by Dave Kellam

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 ·

Social media history

Interesting photo set about the history of social media from Daniela Hernandez.

Before Facebook and Facetime and Google+ and Twitter, there was Plato and the Bell Picturephone and the Dynabook and the Xerox LiveBoard. Social media is nothing new. It just has better packaging — and better marketing.

December 31, 2012 ·

World’s oldest working digital computer

Harwell Dekatron Witch Computer

The Harwell Dekatron WITCH has been rebuilt and rebooted at The National Museum of Computing in England, making it the world’s oldest working digital computer.

The 2.5 tonne, 1951 computer from Harwell with its 828 flashing Dekatron valves, 480 relays and a bank of paper tape readers will clatter back into action in the presence of two of the original designers, one of its first users and many others who have admired it at different times during its remarkable history.

If you’re a computer geek and get the chance to visit Bletchley Park, make sure you don’t overlook the museum. I had the opportunity to visit a couple years ago — I had no idea it was there, and probably could’ve devoted another day to it.

The newsgroup post announcing the WorldWideWeb app

An excerpt from Tim Berners-Lee’s post to comp.sys.next.announce concerning the release of the WorldWideWeb app:

This project is experimental and of course comes without any warranty whatsoever. However, it could start a revolution in information access. We are currently using WWW for user support at CERN. We would be very interested in comments from anyone trying WWW, and especially those making other data available, as part of a truly world-wide web.

A revolution in information access indeed.

You also might be interested in this post from the eightface archive: The oldest page on the internet.

February 24, 2012 ·

Engelbart’s Chord

At the famed “Mother of All Demos, Douglas Engelbart presented the mouse and keyboard that we know, as well as an input device called a chorded keyboard.

A computer input device that allows the user to enter characters or commands formed by pressing several keys together, like playing a “chord” on a piano. The large number of combinations available from a small number of keys allows text or commands to be entered with one hand, leaving the other hand free.

Ah, it’s similar to playing piano chords, that’s probably why the thing never caught on… raise your hand if you bombed out of piano lessons in spectacular fashion. I’m sure with years of practice on a chorded keyboard, you could become a machine. For now, I’ll stick with my keyboard. It may be inelegant, but so is marching around the apartment naked while banging pots and pans together. Sometimes you just need to make music.

If you want to try a simulation of the device, check out Engelbart’s Chord by Paul Tarjan.

February 21, 2011 ·

Caravaggio the criminal

Old state archives from Rome, show that Caravaggio had somewhat coloured past.

He had frequent brushes with the police, got into trouble for throwing a plate of cooked artichokes in the face of a waiter in a tavern, and made a hole in the ceiling of his rented studio, so that his huge paintings would fit inside. His landlady sued, so he and a friend pelted her window with stones.

Tack on a murderous brawl and you’ve got yourself a fine upstanding citizen.

February 18, 2011 ·

Dark Ages not so dark

Apparently the Dark Ages weren’t as bleak as we’ve been led to believe.

We have this idea that it was a time of superstition and ignorance when people didn’t look at the world around them and certainly didn’t look at it with a scientific eye. In fact, the Church considered mathematics the highest form of worship. Before you were allowed to study theology, you had to study the seven liberal arts — grammar, rhetoric, dialectic, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music.

So the concept that the Church was against learning is wrong. For five or six hundred years after the Fall of Rome, it was the Church that preserved and expanded learning. And in Gerbert’s time they were actively seeking it out among Muslims and Jews. The Crusades were a hundred years later, and the Spanish Inquisition took place two hundred years later. All of the “dark” stuff happened after the Dark Ages.

February 9, 2011 ·