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Big, Beautiful Boxes From Computer History 238

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the know-your-past dept.
Slatterz writes "We might sometimes complain about the limitations of today's technology, but there's nothing like seeing photos of a 27Kg hard drive with a capacity of 5MB to put things into perspective. PC Authority has toured the Computer History Museum in California, and has posted these fascinating photos, including monster 27Kg and 60Kg drives, and a SAGE air-defense system. Each SAGE housed an A/N FSQ-7 computer, which had around 60,000 vacuum tubes. IBM constructed the hardware, and each computer occupied a huge amount of space. From its completion in 1954 it analyzed radar data in real-time, to provide a complete picture of US Airspace during the cold war. Other interesting photos and trivia include some giant early IBM disc platters, and pics of a curvaceous Cray-1 supercomputer, built in 1972. It was the fastest machine in the world until 1977 and an icon for decades. It cost a mere $6 million, and could perform at 160MFLOPS — which your phone can now comfortably manage."
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Big, Beautiful Boxes From Computer History

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  • Nice photos... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Archaemic (1546639) on Friday August 28, 2009 @01:49AM (#29227413)

    Although these photos don't include the functional replica of Babbage's Difference Engine #2 that's currently at the museum, and leaves in a few months. I was just at the museum two weeks ago. It was pretty interesting. There's also an exhibit about the history of chess computation. Apart from those two things though, most of the museum is a big room full of old computers. I wish there were more to see there, but what is there is pretty interesting. I recommend going before the Babbage Engine leaves in a few months if one gets a chance.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Archaemic (1546639)

      Er, sorry, scratch that. There are a few photos of it. There was a repeat photo in the gallery and thought I had gone through all of the photos.

      • I thought the photos were really small, at 700x525. Thanks guys, for telling us about a museum filled with old non-working computers with knobs, switches, and dials and you give me tiny photos.
    • Functional? The joke's on them. It seems that a vital gear was surreptitiously removed [pcauthority.com.au] and placed "on display" by the Computer Museum's jealous curators.

  • ahh (Score:5, Informative)

    by Dyinobal (1427207) on Friday August 28, 2009 @01:56AM (#29227449)
    I love BBW errr I mean BBB.
    • by AioKits (1235070)
      You have no idea how disappointed I was when I found out that the entire article was actually SFW. With the phrase 'big beautiful boxes' I was kind of hoping for some shots of Ada Lovelace someone just uncovered and released to the public.
  • These photos... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Sawopox (18730)

    are pretty impressive. It is amazing how much smaller and faster the equipment has become. What is alarming is the rate at which the raw materials are being pulled from the Earth then discarded, usually right after the two year contract expires.

    • by moon3 (1530265)
      Thanks to Mr. Transistor.
    • ... would be used if all computers were still that big!

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mcgrew (92797) *

        What got me and should give everyone pause is the 1972 Cray, the fastest computer in the world at the time, was less powerful than your phone. That was only 35 years ago, for you young folks, what will computers be like when you're my age?

        My daughters grew up with computers, computers grew up with me. [kuro5hin.org]

        I remember my mom bringing an IBM luggable home from work back in the early eighties (I was in my early thirties and lived down the street from her, rather than in her basement like the stereotype would have it

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Culture20 (968837)

      What is alarming is the rate at which the raw materials are being pulled from the Earth then discarded, usually right after the two year contract expires.

      Materials discarded, but a whole lot easier to acquire than via mining, smelting, etc.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 28, 2009 @02:04AM (#29227499)

    " The Enigma machine was used during world War Two - it gives more than a trillion possible combinations for a single number, making it impossible to decrypt letters encoded with the Enigma. The big silver piece next to it is a part of the Colossus - a British code-breaking computer."

    The writer obviously doesn't know what he's talking about and didn't bother to read any text associated with that display, if he thinks Enigma was unbreakable. Especially since the parts of Colossus were specifically for breaking Enigma. Further, "more than a trillion" is a ludicrously imprecise figure, why couldn't he at least look up a more accurate figure (10^23 according to Wikipedia)?

    • by gregben (844056) on Friday August 28, 2009 @02:20AM (#29227571)

      Most of the captions are chock full of
      factual, grammatical, and spelling errors.
      Sad, because this sort of codswallop is
      propagated to the unknowing public and
      difficult to correct once "out of the bag".

