Marble based general purpose computer

Jim Lewis made a beautiful marble machine Turing complete computer. He says, "For several years I've been thinking about building a mechanical computer that demonstrates the Rule 110 principle. In this video I'll show my marble machine which I call the Rule 110 Marble Computer." Read the rest

Remembering the Amstrad CPC, a superior 8-bit computer

Commodore's C64 and Sinclair's ZX Spectrum were the most successful 8-bit computers in Europe, but Amstrad's CPC ran a close third. Ellie Gibson writes on how it—especially the magazine Amstrad Action—changed her life.

I adored its knowledgeable yet jocular tone. I loved the way the writers' passion for the machine shone from each page, reflecting my own. Best of all, I liked the free demo tape.

Reducing it beyond the point of reason: in the UK, the Commodore C64 came to attract a nerdier culture defined by deep interest in technology; the ZX Spectrum attracted a working-class culture of kids who wanted to fool around with computer games; and the Amstrad appealed to the middle-class. It was for people who wanted to use computers as tools without necessarily understanding the nuts and bolts, but who couldn't afford Macs.

In reality everything was much more complex and blurred (because 90% of everyone were just playing the same crudely-ported, cross-platform games), but one of the results of the Amstrad "culture" was the higher standard of cocky bullshit in its magazines.

A few years later, Commodore's Amiga blew away the 8-bits, then Windows PCs blew Commodore away, and then everything was smooth and homogenous for all computing eternity, Amen. [Thanks, Daneel!]

Previously: How Lord Sugar taught me to hack stuff Read the rest

Yugoslavian computer magazine cover girls of the 1980s-90s

From Flashbak:

Računari was a computer magazine of the former Yugoslavia which lasted from 1984 until the late 1990s – surviving the economic turbulence and wars of the 1980s-90s, and even outlasting the country itself. The title simply means “computers” – and its content was just that: very bland, very technical, nothing flashy… but its covers were another matter entirely.

Despite the very low-key tech content, the guys at Računari decided to put some spice on just about every cover. Nearly every issue featured a ravishing Eastern Bloc Beauty straddling computer hardware. Let’s have a look at some of these covers spanning the late 1980s and into the early 1990s. Enjoy.

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$100 for a tablet and foldable wireless keyboard

I bought a Kindle Fire tablet ($49) and (per Jason’s instructions) installed Google Play on it. It’s not a speedy tablet, but it’s great for watching Amazon Video and Netflix, as well as web browsing, monitoring my Nest outdoor camera, and reading ebooks. I paired it with the Plugable full-size folding keyboard (also $49, a compact version is $39) and now I have a decent miniature laptop replacement. The keyboard is the same size as the wireless Apple keyboard I use, but it folds into a shape that fits in my jacket pocket. It feels good to type on the keys. The keyboard’s case can be refolded into a tablet of phone stand. The total weight for the tablet, keyboard, and case is a bit under 1.7 lbs.

Here's a video about the features of the Keyboard: Read the rest

Arnold Spielberg (Steven’s dad) developed the first computer to run BASIC in 1964

Arnold Spielberg (Steven’s father) developed the computer that first ran the BASIC programming language on May 1, 1964. Here's an interview with 99-year-old Arnold on the exciting early days of computers.

Long before GE started connecting machines to the Industrial Internet, one Arnold Spielberg helped revolutionize computing when he designed the GE-225 mainframe computer in the late 1950s. The machine allowed a team of Dartmouth University students and researchers to develop the BASIC programming language, an easy-to-use coding tool that quickly spread and ushered in the era of personal computers. Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs all used the language when they started building their digital empires. Arnold Spielberg will be 100 years old in February 2017.

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Watch "Terminal Madness," 1980 TV special about personal computers

In 1980, WMTV in Madison, Wisconsin produced this feature about early personal computers and the geeks who loved them. I enjoyed the discussion of The Source, which was the first online experience I ever had.

George Martin, who posted the video to YouTube, writes: "About halfway through the video there is a segment filmed at my home showing how I had programmed a Cromemco Z-2 computer to control lights and appliances."

(Thanks, UPSO!)

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HP's Z2 Mini is a tiny workstation

I thought it was crazy that Dell dethroned Apple as the maker of America's most spectacular laptops, but look at this from HP, putting the Mac Mini on notice: the HP Z2 Mini Workstation.

HP's little desktop isn't quite as small, at 8.5" wide, and prices start at $690. With Xeon and Nvidia Quadra video card options on offer, it'll soar much higher if you load it. No detailed specs were announced, though Engadget reports you can get up to a 1.5TB SSD and Intel Core CPUs will also be on offer. It lacks Thunderbolt and more game-friendly video card options.

