Questions tagged [history]

History of computers, digital electronics, hardware manufacturers, and software developers.

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Unknown device in MANIAC I machine room

In my answer to the question about the LANL MANIAC I posted a picture of it in its natural habitat. In the picture there's a mystery device electrical-taped to one of the columns by the system ...
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20 votes
1 answer
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Is the MANIAC in the movie 'The Magnetic Monster' the real MANIAC computer?

I just watched the movie The Magnetic Monster, which is a 1953 science-fiction thriller. The main premise is hokum, but there's an amount of reasonable-seeming background "science" around. ...
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6 votes
1 answer
335 views

Why did the Atari 5200 revert to only two controller ports?

The Atari 5200, released in 1982, had four controller ports, an unusual feature which as far as I know had never been seen before, and would not be seen again until the late nineties. The 1983 ...
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7 votes
1 answer
271 views

What hardware was used for Magic circa 1985?

Magic, which is described as a "smart" layout system for integrated circuits, was open-source and available by the end of 1983. As far as hardware and OS requirements, early documentation ...
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10 votes
1 answer
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Why was the Microvitec Cub monitor made of metal?

In British schools in the early eighties, the iconic microcomputer was the BBC Micro, typically connected to the equally iconic Microvitec Cub color monitor, as described in this video. Why this ...
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10 votes
1 answer
432 views

1990s BBS game featuring mining elements from a planet

Sometime in the 90s (sorry, can't be more specific) I used to dial in to a BBS and play a multi-player game that involved manually mining elements from a planet. It was very detailed, you got employed ...
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10 votes
4 answers
1k views

Anecdote in Weinberger's Psychology of Computer Programming: is it ARPANET?

Gerald Weinberger, in the 1971 book The Psychology of Computer Programming, gives the following anecdote: The numerous stages [of reporting?] can produce interesting effects, as a result of filtering ...
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16 votes
1 answer
488 views

When was an image of an apple first used to promote the APL language

The APL community is contemplating the adoption of a common logo but some are worried about trouble from Apple lawyers. Now, IBM and others have been using apple motifs in promoting APL for a long ...
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2 votes
0 answers
175 views

Did other Acorn keyboards use two-shot molding?

The BBC Micro hardware specification includes the clause: The legend on the keys will be achieved by two-shot moulding This is a process by which the glyphs are made to run all the way through the ...
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5 votes
1 answer
337 views

What were the characteristics of the Siemens 8160 and 9750 terminals?

An answer to a recent question https://retrocomputing.stackexchange.com/a/22332/4274 referred to the Siemens 8160 and 9750 terminals, which struck me as interesting enough to ask about separately in ...
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2 votes
1 answer
202 views

Were any form-based applications designed for more than 80 columns?

The traditional standard display for business computers was 80 column text (with either 24 or 25 rows). Business software, roughly speaking, falls into two categories: Horizontal applications like ...
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1 vote
2 answers
523 views

Was server operating systems ever created with a terminal operating system in mind? [closed]

I have always thought that in the case of Microsoft's server operating systems that they were created with the idea that the end-user of those servers would use Windows. I also thought the same for ...
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10 votes
2 answers
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Why did IBM want to keep ICL alive?

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Computers_Limited International Computers Limited (ICL) was a British computer hardware, computer software and computer services company that ...
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6 votes
4 answers
1k views

What was the first Ethernet hub?

An Ethernet hub is – well, Wikipedia does an impeccable job of summarizing what it is: An Ethernet hub, active hub, network hub, repeater hub, multiport repeater, or simply hub is a network hardware ...
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20 votes
5 answers
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Was 10BASE5 a mistake?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/10BASE5 gives a succint but vivid description of the physical layer of the first version of Ethernet and its subsequent replacement: 10BASE5 (also known as thick ...
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17 votes
2 answers
1k views

Who considered multimedia capability a liability for a business computers, and why?

For technical reasons, business computers of the late '70s usually had little multimedia capability. There have been modern claims (e.g., in the comments on this video) that such capability was ...
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4 votes
2 answers
1k views

What was the first CPU/FPU without a hardware square-rooter?

The first programmable, electronic, general-purpose digital computer, ENIAC had a "square rooter": five of the accumulators were controlled by a special divider/square-rooter unit to ...
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18 votes
3 answers
5k views

Did anyone ever put half a megabyte of memory in an Altair?