    • by mwvdlee (775178) on Friday August 28, 2009 @04:22AM (#29228093) Homepage

      As I understand it, a big reason why Enigma was succesfully broken is because some of it's users kept using the same "keys" for it.
      Had the germans used the Enigma how it was meant to be used, it might not have been broken at the time.

      • by tomrud (471930) on Friday August 28, 2009 @04:57AM (#29228259)

        As I understand it, a big reason why Enigma was succesfully broken is because some of it's users kept using the same "keys" for it.
        Had the germans used the Enigma how it was meant to be used, it might not have been broken at the time.

        They (the code breakers) could also use "known plain text" attacks quite a lot. Many operators tended to use the same greeting phrase over and over again. In addition, the Germans sent their weather reports encrypted. The British Navy could easily check the weather and get even more "known plain text".

        • Better still, they could rule out known plain texts if the message was created on an enigma with a reflector rotor as a letter could never be encoded as itself.

    • by hughk (248126) on Friday August 28, 2009 @05:57AM (#29228513) Journal

      Noooo!!!!

      Colossus was developed for breaking cryptographic material (Fish) from Lorenz telex style stream ciphering machines (Tunny). Enigma was broken by the Bombes which were more mechanical in nature.

      All quite clear if you visit Bletchley Park in the UK, the rather lower budget British museum of cryptography and computing. Both the Colossus and Bombe reconstruction projects were run out of BP and if are lucky you can get a talk on their operation from Tony Sale or one of the other builders.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      Soldiers tended to use obvious encryption keys like "HITLER" which made cracking Enigma even easier.

      • by Ciggy (692030) on Friday August 28, 2009 @09:24AM (#29229847)
        IIRC the method to encrypt was to get the relevant wheels in the relevant order, set the key letters, insert into machine, use the initial setting, and plug up the letter swaps - these were changed on a daily basis. The operator then chose a 3 character key for his message and typed this in twice to create the first 6 characters of the encrypted message; finally, the wheels were reset to the operator's chosen key and the message encrypted.

        On receipt, the daily initial setting was set up and the first 6 characters of the message entered whereupon the key should come out twice (allowing transmission errors to be spotted...and also allowing a weak spot for breakers).

        The operators, having to send lots of messages tended to get lazy and use sequences on the keyboard, eg if they had been using the QWERTY keyboard, they would use keys like: QWE, QAZ, WSX, ZAQ, XSW, EWQ, etc.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by ncc74656 (45571) *

          The operators, having to send lots of messages tended to get lazy and use sequences on the keyboard, eg if they had been using the QWERTY keyboard, they would use keys like: QWE, QAZ, WSX, ZAQ, XSW, EWQ, etc.

          Since we're talking about Enigma, "QAZ" would've been "QAY." Enigma used the QWERTZ layout, which is fairly common in German-speaking countries. (It also moved P from the upper right to lower left, presumably to simplify the mechanical design.) A pretty good photo of an Enigma is here.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      >>>if he thinks Enigma was unbreakable.

      Well let's look at history. Where the British able to break Enigma? NOPE. They had to literally steal a machine before they could read Germany's encrypted orders. So the author was correct when he said Enigma was an unbreakable code.

      • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Friday August 28, 2009 @08:50AM (#29229449)
        Sorry, it was the Poles obtained German Enigmas and took them to the UK. The news that the Germans relied on Enigma was important, but the main reason the British were able to beat Enigma was that the Germans were insufficiently careful in its use. When the system changed later in the war, the Royal Navy (NOT the USN, contrary to the lies of Hollywood) acquired a naval Enigma machine from a sinking German submarine. (They also captured a German weather boat at one point.)

        It is simple fact that many cryptographic systems are uncrackable in the absence of all knowledge of how they work - but in the real world keys must be exchanged somehow, and encryption must always have a mechanism, and these are always potential vulnerabilities.

        • Enigma would still have been unbreakable with the technology available at the time, were it not for operator error. The Germans did two stupid things. Firstly, they started every message from one station with the same plaintext every day. Once this was known, it became a lot easier to work out the day's code. Secondly, they decided to 'make it more secure' by saying that you couldn't have any of the wheels in the same position two days in a row, which reduced the search space considerably.
        • There is more to it (Score:5, Informative)

          by cybergrue (696844) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:47AM (#29230897)
          Enigma started out as a commercial product marketed to commercial entities (mid 1930's) and early versions were sold to the public. IIRC, technical details were published (patents, etc) and it was from these commercial models that the Poles did a lot of their work. When Poland was invaded, the Polish cryptography team made its way to England and helped kickstart the Allied effort.

