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A Thought…

Those who think the past predicts the future are condemned to pick the wrong stocks.

   — Scott Adams

Other historic computers

Posted on 2023-Mar-05 at 10:08:00 by Phil

In this thread, I want to list various online articles relating to the history of computing, and hardware and software involved. To start out, a look at the 50th anniversary of Xerox PARC's ground-breaking Alto.

Posted on 2023-Mar-05 at 11:21:00 by Phil

From the Centre for Computing History: Colossus - The Greatest Secret in the History of Computing.

Posted on 2023-May-18 at 13:01:00 by Phil

A look at the effort to preserve decades of documentation and related from the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center: A Backup of Historical Proportions from the Computer History Museum.

Posted on 2023-Aug-19 at 18:54:00 by Phil

Yes, there really was a base 16 numbering system called sexadecimal, and it’s not the same as hexadecimal! Apparently, a lot of people will tell you that “hexa” (Greek for 6) and “decimal” (Latin for 10) is a bastardly combination, and “sexa” should be used instead to keep it purely one language or the other. However, true sexadecimal does not use A…F for digits 10 through 15! What does it use, and why? Watch the video!

There’s an amusing aside in the comments that IBM didn’t want to ship something with “sex” in the name, so they pushed for “hex” instead. I can believe that, as IBM could be quite prudish, although dabbling in witchcraft (hexes) probably would make them just as uncomfortable.

Four tales about this (IBM culture):

  1. When playing with a pre-release of AIX 3 for the RS/6000, I saw that it included the emacs editor (as well as vi). I found a text game that was, uh, rather sexually explicit, and emailed the VP in charge of development about this, suggesting that IBM might not want to have its name associated with such a thing. I don’t know the details, but rumor had it that they asked Rich Stallman for permission to delete this one game, and he refused. Thus AIX 3 was released without emacs, vi was the preferred editor (although emacs could be installed), and ViM got a big boost from that.
  2. Some early PC software from IBM had an error message about “garbage collection” This was deemed too lowbrow for the likes of IBM, and so GC was renamed to Housekeeping.
  3. In the early word processor Displaywrite (for the PC), one of the font sets due to be included was Zapf Dingbats. Someone found “Dingbats” offensive and demanded that the font name be changed (Edith Bunker was offensive??). I think it ended up going out under the proper name.
  4. The Great VOODOO scandal: There were lots of internally developed tools and software floating around IBM in the early 80’s, one or two of which actually got released to the public. One was the Volume Organization Optimizer/Disk Organization Optimizer, or VOODOO. Rest assured that most of us found the name amusing, and didn’t get bent out of shape about putting spells on anyone. However, some manager or executive when ballistic when they learned about VOODOO, and the name was immediately changed to 12345678! Cooler heads eventually prevailed, and soon it showed up again, this time named DVOO.

Posted on 2023-Sep-03 at 10:48:00 by Phil

An early 1950’s promotional film from IBM showing off the emerging field of electronic digital computers, particularly the 604 (vacuum tube design with drum and cathode ray tube memory). They do briefly show some of the early (1929 &endash; 1944) machines at Columbia and Harvard, such as the SC, ASCC, and SSEC. Yeah, yeah, your smartphone can run rings around one of these things in every metric, but come on, this was the early 50’s!

Posted on 2024-Jan-18 at 11:07:00 by Phil

Two contenders for the title of World’s First Microprocessor: the Intel i4004 and the Garrett AiResearch MP944. You no doubt have heard of the former, even though it was really suitable for little more than a glorified calculator, but what was the latter? It was the heart of the US Navy’s F-14 Tomcat’s Central Air Data Computer, and it beat the i4004 to “market” by almost a year! Actually, its very existence was classified, and details weren’t made public until 1998. Among other things, it automatically set the F-14’s swing wings and managed its aerodynamic controls, a necessity due to the inherent instability, especially during transonic flight.

See also the entry about restoring a Bendix MG-1 electromechanical Central Air Data Computer from the 1950’s.


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