This tiny model of a big IBM 1401 computer from 1959 is so great

• You'll never guess how much the computer originally cost. Read the rest

Why does USB keep changing?

The Universal Serial Bus specification was introduced by a consortium of large tech companies in 1996 to standardize the way peripherals connect to computers. In this episode of Nostalgia Nerd on YouTube, you can learn about the history of USB, and why the connector configurations change so frequently. This 20-minute video was more interesting than I thought it would be, mainly because not a single day in my life since 1998 has gone by that I haven't plugged in or unplugged a USB connector, and I really knew nothing about them until now. Now I know everything I want to know about them.

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Miniature model Cray X-MP supercomputer

The miniature model supercomputers that Cray salespeople carried sometimes hit eBay, and they're getting quite pricey. This 3.75" tall scale model of the Cray X-MP, once the world's fastest computer, is on offer for $700. I wonder, if you put a Rasberry Pi in it, would the resulting machine be faster than a Cray X-MP? The X-MP offers four processors and 800 megaflops, according to Wikipedia; a Pi 4, with four cores, cracks 2 gigaflops in this benchmarking roundup. In this test, a Pi Zero (240 megaflops) outpaces a Cray 2 at calculating digits of Pi, but the consensus seems to be that the Cray would roast it at linear algebra, the sort of work supercomputers were made for.
This listing is for a Cray salesman's kit model used for sales calls for potential X-MP customers. The X-MP was Cray Research's second computer, following the Cray-1. It was the world's fastest computer from 1983-1985. This Cray X-MP scale model comes in four pieces. The computer floor is made from a 12.25"x7.5"x0.25" black Lucite. The Lucite has a white "felt" fabric has squares laid out that represent 2 foot square raised computer room floor tiles. The largest part of the model is the X-MP processor. The diameter of the "C" is 5.5". This, and the other two X-MP pieces, are all 3.75" tall. The second piece that connects to the X-MP with two arms is the SSD (Solid-State Device). The third piece, which sits part from the X-MP/SSD complex, is the IOS (Input-Output Subsystem).
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Free access to quantum computers for COVID-19 researchers

D-Wave Systems opened up free cloud access to its quantum computing resources for researchers responding to COVID-19. They're also enlisting their staff, partners, and customers to help others get up to speed on programming quantum computing for their specific tasks. By taking advantage of quantum weirdness – the ability of quantum bits (qubits) to exist in both a “one” and a “zero” state at the same time – these systems can potentially solve problems that cripple even the fastest of today’s supercomputers. From IEEE Spectrum:

Since 2018, D-Wave has offered remote access to quantum computing via its “Leap” quantum cloud computing service. Baratz says an ecosystem of more than 1,000 developers has sprung up to apply Leap’s quantum computing resources to a variety of purposes, including protein folding and financial modeling, and optimizing public transportation routes in Lisbon, Portugal.

Then, in February, D-Wave began offering an enhanced quantum computing cloud service (Leap 2) which couples simulated qubits (on a conventional computer) with D-Wave’s actual qubits.

“We’ve seen problems being explored in the following areas: 1) the modeling and simulation of the spread of the virus, 2) the scheduling of nurses and other hospital resources, 3) assessing the rate of virus mutation, and 4) the assessment of existing drugs as potential treatments,” Baratz said. “We've heard positive feedback from organizations and developers around the world and are looking forward to their collaboration with our global partners to find potential solutions to COVID-19."

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O'Reilly Media shutters its conference business forever

O'Reilly Media's events, from the old Emerging Tech Conference and OSCON to FOO Camps and Strata, have long been energized and productive gatherings of geeks from around the world. Communities were forged there and emerging ideas were accelerated to action. I have fond memories of those real-world scenes, including the 2005 ETech Conference, one of the very infrequent times Xeni, Mark, Cory, and I were all in the same place. Photo evidence below. Sadly, O'Reilly president Laura Baldwin has announced the shutdown of O'Reilly's in-person events division. That marks the end of an era in computer culture. From O'Reilly:

It has been a rough few weeks as we’ve seen the COVID-19 virus take a toll on our livelihoods, our families and the world economy. People are losing their lives, and businesses are suffering in the shadow of revenue losses and a volatile stock market. The virus has had a material impact on O’Reilly’s in-person Events division as well. We previously made the painful decision to cancel our Strata California and Strata London events. Today, we’re sharing the news that we’ve made the very difficult decision to cancel all future O’Reilly in-person conferences and close down this portion of our business. Without understanding when this global health emergency may come to an end, we can’t plan for or execute on a business that will be forever changed as a result of this crisis. With large technology vendors moving their events completely on-line, we believe the stage is set for a new normal moving forward when it comes to in-person events.

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Watch the Cookie Monster's first appearance, in a 1967 IBM training film

Jim Henson's "The Coffee Break Machine" (1967), a skit in an IBM training film, was the first appearance of a proto-Cookie Monster, then green, who evolved from a puppet named the Wheel-Stealer. (A slightly different version of the clip appeared on the Ed Sullivan show that same year.) From the Muppet Wiki:

A proto-Cookie Monster wanders upon a talking coffee machine that has been set in "Auto-Descriptive" Mode. As the machine describes its parts, the monster eats them. Once the machine is finished, the voice of the machine from inside the monster tells him that he has activated the anti-vandalism program, which harbors the most powerful explosives known to man. The monster instantly combusts. The version on the Ed Sullivan Show is slightly different; in this version, the machine itself is an explosive device.