          After figuring out how the machines worked, it became a simple matter to brute force the machines (try every combination) using mechanical means, ie the Bombes. This was simpler then it sounds because of some exploitable weaknesses (the same letter will never encryt to itself, the wiring in the disks wasn't changed, etc) The Bombes tried every possible combination of settings of an encoded message looking for the string "EIN" (German for one, Turring himself was said to have come up with this neat little hack) These possible decrypts were passed on to a human to check if the made sense. Remember that this was all done with a mechanical system. Late in the war, when the Germans were changing their codes every hour, this system was able to keep up.

  • Favorite quote (Score:5, Interesting)

    by phantomfive (622387) on Friday August 28, 2009 @02:12AM (#29227521) Journal

    Magnetic core memory came in a range of sizes. It replaced vacuum tubes entirely by about 1960, and was extremely cheap to produce - from $1 per bit initially, to 1c per bit by the mid-60s.

    Crazy, but in those days, no one ever used more than 640 bits of memory. True story.

    Direct link to photograph, in case you want to see a range of core memories, which, incidentally were great because they didn't lose their values in a power outage:

    http://www.pcauthority.com.au/Gallery/153867,computer-history-museum-photo-gallery-weird-fascinating-photos-including-a-giant-cray-and-a-60kg-hard-drive.aspx/40 [pcauthority.com.au]

    • by temcat (873475)

      I'm not sure if you're joking or not (because I see some subtle reference to "640K ought to be enough for everybody" in your post,) but I know for a fact that at least Soviets did use larger volumes of magnetic memory. The design bureau that my dad still works at produced magnetic memory for Soviet strategic missile defense systems back then.

    • Crazy, but in those days, no one ever used more than 640 bits of memory. True story.

      I have an instruction manual from a machine a few years more recent, describing the 'Simple Code' programming interface it had, which provided a restricted instruction set and a few limitations, including the limit of 150 instructions per program. The manual explains that this is unlikely to be a problem, because any program longer than 150 instructions would be impossible to debug.

  • by acehole (174372) on Friday August 28, 2009 @02:14AM (#29227531) Homepage

    Going off of those standards, the thumbdrive sitting on my desk should weigh 22,118.4 kilos.

    Double that because i've got two.

  • http://www.pcauthority.com.au/Gallery/153867,computer-history-museum-photo-gallery-weird-fascinating-photos-including-a-giant-cray-and-a-60kg-hard-drive.aspx/3 [pcauthority.com.au]

    Third photo has an ominous misspelling. They can't even spell computers correctly in the caption.

  • by phantomfive (622387) on Friday August 28, 2009 @02:17AM (#29227555) Journal
    Here was an interesting one, [pcauthority.com.au] an old PC with a monitor in portrait format. It asks why they didn't catch on, and I'm not sure I know the answer. It seems like it WOULD be better, especially because you could look at an entire page on the thing. Now with 21 inch monitors I can do that anyway, but what was it that caused our landscape monitors to become standardized like they are?

    Also, check out the keyboard on this beast! [pcauthority.com.au] Not QUERTY. Not DVORAK. Who thought that would be a good idea?
    • by cowbutt (21077) on Friday August 28, 2009 @03:01AM (#29227749) Journal

      Here was an interesting one, an old PC with a monitor in portrait format. It asks why they didn't catch on, and I'm not sure I know the answer. It seems like it WOULD be better, especially because you could look at an entire page on the thing.

      Some contemporary monitors can be rotated between landscape and portrait orientations; the Lenovo L220x [flickr.com], for example. It's a feature that's more popular in pre-press organisations.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by rubies (962985)

      ...because in use they aren't terribly functional. One of the secretaries I used to work with back in the eighties had a Radius portrait display on a Mac II - it was awful as seeing the whole page at a time was far less important than seeing what was on the page clearly. Print Preview pretty much killed portrait monitors stone dead.

    • by KokorHekkus (986906) on Friday August 28, 2009 @03:10AM (#29227791)

      Also, check out the keyboard on this beast! Not QUERTY. Not DVORAK. Who thought that would be a good idea?

