'computer' Episodes

Whirlwind And Core Memory

     12/21/2019

Whirlwind Welcome to the History of Computing Podcast, where we explore the history of information technology. Because by understanding the past prepares us to innovate the future! Today we’re going to look at a computer built at the tail end of World War II called Whirlwind. What makes Whirlwind so special? It took us from an era of punch card batch processed computing and into the era of interactive computing. Sometimes the names we end up using for things evolve over time. Your memories are a bit different than computer memory. Computer memory is information that is ready to be processed. Long term memory, well, we typically refer to that as storage. That’s where you put your files. Classes you build in Swift are loaded into memory at runtime. But that memory is volatile and we call it random-access memory now. This computer memory first evolved out of MIT with Whirlwind. And so they came up with what we now call magnetic-core memory in 1955. Why did they need speeds faster than a vacuum tube? Well, it turns out vacuum tubes burn out a lot. And the flip-flop switching they do was cool for payroll. But not for tracking Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles in real time and reacting to weather patterns so you can make sure to nuke the right target. Or intercept one that’s trying to nuke you! And in the middle of the Cold War, that was a real problem. Whirlwind didn’t start off with that mission. When MIT kicked things off, computers mostly used vacuum tubes. But they needed something… faster. Perry Crawford had seen the ENIAC in 1945 and recommended a digital computer to run simulations. They were originally going to train pilots in flight simulation and they had Jay Forrestor start working on it in 1947 ‘cause they needed to train more pilots faster. But as with many a true innovation in computing, this one was funded by the military and saw Forrestor team up with Robert Everett to look for a way to run programs fast. This meant they needed to be stored on the device rather than batch modes run off punch cards that got loaded into the system. They wanted something really wild at the time. They wanted to see things happening on screens. It started with flight simulation, which would later become a popular computer game. But as the Cold War set in, the Navy didn’t need to train pilots quite as fast. Instead, then they wanted to watch missiles traveling over the ocean, and they wanted computers that could be programmed to warn that missiles were in the air and potentially even intercept them. This required processing at speeds unheard of at the time. So they got a military grant for a million bucks a year, brought in 175 people and built a 10 ton computer. And they planned to build 2k of random-access memory. To put things in context, the computer we’re recording on today has 16 gigs of memory, roughly 8,000,000 times more storage. And almost immeasurably faster. Also, cheaper. The Williams Tubes they used at first would cost them $1 per bit per month. None of the ways people usually got memory were working. Flip-flopping circuits took to long, other forms of memory at the time were unreliable. And you know what they say about necessity being the mother of invention. By the end of 1949 the computer could solve an equation and output to an oscilloscope, which were used as monitors before we had… um… monitors. An Wang had researched using magnetic fields to switch currents and Forrester ended up trying to do the same thing, but had to manage the project and so he brought in William Papian and Dudley Buck to test various elements until they could find something that would work as memory. After a couple of years they figured it out, and built a core that was 1024 cores, or 32 x 32. They filed for a patent for it in 1951. Wang also got a patent, as did Jan Rajchman from RCA, although MIT would later dispute that Buck had leaked information to Rajchman. Either way they had the first real memory, which would be used for decades to come! The tubes used for processing in the Whirlwind would end up leading Ken Olson to transistors, which led to the transistorized TX-O (the love of many a tech model railroad clubber) and later to Olson founding DEC. Suddenly, the Whirlwind was the fastest computer of the day. They also worked on the first pointing devices used in computing. Light sensing vacuum tubes had been introduced in the 1930s, so they introduced a pen that could interact with the tubes in the oscilloscopes people used to watch objects moving on the screen. There was an optical sensor in the gun that took input from the light shown on the screen. They used light pens to select an object. Today we use fingers. Those would evolve into the Zapper so we could play Duck Hunt by the 80s but began life in missile defense. Whirlwind would evolve into Whirlwind II, and Forrester would end up fathering the SAGE missile defense system on the technology. SAGE, or Semi-Automatic Ground Environment, would weight 250 tons and be the centerpiece of NORAD, or North American Aerospace Defense Command. Remember the movie War Games? That. Dudley Buck would end up giving us content-addressable memory and helium cooled processors that almost ended up with him inventing the microprocessor. Although many of the things he theorized and built on the way to getting a functional “cryotron” as he called superconductors, would be used in the later production of chips. IBM wanted in on these faster computers. So they paid $500,000 to Wang, who would use that money to found Wang Laboratories, which by the 80s would build word processors and microcomputers. Wang would also build a tablet with email, a phone handset, and a word processing tool called Wang Office. That was the 1990 version of an iPad! After SAGE, Forrester would go on to teach for the Sloan School of Management and come up with system dynamics, the ultimate “what if” system. Basically, after he pushed the boundries of what computers could do, helping us to maybe not end up in a nuclear war, he would push the boundaries of social systems. Whirlwind gave us memory, and tons of techniques to study, produce, and test transistorized computers. And without it, no SAGE, and none of the innovations that exploded out of that program. And probably no TX-0, and therefore PDP-1, and all of the innovations that came out of the minicomputer era. It is a recognizable domino on the way from punch cards to interactive computers. So we owe a special thanks to Forrester, Buck, Olson, Papian, and everyone else who had a hand in it. And I owe a special thanks to you, for tuning into this episode of the History Of Computing Podcast. We’re so lucky to have you. Have a great day!