The Altair 8800 typically, at least in the early years after its release in 1975, operated with no more than a few kilobytes of memory, for the excellent and sufficient reasons that memory was ...
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26 votes
3 answers
4k views

When did 5.25″ floppies exceed the capacity of 8″?

When 5.25″ floppies were introduced, in the mid-to-late seventies, they would have had less capacity than the older 8″ because, well, less area on which to store data. On the other hand, being cheaper ...
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8 votes
4 answers
1k views

Why Kansas City Standard (KCS/CUTS) differs from Bell 103/202/212 modem protocol?

While both were data transfer protocols serving streams at 300/1200 baud, why did they choose different frequencies, marks, modulation, and anything else? I understand that they serve different ...
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0 votes
0 answers
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What is the origin of the "my" variable/method/et-al in didactic materials?

I think back to many tutorials and code snippets in which I have seen variables, functions, and files with "my" or "my_" prepended. What is the origin of this convention?
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21 votes
3 answers
3k views

What windowing system had the first size-proportional scroll bar?

I came across a link to a site that shows the history of the scroll bar. While the content of the site is pretty thin and devoid of explanation, it does show Xerox Star, Lisa, Mac, Amiga, Windows, ...
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5 votes
2 answers
718 views

What was the reason that the original Western NES console had a "cartridge bed" that had to be pushed down to play?

In Japan, they had the Famicom. You put in the cartridges on the top, just like with the later SNES and other consoles. But for Europe and the USA (and the entire "West"), the "NES"...
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38 votes
6 answers
7k views

Why couldn't early C compilers handle variable declarations between statements?

In modern C, you may place variable declarations between statements: do_something(); int x; x = something_else(); However, older C compilers required that variables are declared before all statements:...
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5 votes
2 answers
263 views

Did any computer ever signal floating-point overflow purely with a sticky flag?

Every implementer of floating-point arithmetic, needs to think about how to signal overflow. One possible way to do it is by raising an exception, though this creates the problem that 'exception' can ...
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11 votes
2 answers
510 views

Was `wchar_t` ever widely adopted by the Unix culture in actual practice?

My very rough understanding of character encoding history as it relates to the Unix family of platforms/languages is that: They started using single-byte (7/8/9-ish bit) character sets like ASCII/...
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7 votes
1 answer
113 views

Which versions of TECO had merged G- and Q-registers?

In this answer to 'Why were TECO variables called Q-registers?' I reference documentation indicating that the original Q-registers were separate from the same-named G-registers. (I.e., X1 would store ...
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10 votes
6 answers
2k views

How prevalent is the CR (classic MacOS) line ending today? [closed]

In a parser library I am maintaining, I stopped recognizing singular Carriage Return characters as line endings to reduce complexity in the tokenizer's position tracking code, a perennial source of ...
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7 votes
1 answer
294 views

What CPU architecture was first to implement 'inverted borrow' carry flag during subtractions?

Background In two's complement arithmetics, if one wants to calculate a subtraction having only an adder that calculates {cout,result}=full_adder(arg1,arg2,cin), where cin and cout are incoming and ...
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5 votes
1 answer
202 views

What was the first control display unit with selector keys around the display?

If not the first, then the one that became popular first (in any application; this is not limited to aviation systems). A control display unit, CDU for short, is fairly common in aviation, perhaps ...
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27 votes
3 answers
3k views

Odyssey game console: what's the deal with "English Control"?

I've just read about the original Magnavox Odyssey console. Interesting story. But what I'm wondering about are the game controllers, and in particular the knob labeled as "English". This ...
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3 votes
1 answer
487 views

Were any 680x0 features specifically requested by a customer?

The Motorola 680x0 processor family was used in a variety of systems, including Apple Macintosh, Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, Sharp X68000, and Sinclair QL systems. Had any of these customers wanted a ...
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9 votes
1 answer
326 views

How did the HP 9100 use base 14?

Wikipedia's page on numeral systems claims: 14 Tetradecimal Programming for the HP 9100A/B calculator and image processing applications; pound and stone Exactly how did the HP 9100A/B use base 14? ...
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16 votes
5 answers
6k views

What is the source of the Apple logo?

