Eightface

by Dave Kellam

On booting up a PDP-11/34

The NYC Resistor hacker collective recently got an old PDP-11/34 up and running again.

We rescued two PDP-11/34 computers and their associated equipment from a storage unit in the Bronx and have been working on getting them running again. The computing system included multiple RK05 hard drives, two RL02 decpack drives, a TU11 tape drive and tons of media, including “digitized monkey brains“.

Unsurprisingly, the operating system is not y2k compliant.

May 31, 2014 ·

Is Big Data a mistake?

Tim Harford takes a look at big data for the Financial Times and asks if we are we making a big mistake.

But the “big data” that interests many companies is what we might call “found data”, the digital exhaust of web searches, credit card payments and mobiles pinging the nearest phone mast. [...] As our communication, leisure and commerce have moved to the internet and the internet has moved into our phones, our cars and even our glasses, life can be recorded and quantified in a way that would have been hard to imagine just a decade ago.

I think the main take-away is that there’s a need to be careful with the data and not jump to conclusions, just because you have a lot of data, doesn’t mean it’s good. I also think it’s important for these companies to allow us, as consumers, to access our data in the same ways that they’re able to.

As a side-note, I came really close to not posting this link because of scuzzy clipboard hijack behaviour from FT. I copied the above text to use as a quote. Upon pasting the quote, they attached a wonderful message about the effort that journalism takes and to use the link to share instead. That’s exactly what I was doing, and despise the insinuation that I somehow disrespect the efforts of journalists by copying a paragraph of text.

April 6, 2014 ·

On progress bars

Here’s a somewhat fluffy NYT Magazine piece from Daniel Engber, titled Who Made That Progress Bar? He credits it to an interface designer named Bob Stahl. I found this tidbit interesting:

Myers asked 48 fellow students to run searches on a computer database, with and without a progress bar for guidance. Then he had them rate their experience. Eighty-six percent said they liked the bars. “People didn’t mind so much if it was inaccurate,” Myers says. “They still preferred the progress bar to not having anything at all.”

It lets the user know there’s magic happening behind the curtain.

April 1, 2014 ·

Acceptable in the 90s

The folks who’ve made things on the Internet since the 1990′s have had a kick out Zach Holman’s piece Only 90s Web Developers Remember This. For me, it was the 1×1.gif:

1×1.gif should have won a fucking Grammy. Or a Pulitzer. Or Most Improved, Third Grade Gym Class or something. It’s the most important achievement in computer science since the linked list. It’s not the future we deserved, but it’s the future we needed (until the box model fucked it all up).

All the things I’ve forgotten. Blink, deal with it.

February 26, 2014 ·

The story of an old-timey programming hack

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Tom Moertel’s tale of a great old-timey game-programming hack, it reminded me of my computer science days and assembly programming.

A long time ago, when I was a college undergrad, I spent some time working on computer video games. This was in the 8-bit PC era, so the gaming hardware was almost impossibly slow by today’s standards.

It might not surprise you, then, to learn that, back then, game programmers did all sorts of crazy things to make their games run at playable speeds. Crazy, crazy things.

This is a story about one of those things.

December 17, 2013 ·

The Minitel app store

I’m more familiar with the America-centric history of networked computing, so I’m always fascinated to read about things that were happening in other parts of the world. Jeremy Rossman takes a look at France’s Minitel system and how it provided one of the first app stores.

In the early eighties the French government vaulted its country’s tech industry a decade ahead of the rest of the world by introducing a computer terminal called the Minitel. Rolled out as a beta product in 1980 and launched to the French public in 1983, every household with a landline subscription was eligible for a free Minitel. Its killer launch app was a digital version of the yellow pages — to encourage adoption the government cancelled the production of [the] paper [version].

October 25, 2013 ·

It’s just meta-data

Tell-all Telephone, just in case you were under the impression that it was fine to collect meta-data without any “personal data”.

Green party politician Malte Spitz sued to have German telecoms giant Deutsche Telekom hand over six months of his phone data. We combined this geolocation data with information relating to his life as a politician, such as Twitter feeds, blog entries and websites, all of which is all freely available on the internet. By pushing the play button, you will set off on a trip through Malte Spitz’s life.

July 3, 2013 ·

Mariner 1 brought down by hyphen

Mariner 1, a NASA probe, crashed into the ocean not long after takeoff. The cause was a source of confusion for a long time, but seems to have been the result of a missing hypen.

One of the official reports, issued by the Mariner 1 Post-Flight Review Board, concluded that a dropped hyphen in coded computer instructions resulted in incorrect guidance signals being sent to the spacecraft. The review board specifically refers to a “hyphen,” although other sources also refer to an “overbar transcription error” and even to a misplaced decimal point.

The first computer art

First computer art

From Benj Edwards at The Atlantic comes the story of the world’s first computer art.

The pin-up image itself was programmed as a series of short lines, or vectors, encoded on a stack of about 97 Hollerith type punched cards, Tipton recalls. Hollerith punched cards were 7.375 x 3.25 inch paper cards that stored binary data via holes cut through a matrix printed on its surface. Like other 1950s computers, the AN/FSQ-7 used the cards extensively for program input.

Update: Some old computer based artwork.

February 28, 2013 ·