      That's a french Minitel terminal (their videotex system, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minitel [wikipedia.org]). The telephone company gave people free terminals if they would forgo printed telephone books. Remeber, this was the early 80:s so there must have been enough people with less than stellar keyboard skills who'd rather peck away on a ABC-keyboard than hunt around on a AZERTY-keyboard if given the choice. But I'm pretty certain that most terminals had the french standard AZERTY keyboard (here's the Minitel 1 http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6d/Minitel_1.JPG [wikimedia.org] )

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Fred_A (10934)

        Also, check out the keyboard on this beast! Not QUERTY. Not DVORAK. Who thought that would be a good idea?

        That's a french Minitel terminal (their videotex system, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Minitel [wikipedia.org]). The telephone company gave people free terminals if they would forgo printed telephone books. Remeber, this was the early 80:s so there must have been enough people with less than stellar keyboard skills who'd rather peck away on a ABC-keyboard than hunt around on a AZERTY-keyboard if given the choice. But I'm pretty certain that most terminals had the french standard AZERTY keyboard (here's the Minitel 1 http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6d/Minitel_1.JPG [wikimedia.org] )

        I've seen pretty much every Minitel deployed including a number of those used in restricted releases prior to nationwide deployment and I don't remember ever seeing one with a non standard French keyboard.

        Those things were rather kludgy with their using an X25 network at a snail's pace (1200/75) which was more or less sufficient for "enriched" text, although watching pages being drawn was still painful.

        A number of people created BBS systems for them through the POTS, avoiding the (expensive) Minitel network

        • Minitel won't die... (Score:5, Informative)

          by Anne Honime (828246) on Friday August 28, 2009 @06:20AM (#29228625)

          Oddly enough, there apparently are some people that still use them. The train ticketing, phone book, and a number of other services are still up and in use.

          Not odd at all considering the various threats of Internet, from spam to virus, credit cards frauds, DoS etc. Minitel pretty much insure that whomever you phone is legit provided you don't misstype the phone number. It's a very helpful and desirable feature for some sensitive businesses (chemist ordering prescription drugs, etc.)

          And thanks to being a passive terminal, Minitel is immune to virus and trojans by nature. Being so simple, there are no bugs either I'm aware off. And being text only makes for a great bonus to blinds who can plug whatever Braille device they want to use it.

    • I really don't know, but there are several monitors that can pivot. If you have a VESA monitor, you can remove the stand and put it on a VESA arm in a portrait manner.

      I think I'd rather have more than one program side by side, monitors in portrait mode are a bit too narrow. I would like taller monitors though, 1.6:1 screens are a little too short for me in landscape. I dunno. Maybe some day I'll try two 24" screens in portrait mode, the screens are pretty cheap these days. That would be helpful since m

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Fred_A (10934)

        I really don't know, but there are several monitors that can pivot. If you have a VESA monitor, you can remove the stand and put it on a VESA arm in a portrait manner.

        Any monitor can do that as long as it has a VESA compliant attachment at the back. Then it's only a software issue.

        What's nice is a monitor that can pivot on its own stand (typically in that case it can also twist and swivel, be raised and lowered). Although to lower costs a lot of makers only offer crappy stands on all but the very high end models these days. My Dell 24" can pivot on its stand (it can mess the numerous connectors a bit though).

        It's less convenient if it's stuck in just one position. Althou

    • Quite simply because being able to view portions of two pages simultaneously side by side is much more useful than viewing large portions of a single document.
    • by asifyoucare (302582) on Friday August 28, 2009 @04:36AM (#29228151)

      ... Not QUERTY. Not DVORAK. ..

      QUERTY eh? I wonder how that layout got such an odd name.

    • It seems like it WOULD be better, especially because you could look at an entire page on the thing. Now with 21 inch monitors I can do that anyway, but what was it that caused our landscape monitors to become standardized like they are?

      It probably had to do with the desirability of reading fewer but full lines of output instead of reading additional lines that were truncated, wrapped or created with a smaller character set. Once we got to GUIs running on bitmapped monitors where portrait orientation was a u

    • a monitor in portrait format. It asks why they didn't catch on, and I'm not sure I know the answer

      Because they are designed for humans. Humans, baring injury, have two eyes next to each other, meaning that they see clearly in a region described by the overlap of two ellipses, which is a lot wider than it is tall. Putting a page in the middle of a wide monitor and floating palettes around the side is a much better use of the human visual system. You'll find a number of HCI papers from the '80s describing user studies related to this, if you look.