The Mouse

     2/18/2020

In a world of rapidly changing technologies, few have lasted as long is as unaltered a fashion as the mouse. The party line is that the computer mouse was invente d by Douglas Engelbart in 1964 and that it was a one-button wooden device that had two metal wheels. Those used an analog to digital conversion to input a location to a computer. But there’s a lot more to tell. Englebart had read an article in 1945 called “As We May Think” by Vannevar Bush. He was in the Philippines working as a radio and radar tech. He’d return home,. Get his degree in electrical engineering, then go to Berkeley and get first his masters and then a PhD. Still in electrical engineering. At the time there were a lot of military grants in computing floating around and a Navy grant saw him work on a computer called CALDIC, short for the California Digital Computer. By the time he completed his PhD he was ready to start a computer storage company but ended up at the Stanford Research Institute in 1957. He published a paper in 1962 called Augmenting Human Intellect: A Conceptual Framework. That paper would guide the next decade of his life and help shape nearly everything in computing that came after. Keeping with the theme of “As We May Think” Englebart was all about supplementing what humans could do. The world of computer science had been interested in selecting things on a computer graphically for some time. And Englebart would have a number of devices that he wanted to test in order to find the best possible device for humans to augment their capabilities using a computer. He knew he wanted a graphical system and wanted to be deliberate about every aspect in a very academic fashion. And a key aspect was how people that used the system would interact with it. The keyboard was already a mainstay but he wanted people pointing at things on a screen. While Englebart would invent the mouse, pointing devices certainly weren’t new. Pilots had been using the joystick for some time, but an electrical joystick had been developed at the US Naval Research Laboratory in 1926, with the concept of unmanned aircraft in mind. The Germans would end up building one in 1944 as well. But it was Alan Kotok who brought the joystick to the computer game in the early 1960s to play spacewar on minicomputers. And Ralph Baer brought it into homes in 1967 for an early video game system, the Magnavox Odyssey. Another input device that had come along was the trackball. Ralph Benjamin of the British Royal Navy’s Scientific Service invented the trackball, or ball tracker for radar plotting on the Comprehensive Display System, or CDS. The computers were analog at the time but they could still use the X-Y coordinates from the trackball, which they patented in 1947. Tom Cranston, Fred Longstaff and Kenyon Taylor had seen the CDS trackball and used that as the primary input for DATAR, a radar-driven battlefield visualization computer. The trackball stayed in radar systems into the 60s, when Orbit Instrument Corporation made the X-Y Ball Tracker and then Telefunken turned it upside down to control the TR 440, making an early mouse type of device. The last of the options Englebart decided against was the light pen. Light guns had shown up in the 1930s when engineers realized that a vacuum tube was light-sensitive. You could shoot a beam of light at a tube and it could react. Robert Everett worked with Jay Forrester to develop the light pen, which would allow people to interact with a CRT using light sensing to cause an interrupt on a computer. This would move to the SAGE computer system from there and eek into the IBM mainframes in the 60s. While the technology used to track the coordinates is not even remotely similar, think of this as conceptually similar to the styluses used with tablets and on Wacom tablets today. Paul Morris Fitts had built a model in 1954, now known as Fitts’s Law, to predict the time that’s required to move things on a screen. He defined the target area as a function of the ratio between the distance to the target and the width of the target. If you listen to enough episodes of this podcast, you’ll hear a few names repeatedly. One of those is Claude Shannon. He brought a lot of the math to computing in the 40s and 50s and helped with the Shannon-Hartley Theorum, which defined information transmission rates over a given medium. So these were the main options at Englebart’s disposal to test when he started ARC. But in looking at them, he had another idea. He’d sketched out the mouse in 1961 while sitting in a conference session about computer graphics. Once he had funding he brought in Bill English to build a prototype I n 1963. The first model used two perpendicular wheels attached to potentiometers that tracked movement. It had one button to select things on a screen. It tracked x,y coordinates as had previous devices. NASA funded a study to really dig in and decide which was the best device. He, Bill English, and an extremely talented team, spent two years researching the question, publishing a report in 1965. They really had the blinders off, too. They looked at the DEC Grafacon, joysticks, light pens and even what amounts to a mouse that was knee operated. Two years of what we’d call UX research or User Research today. Few organizations would dedicate that much time to study something. But the result would be patenting the mouse in 1967, an innovation that would last for over 50 years. I’ve heard Engelbart criticized for taking so long to build the oNline System, or NLS, which he showcased at the Mother of All Demos. But it’s worth thinking of his research as academic in nature. It was government funded. And it changed the world. His paper on Computer-Aided Display Controls was seminal. Vietnam caused a lot of those government funded contracts to dry up. From there, Bill English and a number of others from Stanford Research Institute which ARC was a part of, moved to Xerox PARC. English and Jack Hawley iterated and improved the technology of the mouse, ditching the analog to digital converters and over the next few years we’d see some of the most substantial advancements in computing. By 1981, Xerox had shipped the Alto and the Star. But while Xerox would be profitable with their basic research, they would miss something that a candle-clad hippy wouldn’t. In 1979, Xerox let Steve Jobs make three trips to PARC in exchange for the opportunity to buy 100,000 shares of Apple stock pre-IPO. The mouse by then had evolved to a three button mouse that cost $300. It didn’t roll well and had to be used on pretty specific surfaces. Jobs would call Dean Hovey, a co-founder of IDEO and demand they design one that would work on anything including quote “blue jeans.” Oh, and he wanted it to cost $15. And he wanted it to have just one button, which would be an Apple hallmark for the next 30ish years. Hovey-Kelley would move to optical encoder wheels, freeing the tracking ball to move however it needed to and then use injection molded frames. And thus make the mouse affordable. It’s amazing what can happen when you combine all that user research and academic rigor from Englebarts team and engineering advancements documented at Xerox PARC with world-class industrial design. You see this trend played out over and over with the innovations in computing that are built to last. The mouse would ship with the LISA and then with the 1984 Mac. Logitech had shipped a mouse in 1982 for $300. After leaving Xerox, Jack Howley founded a company to sell a mouse for $400 the same year. Microsoft released a mouse for $200 in 1983. But Apple changed the world when Steve Jobs demanded the mouse ship with all Macs. The IBM PC would ;use a mouse and from there it would become ubiquitous in personal computing. Desktops would ship with a mouse. Laptops would have a funny little button that could be used as a mouse when the actual mouse was unavailable. The mouse would ship with extra buttons that could be mapped to additional workflows or macros. And even servers were then outfitted with switches that allowed using a device that switched the keyboard, video, and mouse between them during the rise of large server farms to run the upcoming dot com revolution. Trays would be put into most racks with a single u, or unit of the rack being used to see what you’re working on; especially after Windows or windowing servers started to ship. As various technologies matured, other innovations came along to input devices. The mouse would go optical in 1980 and ship with early Xerox Star computers but what we think of as an optical mouse wouldn’t really ship until 1999 when Microsoft released the IntelliMouse. Some of that tech came to them via Hewlett-Packard through the HP acquisition of DEC and some of those same Digital Research Institute engineers had been brought in from the original mainstreamer of the mouse, PARC when Bob Taylor started DRI. The LED sensor on the muse stuck around. And thus ended the era of the mouse pad, once a hallmark of many a marketing give-away. Finger tracking devices came along in 1969 but were far too expensive to produce at the time. As capacitive sensitive pads, or trackpads came down in price and the technology matured those began to replace the previous mouse-types of devices. The 1982 Apollo computers were the first to ship with a touchpad but it wasn’t until Synaptics launched the TouchPad in 1992 that they began to become common, showing up in 1995 on Apple laptops and then becoming ubiquitous over the coming years. In fact, the IBM Thinkpad and many others shipped laptops with little red nubs in the keyboard for people that didn’t want to use the TouchPad for awhile as well. Some advancements in the mouse didn’t work out. Apple released the hockey puck shaped mouse in 1998, when they released the iMac. It was USB, which replaced the ADB interface. USB lasted. The shape of the mouse didn’t. Apple would go to the monolithic surface mouse in 2000, go wireless in 2003 and then release the Mighty Mouse in 2005. The Mighty Mouse would have a capacitive touch sensor and since people wanted to hear a click would produce that with a little speaker. This also signified the beginning of bluetooth as a means of connecting a mouse. Laptops began to replace desktops for many, and so the mouse itself isn’t as dominant today. And with mobile and tablet computing, resistive touchscreens rose to replace many uses for the mouse. But even today, when I edit these podcasts, I often switch over to a mouse simply because other means of dragging around timelines simply aren’t as graceful. And using a pen, as Englebart’s research from the 60s indicated, simply gets fatiguing. Whether it’s always obvious, we have an underlying story we’re often trying to tell with each of these episodes. We obviously love unbridled innovation and a relentless drive towards a technologically utopian multiverse. But taking a step back during that process and researching what people want means less work and faster adoption. Doug Englebart was a lot of things but one net-new point we’d like to make is that he was possibly the most innovative in harnessing user research to make sure that his innovations would last for decades to come. Today, we’d love to research every button and heat map and track eyeballs. But remembering, as he did, that our job is to augment human intellect, is best done when we make our advances useful, helps to keep us and the forks that occur in technology from us, from having to backtrack decades of work in order to take the next jump forward. We believe in the reach of your innovations. So next time you’re working on a project. Save yourself time, save your code a little cyclomatic complexity, , and save users frustration from having to relearn a whole new thing. And research what you’re going to do first. Because you never know. Something you engineer might end up being touched by nearly every human on the planet the way the mouse has. Thank you Englebart. And thank you to NASA and Bob Roberts from ARPA for funding such important research. And thank you to Xerox PARC, for carrying the torch. And to Steve Jobs for making the mouse accessible to every day humans. As with many an advance in computing, there are a lot of people that deserve a little bit of the credit. And thank you listeners, for joining us for another episode of the history of computing podcast. We’re so lucky to have you. Now stop consuming content and go change the world.


