Ancient IBM mainframe rescued from abandoned building

Adam Bradley and Chris Blackburn noticed an unusual, mislabeled eBay listing for a rare beauty: an IBM System/360 in Nuremberg for peanuts. So they set out to do what any self-respecting IBM System/360 fan would do: buy it and fix it up. Thousands of Euros later, they've ... well, they've gotten it out of the building.

... a once in a lifetime find. We decided we had to have it. Adam put in a bid of around 500 Euros and we waited. The advert finished the following day around midday. Luckily, Chris and Adam work together and as such the next morning in the office was rather tense! There was quite a flurry of bidding activity right at the end of the auction and with seconds to go and an exclamation of “Screw it!” Adam entered a bid of 4500 Euros. The hammer fell on 3710 Euros! We were now the proud owners of one IBM 360… or so we thought!

Read the rest

What is a nanosecond anyway? Computing pioneer Grace Hopper shows us (1983)

This is pioneering computer scientist and US Navy read admiral Grace Hopper (1906-1992) explaining the concept of a nanosecond. From the Computer History Museum:

(Hopper) held a B.S. in mathematics and physics from Vassar College (1928) and an M.S. (1930) and Ph.D in mathematics (1934) from Yale University.

Hopper began her career teaching at Vassar and taught there from 1931 to 1943, when she joined the u.s. Navy Reserve. Her first assignment was to work with Professor Howard Aiken of the Harvard Computation Laboratory on problems of military significance.

Hopper remained at Harvard until 1949, when she joined the Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation, led by the designers of the groundbreaking ENIAC computer system. There, she developed one of the world's first compilers and compiler-based programming languages. In 1959, Hopper played an important role in defining a new easy-to- use programming language. The result was COBOL, probably the most successful programming language for business applications in history.

(via Kottke) Read the rest

Lasagne PC case

Behold The Pasta PC, a computer that has a nutrition label in addition to a spec sheet, because he used sheets of pasta as the case. It works, but between the build (consider the thermals) and the antiquity of the Atom-based computer he sacrificed to make it, it's pretty hinky. [via MeFi]

My wife said something one day joking about making a PC out of Pasta... Never joke with me on such things because I may just do it... and do it I have. Behold... The LASAGNA PC V.1 Clickbait you say?! NAY! This is the real deal. The first ever crazy PC build on this Channel, and the first ever Pasta PC in the world. You're welcome.

Beautiful as it is, I'll admit that I'm slightly disappointed he didn't actually bake a PC into a lasagne. You could get away with what, about 160° without melting stuff on the board? Tasty. Read the rest

IBM System/360 mainframe consoles

Ken Shirriff presents Iconic consoles of the IBM System/360 mainframes.

This article describes the various S/360 models and how to identify them from the front panels. I'll start with the Model 30, a popular low-end system, and then go through the remaining models in order. Conveniently IBM assigned model numbers rationally, with the size and performance increasing with the model number, from the stripped-down but popular Model 20 to the high-performance Model 195.

Each of the cabinets in the photo above contains a whopping 256 kilobytes of storage.

Previously: How It Works: The Computer Read the rest

Breakthrough programmable computer made from DNA running chemical software

For more than two decades, researchers have explored using DNA as a chemical computer. Until now though, DNA computers have only been capable of solving whatever mathematical problem they were built to tackle. Now though, researchers have demonstrated a more general-purpose DNA computer that can run a variety of chemical "programs." From Caltech:

"Think of them as nano apps," says Damien Woods, professor of computer science at Maynooth University near Dublin, Ireland, and one of two lead authors of the study. "The ability to run any type of software program without having to change the hardware is what allowed computers to become so useful. We are implementing that idea in molecules, essentially embedding an algorithm within chemistry to control chemical processes."

