Celebrating ‘First Computer Day’ and maverick Ecuadorian President Ibarra

Karl Lyimo

TODAY, February 15, is the ‘World’s First Computer Day,’ a.k.a. ‘ENIaC Day.’ The day is celebrated in commemoration of the world’s first general-purpose electronic computer, developed at the Moore School of Electrical Engineering of the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) in the United States of America.

It was on February 10, 2011 when the City of Philadelphia officially declared that February 15, 2011 – the 65th anniversary of the unveiling of ENIaC, the acronym for ‘Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer – would thenceforth be known as ENIaC Day to celebrate dedication of Penn’s historic computer.

Seeking to blind us with science, technicians tell us that ENIaC ‘was amongst the earliest electronic general-purpose computers made. It was Turing-complete, digital – and could solve a large class of numerical problems through reprogramming…’ But, perhaps not many readers would know that ‘ENIaC was originally designed and primarily used to calculate artillery firing tables for the US Army’s Ballistic Research Laboratory – and that its first programmes included a study of the feasibility of the thermonuclear weapon!’ [See Moye, William T (January 1996); ‘ENIAC: The Army-Sponsored Revolution;’ and Dalakov, Georgi, ‘ENIAC: History of Computers,’ retrieved on May 23, 2016]. When ENIaC was formally dedicated at Penn University on February 15, 1946, it was heralded as a ‘Giant Brain’ by the press, we are told.

More of the technical abracadabra, you say? Well… ‘It had a speed in the order of one thousand times faster than that of electro-mechanical machines! ‘This computational power – coupled with general-purpose programmability – excited scientists and industrialists alike. The combination of speed and programmability allowed for thousands more calculations for problems, as ENIaC calculated in 30 seconds a trajectory that took humans 20 hours to calculate: a 2,400x increase in speed! Get that? I don’t… Anyway, if you still hanker for more of that technical mumbo- jumbo then, for Gawd’s sake, browse for bags-full of it on the ubiquitous Internet – thanks to the ENIaC in the first place! Let’s move on to lighter stuff that took place on today’s date! Let’s see… Here we have one which borders on the tragiccomic.

Historians tell us that an Ecuadoran politician, José María Velasco Ibarra (born March 19, 1893; perished March 30, 1979) was elected five times as President of Ecuador: 1934-1935; 1944-1947; 1952-1956; 1960- 1961, and 1968-1972.

But only once (1952-1956) did he complete the constitutional mandate of four years at State House! What determination; what resilience… Ibarra did not complete the four other Presidential tenures because he was ousted out of power through military coup’s d’etat! His first Presidency began on September 1, 1934.

But he was ousted by the Military in August 1935! Ibarra was named Supreme Chief of the Republic on the back of the May 28, 1944 ‘Glorious Revolution,’ and was later named ‘Constitutional President’ by the Constituent Assembly. However, he was again deposed by the Military in August 1947, when ‘three Defense Ministers perpetuated the coup against Ibarra, including Minister Mancheno who later succeeded him! He begun a third Presidential term on September 1, 1952 on winning that year’s Election – and went on to serve the full term to August 31, 1956!

However, elected President for the fourth time in 1960, he was tossed overboard on November 7, 1961… Finally, ‘our Velasco Ibarra’ won the Presidency for a fifth time in 1968. However, he was deposed in the February 15, 1972 bloodless coup which brought General Guillermo Rodríguez Lara into power.

Analysts say President Ibarra ‘always had a special preoccupation with infrastructure. Many public works – including irrigation canals, roads, highways, bridges, aircraft fields, hospitals, educational infrastructure – were constructed during his Presidencies… In his full term at State House (1952-1956), he saw to the construction of more than 1,359km of roads; 1,057km more were improved; 311 schools were constructed –with another 104 in progress…!’ ‘In total,’ we are told, ‘Velasco Ibarra governed for nearly 13 years in total – making him the longest-serving President in Ecuadorian history…’ Boy!

If he achieved so much in 13 hectic years, imagine how much more he’d have done for his country had he been able to rule uninterrupted for the 20 years of his five Presidencies… Sheesh! Two things worth mentioning here… Reputedly a great, captivating orator, the charismatic Ibarra once said ‘Give me a balcony (from which to campaign) – and I’ll become President!’

Indeed he demonstrated that five times over… But, to me the most poignant thing about the man was when his wife Corina Parral de Velasco Ibarra died after falling off a bus in Buenos Aires where they were exiled. This precipitated Velasco Ibarra’s death. On his return to Ecuador, he said ‘I come to meditate, and to die!’ Indeed, he died in Quito a few days later: March 30, 1979! Tears! [This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.]

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