TiVo

     12/31/2019

TiVo is a computer. To understand the history, let’s hop in our trusty time machine. It’s 1997. England gives Hong Kong back to China, after 156 years of British rule. The Mars Pathfinder touches down on Mars. The OJ Simpson trials are behind us, but the civil suit begins. Lonely Scottish scientists clone a sheep and name it Dolly. The first Harry Potter book is published. Titanic is released. Tony Blair is elected the Prime Minister of Great Britain. Hanson sang Mmmm Bop. And Pokemon is released. No not Pokemon Go, but Pokemon. The world was changing. The Notorious BIG was gunned down not far from where I was living at the time. Blackstreet released No Diggity. Third Eye Blind led a Semi-Charmed life and poppy grunge killed grunge grunge. And television. Holy buckets. Friends, Seinfeld, X Files, ER, Buff and the Vampire Slayer, Frasier, King of the Hill, Dharma and Greg, South Park, The Simpsons, Stargate, Home Improvement, Daria, Law and Order, Oz, Roseanne, The View, The Drew Carey Show, Family Matters, Power Rangers, JAG, Tenacious D, Lois and Clark, Spawn. Mosaic the first web browser, was released, Sergey Brin and Larry Page registered a weird domain name called Google because BackRub just seemed kinda’ weird. Facebook, craigslist, and Netflix were also purchased. Bill Gates became the richest business nerd in the world. DVDs were released. The hair was big. But commercials were about to become a thing of the past. So were cords. 802.11, also known as Wi-Fi, became a standard. Microsoft bought WebTV, but something else was about to happen that would forever change the way we watched television. We’d been watching television for roughly the same way for about 70 years. Since January 13th in 1928, when the General Electric factory in Schenectady, New York broadcast as WGY Television, using call letters W2XB. That was for experiments, but they launched W2XBS a little later, now known as WNBC. They just showed a Felix the Cat spinning around on a turntable for 2 hours a day to test stuff. A lot of testing around different markets were happening and The Queen’s Messenger would be the first drama broadcast on television in LA later that year. But it wasn’t until 1935 that the BBC started airing regular content and the late 1930s that regular programming started in the US, spreading slowly throughout the world, with Japan being one of the last countries to get a regular broadcast in 1953. So for the next several decades a love affair began with humans and their televisions. Color came to prime time in 1972, after the price of color TVs introduced over the couple of decades before started to come down in price. Entire industries sprang up around the television, or at least migrated from newspapers and radio to television. Moon landings, football, baseball, the news, game shows. Since that 1972 introduction of color tv, the microcomputer revolution had come. Computers were getting smaller. Hard drive capacity was growing. I could stroll down to the local Fry’s and buy a Western Digital, IBM Deskstar, Seagate Barracuda, an HP Kitty Hawk, or even a 10,000 RPM Cheetah. But the cheaper drives had come down enough for mass distribution. And so it was when Time Warner, a major US cable company at the time, decided to test a digital video system. They tapped Silicon Graphics alumni Jim Barton and Mike Ramsay to look into a set top box, or network appliance, or something. After initial testing, Time Warner didn’t think it was quite the right time to build nation-wide. They’d spent $100 million dollars testing the service in Orlando. So the pair struck out on their own. Silicon Valley was abuzz about set top boxes, now that the web was getting big, dialup was getting easy, and PCs were pretty common fare. Steve Perlman’s WebTV got bought by Microsoft for nearly half a billion dollars. Which became MSN TV and played the foundation for the Xbox hardware. I remember well that the prevailing logic of the time was that the set top box was the next big thing. The lagerts would join the Internet revolution. Grandma and Grandpa would go online. So Ramsay and Barton got a check for $3M from VC firms to further develop their idea. They founded a company called Teleworld and started running public trials of a new device that came out of their research, called TiVo. The set top box would go beyond television and be a hub for home networking, managing refrigerators, thermostats, manage your television, order a grocery delivery, and even bring the RFC for an internet coffee pot to life! But they were a little before their time on some of this. After some time, they narrowed the focus to a television receiver that could record content. The VC firms were so excited they ponied up another $300 million dollars to take the product to market. Investors even asked how long it would take the TV networks to shut them down. Disruption was afoot. When Ramsay and Barton approached Apple, Claris and Lucas Arts veteran Randy Komisar, he suggested they look at charging for a monthly service. But he, as with the rest of Silicon Valley, bought their big idea, especially since Komisar had sat on the board of WebTV. TiVo would need to raise a lot of money to ink deals with the big content providers of the time. They couldn’t alienate the networks. No one knew, but the revolution in cutting the cord was on the way. Inking deals with those providers would prove to be much more expensive than building the boxes. They set about raising capital. They inked deals with Sony, Philips, Philips, and announced a release of the first TiVo at the Consumer Electronics Show in January of 1999. They’d built an outstanding executive team. They’d done their work. And on March 31st, 1999, a Blue Moon, they released the Series 1 for about $500 and with a $9.95 monthly subscription fee. The device would use a modem to download tv show listings, which would later be replaced with an Ethernet, then Wi-Fi option. The Series1, like Apple devices at the time, would sport a PowerPC processor. Although this one was a 403GCX that only clocked in at 54 MHz - but cheap enough for an embedded system like this. It also came with 32 MB of RaM, a 13 to 60 gig IDE/ATA drive, and would convert analog signal into MPEG-2, storing from 14 to 60 hours of television programming. Back then, you could use the RCA cables or S-Video. They would go public later that year, raising 88 million dollars and nearly doubling in value overnight. By 2000 TiVo was in 150,000 homes and burning through cash far faster than they were making it. It was a huge idea and if big ideas take time to percolate, huge ideas take a lot of time. And a lot of lawsuits. In order to support the new hoarder mentality they were creating, The Series2 would come along in 2002 and would come with up to a 250 gig drive, USB ports, CPUs from 166 to 266 MHz, from 32 to 64 megs of RAM, and the MPEG encoder got moved off to the Broadcom BCM704x chips. In 2006, the Series 3 would introduce HD support, add HDMI, 10/100 Ethernet, and support drives of 2 terabytes with 128 megs of RAM. Ramsay left the company in 2007 to go work at Venture Partners. Barton, the CTO, would leave in 2012. Their big idea had been realized. They weren’t needed any more. Ramsay and Barton would found streaming service Qplay, but that wouldn’t make it over two years. By then, TiVo had become a verb. Series4 brought us to over a thousand hours of television and supported bluetooth, custom apps, and sport a Broadcom 400 MHZ dual core chip. But it was 2010. Popular DVD subscription service Netflix had been streaming and now had an app that could run on the Series 4. So did Rhapsody, Hulu, and YouTube. The race was on for streaming content. TiVo was still aiming for bigger, faster, cheaper set top boxes. But people were consuming content differently. TiVo gave apps, but Apple TV, Roku, Amazon, and other vendors were now in the same market for a fraction of the cost and without a subscription. By 2016 TiVo was acquired by Rovi for 1.1 Billion dollars and as is often the case in these kinds of scenarios seems listless. Direction… Unknown. After such a disruptive start, I can’t imagine any innovation will ever recapture that spirit from the turn of the millennia. And so in December of 2019 (the month I’m recording this episode), after months trying to split TiVo into two companies so they could be sold separately TiVo scrapped that idea and merged with Xperi. I find that we don’t talk about Tivo much any more. That doesn’t mean they’ve gone anywhere, just that the model has shifted over the years. According to TechCrunch “TiVo CEO David Shull noted also that Xperi’s annual licensing business includes over 100 million connected TV units, and relationships with content providers, CE manufacturers, and automotive OEMs, which now benefit from TiVo’s technology.” TiVo was a true disruptor. Along with Virtual CEO Randy Komisar, they sold Silicon Valley on Monthly Recurring Revenue as a key performance indicator. They survived the .com bubble and even thrived in it. They made television interactive. They didn’t cut our cords, but they expanded our minds so we could cut them. They introduced the idea of responsibly selling customer data as a revenue stream to help keep those fees in check. And in so doing, they let manufacturers micro market goods and services. They revolutionized the way we consume content. Something we should all be thankful for. So next time you’re binging a show from one of your favorite providers, just think about the fact that you might have to spend time with your family or friends if it weren’t for TiVo. You owe them a huge thanks.