      The reason that monitors used 4:3 aspect ratios for s

    • by jeffb (2.718) (1189693) on Friday August 28, 2009 @09:27AM (#29229865)

      Here was an interesting one, [pcauthority.com.au] an old PC with a monitor in portrait format. It asks why they didn't catch on, and I'm not sure I know the answer. It seems like it WOULD be better, especially because you could look at an entire page on the thing. Now with 21 inch monitors I can do that anyway, but what was it that caused our landscape monitors to become standardized like they are?

      Since the 1970's, and possibly earlier, computer monitors have piggybacked off TV technology, which first standardized on the 4:3 ratio and later moved to 16:9. The 4:3 ratio was a compromise between picture-tube technology, which wanted to present a circular face, and the material presented, which tended to be wider than it was tall.

      Why is that? Well, it's they way we're used to seeing our world and the things in it. The human visual field is wider than it is tall, because the things we're looking at tend to be spread out more horizontally than vertically. Your food and your enemies are likely to be at approximately the same level as you are (standing or growing on the ground), so it's better to be able to take in more information from the space "around" you than from the space "above" (which is likely to be empty) or "below" (which is likely to be close, and therefore smaller and less occupied).

      Printed matter in Western languages, though, especially code, tends to occupy a relatively narrow width and extend further in the vertical direction. That's why writers and coders want taller monitors, and that's why the relentless drive to "wider", that is, more squat aspect ratios is bad news for the computer field.

  • by mister_dave (1613441) on Friday August 28, 2009 @02:45AM (#29227681)

    I recently read A Computer called Leo [amazon.co.uk], which tells a story of post WW2 computer development in the UK.

    The thing that stuck me most was the long cylinders of mercury used as memory [cam.ac.uk], (mercury delay lines [wikipedia.org]).

    • by mbone (558574)

      The thing that struck me the most was what they did to Alan Turing.

    • Alan Turing (genuflect three times) calculated that gin (i.e. 60% water/40% ethanol) was as good as mercury. But it wasn't "exotic" enough to be approved for use.
    • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday August 28, 2009 @09:35AM (#29229971) Journal

      Lots of machines from that era had strange ways of storing data. A few used flip-flops as registers a bit later, but for main storage (at least, until magnetic core memory came in) they typically used something like that. Another popular method, for example, was to display something on a CRT, which caused a change in charge on the screen, and then read back the charge. The charge only lasted a fraction of a second, but it was long enough to draw the entire contents of the screen and then redraw it by reading back the charge.

      If you visit Manchester University's computer science department then you'll see a 2KB magnetic core memory in one of the corridors. It's about the size of a wardrobe, and you can see how each individual bit was stored. The first computer my university bought used this kind of memory, and allocated 200 bytes to lookup tables for addition and multiplication. Neither of these were handled in hardware; if you wanted to add two numbers together, you looked up the address in the lookup table constructed by combining the two digits, read the result (if the overflow bit was set you then did the same process with a one and the result of the next digit) then moved on to the next digit. The machine used 6-bit bytes, each of which stored a decimal digit with some condition codes. Words were variable-length, with one of the values being reserved as an end-of-word marker. Everything was stored in little-endian format so that you could add arbitrary-length numbers by adding their digits together in pairs until you got to the end-of-word marker for one and then just copy the digits for the other. Adding two numbers together could take several hundred instructions; not an inconsiderable length of time given that this was an era when computer speeds were measured in thousands of instructions per second. Runtimes for nontrivial programs were measured in hours.

  • by Animats (122034) on Friday August 28, 2009 @02:46AM (#29227685) Homepage

    The sad thing about the Computer Museum is that almost nothing there works. The Difference Engine replica is about it, and that's entirely mechanical. Some people tried to restore an IBM 1620 back in 1999 [computerhistory.org], but they never got it working.

    It's almost the last computer museum, too. The ones in Boston, San Diego, and Germany went bust. There's one still open in Bozeman, Montana. [compustory.com] There are a few others which are just stuff in storage. That's about it.

    The history of this field disappears very fast.

    • by Dadoo (899435) on Friday August 28, 2009 @04:49AM (#29228227) Journal

      There's one still open in Bozeman, Montana.

