Saturday, February 27, 2010

Just a little bit: The future of computing as foreseen in 1980

This paper was presented to the Club by Robert M. Henderson on Monday evening, March 24, 1980. The portable computing and communications gadget Bob called a "dator," which he predicted for the 1980s, remarkably resembles today's smartphones and netbooks.

Photo: IBM Model 4341 (produced from 1979 to 1986; source: KCG Computer Museum, Japan)

Back in 1946, well within the memory of each of the members of this illustrious group, three scientists from Princeton University published a paper that has had far-reaching effects. The paper was quite innocuously entitled “Preliminary discussions of the logical design of an electric computing instrument.” Their paper contained no new or startling technical information. However, it did very accurately sum up the technical knowledge already available, and presented a well-organized approach to the development of an electrical computing instrument. Many people immediately recognized a large potential for such an instrument, and the race was on to develop computing instruments of various types. And what a race it has been! IBM, Control Data Company, and large other computer manufacturing concerns, as immense as they may be, are only the tip of the iceberg as far as the total impact of computers in our world society.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Club's 140th anniversary: A group photo and the invocation

The Club's members on the stairs of the Thaddeus Clapp House in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, during the celebration of the Club's 140th anniversary on Monday evening, November 9, 2009. Thaddeus Clapp, Jr. was a member of the Club from 1870 until his death in 1890. During that period the Club had a number of meetings in the house, which is currently operated as a bed-and-breakfast. [Click photo for large version.]

The following invocation was delivered by Rev. Dr. Richard L. Floyd at the 140th anniversary celebration:

O God and father of us all,
Whom the heavens adore;
Let the whole earth also worship you,
All nations obey you,
All tongues praise and bless you,
And men and women everywhere love you,
and serve you in peace.

Tonight we thank you for the Monday Evening Club;
For its rich and fascinating history,
and for the warm bonds of friendship it has fostered
From generation to generation
For the past 140 years.

We ask your blessing on our gathering and celebration tonight,
That here we may rekindle and enjoy our friendships,
Make new ones, and enjoy the pleasures of the table,
And the good things that you have provided for us,
Aware that we who have much still live in a world
Where many of our neighbors, near and far, have little.

We thank you for this meal we are about to partake,
And for those that have prepared it for our enjoyment.
Bless it to our use and us to your service, we pray.

120 years of Mondays: A reflection on the Club's place in today's world

This column by Richard Nunley (a Club member emeritus who now lives in Portland, Oregon) was published in The Berkshire Eagle (Pittsfield, Massachusetts) on November 29, 1989.

The Monday Evening Club commemorated the 120th anniversary of its organizing at the house of Mr. Thomas F. Plunkett in Pittsfield on November 11, 1989, with a dinner at the Lenox Club the evening before last.

What, you may ask, is the Monday Evening Club?

It is one tiny thread in the complex weave of associations that make up the fabric of the life of an area. Possibly an anachronism, it and other clubs like it are a survival from a time that was geared differently, that had a perhaps firmer faith in the possibility of harmless uplift and disinterested fellowship than obtains generally today.

"What I like about the Club," Robert G. Newman, retired director of the Berkshire Athenaeum and a Club member since 1946. was quoted as saying on the occasion of the club's centenary, "is that it doesn't do any good."

The Club gets together about six times a year now for dinner and conversation.  Members take it in turns to act as host, either at home or at some comfortable inn or club that serves good food and offers space for pre- and post-prandial talk.

They also take it in turns to prepare a paper, one per meeting, which, after being read aloud, is commented on by the other members. The evening's host calls on his guests in unannounced order.  The prevents after dinner dozing off, or at least ups the hazards of doing so.

It is, so far, a men-only club.  Since, as Newman observed, it doesn't do any good, and is as close to being invisible as makes no difference.

Members from time to time discuss whether remaining a men-only club isn't a little silly in this day and age, but, like most other discussions of the club, nothing has come of it.

And it must be admitted, albeit sotto voce, that males do say more when women aren't around. Whether it is due to residual chivalry that yields the floor to a lady, or to the male's slowness in getting off the conversational mark, the fact is that when men and women meet for conversation, generally speaking, 90 percent of the conversation is conducted by the women, or else the party splits in two, the women saying interesting things to each other in the kitchen, the men hunched over the TV in the den.