(r/ObscureMedia) Read the rest

Splendid Soviet painting of classroom computers is yours for $2500

Marcin Wichary spotted this fantastic Soviet painting of youngsters at the computer on offer for $2500 on Ebay.

Russian Ukrainian Soviet author's painting. Painter: unknown. Time of the creation: 1980s y. Oil on canvas. painting will be shipped without stretcher in a tube. Size: 100x120 cm (39x47 in)

Big fan of ortholinear, big fan of Ukrainian thrift store art. Read the rest

Funny internal Apple video from 1994: "I Think We're A Clone Now"

In 1994, Apple's Mac OS 7 licensing program briefly enabled other companies to make and sell Macintosh computers. In response, Apple employees "Dave Garr & The Licensees" created this delightful parody of Tiffany's "I Think We're Alone Now."

(via r/Apple) Read the rest

Visualizing the evolution of the Nvidia GPU (VIDEO)

This is a simple but wonderful little original video that shows each incarnation of the Nvidia GPU, from 1995 to 2019. Read the rest

Men in shorts operating computers

Australian Kitch is that rarest of things, a good Twitter account. Here are four gems it found from the newly-launched National Archive of Australia.

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How Susan Kare applied embroidery skills to create the iconic Macintosh icons

In the early 1980s, Susan Kare joined Apple Computer to design fonts and user interface graphics. A legend of pixel art, Kare created the look of the original Macintosh, from the Chicago typeface to the Trash Can to the Happy Mac icon. She's currently creative director at Pinterest. David Kindy profiles Kare in Smithsonian:

Pioneering designer Susan Kare was taught by her mother how to do counted-thread embroidery, which gave her the basic knowledge she needed to create the first icons for the Apple Macintosh 35 years ago.

“It just so happened that I had small black and white grids to work with,” she says. “The process reminded me of working needlepoint, knitting patterns or mosaics. I was lucky to have had a mother who enjoyed crafts..."

Designing the icons proved to be more of a challenge (than the typefaces). Reproducing artwork on those primitive CRT surfaces, which used a bit-mapped matrix system with points of light, or pixels, to display data, was a designer’s nightmare.

However, the friend who recommended Kare for the job—-Andy Hertzfeld, then lead software architect for Macintosh-—had an idea. Since the matrix was essentially a grid, he suggested Kare get the smallest graph paper she could find. She then blocked out a 32-by-32 square and began coloring in squares to create the graphics...

After leaving Apple in 1986, Kare became creative director for Apple cofounder Steve Jobs at the short-lived NeXT, Inc., an influential computer startup that was eventually acquired by Apple. She founded her own eponymous design firm in 1989, which created graphic designs for hundreds of clients, including Autodesk, Facebook, Fossil, General Magic, IBM, Microsoft and PayPal.

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IBM unveils new 53-qubit quantum computer

The largest universal quantum computer available for external use will delivered in October 2019, IBM announced today. Read the rest

Trailer for new documentary series about Bill Gates

Inside Bill's Brain: Decoding Bill Gates is a new three-part documentary that premieres on September 20. It's directed by Davis Guggenheim who produced An Inconvenient Truth and directed Waiting for Superman.

"When I thought about topics to cover, I knew I didn’t want to make a promotional piece about his work," Guggenheim said. "Instead, I opted to focus on the tougher, more complex problems that nobody wants to think about, like sanitation and nuclear energy. Bill chose to take these issues on, even knowing that he might fail, and I had an instinct that seeing him wrestle with these intractable and frustrating problems would reveal something interesting about him as a person.”

It'll be interesting to see how warts-and-all the documentary really is (or isn't). Read the rest

Kitty: a wonderful early computer animation from Russia (1968)

From Etudes.ru (Google translation):

More than 40 years ago in 1968 ... A team led by Nikolai Nikolaevich Konstantinov creates a mathematical model of the motion of the animal (cat). The BESM-4 machine, executing a written program for solving ordinary (in the mathematical sense of the word) differential equations, draws a cartoon "Kitty" containing even by modern standards an amazing animation of cat movements created by a computer.

(via r/ObscureMedia) Read the rest

Security company reports vulnerability in VLC, but it's already patched

VLC, the exceptional open-source media player that pretty much runs on everything, has been one of the first programs I install on a new computer or smartphone for years. It's simple, powerful and free—I couldn't ask for anything more. Well, except maybe not having it play host to a critical (See update below) security vulnerability Read the rest

Raspberry Pi 4

The fourth incarnation of the wonderful Raspberry Pi is upon us. A faster quard-core CPU, up to 4GB of RAM, gigabit ethernet and dual HDMI outputs are the upgrades; there's USB-C too, but just for power. The CPU boost is a big deal, say early users, but dual-4k displays and 4x the RAM bring it squarely into the realm of everyday desktop computing. Still $35; the 4GB model is $55.

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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!

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