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67 votes

When was this C function definition style, with type declarations of parameters after the parameter list, invented?

It's the original C syntax as designed by Dennis Ritchie, so bite your tongue :-) As mentioned in another answer, the style was not unusual at the time. For an example of early art: FORTRAN II (1958) ...
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57 votes
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Why did Nintendo name its console the "Famicom"?

But why was it given an English name in Japan Foreign Branding is a common marketing strategy to give a product a more distinguished name. Think 'Häagen-Dazs', a fantasy name with some Nordic 'flair' ...
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55 votes
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Odyssey game console: what's the deal with "English Control"?

"English" is a billiards term for spin. I assume that adjusting the ball position in the game gave some control over the trajectory of the ball, reminiscent of spin.
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50 votes
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What is the source of the Apple logo?

This seemingly well-researched article from a design magazine says According to Janoff [designer of the logo], the reason for choosing this bitten apple logo is to prevent people from confusing the ...
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46 votes
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Did any PC software floating point use non-IEEE format?

Turbo Pascal 2.x and the "ordinary" version of Turbo Pascal 3.x used a six-byte floating-point format which offered higher precision than an IEEE single-precision float, offering the ...
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45 votes

What is the oldest digital processor still performing non-educational duties in its original environment?

Good candidates: the onboard computers at Voyager 1 and 2 space probes. Up and running from 1977, a good 44 years of uptime (and counting). They do at least part of their original job. "Part"...
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44 votes
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Why was computer memory so expensive and scarce?

As noted in some initial comments (but I feel fine answering, as I had the exact same ideas when I read the question), this is a general progression of technology but there are two very specific ...
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42 votes
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Was 10BASE5 a mistake?

The performance (except for allowable cable length, see below) was the same between 10BASE5, 10BASE2 and 10BASE-T, and you have the complexity backwards: the coax is simpler than the twisted pair. The ...
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42 votes
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What was the first operating system to be called an "operating system"?

As is often the case, a candidate for the first system to be described by its authors as an “operating system” is the Atlas supervisor, described in the eponymous paper published in December 1961, ...
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39 votes
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When did 5.25″ floppies exceed the capacity of 8″?

In practice, 5.25" drives equalled or exceeded the capacity of 8" drives when 5.25" floppy drives started using HD media. The Evolution of 5.25" Drive Systems There are only two ...
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38 votes

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

Some early compilers, such as the ones described in the 1974 C reference manual, required that all automatic object declarations within a function precede the first executable code therein. Imposing ...
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38 votes

Why did the stock Amigas not have a battery for keeping the time/date?

You specifically mention the Amiga 1200 in your question, but your statement about real-time clocks is not true for Amigas, in general. From 1987, the Amiga was offered in at least two versions aimed ...
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37 votes

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

Normally, the concern for electronics would be surviving not the nuclear winter (let's face it - there will be plenty more pressing survival matters to attend to than computers used for ballistic ...
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37 votes
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Why did Western designs suddenly overtake native Russian ones in the USSR?

I'm not sure your question is correct. You posit that native Soviet designs were ahead until some point around 1980, when "suddenly" clones of Western designs took over. In fact, Comecon ...
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36 votes
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What happened to all those Unix workstations in the '90s?

It's obviously not practical to give the whole story of many companies from start to finish in a single answer. But, generally speaking in the 1980's, the computer industry was much more fractious ...
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36 votes

Did any PC software floating point use non-IEEE format?

The BASIC built into the ROM of the original IBM PC, as well as the BASICA and GW-BASIC programs, and therefore all software written in the language, used Microsoft Binary Format for floating-point ...
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35 votes

What is the oldest digital processor still performing non-educational duties in its original environment?

Almost certainly in a nuclear power station I used to work at the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park! I really love the Harwell Dekatron there; probably my fave exhibit but it's definitely ...
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34 votes

What is the source of the Apple logo?

According to official sources, the name Apple came first. In an interview with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, recorded to an internal Apple video, it is explained that the name just… appeared. The ...
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34 votes

Why are assemblers called assemblers?

The first use seems to be in "Wilkes, M. V., D. J. Wheeler, and S. Gill, The Preparation of Programs for an Electronic Digital Computer. Reading, MA.: Addison-Wesley, 1951". This book can ...
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32 votes

What was the purpose of those special user accounts in Unix?

Debian includes a file which describes a number of historical accounts, with details covering more than Debian; it is shipped as /usr/share/doc/base-passwd/users-and-groups.txt.gz and its source can ...
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32 votes
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What's the origin of process return status 0 meaning success?

Here is a Multics document on "Standard Error Handling Practice" from March 1969. Scroll down to the second page and find "by convention, zero is the code for normal completion". ...
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31 votes
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Which language had the first scanf?

Fortran: October 1956. See The Programmer's Reference Manual for Fortran on the IBM704, Chapter 5. In the question about printf Fortran was explicitly excluded, but I don't see why it fails to meet ...
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30 votes

When was this C function definition style, with type declarations of parameters after the parameter list, invented?

As others have explained, it's the original K&R C style. But why is it this way? C is the successor to B (Wikipedia). It was typeless, so there was no need to specify which type a function ...
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29 votes

Was AGP only ever used for graphics cards?

While working on upgrading my Super Socket 7 based NAS, trying to get as much performance out of the platform as possible, I asked myself the same question. As an obviously headless NAS won't need a ...
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29 votes

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

Kind of an authoritative support for Dave's answer (*1) as this was a question I asked Mr. Baer on a visit in 2008. I haven't heard that term before either. But why call it "English"? As ...
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28 votes

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

Can't say I know for sure. But I'll ante up Smalltalk 80 (or even earlier, ST-72, 76, 78).
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28 votes
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Is the MANIAC in the movie 'The Magnetic Monster' the real MANIAC computer?

Having taken a look at the film it does not appear that the "MANIAC" depicted is the same as the real MANIAC I. The "MANIAC" computer appears at about 18 minutes into the film. ...
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28 votes

What happened to all those Unix workstations in the '90s?

I can give a limited personal perspective on this because I was there! It's limited because I can only talk about what happened in my company, though that was a large multinational and is probably ...
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28 votes
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The two types of Return keys on keyboard layouts

[I assume the question is specific about prevalent PC-Keyboards. For typewriters in general the history is of course way more diverse, not to mention even more computer keyboard layouts. Wiki got ...
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27 votes

Why was computer memory so expensive and scarce?

I'm mostly concerned about RAM. Why was it so expensive? It wasn't - at least not once integrated circuit RAM became available in the 1970s. Compared to other chips, RAM was cheaper both per ...
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