In The Beginning... There Was Pong

     11/1/2019

Welcome to the History of Computing Podcast, where we explore the history of information technology. Because understanding the past prepares us for the innovations of the future! Today we’re going to look at Pong. In the beginning there was Pong. And it was glorious! Just think of the bell bottoms at Andy Capp’s Tavern in Sunnyvale, California on November 29th 1972. The first Pong they built was just a $75 black and white tv from a Walgreens and some cheap parts. The cabinet wasn’t even that fancy. And after that night, the gaming industry was born. It started with people starting to show up and play the game. They ended up waiting for the joint to open, not drinking, and just gaming the whole time. The bartender had never seen anything like it. I mean, just a dot being knocked around a screen. But it was social. You had to have two players. There was no machine learning to play the other side yet. Pretty much the same thing as real ping pong. And so Pong was released by Atari in 1972. It reminded me of air hockey the first time I saw it. You bounced a ball off a wall and tried to get it past the opponent using paddles. It never gets old. Ever. That’s probably why of all the Atari games at the arcade, more quarters got put into it than any. The machines were sold for three times the cost to produce them; unheard of at the time. The game got popular, that within a year, the company had sold 2,500 , which they tripled in 1974. I wasn’t born yet. But I remember my dad telling me that they didn’t have a color tv yet in 72. They’d manufactured the games in an old skate rink. And they were cheap because with the game needing so few resources they pulled it off without a CPU. But what about the code? It was written by Al Alcorn as a training exercise that Nolan Bushnell gave him after he was hired at Atari. He was a pretty good hire. It was supposed to be so easy a kid could play it. I mean, it was so easy a kid could play it. Bushnell would go down as the co-creator of Pong. Although maybe Ralph Baer should have as well, given that Bushnell tested his table tennis game at a trade show the same year he had Alcorn write Pong. Baer had gotten the idea of building video games while working on military systems at a few different electronics companies in the 50s and even patented a device called the Brown Box in 1973, which was filed in 1971 prior to licensing it to Magnavox to become the Odyssey. Tennis for Two had been made available in 1958. Spacewar! had popped up in 1962 , thanks to MIT’s Steven “Slug” Russel’s being teased until he finished it. It was initially written on the TX-0 and was ported to the PDP, slowly making its way across the world as the PDP was shipping. Alan Kotok had whipped up some sweet controllers, but it could be played with just the keyboard as well. No revolution seemed in sight yet as it was really just shipping to academic institutions. And to very large companies. The video game revolution was itching to get out. People were obsessed with space at the time. Space was all over science fiction, there was a space race being won by the United States, and so Spacewar gave way to Computer Space, the first arcade game to ship, in 1971, modeled after Spacewar!. But as an early coin operated video game it was a bit too complicated. As was Galaxy Game, whipped up in 1971 by Bushnell and cofounder Ted Dabney, who’s worked together at Ampex. They initially called their company Syzygy Engineering but as can happen, there was a conflict on that trademark and they changed the name to Atari. Atari had programmed Galaxy Game, but it was built and distributed by Nutting Associates. It was complex and needed a fair amount of instructions to get used to it. Pong on the other hand needed no instructions. A dot bounced from you to a friend and you tried to get it past the other player. Air hockey. Ping pong. Ice hockey. Football. It just kinda’ made sense. You bounced the dot off a paddle. The center of each returned your dot at a regular 90 degree angle and the further out you got, the smaller that angle. The ball got faster the longer the game went on. I mean, you wanna’ make more quarters, right?!?! Actually that was a bug, but one you like. They added sound effects. They spent three months. It was glorious and while Al Alcorn has done plenty of great stuff in his time in the industry I doubt many have been filled with the raw creativity he got to display during those months. It was a runaway success. There were clones of Pong. Coleco released Telestar and Nintendo came out with Color TV Game 6. In fact, General Instruments just straight up cloned the chip. Something else happened in 1972. The Magnavox Odyssey shipped and was the first console with interchangeable dice. After Pong, Atari had pumped out Gotcha, Rebound, and Space Race. They were finding success in the market. Then Sears called. They wanted to sell Pong in the home. Atari agreed. They actually outsold the Odyssey when they finally made the single-game console. Magnavox sued, claiming the concept had been stolen. They settled for $700k. Why would they settle? Well, they could actual prove that they’d written the game first and make a connection for where Atari got the idea from them. The good, the bad, and the ugly of intellectual property is that the laws exist for a reason. Baer beat Atari to the punch, but he’d go on to co-develop Simon says. All of his prototypes now live at the Smithsonian. But back to Pong. The home version of pong was released in 1974 and started showing up in homes in 1975, especially after the Christmas buying season in 1975. It was a hit, well on its way to becoming iconic. Two years later, Atari released the iconic Atari 2600, which had initially been called the VCS. This thing was $200 and came with a couple of joysticks, a couple of paddles, and a game called Combat. Suddenly games were showing up in homes all over the world. They needed more money to make money and Bushnell sold the company. Apple would become one of the fastest growing companies in US History with their release of the Apple II, making Steve Jobs a quarter of a billion dollars in 1970s money. But Atari ended up selling of units and becoming THE fastest growing company in US history at the time. There were sequels to Pong but by the time Breakout and other games came along, you really didn’t need them. I mean, pin-pong? Pong Doubles was fine but , Super Pong, Ultra Pong, and Quadrapong, never should have happened. That’s cool though. Other games definitely needed to happen. Pac Man became popular and given it wasn’t just a dot but a dot with a slice taken out for a mouth, it ended up on the cover of Time in 1982. A lot of other companies were trying to build stuff, but Atari seemed to rule the world. These things have a pretty limited life-span. The video game crash of 1983 caused Atari to lose half a billion dollars. The stock price fell. At an important time in computers and gaming, they took too long to release the next model, the 5200. It was a disaster. Then the Nintendo arrived in some parts of the world in 1983 and took the US by storm in 1985. Atari went into a long decline that was an almost unstoppable downward spiral in a way. That was sad to watch. I’m sure it was sadder to be a part of. it was even sadder when I studied corporate mergers in college. I’m sure that was even sadder to be a part of as well. Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney, the founders of Atari, wanted a hit coin operated game. They got it. But they got way more than they bargained for. They were able to parlay Pong into a short lived empire. Here’s the thing. Pong wasn’t the best game ever made. It wasn’t an original Bushnell idea. It wasn’t even IP they could keep anyone else from cloning. But It was the first successful video game and helped fund the development of the VCS, or 2600, that would bring home video game consoles into the mainstream, including my house. And the video game industry would later eclipse the movie industry. But the most important thing pong did was to show regular humans that microchips were for more than… computing. Ironically the game didn’t even need real microchips. The developers would all go on to do fun things. Bushnell founded Chuck E. Cheese with some of his cresis-mode cash. Once it was clear that the Atari consoles were done you could get iterations of Pong for the Sega Genesis, the Playstation, and even the Nintendo DS. It’s floated around the computer world in various forms for a long, long time. The game is simple. The game is loved. Every time I see it I can’t help but think about bell bottoms. It launched industries. And we’re lucky to have had it. Just like I’m lucky to have had you as a listener today. Thank you so much for choosing to spend some time with us. We’re so lucky to have you.


