Three new interesting Computer
History reports from wired.com
"Little did Unisys know how much fear
and loathing the Universal Automatic
Computer would generate half a century
Three reports from
50th Anniversary First Commercial Computer
Unisys Confesses UNIVAC Sins
By Julia Scheeres
"The company that invented the first commercial computer apologized
the eve of its 50th anniversary for any "unintended consequences" of its use.
Unisys Corporation launched the UNIVAC 1 on June 14, 1951. [...]
Little did Unisys know how much fear and loathing the Universal Automatic
Computer would generate half a century later. [...]
"We all love computers, but they've also done so many mean things to so
many people," said company spokesman Guy Esnouf. "The inventors would
be horrified. They're not here, so we're apologizing on their behalf."
The ancient behemoths were painfully slow, said Russell Atkinson, principal scientist
at Palo Alto Research Center. "On the old computers, the fastest instruction would take
100 microseconds to complete," Atkinson explained. "Today we're talking about small
numbers, even less than a nanosecond. Look at the new Pentium 1.7 Gigahertz chip.
Every cycle on that machine takes about .6 nanoseconds -- about the time it takes light
to travel seven inches." In contrast, it would have taken the UNIVAC 1 about 100,000
nanoseconds -- or the time light travels 20 miles -- to process the same information,
The UNIVAC has had several famous uses. In 1952, it predicted that
would win the presidential election, based on voting results from key districts.
In 1956, it helped prepare the first concordance of the Revised Standard
Version Bible." [...] Copyright © 1994-2001 Wired Digital Inc.
From Old Big Blue to ASCI White
by Leander Kahney
"The 1401 was Big Blue's first all-transistor machine, one of the first to replace the vacuum-
tube models of the previous era. "The printers and check sorters would roar like machine guns
all through the night," he said. "It was deafening. If you stood next to them you couldn't hear
a thing in the morning. "It was a very physical experience you don't get today."
"It was a Rube Goldberg contraption," he said. "It was an incredible giant -- 50
feet long or more and 10 feet high. It stored all the data for the lab [Los Alamos
National Laboratory] on small film cartridges or something like that. Whenever
someone wanted something it would fetch them with an arm and open them up.
It was like a huge robot." [...]
Despite its phenomenal size, the Q7 had a single CPU running at about 12 KHz --
that's kilohertz, not megahertz -- and 64K of RAM. Donovan was one of "hundreds"
of programmers who coded the machines in assembly language, which were encoded
on a long paper ticker tape. [...]But in many ways, the machine was surprisingly
sophisticated. [...] "It could even play Stars and Stripes Forever," he recalled.
"Using the tape drives as trombones, the line printers as percussion, and the bit
speaker as the flutes. No lie." Copyright © 1994-2001 Wired Digital Inc.
IBM's Got A Big, Bad Computer
by Leander Kahney
"Last Friday a large convoy of trucks left an IBM manufacturing plant in upstate New York
and headed across the country to a federal weapons lab in Northern California. The 28 semi-
trucks were loaded with the first batch of components for the world's largest supercomputer,
a monster machine the size of two basketball courts that draws enough electricity to power
a small town.
Over the next two months IBM's ASCI White will be assembled at the Lawrence Livermore
National Laboratory, one of the U.S.'s leading nuclear research labs. [...] When it is up
and running, ASCI White will be the most powerful computer on the planet. It will be used
to simulate nuclear test blasts at an unprecedented level of detail and speed. One of the simulations
will run for 30 days. A Cray supercomputer built in 1995 would take 60,000 years to perform
the same calculations.
ASCI White can perform a mind-boggling 12.3 trillion operations a second, or 12.3
teraflops. It is three times faster than the previous fastest machine, another IBM giant
known as ASCI Blue, which runs at 3.8 teraflops. [...]
ASCI White is not one computer, but a massively parallel machine made from 512 of
IBM's RS 6000 servers. Each server has 16 processors -- supercharged versions of
the PowerPC chips used in Apple's Macs -- which also operate in parallel.
[...] Supercomputers allow scientists to predict how volatile materials in the warheads
behave as they age and change.
ASCI White is hooked to a bank of imaging workstations that convert data from a
simulation into a visualization of the detonation, which is projected onto a giant screen.
Weapons scientists will be able to see the actual atoms, said IBM's Jardine. "I've been
told the physicists come away with a feeling of awe," Jardine said. "They say: 'That's
what it looks like.' [...] Copyright © 1994-2001 Wired Digital Inc.