      I've been to the one in Bozeman. It looks cheesy on the outside, since it's in a strip mall, but it's actually pretty cool. It's also more a museum of information technology, than a computer museum (since it starts out with stone tablets), though they do have a lot of old computer equipment.

      Surprisingly, the coolest part isn't the computer equipment; it's the Gutenburg press. They actually have original stock (paper) that, unlike most museums, they allow you to touch. Very cool.

    • by hughk (248126)
      Bletchley Park is still hanging there. It has bits of various machines such as Atlas onwards (sorry to say that I used the Atlas many, many years ago in its last year of operation). It even has a PDP-11/34 and a MicroVAX. The latter machines, I believe are complete and working.
    • I know of two 1620s that have been restored to working condition, so there's hope for this one. We have the main control panel for the 1620 my university used to own (the machine was scrapped, but one of the technicians took the panel as a souvenir and then returned it when we started the history of computing collection). I'm hoping that we can get an undergrad project set up to wire it to a 1620 emulator and make it into a working museum exhibit.
  • by bezenek (958723) on Friday August 28, 2009 @02:50AM (#29227701) Journal
    The caption on one of the photos (Image 30) reads:

    The highlight and centrepiece of the Museum - The Babbage Engine. It's a replica, made in the British Museum using the original as a template.

    This is not a replica of an original. The machine in the British museum was built by a team using Babbage's note. No original was ever built, as Babbage could not get funding for the project. The machine at the Computer History Museum (as pictured) is the second built by the same British Museum team who built the first.

    If you want to see it, it will be at the CHM until December 2010, at which time it will be moved to the home of Nathan Myhrvold, the person who paid for its construction.

    -Todd

    • It is a tricky linguistic problem. This probably doesn't happen often, where the designer never gets to make one but someone makes long afterwards. It's not a replica in the conventional sense, but I don't know what other word would describe it better than that.

      Is there any information on what this thing cost to make? Was it in the millions? several tens or hundreds of thousands?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by tialaramex (61643)

      It _is_ a replica, but just not in the way you imagined.

      The (British) _Science_ Museum has (or had) a workshop for building Difference Engine No. 2. This is the second one, built by replicating the first. They can't build one by following Babbage's plans, because his plans are wrong in subtle ways, and had to be corrected. One of the things the Science Museum gained by making the first one was a _correct_ set of plans for the machine. If you have a lot of money and want a Difference Engine, I have no doubt

  • CDC (Score:4, Interesting)

    by solanum (80810) on Friday August 28, 2009 @03:25AM (#29227847)

    Seeing that old gear is great. It's amazing the ingenuity used in the 40s and 50s.

    My mother-in-law used to program a CDC, which always seems quite crazy as she can't even use SMS on her phone! Of course in those days doing punch cards was so tedious men didn't want the jobs. It would be interesting to compare the ratios of female:male programmers and correlate it with the improvement in tech over time.

    • Yeah, thanks for that mod. I'd like to hear your reasoning for it. I think you'll find it's well documented that many of the early programmers were women and that women only make up a small proportion of programmers now.

  • by tinrobot (314936) on Friday August 28, 2009 @03:42AM (#29227935)

    When I was in high school, my computer class did a field trip to one of the sites. It was a two story building, with each floor the size of a department store and filled with aisles and aisle of racks filled with vacuum tube processing modules. The had disk had a drum the size of a small trash can. Even at the time (late 70's) the guy giving the tour said the computer could be replaced by one the size of a phone booth. These days, a few hundred of them could fit into something the size of a phone.

    • by vtcodger (957785) on Friday August 28, 2009 @04:41AM (#29228187)

      ***Each SAGE housed an A/N FSQ-7 computer, which had around 60,000 vacuum tubes. IBM constructed the hardware, and each computer occupied a huge amount of space.***

      The sites had two computers, not one. The switched between them once a day so they could check all the vacuum tubes on the off line computer -- of which I'm pretty sure there were only about 6000. Mostly they were 6SN7 dual triodes so there were actually about 12000 switches in each computer. Memory was 68K by 32 bits wide, and software was continually swapped in from drums in the background. Instruction cycle time was 6 microseconds. The specs weren't vastly different from a 1980s IBM PC with 256K of memory.

