On this day:
1820 – The Venus de Milo is discovered on the Aegean island of Milos.
Aphrodite of Milos (Greek: Αφροδίτη της Μήλου, Aphroditi tis Milou), better known as the Venus de Milo, is an ancient Greek statue and one of the most famous works of ancient Greek sculpture. Created sometime between 130 and 100 BCE, it is believed to depict Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty (Venus to the Romans). It is a marble sculpture, slightly larger than life size at 203 cm (6 ft 8 in) high. Part of an arm and the original plinth were lost following its discovery. From an inscription that was on its plinth, it is thought to be the work of Alexandros of Antioch; earlier, it was mistakenly attributed to the master sculptor Praxiteles. It is currently on permanent display at the Louvre Museum in Paris. The statue is named after the Greek island of Milos, where it was discovered.
1959 – A team of computer manufacturers, users, and university people led by Grace Hopper meets to discuss the creation of a new programming language that would be called COBOL.
COBOL (/ˈkoʊbɒl/, an acronym for common business-oriented language) is a compiled English-like computer programming language designed for business use. It is imperative, procedural and, since 2002, object-oriented. COBOL is primarily used in business, finance, and administrative systems for companies and governments. COBOL is still widely used in legacy applications deployed on mainframe computers, such as large-scale batch and transaction processing jobs. But due to its declining popularity and the retirement of experienced COBOL programmers, programs are being migrated to new platforms, rewritten in modern languages or replaced with software packages. Most programming in COBOL is now purely to maintain existing applications.
COBOL was designed in 1959 by CODASYL and was partly based on previous programming language design work by Grace Hopper, commonly referred to as “the (grand)mother of COBOL”. It was created as part of a US Department of Defense effort to create a portable programming language for data processing. Intended as a stopgap, the Department of Defense promptly forced computer manufacturers to provide it, resulting in its widespread adoption. It was standardized in 1968 and has since been revised four times. Expansions include support for structured and object-oriented programming. The current standard is ISO/IEC 1989:2014.
COBOL has an English-like syntax, which was designed to be self-documenting and highly readable. However, it is verbose and uses over 300 reserved words. In contrast with modern, succinct syntax like y = x;, COBOL has a more English-like syntax (in this case, MOVE x TO y). COBOL code is split into four divisions (identification, environment, data and procedure) containing a rigid hierarchy of sections, paragraphs and sentences. Lacking a large standard library, the standard specifies 43 statements, 87 functions and just one class.
Academic computer scientists were generally uninterested in business applications when COBOL was created and were not involved in its design; it was (effectively) designed from the ground up as a computer language for business, with an emphasis on inputs and outputs, whose only data types were numbers and strings of text. COBOL has been criticized throughout its life, however, for its verbosity, design process and poor support for structured programming, which resulted in monolithic and incomprehensible programs.
FLOW-MATIC, originally known as B-0 (Business Language version 0), was the first English-like data processing language.
It was developed for the UNIVAC I at Remington Rand under Grace Hopper during the period from 1955 until 1959. It had a strong influence on the development of COBOL.
Hopper had found that business data processing customers were uncomfortable with mathematical notation. In late 1953 she proposed that data processing problems should be expressed using English keywords, but Rand management considered the idea unfeasible. In early 1955, she and her team wrote a specification for such a programming language and implemented a prototype. The FLOW-MATIC compiler became publicly available in early 1958 and was substantially complete in 1959.
Innovations and influence
First, FLOW-MATIC was the first programming language to express operations using English-like statements.
Second, FLOW-MATIC was the first system to distinctly separate the description of data from the operations on it. Its data definition language, unlike its executable statements, was not English-like; rather, data structures were defined by filling in pre-printed forms.
Flow-Matic was a major influence in the design of COBOL, since only it and its direct descendent AIMACO were in actual use at the time. Several elements of Flow-Matic were incorporated into COBOL:
Defining files in advance, and separating into INPUT and OUTPUT files.
Qualification of data-names (IN or OF clause).
IF END OF DATA (AT END) clause on file READ operations.
Figurative constant ZERO (originally ZZZ…ZZZ, where number of Z’s indicated precision).
Dividing the program into sections, separating different parts of the program. Flow-Matic sections included Computer (Environment Division), Directory (Data Division), and Compiler (Procedure Division).
More information available on wiki
“I used to be a mathematics professor. At that time I found there were a certain number of students who could not learn mathematics. I then was charged with the job of making it easy for businessmen to use our computers. I found it was not a question of whether they could learn mathematics or not, but whether they would. […] They said, ‘Throw those symbols out — I do not know what they mean, I have not time to learn symbols.’ I suggest a reply to those who would like data processing people to use mathematical symbols that they make them first attempt to teach those symbols to vice-presidents or a colonel or admiral. I assure you that I tried it.”
Rear Admiral Grace M. Hopper
Mary K. Hawes
Mary K. Hawes was a computer scientist who identified the need for a common business language in accounting, which led to the development of COBOL. Hawes chaired the data descriptions subcommittee in the Short-Range Committee, the team that was initially tasked with identifying problems with the current business compilers. In 1959, Hawes was a senior product planning analyst for the Electro Data Division of Burroughs Corporation. Mary K. Hawes co-authored the books Optimized code generation from extended-entry decision tables published in September 1971, Feature analysis of generalized data base management systems: CODASYL Systems Committee published in May 1971, and A survey of generalized data base management systems published in May 1969.
