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 ·

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 ·

History of the Star Wars logo

Anatomy of a Logo: Star Wars takes a look at the evolution of the iconic logo.

“I’d been reading a book the night before the meeting with George Lucas,” she says, “a book about German type design and the historical origins of some of the popular typefaces used today—how they developed into what we see and use in the present.” After Lucas described the kind of visual element he was seeking, “I returned to the office and used what I reckoned to be the most ‘fascist’ typeface I could think of: Helvetica Black.”

Inspired by the typeface, Rice developed a hand-drawn logo that translated well to the poster campaign, and ultimately to the movie itself. “I did have the screen in mind when I drew the logo originally,” explains Rice, who “stacked and squared” the words to better fit the brochure cover. It was an aesthetic choice that has lasted nearly three decades.

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 ·