The system works by self-assembly: small, specially designed DNA strands stick together to build a logic circuit while simultaneously executing the circuit algorithm. Starting with the original six bits that represent the input, the system adds row after row of molecules—progressively running the algorithm. Modern digital electronic computers use electricity flowing through circuits to manipulate information; here, the rows of DNA strands sticking together perform the computation. The end result is a test tube filled with billions of completed algorithms, each one resembling a knitted scarf of DNA, representing a readout of the computation. The pattern on each "scarf" gives you the solution to the algorithm that you were running. The system can be reprogrammed to run a different algorithm by simply selecting a different subset of strands from the roughly 700 that constitute the system.

Read the rest

Trump signs 'American AI Initiative' executive order to prioritize federal funding for artificial intelligence research

There aren't many details in Trump's “American A.I. Initiative,” but the point appears to be: send a message of technological dominance to China.

George Dyson: look to analog systems for autonomy and intelligence

Over at, the must-read hub of intellectual inquiry and head-spinning science, Boing Boing pal and legendary book agent John Brockman is launching a new series of essays "from important third culture thinkers to address the empirically-driven and science related hot-button cultural issues of our time." First up is author George Dyson's "Childhood's End," a provocative riff on how the digital revolution has stripped much of our individual agency and that "to those seeking true intelligence, autonomy, and control among machines, the domain of analog computing, not digital computing, is the place to look." From EDGE:

The spectacular success of digital computers in modeling real-world phenomena, encoded as algorithms with the results used as output to control something in the real world, has outshadowed very different ways that digital computers, and networks of digital computers, can be used. Algorithms and digital simulations have become so embedded in our culture and world view that we find it almost impossible to recognize that other forms of computation, without algorithms or digital models, effectively control much of the world.

We assume that a search engine company builds a model of human knowledge and allows us to query that model, or that some other company (or maybe it’s the same company) builds a model of road traffic and allows us to access that model, or that yet another company builds a model of the social graph and allows us to join that model — for a price we are not quite told.

Read the rest

World War II Enigma cipher machine up for auction

A rare, fully-operational Enigma cipher machine from World War II will go up for auction at Sothebys tomorrow as part of an amazing History of Science & Technology auction (also including Richard Feynman's Nobel Prize). The Enigma is expected to go for around $200,000.

From a 1999 article I wrote for Wired:

German soldiers issued an Enigma were to make no mistake about their orders if captured: Shoot it or throw it overboard. Based on electronic typewriters invented in the 1920s, the infamous Enigma encryption machines of World War II were controlled by wheels set with the code du jour. Each letter typed would illuminate the appropriate character to send in the coded message.

In 1940, building on work by Polish code breakers, Alan Turing and his colleagues at the famed UK cryptography center Bletchley Park devised the Bombe, a mechanical computer that deciphered Enigma-encoded messages. Even as the Nazis beefed up the Enigma architecture by adding more wheels, the codes could be cracked at the Naval Security Station in Washington, DC - giving the Allies the upper hand in the Battle of the Atlantic. The fact that the Allies had cracked the Enigma code was not officially confirmed until the 1970s.

Read the rest

One day, a computer will fit on a desk

Arthur C. Clarke forecasts the future in 1974. We've come a long way. Kinda.

(via r/ObscureMedia) Read the rest

Fantastically far out poster for 1974 artificial intelligence lecture at UC Berkeley

Chris Veltri, proprietor of San Francisco's legendary Groove Merchant record shop, posted this astounding artifact to his Instagram wunderkammer of outré culture paper ephemera @collagedropoutsf! It's a poster for a lecture by artificial intelligence pioneer Herbert Simon that took place at UC Berkeley in 1974. The speech was titled "How Man and Computers Understand Language."

Far fucking out. Read the rest

Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder, RIP

Paul Allen, billionaire co-founder of Microsoft, philanthropist, science fiction fan, and founder of Seattle's Museum of Pop Culture (formerly the Experience Museum Project), has died from complications of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was 65.