Coherent Is Not UNIX!

     5/17/2020

In the current day Linux is the most widely used UNIX-like operating system. It's rise to prominence has been an amazing success story. From it's humble beginnings Linux has grown to power everything from super computers to car stereos. But it's not the first UNIX clone. A much earlier system existed, called Coherent. And as it turns out both Linux and Coherent share a lot of similarities. The biggest difference being that Coherent was closed source.

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing

Important dates in this episode:

1973: AT&T UNIX V4 Goes Public
1949: DOJ Sues AT&T Over Antitrust Violations
1975: AT&T UNIX V6 Released
1977: First Version of BSD Circulates
1977: XYBASIC Released by Mark Williams Company
1980: Coherent Released for PDP/11
1983: Coherent Comes to the IBM PC/XT
1995: Mark Williams Company Closes


Spam, Email, and Best Intentions

     10/4/2020

Spam emails are a fact of modern life. Who hasn't been sent annoying and sometimes cryptic messages from unidentified addresses? To understand where spam comes from we need to look at the origins of email itself. Email has had a long and strange history, so too have some of it's most dubious uses.

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing


JOVIAL, the Evolution of Programming

     9/6/2020

The creation of FORTRAN and early compilers set the stage to change computing forever. However, they were just the start of a much longer process. Just like a spoken language, programming languages have morphed and changed over time. Today we are looking at an interesting case of this slow evolution. JOVIAL was developed during the Cold War for use in the US Military, and it's been in constant small-scale use ever since. It's story gives us a wonderful insight into how programming language change over time, and why some stick around while others die out.

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing


Making Disks Flexible, Part 2

     3/8/2020

The floppy disk is one of the most iconic pieces of technology. While not in use in the modern day there was a period of 40 years where the floppy disk was synonymous with data storage. Today we pick up where we finished in the last episode, with the rise and fall of the 5 1/4 inch disk. We will be looking at the creation and spread of the 3 1/2 inch floppy disk. How did Sony, a non-player in the computer market, create this run away success? And how did Apple contribute to it's rise?

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing

Important dates in this episode:

1980: Sony Invents Microfloppy Disk
1983: Apple Builds Prototype MAC with 3 1/2 Inch Floppy


Applesoft BASIC, Microsoft and Apple's First Collaboration

     4/19/2020

It's easy to think of Apple and Microsoft as bitter rivals, but that's not always the case. The two companies have a very complicated relationship, and a very long history. This connection goes all the way back to the 1970s and a product called Applesoft BASIC. It would become stock software on nearly every Apple II computer ever sold, it kept Apple competitive in the early home computer market, and it may have saved Microsoft from bankruptcy.

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing

Important dates in this episode:

1997: Bill Gates saves Apple from Bankruptcy
1976: Apple I hits shelves, Integer BASIC soon follows
1977: Apple II Released
1978: AppleSoft BASIC Ships


Road to Transistors, Part II

     6/14/2020

In this episode we finish up our look at the birth of the transistor. But to do that we have to go back to 1880, the crystal radio detector, and examine the development of semiconductor devices. Once created the transistor would change not just how computers worked, but change how they could be used. That change didn't happen over night, and it would take even longer for the transistor to move from theory to reality.

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing

Important dates in this episode:

1939: Russel Ohl Discovers P-N Junction
1947: Point Contact Transistor Invented at Bell Labs
1954: TRADIC, First Transistorized Computer, Built


Vectrex, Playing With Vectors

     4/5/2020

The 1980s were a turbulent and fast-moving decade for the video game industry. There were huge success stories, rapid advancements in technology, and the North American Video Game Crash. Caught up in all of this was an ambitious machine called the Vectrex. In an era dominated by pixelated graphics the Vectrex brought higher resolution vector images and early 3D to market. But ultimately it would be swept away during the market's crash. Today we are taking a dive into the development of the Vectrex, what made it different, and how it survives into the modern day.

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing


FORTRAN, Compilers, and Early Programming

     2/10/2020

Our modern world is full of software, it's what makes everything tick. The sheer amount of code that goes into something like keeping the internet running is staggering. Programming isn't the easiest profession, but there was a time when it was much much harder. It took a huge shift in thinking, and some impressive feats of software development, to make complicated programming possible. And that shift started in the 1950s.

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing

Important dates in this episode:

1951: Grace Hopper Creates A-0 Compiler
1954: John Backus Starts FORTRAN Project at IBM
1957: First FORTARN Compiler Ships


Becoming Portable

     6/28/2020

Portable computing is now totally ubiquitous. There's a good chance you are listening to this episode on a tiny portable computer right now. But where did it all come from? As it turns out the first portable computer was designed all the way back in 1972. This machine, the DynaBook, only ever existed on paper. Despite that handicap, in the coming years it would inspire a huge shift in both personal and portable computing.