Is it weird that the natural point of comparison, the Mac Pro, doesn't even come to mind? The Z2 Mini may well overpower it in pricier configurations. What happened to that, anyway? Read the rest

Defunct 19A0s Computer Company Name Generator

This generates names of Defunct Computer Companies That You're Sure You Can Remember From the 19A0s

Great inexpensive external display

In an upcoming episode of the Cool Tools Show podcast, I tell the story of how I wrecked my iMac by trying to replace the hard drive. Instead of buying a new iMac, I bought an Acer G257HU 25-inch (2560 x 1440) display and connected it to my MacBook Pro. I actually like this set up more than having two different computers. The display is gorgeous and the brightness can be cranked way up if you need it.

For $260 I have no complaints about this monitor. I wouldn't complain if it had cost $500. I'm using a $10 Thunderbolt-to-DisplayPort cable to connect the laptop to the display. Read the rest

Check out Radioshack's 1981 computer catalog

The 1981 Radioshack computer catalog is beautifully illustrated, but everything in it is complete TRS. Read the rest

5TB desktop external hard drive for $110

Right now, Amazon has a great deal on a Seagate 5TB external hard drive. It's $110 (the same price as the 4TB mode). I've been looking for a way to back up all the computers in my household (with Time Machine) and I might buy this. I think can just create several partitions on it and plug it into the USB port of my wireless access point. Has anyone had success doing it this way? Read the rest

Meet the Megaprocessor: a 16-bit CPU the size of a room

Chipmaking is a relentless competition to make transistors smaller and smaller. Such refined technology is as inscrutable to users as angels dancing on the head of a few hundred copper pins, so James Newman set out to make a working CPU whose every connection can be explored and understood by students.

"Like all modern processors the Megaprocessor is built from transistors," he writes. "It's just that instead of using teeny-weeny ones integrated on a silicon chip it uses discrete individual ones... Thousands of them. And loads of LEDs."

The resulting machine took two years to construct and recalls the earliest room-filling electronic computers, with banks of blinking lights and ropes of cable linking each refridgerator-sized peripheral. But this time, it's by choice rather than limitation: with a light on every connection, you can see the logic and movement of data through the chip in person.

Ten meters wide and 2 meters tall, the 16-bit Megaprocessor is deliberately simple and slow. Clocked at 20kHz, it could feel at home in an airport-sized Commodore Amiga or classic Mac, though it's not quite as complicated as the Motorola 68000 that inspired it.

There's already software to play with, though, including a rough implementation of Tetris. You can download an emulator to get started on making your own.

"I didn't plan on ending up here. I started by wanting to learn about transistors," Newman writes. "Things got out of hand. Read the rest

Vast collection of Amiga games, demos and software uploaded to Internet Archive

The world's first psychedelic computer enters the universal library. And it all runs in the browser, meaning you'll never have to hunt for Workbench disk images again. Read the rest

Are the latest stick computers good enough to be your "main PC"?

Stick computers plug straight into a display's HDMI plug, like a giant USB thumbdrive, and Intel's made the most powerful one yet. At $390, the Intel Compute Stick Core m3 is by far the most expensive in its class, too. Read the rest

Stunningly beautiful photos of old timey computers

Take a look at these beautiful images of computers at the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park by photographer Docubyte and production studio Ink.

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Futurististic computer screens are mostly blue

Chris Noessel and Nathan Shedroff demonstrated that in movies depicting computers in the future, the screens are mostly blue.

Some interesting exceptions: 1991's Terminator 2 made red popular, and the Matrix Trilogy made green the in thing for a while. But within a couple of years, we were back to blue. And it's been this way since the 60s.

I think that green usually signifies "old" computers, perhaps? The Matrix was clever in that way.

Forgive me if I'm mistaken, but I'm struck by the thought that the first and third Alien movies (which were British haunted house movies, sort of) used green screens, whereas the second one, Aliens (an American action movie) used blue. Google Images isn't entirely helpful.

Guardians of the Galaxy (above) appears, of course, to be both. Read the rest

Digital Dance (1982) was a trippy computer-animated blot of pixels

Ed Tannenbaum animated Digital Dance in 1982. The post-disco music is by Might Dog (anyone know anything about it?), the dancer is Pons Maar, and Jim Wiseman shot the footage. Once again, I'm struck by how much glitch aesthetics are about creating memories, not deconstructing technology. Read the rest

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