Rescuing Surplus Blinkenlights

Because surplus LED panels from an early 1990s supercomputer is a completely reasonable thing to own, [William Dillon] set to work displaying them on his wall.

The LED panels came from a surplus CM-5 Connection Machine, best known from it’s role as the mainframe in Jurassic Park (only an empty case with LED panels were used in the movie). When not on Isla Nublar, the Connection Machine was a fabulous piece of engineering from the 1980s Artificial Intelligence revival. With some machines having 65,536 processors, it was used for AI research using Lisp (although we were never very good at Lisp.

[William] built a wooden frame out of 1×2 inch maple and installed an X10 module behind the panels as a remote switch. The panels themselves aren’t controlled by a computer, so the only thing left to do was to mount the power supplies. It’s impressive to see the massively over-engineered power supplies that were designed to source 5V @ 30A when the panels only draw 7 Amps. [William] says it was a design feature of the Connection Machine to spare no expense.

[William]’s next plan is to reverse engineer the panels to display custom messages, and we can’t wait to see what he comes up with. We can’t explain why, but we really want to build one of these panels. Check out the pictures of [William] decommissioning the CM-5.

18 thoughts on “Rescuing Surplus Blinkenlights

  1. HaD, for what reason do you believe that anyone cares for comments like “(although we were never very good at Lisp.” and ” We can’t explain why, but we really want to build one of these panels. “?
    You’re just summarizing other people’s work, no need to try and spice things up with “funny” comments. Better spend your time using a spell-checker.

  2. It’s too bad other stuff isn’t “over designed” like the LED powr supplies.

    When I worked at AT&T, I worked with an engineer that used to work at NASA. I “made fun of” his choice for a power supply one time. And he explained that although he only need a few hundred milliamps, and the PS was quite capable of supply several amps, the reason was, it all probability, no matter what died, that PS would still be running cool.

    Design it right, over design it, and you won’t have to worry about it again. On the other hand, design it to run right on the border line, and it’ll probably die, causing you lost time, customers, aggravation etc….

    No, I’ll stick with my over designed stuff any day.

  3. Good grief. Given the lame things some can find to criticize Hackaday over, Hackaday really has nothing to worry about. I’m thinking the guy that built that Linux compiler could have use 3-4 of those 5V power supplies, or would it had been 8? I can’t recall.

  4. Must’ve grown up on Irwin Allen tv shows !

    “Lost In Space” (Jupiter II blinking light panels)

    “Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea” (USS Seaview blinking light panels)

    “Land Of The Giants” (Spindrift blinking panels)

    “The Time Tunnel” (more blinking panels)

    All no doubt built by low bidders who didn’t exactly design in reliability. Since every storyline depended on sparks flying out of the panels and equipment failing !

  5. Neat, but I really do hurt for the death of the machine.

    Incidentally, a few years ago (2006ish) the company I was working for had a bunch of lisp machines in the basement. They practically gave them away, if not literally gave them away….

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