"From technology to science to music to art, I’m inspired by those who’ve blurred the boundaries, who’ve looked at the possibilities, and said, “What if...? In my own work, I’ve tried to anticipate what’s coming over the horizon, to hasten its arrival, and to apply it to people’s lives in a meaningful way." -- Paul Allen

Allen's professional timeline is quite something:

1953: Paul Allen is born January 21, 1953 in Seattle, Washington 1968: While at Lakeside School, Paul meets Bill Gates. A friendship that would later produce one of the world’s most innovative companies, Microsoft. 1969: Attends first rock concert, where he sees Jimi Hendrix at Seattle Center Coliseum 1975: Founds Microsoft  1982: In September, Paul is diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Nearly eight months later, doctors said he had beaten the disease. 1983: Officially resigns from Microsoft in March 1986: Founds Vulcan Inc. in Seattle as an investment and project management firm with his sister, Jody Allen 1988: Establishes The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation 1988: Purchases the Portland Trail Blazers 1988: Rescues Seattle Cinerama from demolition by purchasing and restoring the theater 1990: The Paul G. Allen Family Foundation makes its first grant. 1990: Becomes a billionaire at age 37 1995: Makes his single biggest investment to date by purchasing a 18.5% stake in Dreamworks 1996: Purchases the St. Read the rest

The man who created Ctrl+Alt+Del

Meet David Bradley, chief engineer of the IBM PC, who created Ctrl+Alt+Del.

"I may have invented it, but Bill made it famous," Bradley once said.

Read the rest

Sandsifter program finds bugs, secret instructions and other oddities in computer processors

Sandsifter throws random machine code instructions at microprocessors, just to see what happens.

The sandsifter audits x86 processors for hidden instructions and hardware bugs, by systematically generating machine code to search through a processor's instruction set, and monitoring execution for anomalies. Sandsifter has uncovered secret processor instructions from every major vendor; ubiquitous software bugs in disassemblers, assemblers, and emulators; flaws in enterprise hypervisors; and both benign and security-critical hardware bugs in x86 chips.

With the multitude of x86 processors in existence, the goal of the tool is to enable users to check their own systems for hidden instructions and bugs.

I demand to see this scene in technothrillers pronto. Read the rest

Play Bubble Bobble, Wolfenstein, and 13,000 other Commodore 64 disks free online

The Internet Archive now offers in-browser emulation of more than 13,000 Commodore 64 floppy disks. The Sentinel, Paradroid, Oregon Trail, Wasteland... they're all there, waiting for you.

Software Library: C64 (Internet Archive)

Read the rest

Glorious collection of control panel photos

Control Panel is a fantastic visual blog "in praise of dials, toggles, buttons, and bulbs," a companion to the Control Panel group on Flickr.

Read the rest

Review: CleanMyPC makes for lazy computer maintenance at a reasonable price

One of the nice things about owning a MacBook is that, more often than not, you don't have to give too much thought about what's going on behind the scenes. Mac OS is stable as all get out. Most users will never need to fart around with terminal commands or futz with file structures. As much of a cliché as it may be to say it, it just works.

Most of the time.

I discovered, over the years, that as stable as Apple's software experience typically is, there are a few ways to improve on things by tweaking and cleaning my SSD up. These are not tasks that I am good at. Admittedly, this is likely due to the fact that I've been too lazy to learn the ins and outs of making my computer do tricks outside of what my work requires. As such, I let apps do the behind-the-scenes heavy lifting for me. I've relied on MacPaws' CleanMyMac for years to clean junk files from my computer and maintain my drive's health. I can't remember how much I paid for it, back in the day, but I've very likely gotten my money's worth out of it.

The only thing that I likely know less about than what goes on behind the scenes of Mac OS is what in the name of Hell makes Windows 10 run. While I find the OS and the software I run on my Surface Go to be adequate for churning out words and a bit of photo editing, I haven't got the slightest idea of what to do in order to keep my new Windows 10 PC healthy. Read the rest

Review: Microsoft's Surface Go is almost everything I want in a travel computer

Every year, I wait for Apple to announce mouse support for the iPad. Every year, I am left unfulfilled. Apple's nailed the apps that I need to do my job on the go, but the lack of a mouse for interacting with text slows my workflow way the hell down. Tapping on my tablet's display and dragging words around is a poor substitute. As such, I'm constantly searching for a tablet that can give me what I need. Read the rest

More posts