By KATHRYN SCHULZ
Published: November 26, 2010
// “You know the story of the invention of the computer?” one character asks another midway through Jane Smiley’s best-selling 1995 novel “Moo.” The speaker, an animal scientist, dreams of striking it rich by pioneering a new dairy-farming technology. To that end, he hopes to pry major grant money out of the agricultural industry, and he wields the history of the computer as both cautionary tale and crowbar. “The short version,” he explains, “is that the guy at Iowa State who invented the computer in the late ’30s never patented a thing. . . . And the university . . . forgot about the old machine, and threw it out.