Book Review: The Cryotron Files

Book Review: The Cryotron Files

Iain Dey & Douglas Buck
ARRSE Rating
3.5 Mushroom Heads
In the age of the internet it is easy to forget the pioneers of computing, those who made the first steps from mechanical computation to electronic calculation. Much of their impetus stemming from 2nd World War needs that then moved straight into the Cold War.

Dudley Buck was one of the pioneers, a self taught electronics geek who was picked up by the US Navy V12 programme and sent to the University of Washington. Students often ran pet projects but Buck built his own radar prior to graduating.

A first navy posting was to the navy’s communication HQ and somewhat unsurprisingly he was assigned to cryptology. The team there had already commenced work on Russian communications before the war ended, second guessing how fragile peace would be. The Greats of the Japan team had broken codes with more intellect than technology and were now seeing a radical change to their craft.

Gunners will be pleased (and will remind everyone in earshot!)to note that demand for electronic calculation was stimulated by new range tables for more powerful artillery, typically 500 per weapon system. There were not enough trained personnel to achieve these requirements.

Buck was sent to George Washington University for further study but was also working on computer development. Not content with back room work Buck also accepted a navy discharge and drew a diplomatic passport and .32 revolver to head for Germany and the Gehlen organisation, his tasks are not fully documented.

On return Buck plunged back into computer development and a role at MIT. The biggest holdback in computing was the slow electromechanical switchgear, but Buck started to work on his Cryotron, a superconducting solid state switch that would miniaturise and speed computing.

The book examines his career in depth but the plot alters course in the last phase. Buck’s laboratories were visited by a high level Soviet academic delegation, just after their return to the USSR Buck died of a heart attack.

The first part of the book is fascinating, especially for the IT literate. Is the second part an attempt to jazz up the story or an enigma of the Cold War? Let the reader be the judge...

The book runs to 261 pages with a good list of interviewees, chapter notes and index. The illustrations are relevant and on good quality gloss paper. Cover price is £20 , with Kindle at £11.51 and copies on Amazon from £8.80

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