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Author Topic: World's oldest still working digital computer gets rebooted  (Read 3363 times)
40hz
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« on: November 23, 2012, 09:00:52 AM »

It's been reported in several places.

A 2.5 ton computer - complete with 828 valves (i.e. electron tubes for US readers) plus 480 relays - gets rebooted following its three year restoration in the UK.



So without further ado, may I present the Harwell Dekatron/WITCH:

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVgc8ksstyg" target="_blank">http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vVgc8ksstyg</a>

Woo-hoo! It works!!!

More articles here, here, and here.
 Cool
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tomos
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« Reply #1 on: November 23, 2012, 11:02:48 AM »

Woo-hoo! It works!!!

sounds great too thumbs up
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Tom
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« Reply #2 on: November 23, 2012, 07:54:27 PM »

As a child of the 80s, now I see why Star Trek looked so futuristic in its time.
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Edvard
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« Reply #3 on: November 23, 2012, 11:40:04 PM »


« Last Edit: November 23, 2012, 11:49:07 PM by Edvard » Logged

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mouser
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« Reply #4 on: November 24, 2012, 01:29:08 AM »

Sounds lovely.
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barney
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« Reply #5 on: November 24, 2012, 01:47:44 AM »

Sounds lovely.
40hz's computer?  Or Edvard's cat?
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mouser
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« Reply #6 on: November 24, 2012, 02:23:52 AM »

The computer smiley
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Renegade
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« Reply #7 on: November 24, 2012, 06:24:15 AM »

The computer smiley

You're reminding me of this game:

http://www.mongoosepublis...ng.com/rpgs/paranoia.html

Quote
TRUST THE COMPUTER! THE COMPUTER IS YOUR FRIEND!

 Greetings, citizen! THE COMPUTER has made you a protector of the underground city of ALPHA COMPLEX. You will have lots of fun rooting out Communist mutant traitors. The Computer says so.

 Members of treasonous secret societies like the Frankenstein Destroyers, the Illuminati, Psion, PURGE and the Sierra Club may attack, maim or blackmail you. Treasonous mutants with powers like Electroshock, Pyrokinesis, Charm, Puppeteer and Bureaucratic Intuition may shock you, incinerate you, subvert you, control you or bury you in paperwork. But it will be fun. The Computer says so, and The Computer is your friend.

 PARANOIA: The Roleplaying Game of a Darkly Humorous Future

 Pursuant to Central Processing Unit directive 214.08.20/547.4 'Restoration of Classic RPGs to Print After Unduly Prolonged Absence,' Mongoose Publishing brings you PARANOIA, an entirely new edition of the classic science fiction game originally published in 1984. In service to a well-meaning but deranged Computer, you and your fellow players seek to eliminate traitors. Your deepest fear: Your fellow players will discover YOU are one of those traitors.

Probably one of the most fun games you can ever play. I'd rank it way up there in the zany fun category with "kill puppies for satan". cheesy
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40hz
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« Reply #8 on: November 24, 2012, 08:16:07 AM »

There's actually a surprising number of videos on antique and vintage computers up on YouTube.

One I found particularly fascinating was the volunteer team that assembled in March 2012 to do a recreation of the EDSAC computer. The EDSAC was a very significant machine in that it is generally considered the first general purpose electronic computer. Previous machines (ENIAC, Colossus, etc.) were purpose-built for specific tasks such as codebreaking and ballistics calculations.

This is the project overview video:

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iPrFEC7Vhg" target="_blank">http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2iPrFEC7Vhg</a>

There are several more videos to be found on various stages of the project if you're curious.

Of course this is all very interesting. But the really important part is the answer to the question: Why bother to spend significant time and resources reconstructing an admittedly obsolete (by today's standards) computing device?

The EDSAC Re-Creation Project gives a  number of reasons:



What I think is the most important is the fourth one: To revive disappearing expertise.

I'm already seeing that with most of my clients and the kids I meet. They can make their PCs jump through hoops. And they do so with a degree of almost intuitive grace that it makes people like me who merely learned this technology instead of growing up with it sometimes wince at just how good they are at it. Or are until something goes wrong...

