How Computers Work

Text and images by Ladybird Books. Remix by Rob. Wormholed from the archives of BBG. Original scans from


        1. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! We don’t accept URL shorteners. Disqus only shows the first 33 characters, anyway.

  1. Ahem: page 4 “You should do what scientists tell you.”

    Speaking strictly as a scientist myself may I say: BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHA!

  2. /puts on tweed sportcoat with patches on elbows
    / puts pipe in mouth
    / stands behind large mahogany desk in tenured office
    / places arm up in front, curls fist, points index finger toward ceiling


    1. What I loved is how started a just a little wonky and then kept building the insanity until it reached a fantastic WTF crescendo.

  3. MEAT goes in?  I have to feed my computer meat?  That’s what I’ve been doing wrong all these years…. Who knew?

    1. No it has been feeding itself all these years, haven’t you noticed the missing children in your neighborhood?
      The machines just don’t want you to know that the chart that mentions meat goes the other way around.

  4. Awesome… like a slightly subdued “Giraffes? Giraffes!”. I didn’t even get that something was up until I saw “Scientology”. Nice remixing, Rob.

    1. At first I thought it was just the “real” authors trying to add tongue-in-cheek humor to their “beginner” book to make it more accessible…then suspected something was up on the 4th page.  When I skimmed ahead and saw “meat” I knew it was a farce, and “scientology” I knew it was modern.

      Nicely done, though =)

    1. CPU = silicon semicunductor
      Cheap heat sink = aluminum
      Quality heat sink = copper
      1337 heat sink = Mahogany

      No one is using maple or pine anymore.

  5. Those computers aren’t red, they’re Hot Tango. They’re also ICL 2900s, the first machine I write a program on (at age 5).

    ICL were cool. For the launch of a new range of mainframes in 1979, they commissioned a suite of music from electro-prog composer Richard Harvey. Here’s the first part:

        1. By 1979, my first two computers were already obsolete and I was taking programming classes on a DEC VAX VMS-11 780.  Uber-nerd.

    1. Page 16-17 of the original is worth a look: “The speed at which coding can be done depends on the speed at which the operator can work. This is not much more than 5 characters a second — too slow to be fed straight into the computer, which can ‘read’ the code much faster than this.” And the ‘Multi-function Card Unit’ is geekalicious.

      The replicant needs some sort of verifier to operate on the first paragraph of the ‘Computer Store’ page. This verifier would be a higher level machine that can compare word forms with a set of perforated cards encoded with valid entries, and spit out the non-matching imformation.

  6. Norman Bates is typing in the 9th frame, “If I could kill, you would be first.” Typical psycho killer profile, Caucasian, collar shirt, married, glasses.

  7. I forwarded this to a friend who’s a PC tech.  He’s going to slide the link into the weekly mandatory training for his group just to see if anyone’s paying attention.  Oh, to be a fly on the wall…

  8. I think an opportunity was missed to include this exchange on the graphical display unit:

    /Wouldn’t you prefer a nice game of chess?
    /Later. Let’s play Global Thermonuclear War.

    1. I was going to buy an SSD to speed up my workstation; I’m going to get a can of red Krylon instead.  To the hardware store!

      Anyone know how glossy my computer needs to be?  I could take it to a body shop and have it professionally painted, and a couple of layers of clearcoat added.  Is waxing necessary?

  9. The last page shows a “minibar” that’s a line printer. A local fellow turned a VAX 11/780 into a minibar some years back. He had to hunt around for a small sink, as the VAX is smaller than a kitchen counter.

  10. Ah, those pictures take me back to the good’ol days of Mainframes in Remote Data Centres!  Of course, now we have Servers in the Cloud so things are completely different.

  11. The computer featured on p4 and again, as an artist’s impression on p40 is a Burroughs B-80 (You can just make out the model number on the keyboard/printer on page 4 – My Dad had one of those!! Its dot-matrix printer could print The Mona Lisa as its test routine, using different characters to generate the image in mono… That machine is what got me interested in computers and here I am, 30 years later, running a web company. Genius!

  12. I don’t know whether to thank Rob or turn myself over to the hydrocarbon reclamation unit. 

    I’m off to the market for some fresh kittens.  Got some numbers to crunch and the bees are getting bored.  Wouldn’t want to see what happens if the computer is left alone long enough to start dreaming, now would we?

  13. I love this, but I really wish there wasn’t one glaring anachronism on page 40 (the Puppy Control Unit page). Until then I honestly thought that this was the original text of a brilliant book from the 70s.

    (Then again, I also thought that Life of Pi was actually “based on a true story” up until about half-way through the book, so maybe I’m just slow….)

  14. On the first page, I thought it was a badly-written instructional manual from 1979.

    On the third page, I realized that it must be supremely dry comedy from 1979, such as National Lampoon might have made. I immediately ran out and ordered a copy for my dad. 50 pages of this would be comedy gold!

    By the time it mentioned Wikipedia, I realized that it must be a modern phenomenon, but still! Comedy gold! But wait! There actually is a Ladybird Press and this book actually existed in 1979. Is it a reissue?

    You can imagine my disappointment to find that it’s a mash-up, and this is all of it that exists. I insist that an entire book be created in this vein.

  15. What the f…

    Ow, my brain!

    Overall, I was disappointed. From the cover, I expected computers to be powered by ladybugs turning gears.

  16. I’m 18 and I have loads of these old books from my parents when they were kids. I used to read them when I was really young. Must be in a loft somewhere around here…

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