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing

Important dates in this episode:

1972: DynaBook designed by Alan Kay

1976: NoteTaker project starts

1982: GRiD Compass released


PCM, Origins of Digital Audio

     5/3/2020

Every day we are inundated with digital audio: phone calls, music, even this podcast. Digitized sound has become so ubiquitous that it often fades into the background. What makes this all possible is a technology called Pulse Code Modulation, or PCM. This isn't new technology, its roots trace all the way back to 1937. So how exactly did digital audio come into being well before the first digital computers?

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing

Important dates in this episode:

1937: PCM Developed by Alec Reeves
1941: Germany Cracks A-3 Code
1943: Bell Labs Develops SIGSALY(aka The Green Hornet)
1957: First PCM Synthesizer, MUSIC I, Programmed by Max Mathews


A Guided Tour of the Macintosh

     5/10/2020

In this byte sized episode I take a look at a pack in that came with the first Macintosh. Along side Apple stickers, manuals, and the computer itself there was a single cassette tape labeled "A Guided Tour of the Macintosh". The purpose? It's a strange addition to the Mac's packing, but a great example of Apple's attention to detail and ingenuity.

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing

Important dates in this episode:

1984: A Guided Tour of the Macintosh Released


8080 VS Z80

     7/12/2020

In 1974 Intel released the 8080 processor, a chip long in the making. It was the first microprocessor that had the right combination of power and price to make personal computers viable. But that same year a small group of employees defected and formed their own company called Zilog. Among this group were Masatoshi Shima and Federico Faggin, two of the principal architects behind the 8080 as well as Intel's other processors. Zilog would go on to release a better chip, the Z80, that blew Intel out of the water. Today we continue our Intel series with a look into this twisting story.

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing

Important Dates:

1974: Intel 8080 hits shelves

1976: Zilog Z80 goes on sale


Making Disks Flexible, Part 1

     2/24/2020

The floppy disk was a ubiquitous technology for nearly 40 years. From mainframes to home computers, the plastic disk was everywhere. And in the decades it was around there were very few changes made to how it fundamentally worked. So how did it get so popular? What made the floppy disk so flexible? And how did it finally fall out of favor? In this episode we will look at the technology's early days.

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing

Important dates in this episode:

1971: 8 Inch Floppy Disk(Minnow) Created at IBM
1976: Shugart Invents 5 1/4 Inch Floppy Disk


Memex and Hyperlinks

     3/22/2020

The widespread use of the internet has shaped our world, it's hard do imagine the modern day without it. One of the biggest featured would have to be the hyperlink. But despite the modern net feeling so new, links actually date back as far as the 1930s and the creation of the Memex: a machine that was never built but would influence coming generations of dreamers.

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing

Important dates in this episode:

1927: Differential Analyzer Built at MIT
1938: Rapid Selector Built by Vannevar Bush
1945: As We May Think Published


The Rise of CP/M

     8/9/2020

The IBM PC and MS-DOS, the iconic duo of the early 80s. The two are so interconnected that it's hard to mention one without the other. But in 1980 DOS wasn't IBM's first choice for their soon-to-be flagship hardware. IBM had wanted to license Gary Kildall's CP/M, but in a strange series of events the deal fell through. Legend states that Kildall lost the contract b was too busy flying his private plane to talk business with IBM, but is that true? Today we look at the development of CP/M, why it was a big deal, and why the PC ultimately shipped with Microsoft software.

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing


Analog Computing and the Automatic Totalisator

     7/26/2020

A lot of the technology we associate with the modern day started on anachronistic machines. I'm not talking about mainframes, I'm talking older. Today we are looking at George Julius's Automatic Totalisator, an analog computer used to manage betting at horse tracks around the world. These were massively complex machines, some networked over 200 input terminals, and they did it all mechanically.

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing

Important Dates:

1913: Premier Tote installed in Auckland


Road to Transistors: Part I

     5/31/2020

The transistor changed the world. It made small, complex, and cheap computing possible. But it wasn't the first attempt to crack the case. There is a long and strange lineage of similar devices leading up to the transistor. In this episode we take a look at two of those devices. First the vacuum tube, one of the first components that made computing possible. Then the cryotron, the first device purpose built for computers.

You can find the full audio of Atanasoff's talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yxrcp1QSPvw

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing

Important dates in this episode:

1880: Thomas Edison Rediscovers Thermionic Emission
1904: Ambrose Fleming Invents the Vacuum Tube
1906: Lee de Forest Patents the Audion Triode Tube
1937: George Stibitz Creates First Binary Adding Circuit from Spare Relays
1938: John Atanasoff Visits a 'Honkey-Tonk'
1941: ABC, First Vacuum Tube Calculator, is Completed
1953: Cryotron Invented by Dudley Allen Buck


The BBC Domesday Project

     11/18/2019

In 1086 William the Conqueror commissioned a survey of England that would come to be known as the Domesday Book. 900 years later the BBC would create a similar survey, called the Domesday Project. This new survey spanned two LaserDiscs holding over a gigabyte of data and 200,000 images, most of which were collected by students. It presets an amazing time capsule of the UK in 1986. Also contained within the disks were 3D virtual walks of the country side, and an entire computer generated gallery. So how did such strange technology come together to commemorate a 900 year old manuscript?

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing

Important dates in this episode:

1986: BBC Domesday Project Released


8008: Intel's Second Shot

     1/13/2020

It's time to continue our deep dive into the legacy of Intel's processors. This episode we will be looking at the 8008, the second microprocessor produced by Intel and the progenitor of the x86 family. Along the way we will see how an innovative terminal from 1969 inspired the chip, how Intel lost a contract, and discuss some of the first personal computes.

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing

Important dates in this episode:

1969: CTC Develops First 'Glass-Teletype' Terminal
1972: 8008 CPU Released by Intel


Evolution of the Mouse

     12/2/2019

The computer mouse is a ubiquitous device, it's also one of the least changed devices we use with a computer. The mice we use today have only seen small incremental improvements since the first mouse was developed. So how did such a long lasting design take shape, and how did it travel the decades up to now?

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing

Important dates in this episode:

1961: First Mouse Developed at Engelbart's ARC Lab
1972: Xerox Develops Rollerball Mouse for Alto
1979: Apple LISA Mouse Designed


Bill's Problem with Piracy

     11/25/2019

In this mini-episode we look at a strange event in Microsoft's early history and their first case of piracy. Along the way you will learn about the best advetrizing campaign in history: the MITS MOBILE Computer Caravan!

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing

Important dates in this episode:

1976: 'Open Letter to Hobbyists' Written by Bill Gates

http://tee.pub/lic/4jnwv7m_ZPw


Spacewar! (the Game)

     8/25/2019

It really seems like in the last decade video games have gone from a somewhat niche hobby to a widespread part of our culture. Nowadays, there are a multitude of ways to get out gaming fix. Consoles, handheld game systems, and even smartphones make video games more accessible than ever. But when and how exactly did video games start to creep into the modern consciousness?