And therein lies the problem as I (and many others) see it. Most of what passes for "expertise" is little more than knowing what buttons to push. It's an expertise that's a mile wide, but only a few inches deep. It's an expertise that's totally dependent on having things provided that do exactly what they're supposed to do at all times. Because when something breaks, most users can't fix it for themselves. Their super-duper machines are now 'black box' devices. And the technology driving them has become what we used to jokingly refer to as "F.M."

But even worse - most no longer seem to even know where to begin should something ever go wrong. I've had honors students at very competitive high schools tell me: "It's not necessary to know about that any more. Just call tech support." when I've broached the topic to them. It made me feel like I was in the old joke about how many Valley Girls does it take to change a light bulb?


Fortunately, the people who brought us the RaspberryPi had the same concerns and addressed them in a very cost-effective manner.

Nice to see hope still springs eternal. Grin

-------------
@Deo - since you're a child of the 80s, take a peek at how it used to look and work in this video. This is the world of the mainframe - or "heavy iron" as it used to be called. Most of this world disappeared in the mid to late 90s.

<a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlvUz3T4WTA" target="_blank">http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlvUz3T4WTA</a>

Please note that this video doesn't show a server room. It's just one big computer.

Ain't you glad you missed all of this? Wink



« Last Edit: November 24, 2012, 12:00:50 PM by 40hz » Logged

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Ath
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« Reply #9 on: November 24, 2012, 08:50:33 AM »

What I think is the most important is the fourth one: To revive disappearing expertise.
+1

But wouldn't it be mandatory to have at least 1 team-member under the age of 50 undecided
If only to motivate potential students, for not having to work with people as old as their grandparents ohmy (though nothing is wrong with that, IMHO)
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40hz
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« Reply #10 on: November 24, 2012, 11:56:09 AM »

What I think is the most important is the fourth one: To revive disappearing expertise.
+1

But wouldn't it be mandatory to have at least 1 team-member under the age of 50 undecided
If only to motivate potential students, for not having to work with people as old as their grandparents ohmy (though nothing is wrong with that, IMHO)

Good point!

A really good book to read is Tracy Kidder's 1981 classic The Soul of a New Machine. It is an intelligent observer's story of how a team of engineers brought a computer up from scratch. It really gets into the behind-the-scenes moments and issues most people never see when it comes to computer technology. And it illustrates how true one engineer's observation that "Not everything worth doing is worth doing well" is a reality they all need to eventually accept and live with. As one participant noted: there's more to getting a computer out the door than just the technology. There's corporate politics, customer expectations, where your design fits in - and how well it interfaces - with the rest of the company's product line, and the amount of support you can expect from third-party hardware and software suppliers.

The conclusion of one of the managers was: We didn't build the best machine we could. We built the best machine we could get away with.

A terrific story with a number of hard lessons for anybody trying to understand some of the mentality and realities driving this industry.

Highly recommended. Thmbsup
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Edvard
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« Reply #11 on: November 24, 2012, 02:56:03 PM »

Quote from: 40Hz
Nice to see hope still springs eternal.

Yes, it is.  For living evidence, check out the Nand2Tetris project: http://www.donationcoder....m/index.php?topic=32988.0
« Last Edit: November 24, 2012, 04:29:02 PM by Edvard » Logged

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f0dder
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« Reply #12 on: November 24, 2012, 03:14:38 PM »

Wow, trip down memory lane, and a feeling og being veeeeeeery old, all of a sudden. Paranoia was one of the first computer games I played, back on the C=64. Never quite figured out what it was all about, died all the time... Last Ninja was more my kind of thing back then =)
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SeraphimLabs
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« Reply #13 on: November 26, 2012, 11:40:12 AM »

Love that sound.

Some of the industrial equipment I work with was made in the 1950s and 1960s. When you pull the disconnect to power it on all you hear for a few seconds is the clatter of the relays as the vacuum power supplies reach operating temperature, the relays gradually closing as they reach their voltages and connect the next circuit up the line.

Stand near the relay board while it is moving and you hear the steady clunking of the relays opening and closing.