      The software was written in assembler and was speced to accept digitized radar from 16 sites, support 40 or 80 (can't remember which) consoles, track up to 300 aircraft simultaneously, control dozens of manned interceptors plus unmanned Bomarc interceptors, communicate with four or five adjacent sites digitally, and some number of manual sites via teletype, and some other things. And it actually did most of that. (I think it maxed out a little below 200 simultaneous tracks). Try THAT on a 8088

      In general, the software -- which cost a fortune -- worked. Not perfectly, but better than Windows and Office.

      And, yes, SAGE needed a lot of air conditioning. The lights in parts of Santa Monica used to dim momentarily when the air conditioning at the RAND System Reseach labs development facility started up.

      *** It was a two story building***

      It was a four story building. And the computers were on the second floor only. Another floor held something like 40 (80?)desk sized consoles -- each with a fairly large display, a light gun (closest thing today would be a mouse), and a button panel. Other floors held offices, Telco equipment, etc. The consoles were used to monitor target tracking, control interceptors, etc. There were also a half dozen or so regional command centers -- also with AN/FSQ7s that were configured a bit differently.

  • Wow (Score:4, Interesting)

    by John Pfeiffer (454131) on Friday August 28, 2009 @04:09AM (#29228031) Homepage

    I think I've seen one of those 27 kilo HDDs before. I volunteered at a local computer recycling program, and among many usable machines, they'd get old stuff that we were to dismantle, and separate into different kinds of materials for disposal. The one I saw was an IBM, and the outer housing for the HDD was roughly the shape and size of a washer or dryer. The host machine was similar but twice as long. It had an 8-inch floppy with what I think was some kind of auto-loader. I think, all told, it had hookups for THREE 220V circuits. (Two on the host, and one on the HDD) I wanted to get one of the drive platters for myself, but the best I could do was the 'Unit Emergency' killswitch off the host computer. (I had set aside the control panel from the host machine, but didn't have room to take it home that day, and someone tossed it.)

    Also, holy crap. I never knew silicon wafers came from hugeass things of silicon like that, I always assumed they were made more or less in their final wafer form artificially from smaller pieces. o_O I guess it makes more sense that they're cut from massive homogeneous chunks of solid silicon.

    I wish they had a better shot of the RCA tube memory. I've seen pictures of those before, the dies look cool in a vacuum tube like that. They look very intricate, like miniatures of space station solar panels or something, heh. (Like the die in an EPROM, but MUCH bigger)

  • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Friday August 28, 2009 @04:39AM (#29228175) Journal

    IBM did not invent pipelining as the captions suggest. It was invented by Zuse, 20 years earlier.

  • In 1980 I was programming on an Amdahl 470 with a whopping 1 Gigabyte of disk memory. This required a large room full of IBM Winchester drives, looking for all the world like some sort of high-tech laundromat. The computer itself was in another large room full of equipment, and a laser printer the size of a VW microbus (no kidding).

    This machine also came with not one, but two full time consulting engineers, one from Amdahl for hardware problems, and one from IBM for software problems. The Amdahl CE made $ 5

  • So, was this used to drive a very early model of EMH?
  • So where's the Crushinator?
  • Okay, suppose we are back in the forties. We have lots of sound and telephone technology. There are tape and wire recorders. We have some early TV technology. There are mechanical calculators and cash registers. You have Hollerith punched cards, Jacquard looms, and the Harringay Tote. How would you set about it? Telephone technology and mercury delay lines were used for early memory, but you had to wait for your bit to arrive back. TV read/write tubes were used to store a small 2D array of dots and re-samp

  • What part of "no fatties" didn't you understand?

  • I've been away from the scene from awhile but can someone tell me which phone is capable of performing 160 million Floating Point Operations per second? At 6 clock cycles per Floating Point Instruction (which I really doubt), that would be running at a clock rate of 1GHz. I recall that even NOP (No Operation) instructions take a clock or two to execute which is why they used to be (still are?) used in some timing loops. Even with pipelining that advances every clock cycle, I find it hard to believe that

  • If you want to see some big boxes, VCF East is being held Sept 12-13th, at INFOAGE in Wall NJ.
    Check out http://www.vintage.org/ [vintage.org] for more information.

  • Idiot editors (Score:3, Informative)

    by wcrowe (94389) on Friday August 28, 2009 @10:22AM (#29230555)

    From TFA: The card punch portion of the Hollerith Census Machine. For the 1990 census, there were slots to record what farm equipment was present, what lighting was used in the home, and the usual number of people in the household, among other piece of data.

    I think they mean 1890 not 1990.

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