What is the source of the Apple logo? I heard that it was a reference to Alan Turing, who died of cyanide poisoning after eating an apple.
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19 votes
3 answers
5k views

Which language had the first scanf?

As a companion to the question "What was the first programming language to have 'printf'?", which language had the first scanf? It doesn't have to be literally called scanf, but I am looking ...
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27 votes
3 answers
7k views

In what ways was the Soviet Strela computer "designed to function during a nuclear winter"? Or at least parts of it?

From Strela computer: Strela computer (Russian: ЭВМ Стрела, arrow) was the first mainframe computer manufactured serially in the Soviet Union, beginning in 1953. This first-generation computer had ...
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12 votes
2 answers
1k views

Transition from static to dynamic shared libraries

A static library, also known as an archive, is one intended to be statically linked. Originally, only static libraries existed. Static linking must be performed when any modules are recompiled. (From ...
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47 votes
3 answers
5k views

How did varargs in C develop?

C has a feature for variadic functions, my understanding is this feature was originally a hack, relying on the simple stack-based parameter passing used by early C implementations and that some time ...
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10 votes
1 answer
307 views

What sort of intermediate representation did the first Fortran compiler use?

Proebsting's Law asserts that improvements to compiler technology double the performance of typical programs every 18 years, but even granted that this is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it's not really ...
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11 votes
1 answer
1k views

What computer programs did Grace Hopper work on during World War II?

Admiral Grace Hopper was a computer pioneer. She wrote the first linker and one of the first compilers; was a proponent of human-readable computer languages, machine-independence of languages, and ...
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39 votes
11 answers
7k views

What's the origin of terminating strings by setting the high bit of the last character?

I was looking at a hex dump of the ROM BASIC from the original IBM PC and found some byte strings like this (ASCII dump is on the right): 50 52 49 4e d4 9d 4c 49 53 d4 9e 50 4f d3 1b 45 PRIN..LIS.....
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15 votes
1 answer
3k views

What was the first programming language to use `+` for string concatenation?

Many reasonably modern programming languages (Java, Python, C++, Ruby) use + to represent string concatenation. "A" + "B" is the string "AB". Languages with a more ...
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8 votes
2 answers
2k views

What are the "other crontabs" that /etc/crontab refer to? [closed]

The /etc/crontab file on ubuntu has a header that reads: # /etc/crontab: system-wide crontab # Unlike any other crontab you don't have to run the `crontab' # command to install the new version when ...
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20 votes
6 answers
5k views

Why did some video games apparently use "interlaced" video modes?

I was under the impression that "interlaced" video modes was only a thing for remote television content because it saved bandwidth to only send 50% of the data to the homes, so you could fit ...
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3 votes
1 answer
776 views

Why were procedure parameter specifications optional in the ALGOL 60 Revised Report?

In Algol 60 procedure declarations, the 'specification' part was optional for by-name parameters. The specification is what gives (loosely speaking) the type of parameter - whether it's real, integer,...
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16 votes
4 answers
3k views

Why does Pascal have numeric labels?

Pascal was intended, in part, to be a simple language to implement. Some of the design decisions reflecting this are Declarations/definitions must be given in a strict order (labels, constants, types,...
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5 votes
0 answers
239 views

What was the first device to "beep" in lieu of tactile feedback to button presses?

I'm splitting this question off of When was beeping invented, in a user interface sense? because I think it's more answerable on its own and I suspect likely to still be computing-related. At some ...
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6 votes
2 answers
512 views

When was beeping invented, in a user interface sense?

UPDATE: thanks all, lots of good discussion but I think this question is a bit too vague to be answerable. I'm casting my own close vote against it and will re-ask a more specific one. Specifically I ...
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  • 2,591
-6 votes
4 answers
470 views

Is UTF-8 responsible for a lot of the cpu-needed bloat in the last ten to fifteen years? [closed]

Some say UTF-8 was the best solution. The price you pay is that it basically makes all parsing optimizations that rely on a fixed relationship of byte offset to character position unusable. Compilers, ...
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31 votes
3 answers
11k views

Why do some people say PHP was "Pretty Home Page"? Was it once PHP's real name?

"Pretty Home Page" is not found in official PHP history. But I saw several people call PHP that way on the internet, and even in some books, teaching & publications: An Experimental ...
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