In this episode we look at some of the earliest video games and how they came to be.

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing

Important dates in this episode:

1962: Spacewar! Developed


PLATO Part 2: An Online Revolution

     12/30/2019

In the conclusion to our discussion of PLATO we look at the final incarnation of the system: PLATO IV. How did an educational machine turn into one of the earliest online communities? What was it like to use PLATO at it's height? Along the way we will look at the software, hardware, and video games that made PLATO so special.

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing

Important dates in this episode:

1964: Plasma Display Patented
1972: PLATO IV Launches at University of Illinois
1973: Empire, First MMO, Developed for PLATO IV


Minitel, the French Network Connection

     9/22/2019

Today we are dipping back into the deep and complex history of the proto-internet. We are going to be looking at Minitel, a France-Wide-Web that was built in the 1980s as a way to help the country stay relevant in the digital age.

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing

Important dates in this episode:

1980: Minitel Program Networks France


Minitel Research Lab Interview, with Julien Mailland and Kevin Driscoll

     9/29/2019

Today I am joined by Julien Mailland and Kevon Driscoll, co-authors of Minitel: Welcome to the Internet and proprietors of the Minitel Research Lab(minitel.us). We talk about their book, how they first started working on Minitel terminals, and the ongoing work to preserve Minitel.


Acorn and the BBC

     7/14/2019

The Raspberry Pi had been a huge success at its stated goals, and continues to be. But, this isn't the first time a British company would design and develop a computer as an accessible platform for learning programming. In fact, if you've read much about the Pi then you've probably seen people calling it a "BBC Micro 2".

 

So what was the BBC Micro? What did the BBC have to do with creating a new computer? And how is any of this connected to the 21st century version?

 

Today I want to share the story from a slice of a somewhat forgotten age: BBC's involvement with Acorn Computers and how they worked together to educate a generation of programmers. Along the way we will see how a small UK company created an impressive series of computers who's legacy may not be known in the States, but has had a surprising impact on the world.

 

Special thanks to Neil from Retro Man Cave for sharing his memories of the BBC Micro. You can find him on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLEoyoOKZK0idGqSc6Pi23w


Digital Voices

     6/16/2019

What are the origins of our modern day text-to-speech systems? In this episode we will dive into the rich history of electronic talking machines. Along the way I will tell you the story of the vocoder, the first singing computer, and a little about the father of modern synthesized speech.


Attack of the PC Clones

     6/30/2019

Today, I want to share with you the story of the first PC clones and how they cemented the rise of the x86 chipset.

 

Most of this story takes place between 1981 and 1984, but I think it's fair to say that these 3 years are some of the most influential for the PC's rise to domination. So lets start the story with a discussion of the IBM PC, how it was special, and then examine how reverse engineering it lead to the current x86 monoculture we see today.


Creeping Towards Viruses

     10/6/2019

Computer viruses today pose a very real threat. However, it turns out that their origins are actually very non-threatening. Today, we are going to look at some of the first viruses. We will see how they developed from technical writing, to pulp sci-fi, to traveling code.

I talk about The Scarred Man by Gregory Benford in this episode, you can read the full short story here: http://www.gregorybenford.com/extra/the-scarred-man-returns/

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing

Important dates in this episode:

1949: John Von Neumann Writes 'Theory and Organization of Complex Automata'
1969: 'The Scarred Man' Written by Gregory Benford, Coined Term 'Virus'
1971: Creeper Virus Unleashed


Space Travel!

     5/27/2019

In this mini-episode we talk about Space Travel, an obscure video game from 1969.


Journey to Altair

     9/8/2019

Today we are going to be traveling back to the late 1970s to take a look at the early days of the home computer. And specifically how Microsoft found a foothold at just the right time and place. And for Bill Gates and Paul Allen that would come in the form of BASIC.

Along the way we will cover the Altair 8800, vaporware, and how Bill Gates violated Harvard student conduct.

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing

Important dates in this episode:

1974: Altari 8800 Released
1975: Microsoft BASIC Released


Cooking in Y2K

     1/6/2020

In this mini episode we will look at the Y2K bug, and some of the recipes it spawned. That's right, we are talking about Y2K cookbooks!

You can find all more Y2K compliant food here: https://web.archive.org/web/19991012032855/http://y2kkitchen.com/

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing

Important dates in this episode:

1999: Y2K Kitchen Hits Shelves


Networking for a Nuclear War, the Soviets

     7/28/2019

Often times people assume the US is the homeland of the internet. Funded by the US Department of Defence, the first attempts at a large-scale network were started during the height of the Cold War, and a large part of it's design was redundancy and robust-ness. Some of the researchers were quite frank about it's purpose: to create a network that could survive an upcoming nuclear war. This military-hardened infrastructure was known as ARPANET.


But that's only part of the story, and the US wasn't the first to the party. The fact is, the internet was born during the Cold War. This was an era that saw huge advancements in science, both for better and for worse. The space race put humans on the moon, and the nuclear arms race put humans dangerously close to annihilation. So it should be no surprise that America's counterpart in this age, the Soviet Union, was working towards their own proto-internet.


4004: The First Microprocessor

     11/4/2019

Intel is one of the dominant forces in the computer industry today, they may be most well known for their line of microprocessors. These chips have powered computers going back to the early days of microcomputers. How did Intel become so entrenched in the field? Well, it all started with the 4004 CPU, the first "one-chip" computer.

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing

Important dates in this episode:

1971: Intel 4004 Released


Networking for a Nuclear War, the Americans

     8/11/2019

In this episode we are going to explore the ARPANET. This is a companion to the last episode, which covered contemporary Soviet attempts to create an early internet.

Like with last time, today we are still in the Cold War era. Now, this won't be a point by point comparison of Soviet to US networks. They are totally different beasts. Instead, what I want to do is look at how ARPANET was developed, what influenced it, and how it would kick start the creation of the internet.


Lost in the Colossal Cave

     10/20/2019

Colossal Cave Adventure is one of the most influential video games of all time. Originally written for the DEC PDP-10 mainframe in 1975 the game has not only spread to just about any computer out there, but it has inspired the entire adventure/RPG genera. In this episode we are going to look at how Adventure got it's start, how it evolved into a full game, and how it came to be a lunch title for the IBM PC.

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing

Important dates in this episode:

1975: Colossal Cave Adventure Developed

http://tee.pub/lic/MKt4UiBp22g


Unix for the People, Part 2

     6/2/2019

Now, as the name suggests this is the second part of a series on the history of UNIX. Part 1 mainly covers the background leading up to UNIX. If you haven't listened to it yet, I strongly suggest you go do that now. A lot of what was covered in part 1 provides needed context for our discussion today.

 

Just as a quick recap, last time I told you about CTSS and Multics, two of the earliest time-sharing operating systems. Today, we are going to be picking up where we left off: Bell Labs just left Project MAC and decided to start their own time-sharing project. What they didn't realize was that this new project, called UNIX, would soon outshine all of its predecessors. But when this all started, in 1969 on a spare mainframe at Bell Labs, there was no hint at it's amazing future.


