I believe there was mention of considering ACM Interactions (@interactionsmag). Perhaps Communications of the ACM (@CACMmag) would also be appropriate.
  • Also, perhaps consider IEEE Computer Society’s (@ComputerSociety) Annals of the History of Computing (@computingnow).

Other posts about the ShiftCTRL Conference

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