Computer History Trivia

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Write Only Memory Top

From Wikipedia: "An engineer at Signetics once created a specification for a write-only memory and included it with a bunch of other specifications to be approved. This inclusion came to the attention of Signetics management only when regular customers started calling and asking for pricing information."

Hmm... Well, the specs, scanned from an old copy, can be found here: page 1 page 2

Single Instruction Set Computer Top

Another singular achievement, it was first announced (to the best of our knowledge) in the September 1988 issue of Electronic Systems Design Magazine. We are proud to be able to present the full text of this description.

Bug Top

Now, this one is for real, it's no joke. Back in the 80's there was a popular real-time OS, VRTX. The vendor, Hunter and Ready, Inc., published an advertisement in Computer Design promising a Volkswagen bug to anyone who can find a bug in their VRTX burned into silicon. The legend has it that the reward was not claimed. These days, a successor to VRTX is sold as VRTX32.

Another Bug Top

According to the National Musium of American History web site, the first "computer bug" was moth found trapped between points at Relay # 70, Panel F, of the Mark II Aiken Relay Calculator while it was being tested at Harvard University, 9 September 1945. The operators affixed the moth to the computer log, with the entry: "First actual case of bug being found". They put out the word that they had "debugged" the machine, thus introducing the term "debugging a computer program".

The interesting part of this log entry is the phrasing: "first ... bug being found", which suggests that the term bug was already in use. This is in contradiction with the common lore that this was the event that introduced the term "bug" in the sense of "defect". The Jargon File has extensive discussion on this subject.

This photo is property of the US Government. Since no copyright notice is present on the originating web site, we feel presenting a copy of the original image would be all right with all involved.

First Computer Top

The traditional lore holds it that the first programmable computer was invented either by the USA or Britain (or both working together) during WWII as a side effect of code breaking efforts. The first electronic digital computer, ENIAC, was developed by Army Ordnance to compute World War II ballistic firing tables. But that is a different story, electronic digital being the opeartive words here.

Well, the reality appears to be a little different. According to Wikipedia, the first programmable computer, Z1, was designed and built by a German engineer Konrad Zuse between 1936 and 1938.

Arithmometer Felix Top

Before electronic desktop computers there were electronic desktop calculators. But what computing device was on the desktop before it? The answer is mecanical calculator invented by Odhner and hand built in 1874 in St. Petersburg, Russia. It wasn't the first desktop calculating machine; like AK-47 was an improvement of Schmeisser, Odhner's was an imrovement on a previous model and was still in use in the USSR in the 70s. After the Bolshevik revolution Odhner's enterprise was nationalized, like everything else, and Odhner left Russia for Sweden. In the USSR, the device was called Arithmometer Felix in honor if the founder of the ChK, precursor of KGB, Felix Dzerzhinsky. In Sweden it morphed into Arithmos and was produced the till the 70's.

Slide sticks Top

Not a computer but certainly a computing device and I have a soft spot for it. An on-line collection of a brick-and-mortar museum can be perused by those interested in the subject.

Really First Computer Top

As we seem to be getting further and further in the depths of computing history, it might be tempting to metion Mr. Babbage and Lady Lovelace. But we won't. It's much more entertaining to mention an analog computer built about 2000 years ago. As reported in June 1959 issue of Scientific American, this corroded piece of machinery was found off the coast of isle of Antikythera. The entire article was scanned and posted on the Web, including the transcription and the scanned images of the original publication. Unfortunately, it's gone but you might try Scientific American. Another interesting place is The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project. And the University of Macedonia provides cute animations. And Wikipedia, as always, seems to pull all the pieces together.

New Year's resolutions Top

Origin unknown, these New Year's resolutions date back to the early 90's and possibly to earlier times. Thhe more things change, the more they stay the same...