Today that entire board full of relays except for the final output can be implemented in a single PLC box no larger than a beer can, and all but the main motor relays can be replaced with miniaturized components to reduce that wall of wiring down to a little shoebox of electronics.

But where's the fun in that? I have no idea how many hours I spent once tracing wiring, only to find a genuine bug- a box alder beetle had become wedged in the relay contacts, preventing the relay from making the connection. An event of similar nature was how the computing term bug came to be- an engineer working on a computer did exactly what I did and came across a bug having jammed a relay.

A short distance from that machine is one made in 1973. Although it lacks the vacuum tubes, and the relays are fewer in number, it still has its original Pratt & Whitney solid state servo amplifiers constructed from discrete silicon devices before the days of integrated circuits. Alas the computer on it was replaced in 1997, but even that is now considered old technology that people qualified to repair are rapidly becoming hard to find.


There seems to be quite a bit of that- Industrial equipment that has served 40 years or more that is still in regular use. Unlike normal computing hardware that is designed for complete replacement every 3-5 years, the cost of industrial gear is so much higher that factory owners usually repair it over replacing it with newer hardware. And I can't say I blame them, considering that in 1996 one of the smaller machines at this facility was purchased new for $120,000. Today it would be a quarter million dollar piece of equipment to replace.
« Last Edit: November 26, 2012, 11:46:34 AM by SeraphimLabs » Logged
superboyac
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« Reply #14 on: November 26, 2012, 11:59:13 AM »

And it illustrates how true one engineer's observation that "Not everything worth doing is worth doing well" is a reality they all need to eventually accept and live with.
This is my numero uno struggle in life.  I don't know how to convince myself of this, yet I know I have to eventually or else I'm going to lose my mind, literally.
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TaoPhoenix
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« Reply #15 on: November 26, 2012, 01:59:19 PM »

This is my numero uno struggle in life.  I don't know how to convince myself of this, yet I know I have to eventually or else I'm going to lose my mind, literally.

Easy. Losing your mind is not something worth doing well! Or pretending pet hair won't get all over everything!  From there, it becomes easier!  Grin
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40hz
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« Reply #16 on: November 26, 2012, 09:17:58 PM »

And it illustrates how true one engineer's observation that "Not everything worth doing is worth doing well" is a reality they all need to eventually accept and live with.
This is my numero uno struggle in life.  I don't know how to convince myself of this, yet I know I have to eventually or else I'm going to lose my mind, literally.

I think in the end it all comes down to a recognition of limits and learning some humility.

Not to say that you can't accomplish great things. You can of you want to. But barring a minor miracle or incredible luck. most people won't hit 100% every time. A life well lived is more like a marathon. Even world-class marathoners learn to pick the races they really want to win - and arrange their training schedule so they 'peak' for those races. And although many run several marathons each year, they're usually soundly beaten in all but the one or two they're really trying to win. The rest are just to keep in shape. Which is wise because nobody will ever win every marathon they enter. It's beyond the capability of the human body to do so.

So just like not every marathon you enter is run with the intent of coming in first, so too is doing versus doing well. Sometimes it's enough to just get it done and not get too hung up on finesse.

Like one of my early mentors told me when I was working at one of the Fortune top 5 companies - There's always plenty of opportunities around here to find something to wage war over - or throw yourself on the sword for. But if you're smart you'll pick your venues. The goal is to always try to do your best. But the real challenge is figuring out how to hang in there long enough to really make a difference - and be recognized and rewarded for it. And a good part of succeeding comes from not allowing yourself to get bogged down in pointless battles. Or waste effort on trivia or low yield tasks. Just get those things done correctly, but also as quickly as possible. Then move on and focus on more important things."

Worked for me. Thmbsup
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superboyac
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« Reply #17 on: November 27, 2012, 10:29:22 AM »

Yeah, i'm getting that slowly.
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TaoPhoenix
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« Reply #18 on: November 27, 2012, 11:17:40 AM »

A 2.5 ton computer - complete with 828 valves (i.e. electron tubes for US readers) plus 480 relays - gets rebooted following its three year restoration in the UK.

That sound has some serious music remix potential!

 Cool
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