Newsletter of the Mercurians, in the Society for the History of Technology

Volume 11, No. 1, November 1998

Mercurial Matters

Session Planning: 1999 and 2000

Mercurians Books?

Robert Arns Awarded IEEE Prize

Web Site in Progress

Signal Processing Monographs

Toward a History of Information Systems

Misreading the Supreme Court: A Puzzling Chapter in the History of Radio

Access Denied: The Beginning and End of the Information Society

Book Review
Universal Science

Media Ecology Assoc.

Film Studies Conference

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Signal Processing Monographs

Signal processing is a large and rapidly growing branch of engineering. A field that did not exist fifty years ago, it remains unknown to most people, though many aspects of signal processing, such as analog-to-digital conversion, error-correction coding, speech synthesis, and image compression, have become familiar to laymen of the present communications- and computer-dominated world. 

Signal processing does not concern itself with the transmission of signals over telephone wires or by radio waves, but with the changes made to signals to improve transmission or the use of signals. Among the processes studied and devised by signal-processing engineers are filtering, coding, estimating, detecting, analyzing, recognizing, synthesizing, recording, and reproducing. Though signal processing concerns both analog and digital techniques, the field is increasingly dominated by digital techniques. Indeed, the emergence of digital techniques in the 1960s and 1970s played a large part in creating a community of engineers concerned with signal processing. The discipline of signal processing also encompasses the development of theories, the creation of algorithms, the implementation of algorithms in hardware, and the application of software and hardware. 

There are now numerous applications areas of signal processing, including communications, information processing, consumer electronics, control systems, radar and sonar, medical diagnosis, seismology, and scientific instrumentation. In addition, signal processing involves a wide range of tasks, such as removing echo from telephone lines, scrambling cellular-phone conversations, controlling the suspension of an automobile so that it responds to road conditions, enabling satellite imaging systems to resolve tiny objects on the ground, and making internal organs stand out in CAT scans. 

Frederik Nebeker has written two short books on signal processing. Signal Processing: The Emergence of a Discipline, 1948 to 1998, is a narrative history of the creation of the new branch of engineering. The IEEE Signal Processing Society: Fifty Years of Service, 1948 to 1998, tells the story of the principal professional society for the new technology. These describe the foundations of signal processing technology, the origins and rise of the Signal Processing Society, and the contributions of each to the scientific community and the public at large. Nebeker's solid research is interspersed with quotes from the pioneers of signal processing. Excerpted from taped interviews conducted by the IEEE History Center staff, these quotes convey, from a first-person point of view, the atmosphere of excitement and achievement that led to major signal-processing developments. Both books are available from the IEEE History Center, Rutgers University, 732/932-1066. 

Nebeker, a founding member of the Mercurians and Senior Research Historian at the IEEE History Center, is also the author of Calculating the Weather: Meteorology in the 20th Century (Academic Press, 1995) and Sparks of Genius: Portraits of Electrical Engineering Excellence (IEEE Press, 1994).