Video blogger and display technology guru [Fran Blanche] has discovered a splendid retro-tech alphanumeric display from 1910. (Video, embedded below.)
We have always enjoyed her forays into old and unusual displays, including her project researching and reverse engineering an Apollo DSKY unit. This time [Fran] has dug up an amazing billboard from the early 20th century. It was built by the Rice Electric Display Company of Dayton Ohio, and operated in Herald Square for about two years. Requiring $400,000 in 1910-US-dollars to build, this was clearly an Herculean effort for its day and no doubt is the first example of selling advertising time on a computer-controller billboard. It boasts characters that are about 1.3 m tall and 1 m wide which can display letters, numbers, and various punctuation and symbols. These are arrayed into a 3-line 18-character matrix that is about 27 x 4 meters, and that’s up only a third of the total billboard, itself an illuminated and dynamic work of art.
There are quite a few tantalizing details in the video, but a few that jumped out at us are the 20,000 light bulbs, the 40 Hz display update rate, the 150 km of wire used and the three month long installation time. We would really like to learn more about these two 7.5 kW motorized switch controllers, how were they programmed, how were the character segments arranged, what were their shapes?
In the video, you can see triangles arranged in some pattern not unlike more modern sixteen segment displays, although as [Fran] points out, Mr Rice’s characters are more pleasing. We hope [Fran] can tease out more details for a future video. If you have any ideas or knowledge about this display, please put them in the comments section below. Spoiler alert after the video…
September 30th, 1980 is the day when Ethernet was first commercially introduced, making it exactly forty years ago this year. It was first defined in a patent filed by Xerox as a 10 Mb/s networking protocol in 1975, introduced to the market in 1980 and subsequently standardized in 1983 by the IEEE as IEEE 802.3. Over the next thirty-seven years, this standard would see numerous updates and revisions.
Included in the present Ethernet standard are not just the different speed grades from the original 10 Mbit/s to today’s maximum 400 Gb/s speeds, but also the countless changes to the core protocol to enable these ever higher data rates, not to mention new applications of Ethernet such as power delivery and backplane routing. The reliability and cost-effectiveness of Ethernet would result in the 1990 10BASE-T Ethernet standard (802.3i-1990) that gradually found itself implemented on desktop PCs.
Going anywhere interesting this weekend? No, of course you aren’t. None of us are. So why not tune your computer or smartphone to the online stream of one of the virtual Vintage Computer Festivals that will be taking place between October 10th and 11th. Granted only one of them is in English, but we’ve often thought of blinky lights as something of a universal language anyway.
Vintage Computer Festival East, which normally would have happened in the Spring, has finally decided that 2020 is a wash for any in-person meetings and has decided to switch over to virtual. Interestingly, it sounds like they’ll be live streaming at least some of the exhibitor tables from the InfoAge museum in New Jersey where the physical event would have been held. So from an attendee perspective, the virtual event should be a bit closer to the real thing than if everyone had to figure out their own streaming setups from home. Presentations will run from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM Eastern on both days.
On the other side of the globe, Vintage Computing Festival Berlin will be broadcasting their own exhibitions, workshops, and lectures. In an interesting use of the virtual format, they’ll be giving viewers an intimate look at vintage computers and technology that’s held in private collections, museums, or otherwise inaccessible storage and research facilities. Content will be streaming from 10:00 AM to 8:00 PM CEST on both days, with a musical performance overnight.
While there’s an understandable tendency to bemoan the trend of moving events online in the face of COVID-19, there are certainly situations where the format can actually bring you more content than you’d have access to otherwise. Especially when they end up being free, as is the case with both of these Festivals. We’re still eagerly awaiting the point where we can get back to attending these events in person, but we certainly aren’t complaining when so many incredible people are willing to put on these presentations without seeing a dime.
At a time when practical graphical user interfaces were only just becoming a reality on desktop computers, Apple took a leap of faith and released one of the first commercially available mice back in 1983. It was criticized as being little more than a toy back then, but we all know how that particular story ends.
While the Apple G5431 isn’t that first mouse, it’s not too far removed. So much so that [Stephen Arsenault] believed it was worthy of historic preservation. Whether you want to print out a new case to replace a damaged original or try your hand at updating the classic design with modern electronics, his CAD model of this early computer peripheral is available under the Creative Commons license for anyone who wants it.
[Stephen] tells us that he was inspired to take on this project after he saw new manufactured cases for the G5431 popping up online, including a variant made out of translucent plastic. Realizing that a product from 1986 is old enough that Apple (probably) isn’t worried about people cloning it, he set out to produce this definitive digital version of the original case components for community use.
You’re likely familiar with the old tale about how Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple and started his own company, NeXT. Apple then bought NeXT and their technologies and brought Jobs back as CEO once again. However, Jobs’ path wasn’t unique, and the history of computing since then could’ve gone a whole lot different.
In 1990, Jean-Louis Gassée, who replaced Jobs in Apple as the head of Macintosh development, was also fired from the company. He then also formed his own computer company with the help of another ex-Apple employee, Steve Sakoman. They called it Be Inc, and their goal was to create a more modern operating system from scratch based on the object-oriented design of C++, using proprietary hardware that could allow for greater media capabilities unseen in personal computers at the time.
The field of computer science has undeniably changed the world for virtually every single person by now. Certainly for you as Hackaday reader, but also for everyone around you, whether they’re working in the field themselves, or are simply enjoying the fruits of convenience it bears. What was once a highly specialized niche field for a few chosen people has since grown into a discipline that not only created one of the biggest industry in modern times, but also revolutionized every other industry, some a few times over.
The fascinating part about all this is the relatively short time span it took to get here, and with that the privilege to live in an era where some of the pioneers and innovators, the proverbial giants whose shoulders every one of us is standing on, are still among us. Sadly, one of them, [Tony Brooker], a pioneer of the early programming language concept known as Autocode, passed away in November. Reaching the remarkable age of 94, the truly sad part however is that this might be the first time you hear his name, and there’s a fair chance you never heard of Autocode either.
But Autocode was probably the first high-level computer language, and as such played a fundamental role in the development of whatever you’re coding in today. So to honor the memory of [Tony Brooker], let’s remember the work he did with Autocode, and the leap in computer science history that it represented.
This week marks the twenty-five year anniversary of the demise of Commodore International. This weekend, pour one out for our lost homies.
Commodore began life as a corporate entity in 1954 headed by Jack Tramiel. Tramiel, a Holocaust survivor, moved to New York after the war where he became a taxi driver. This job led him to create a typewriter repair shop in Bronx. Wanting a ‘military-style’ name for his business, and the names ‘Admiral’ and ‘General’ already taken, and ‘Lieutenant’ simply being a bad name, Tramiel chose the rank of Commodore.
Later, a deal was inked with a Czechoslovakian typewriter manufacture to assemble typewriters for the North American market, and Commodore Business Machines was born. Of course, no one cares about this pre-history of Commodore, for the same reason that very few people care about a company that makes filing cabinets. On the electronics side of the business, Commodore made digital calculators. In 1975, Commodore bought MOS, Inc., manufacturers of those calculator chips. This purchase of MOS brought Chuck Peddle to Commodore as the Head of Engineering. The calculators turned into computers, and the Commodore we know and love was born.