Born on this day:
1842 – Elizabeth Bacon Custer, American author and educator (d. 1933)
Elizabeth Clift Bacon Custer (April 8, 1842 – April 4, 1933) was an American author and public speaker, and the wife of Brevet Major General George Armstrong Custer, United States Army. She spent most of their marriage in relatively close proximity to him despite his numerous military campaigns in the American Civil War and subsequent posting on the Great Plains as a commanding officer in the United States Cavalry.
Left nearly destitute in the aftermath of her husband’s death, she became an outspoken advocate for his legacy through her popular books and lectures. Largely as a result of her decades of campaigning on his behalf, Custer’s iconic portrayal as the gallant fallen hero amid the glory of ‘Custer’s Last Stand’ was a canon of American history for almost a century after his death.
Elizabeth “Libbie” Bacon was born in Monroe, Michigan, in 1842, the daughter of a wealthy and influential judge. Tragedy marked much of her childhood, with her three siblings and mother all dying before Elizabeth’s thirteenth year. As the only one of the judge’s children that would live to adulthood, her father doted on her. Elizabeth was both beautiful and intelligent, graduating from a girls’ seminary in June 1862 at the head of her class. Her father hoped she would make a good marriage with a man from her own elevated social status, and she rejected several suitors.
She met her future husband in fall 1862, in the midst of the American Civil War. Custer later wrote that he fell deeply in love as of their first formal meeting. She eventually returned these feelings, but her father refused to allow Custer into the Bacon home or to permit her to meet Custer outside of it, much less get married, as Custer proposed in the final week of 1862. Custer was from a poor, undistinguished family, and the Judge hoped Libbie would have better than the life of an army wife. After Custer, just prior to the Battle of Gettysburg (where he played a significant role), was promoted to Brevet brigadier general, Judge Bacon finally relented and they were married on February 9, 1864.
Married life as Mrs. Custer
Libbie and George had a loving but tumultuous relationship. Both were stubborn, opinionated, and ambitious. Their private correspondences were filled with sexually charged double entendres. Despite hardships, they were utterly devoted to each other. She followed him to every assignment, even during the latter days of the Civil War. The depth of their relationship has been the subject of considerable interest in books and film.
Unlike many, Libbie was one of the only wives to follow their husbands wherever the army took them. She refused to be left behind, and joined Custer at the expense of the comfortable lifestyle to which she’d become accustomed as the child of a judge.
After the war, he reverted from his wartime rank of general to his Regular Army rank of lieutenant colonel and was assigned to a series of dreary and unsatisfying assignments in Texas, Kansas, and the Dakota Territory. Life on the frontier outposts was difficult, and Custer’s career was plagued by problems including a court martial (brought about by his leaving the field to be with Libbie).
The 1876 campaign against the Sioux seemed like a chance for glory to George Armstrong Custer. The couple’s final home together was at Fort Abraham Lincoln near what is now Bismarck, North Dakota. From there Libbie’s husband led the Seventh Cavalry in pursuit of Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse and the Sioux and Northern Cheyenne who refused to be confined to the reservation system.
Widowed defender of Custer’s legacy
After her husband’s column was wiped out at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in June 1876, many in the press, Army, and government criticized Custer for blundering into a massacre. President Ulysses S. Grant publicly blamed Custer for the disaster. Fearing that her husband was to be made a scapegoat by history, Libbie launched a one-woman campaign to rehabilitate her husband’s image. She began writing articles and making speaking engagements praising the glory of what she presented as her “martyred” husband. Her three books—Boots and Saddles (1885), Tenting on the Plains—(1887), and Following the Guidon (1890) aimed at glorifying her dead husband’s memory. Though generally considered to be largely factually accurate, they were clearly slanted in Custer’s favor.
Her efforts were successful. The image of a steely Custer leading his men against overwhelming odds only to be wiped out while defending their position to the last man became as much a part of American lore as the Alamo. Libbie remained utterly devoted to her husband and never remarried. Despite having spent her life traveling extensively throughout the United States (including winters in Florida) and the world, Elizabeth Custer never visited the valley of Little Big Horn. She was said to treasure a letter from President Theodore Roosevelt who stated that her husband was “one of my heroes.” It wasn’t until over half a century later that historians reexamined Custers actions leading up to and during the battle and found much to criticize.
After an initial period of distress dealing with her late husband’s debts, Mrs. Custer spent her over half-century of widowhood in financial comfort attained as the result of her literary career and lecture tours, leaving an estate of over $100,000. She died in New York City, four days before her 91st birthday, on April 4, 1933, and was buried next to her husband at West Point. A few years before her death she told a writer that her greatest disappointment was that she never had a son to bear her husband’s honored name……Elizabeth Custer is seen in pic, not below President Taft, but she is looking at the President, with black hat to the far left in this photo… 
“…we gave ourselves the privilege of a swift gallop… …I never noticed the surroundings until I found we were almost in the midst of an Indian village, quite hidden under the bluff. My heart literally stood still. I watched the general furtively. He was as usual perfectly unmoved, and yet he well knew that this was the country where it was hardly considered that the Indian was overburdened with hospitality. …
The next day the general thought I might rather not go with him than run the risk of such frights; but I well knew there was something far worse than fears for my own personal safety. It is infinitely worse to be left behind, a prey to all the horrors of imagining what may be happening to one we love. You eat your heart slowly out with such anxiety, and to endure such suspense is simply the hardest of all trials that come to the soldier’s wife.”
— Elizabeth ‘Libbie’ Custer, from her first book Boots and Saddles, on her life and adventures with her husband.