Nor are most men these days afforded many opportunities to study up on some subject unrelated to their daily work and compose their conclusions in an essay.  This the club does, and members find this intellectual adventuring fun; it enlarges life.

Topics tend to be historical (in a wide sense), literary or geographical.  Last year members heard talks on Oxford, the distribution of wealth, "news management" by earlier presidencies and the history of the concept of zoning.

On Nov. 18, 1929, in the gloom of the crash, the prepared talk was suspended. "The Club spent the evening discussing its future.  It was voted to elect new members and continue the Club."

In 1932, the club heard talks on "Economic Depression," "Social Security," "Some Current Misconceptions of the Utilities," and "Are We Really To Blame?"

By the end of the decade, members were discussing "Our Most Vital Problem — World Peace," " The Labor Movement," "Dilemma of a Conservative," "Is Pacifism the Answer?"

The Club's minute books reflect history in other ways, too, especially in the directions to special summer meetings.

In 1895 the club boarded the 8:10 from Pittsfield to attend the presentation of a drinking fountain to the town of Great Barrington. ("Colonel Brown will arrange to have carriages meet the train.") In 1915 they journeyed to Perry's Peak and Morning Face in Richmond. ("Members having automobiles please invite those without to ride with them.") In 1900 they allowed two hours to travel from the post office in Pittsfield to Columbia Hall in Lebanon Springs "via the new state road." In 1894 those attending the Bryant centennial in Cummington were advised to carry a pail to water the horses, and to take oats, "as the farmers have only new hay."

In March 1924, "Mr. [William L.] Adam reported that the maid at his house had fallen downstairs and broken her arm and therefore he asked the Club to vote not to hold another meeting this season. So voted."

In the club's six-score year history, 178 men have been members.  At present about 15 are active members; none of them has a maid at his house.

But in the tradition of Franklin's Junto and 19th-century Boston's Saturday Club, they still find something worthwhile in hearing together considered thoughts on well-informed topics, in the good cheer of lively conversation, and, of course, in dining well.

In their 121st year, as they have done so many times before, they will no doubt "vote to elect new members and continue the club."

Friday, February 5, 2010

Old Stuff: Bob Newman's 1992 recollections of 46 years of Club membership

Presented to the Club by Robert G. Newman, Monday evening, April 13, 1992

It is a habit of the elder, when they have an opportunity, to summon up remembrance of things past in pretty heavy doses. Over-burdened with ballast after long voyages, an ancient mariner finds it comfortable to transfer some of his excess cargo to such bearers as chance to pass by.  His suffering associates learn there is no effective way, except perhaps by shouting "fire" in a crowded hall, to stay the flow of antique memories. Such a predicament is that in which you find yourselves as I reminisce on 46 years in this unique organization that we call the Monday Evening Club. I recognize that some present are very familiar with events I recall that are also part of their recollections. For this I beg indulgence.  Maybe they can correct my errors.

First, how I got there, by a flexible interpretation of the hallowed Rules of the Monday Evening Club. In disregard of the apparent intent of Rule 10, I was never among the gentlemen invited to attend a session by the member who is host for the evening. (Perhaps I shouldn't even be here.) At any rate, without prior warning or looking over, I was visited one day in 1946 by two dignified citizens functioning as a committee. James Rosenthal, attorney and [Berkshire] Athenaeum trustee, and Elmer Brigham, principal of Pomeroy School, had known me ever since I was a small boy.  They recited the history and procedures of the Club, concluding by inviting me to join. Although not sure I wanted to sign on for what looked like a long course of solemn-sounding evenings, I decided the correct response for a new librarian was "I do." Thus began my Monday Evening Club experiences.

I suppose that some time before the visitation by James and Elmer, who were probably executive committeemen, I had survived the esoteric ceremony of (here I quote) "balls and cubes" as set forth in Rule 2. This matter of the secret ballot as observed in successive forms has always fascinated me. Its phases have been as follows: