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multics
jwg

At the computer museum

Our friday trip to the Computer History Museum was interesting. We were led by a docent backwards through time and listened to his stories that at least to me were somewhat boring but semi-informative. There wasn't much emphasis on breakthoughs nor key people. Unlike the Association for Computing Machinery whose members are people and whose emphasis these days is software, the Computer History Museum is about old relics of hardware.

I had tried to arrange to see the Multics hardware they have there, but the custodian and another contact never responded to phone calls or email so it couldn't be seen. Too bad, the CPU had about 80 boards with about 100 ICs on each one and a back panel with 14,000 wires connecting the boards. They have a lot of stuff in the back and in a warehouse that you can't see (as is true for most museums).


My father had a Monroe calculator just like that - I used to like playing with it. I wonder if anyone makes slide rules anymore?


Enthralled by the docent. This kind of reminds me of my erector set that I used to like to build stuff with.




Could this fellow have used this hairdo?

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Some class I had in college required us to use those calculators like your father had. I never could figure it out. I can't remember how I passed the class. I think that was one where I was the only female. That could answer the class passing question.

And I still have several small notepads with Think covers. And at least one Think sign. We should bring that campaign back!



I am so pleased that the Meccano Difference Engine has ended up at the Museum.

The Enigma machines they have give me quite a chill when I see them.


in grade 10 (being in the Business & Commerce stream), I took courses on Bookkeeping and Business Machines. The first was useful, and I can do double-entry bookkeeping and understand what all sorts of financial statements are. Business machines, on the other hand, got overtaken by technology. The machines were all mechanical beasties.

There were "ten key calculators", which could add/subtract/multiply/divide, and spat out a printed tape. They were pretty big - about 30cm wide, 40cm deep and 30cm high, and weighed quite a bit (a good 10kg / 20lb).

There were "comptometers", which had a 9x10 matrix of keys and could add (and subtract).

And then there were the "rotary calculators", which looked suspiciously like that Munroe beast. the ones we used were about 3 columns of keys wider, grey and made by SCM, but much the same. The carriage travels back and forth. They do division by repetitive subtraction, keeping on subtracting the divisor from the divident until the balance becomes negative, adding it back one cycle and the carriage moving over one column (down by a power of ten), all the while there was much whizzing and ka-chunk noises. We very soon learned that the longest you could get it to do this was to divide 999999999 by 1 - it would do its dance for over a minute when you did that.

We had to learn how to use the comptometer and 10-key by touch, no looking at the keys; though you were allowed to look at the rotary calculator keys. Of course, you didn't have one of these at home, so the skills got dusty -- I daresay they'd have come back if I'd gone to work in a bank right after high school. But six or seven years later, pocket-size battery-powered calculators came along, and all those machines became very quickly obsolete.

but it was fun while it lasted. and that's why I never took Latin, which my classmates in Arts&Sciences were doing while I was slaving away over a hot comptometer.

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