Mauchly: The Computer and the Skateboard

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A secret history of the first computer. The only film to feature the inventor himself speaking about the ENIAC.

Mauchly: The Computer and the Skateboard tells the story of what happens to John Mauchly as the huge potential of his invention begins to dawn on those around him: from the triumphant unveiling and first successful operations to the crushing blow of being stripped of the patent. co-directors Jim Reed, who is Mauchly’s grandson, and Paul David weave archival footage along side interviews of Mauchly’s colleagues and friends to create an eclectic homage to Mauchly and a new perspective on the history of computation.

The backbone of the film is statement by Mauchly’s widow Kay, who was once hired as a young mathematician to do calculations on the brand new eniac and fell in love with its inventor. Probably the most original “Women of the ENIAC” –the world’s first computer programmers –she shares her lucid understanding of computer history in conjunction with intimate biographical anecdotes to provide an insider’s picture of the project’s genesis and progression.

The film’s cast of characters also includes former colleagues and students from the University of Pennsylvania, Ursinus, the Smithsonian Institution, the Eckert-Mauchly company, Sperry Rand, and Iowa State University. The title comes from recollections by Mauchly’s former Ursinus students of a professor who zipped around the study room on a homemade, jet-propelled skateboard in an effort to demonstrate Newton’s laws of motion.

Mauchly: The Computer and the Skateboard documents an early chapter of a story which continues into the present: the excitement of creating new technology in addition to the inevitable sharks swimming in its wake. Through the reminiscences of those who knew him, Mauchly emerges as a brilliant, driven, on occasion exasperating man who endured a series of personal and professional tragedies with remarkable grace and humor. The kid who stayed up reading into the wee hours with his homemade device warning of his parents’ approach ushered in a whole new era. Mauchly: The Computer and the Skateboard is a tribute to a man who is certainly Probably the most undersung heroes of the twentieth century.

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