Going Rogue

     1/26/2020

Many video games today make use of randomized content, some more than others. It may seem like an obvious feature, but it turns out that procedural generation didn't really catch on in video games until the 1980 release of Rogue. The game itself never saw much commercial success, but was wildly popular among UNIX users. In this episode we look at Rogue, how it was created, and the legacy that we still see today.

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and stickers: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing

Important dates in this episode:

1980: Rogue Written for PDP/11
1984: Rogue Ported to PC, Macintosh, Atari ST


The American Computer Museum

     7/15/2013

New podcasts, upcoming vintage computer shows, new additions to my vintage computer collection, listener feedback, my stories about the American Computer Museum, and an interview with George Keremedjiev (director of the American Computer Museum)

 

Links mentioned in the show:


VCF East 9.1 Preview w/Evan Koblentz

     2/9/2014

1 year anniversary of Floppy Days!!  Special Bonus Episode!  I talk with Evan Koblentz of MARCH, who gives us a preview of the upcoming VCF East 9.1.

Links and Info:

VCF East 9.1 - http://www.midatlanticretro.org
Evan Koblentz email - evan@snarc.net

NOTE: Evan misspoke about Bil Herd's Friday session. It is not just CRT repair. It's overall video issues, of which CRT is just one part.


Return of Viruses: The Spread

     10/18/2020

It's time to round out spook month with a return to one of last year's topics: the computer virus. Malicious code traveling over networks is actually a relatively new phenomenon, early viruses were much different. In this episode we examine ANIMAL and Elk Cloner, two early viruses that were meant as practical jokes and spread by hapless computer users. Along the way we will see cases of parallel evolution, name calling, and find out if there is any one origin to the word "virus".

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and bonus content: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing


IBM Gets Personal

     11/2/2020

This episode is not about the IBM PC. In 1981 the Personal Computer would change the world. Really, it's hard to talk about home computing without diving into it. But I've always had an issue with the traditional story. The PC didn't come out of left field, IBM had actually been trying to make a home computer for years. In 1981 those efforts would pay off, but the PC wasn't revolutionary hardware for Big Blue, it was evolutionary. So today we are looking at that run up with SCAMP, the 5100, and the Datamaster.

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and bonus content: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing


ENIAC, Part I

     11/16/2020

Completed in 1945, ENIAC was one of the first electronic digital computers. The machine was archaic, but highly influential. But it wasn't a totally new take on computing. Today we are taking a look at the slow birth of ENIAC, how analog computers started to fall apart, and how earlier ideas transitioned into the digital future.

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and bonus content: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing


Magnetic: The History of Computing Ep 7

     2/3/2020

In this episode, we get a look at the first commercially available computer: UNIVAC.  We also touch upon the first vacuum tube-free computer and learn the frightening, yet triumphant story behind the inventor of the circuit board.


Magnetic: The History of Computing Ep 11: Fly By Wire

     4/7/2020

The early 1960's were full of gigantic leaps in computing technology, and a lot of it was used in NASA to get astronauts into space!  We see the first use of the word Mainframes, and see how Neil Armstrong used a new invention called "secondary storage" to try to save his own life!


ENIAC, Part II

     11/30/2020

In 1946 John Eckert and John Mauchly left the Moore School, patented ENIAC, and founded a company. One of those discussions would have consequences that wouldn't be resolved until 1973. Today we close out our series on ENIAC with a look at the legal battle it spawned, and how it put ownership over the rights to basic digital technology on trial. Along the way we talk legal gobbledygook, conspiracy, and take a look at some of the earliest electronic computers.

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and bonus content: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing


Keeping Things BASIC

     12/14/2020

BASIC is a strange language. During the early days of home computing it was everywhere you looked, pretty much every microcomputer in the 70s and early 80s ran BASIC. For a time it filled a niche almost perfectly, it was a useable language that anyone could learn. That didn't happen by accident. Today we are looking at the development of BASIC, how two mathematicians started a quest to expose more students to computers, and how their creation got away from them.


Hacker Folklore

     12/28/2020

Hacker hasn't always been used to describe dangerous computer experts will ill intent. More accurately it should be sued to describe those enamored with computers, programming, and trying to push machines to do interesting things. The values, ethics, morals, and practices around those people make up what's known as hacker culture. Today we are digging into the Jargon File, a compendium of all things hackish and hackable, to take a look at hacker culture through its folklore.
 
Huge thanks to some of my fellow podcasters for doing readings for me this episode. In order of appearance they are:
 
Randall Kindig of the FloppyDays Vintage Computing Podcast(floppydays.com)
Charles Edge from The History of Computing(thehistoryofcomputing.libsyn.com)
Sebastian Major of Our Fake History(ourfakehistory.com)
 
Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and bonus content: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing


8086: The Unexpected Future

     2/22/2021

The Intel 8086 may be the most important processor ever made. It's descendants are central to modern computing, while retaining an absurd level of backwards compatibility. For such an important chip it had an unexpected beginning. The 8086 was meant as a stopgap measure while Intel worked on bigger and better projects. This episode we are looking at how Intel was trying to modernize, how the 8086 fit into that larger plan, and it's pre-IBM life.

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and bonus content: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing


The IBM PC

     3/8/2021

Released in August 1981, the IBM PC is perhaps one of the most important computers in history. It originated the basic architecture computers still use today, it flung the doors open to a thriving clone market, and created an ad-hoc set of standards. The heart of the operation, Intel's 8088, solidified the x86 architecture as the computing platform of the future. IBM accomplished this runaway success by breaking all their own rules, heavily leveraging 3rd party hardware and software, and by cutting as many corners as possible. The PC was designed in less than a year, so how did it become the most enduring design in the industry?
 
Some ad clips this episode were from this fabulous PC ad compilation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQT_YCBb9ao
 
Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and bonus content: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing


THE SOURCE

     3/21/2021

One of the great things about the modern Internet is the wide range of services and content available on it. You have news, email, games, even podcasts. And in each category you have a wide range of choices. This wide diversity makes the Internet so compelling and fun to explore. But what happens when you take away that freedom of choice? What would a network look like if there was only one news site, or one place to get eamil? Look no further than THE SOURCE. Formed in 1979 and marketed as the information utility for the information age, THE SOURCE looked remarkably like the Internet in a more closed-off format. The key word here is: looked.

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and bonus content: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing


C Level, Part I

     4/4/2021

C is easily one of the most influential programming languages in the world, and it's also one of the most popular languages in the world. Even after close to 50 years it remains in widespread and sustained use. In this series we are going to look at how C was developed, how it spread, and why it remains so relevant. To do that we need to start with background, and look at what exactly influenced C. This episode we are diving into some more ALGOL, CPL, BCPL, and eventually B.

Like the show? Then why not head over and support me on Patreon. Perks include early access to future episodes, and bonus content: https://www.patreon.com/adventofcomputing


(OldComputerPods) ©Sean Haas, 2020