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Researcher Resurrects the First Computer 149

Posted by kdawson
from the how-do-i-love-thee-let-me-randomly-select-the-ways dept.
aleph60 writes "A German researcher is about to resurrect the first fully electronic general-purpose stored-program computer, the Manchester Mark 1 (1948). The functional replica will run the source code of an original program from 1952 by Christopher Strachey, whose sole purpose was generating love letters; it is historically interesting as one of the first examples of a text-generating program. The installation will be shown at an art exhibition in Germany at the end of April." Here is researcher David Link's Manchester Mark I emulator home, which generates a new love poem on each page load. When the Mark I had been used to search for new Mersenne primes in 1949, a press account coined the phrase "electronic brain" to characterize it.
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Researcher Resurrects the First Computer

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  • Inspiration for Lem? (Score:4, Informative)

    by CRCulver (715279) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Friday April 10, 2009 @11:08AM (#27531875) Homepage
    In his collection The Cyberiad [amazon.com] , Stanislaw Lem has two engineers create a computer capable of creating poetry. The resulting poem is a love poem full of references to mathematics. I wonder if this old computer served as Lem's inspiration.
  • Baby? (Score:2, Informative)

    by astroe (985563) on Friday April 10, 2009 @11:39AM (#27532367)
    AFAIK, Mark I's "father", Manchester Baby was actually the first fully-electronic stored-program computer. The only arithmetic operation it could do was subtraction, yet it was Turing-complete.
  • by david.given (6740) <dg.cowlark@com> on Friday April 10, 2009 @12:02PM (#27532689) Homepage Journal

    Klapaucius thought, and thought some more. Finally he nodded and said:

    "Very well. Let's have a love poem, lyrical, pastoral, and expressed in the language of pure mathematics. Tensor algebra mainly, with a little topology and higher calculus, if need be. But with feeling, you understand, and in the cybernetic spirit."

    "Love and tensor algebra? Have you taken leave of your senses?" Trurl began, but stopped, for his electronic bard was already declaiming:

    Come, let us hasten to a higher plane,
    Where dyads tread the fairy fields of Venn,
    Their indices bedecked from one to n,
    Commingled in an endless Markov chain!

    Come, every frustum longs to be a cone,
    And every vector dreams of matrices.
    Hark to the gentle gradient of the breeze:
    It whispers of a more ergodic zone.

    In Riemann, Hilbert, or in Banach space
    Let superscripts and subscripts go their ways.
    Our asymptotes no longer out of phase,
    We shall encounter, counting, face to face.

    I'll grant thee random access to my heart,
    Thou'lt tell me all the constants of thy love;
    And so we two shall all love's lemmas prove,
    And in our bound partition never part.

    For what did Cauchy know, or Christoffel,
    Or Fourier, or any Boole or Euler,
    Wielding their compasses, their pens and rulers,
    Of thy supernal sinusoidal spell?

    Cancel me not -- for what then shall remain?
    Abscissas, some mantissas, modules, modes,
    A root or two, a torus and a node:
    The inverse of my verse, a null domain.

    Ellipse of bliss, converge, O lips divine!
    The product of our scalars is defined!
    Cyberiad draws nigh, and the skew mind
    Cuts capers like a happy haversine.

    I see the eigenvalue in thine eye,
    I hear the tender tensor in thy sigh.
    Bernoulli would have been content to die,
    Had he but known such A squared cos two phi.

    And that's translated. Lem wrote in Polish. He may have been a genius, but Michael Kandel, who was his English translator, must have been one too...

    (Also, damn Slashdot for not allowing HTML entities in posts. The formula in the last line is supposed to be represented mathematically.)

  • by davidwr (791652) on Friday April 10, 2009 @12:19PM (#27532903) Homepage Journal

    Lots of links about it here [google.com].

    They even had a contest for the best modern program that could run on the "Baby" Mark 1. The computer had 32 words of 32 bits each and had only 6 instructions stored in 3 bits [mactech.com]: STOre, SUBtract, LoaDNegative, JuMP, Jump Relative/JRP, CoMPare/conditional branch, and SToP.

    The contest winner [computer50.org] was nothing more than a countdown timer. I'd guess that it won for out-of-the-box thinking in the presentation: The instructions were: Load program into memory. Pour hot water into pot noodles. Press start button. Wait for end-of-program light to light up. Enjoy noodles. Ignore output.

  • by jd (1658) <imipak AT yahoo DOT com> on Friday April 10, 2009 @12:54PM (#27533389) Homepage Journal

    The title is misleading. The Baby and MMk1 are the first all-electronic (no mechanical elements) fully stored-program (the program was entirely stored in internal RAM, there was no external component to the program) stored-data (there was no external data source either, data was entirely held in RAM) computer. Since this is how people perceive computers in the modern era, for the most part, this is usually shortened to "first modern computer".

  • by julesh (229690) on Friday April 10, 2009 @02:36PM (#27534557)

    Scientists from the RAND Corporation have created this model to illustrate how a "home computer" could look like in the year 2004.

    You are aware that this is a hoax, right? I understand it originated on 4chan.

  • by jd (1658) <imipak AT yahoo DOT com> on Friday April 10, 2009 @02:45PM (#27534655) Homepage Journal

    Oh, it really does matter. Early computers had to be hard-wired to match the logic of the program. The next generation could only retain one instruction at a time, which meant that loops required tape to feed back and forwards - and, tape being what it is, that's too fragile for any form of non-deterministic loop. Recursion is completely impossible because there is no meaningful program state as the only thing you can store is data. Dynamic code and dynamic linking have no meaning. Neither does self-modifying code, although that tends to be rather rare these days. As code and data are physically distinguished, you couldn't even pass a pointer to a function, so such a machine could never support languages as advanced as C, and certainly couldn't handle object-oriented notions.

    The moment you get to true all-electronic stored-program stored-data machines, you enter a world in which procedural and functional logic is possible, where programming techniques we take for granted can actually exist. Sure, you couldn't run Linux on the MMk1, at least as it was left, but it was the first machine to have sufficient underlying hardware that it was intrinsically capable of every task an OS like Linux needs to perform.

    If someone were to take the MMk1 design and add the necessary opcodes and memory, you COULD run Linux (with kernel module support) on it. You would not need to re-architecture the machine. No matter how you extended ABC or ENIAC, you could never run an OS like that, simply because the architecture is too primitive. It lacks key capabilities.

    True, running Linux on the MMk1 would be horribly slow. I definitely advise against running X, especially on the limited display available to it (8x32 pixels). However, like I said, the architecture would handle it. Turing and Kilburn were absolute geniuses in that they did not over-optimize their machine but built something totally generic and then only implemented as much as they needed.

  • by patternmatch (951637) on Friday April 10, 2009 @03:15PM (#27535079)
    Actually, I believe it is from a Fark photoshop contest. Sorry, no link handy...
  • Re:ENIAC (Score:3, Informative)

    by julesh (229690) on Friday April 10, 2009 @03:17PM (#27535103)

    ENIAC was the first Turing-complete, general-purpose electronic computer, completed in 1946

    The ENIAC was not a stored-program computer, however. ENIAC was programmed by connecting its computing units together with patch cables, just like its predecessor, Colossus.

    Its predecessors were either not Turing-complete, not programmable, or not fully electronic (i.e., electro-mechanical).

    I'm not sure of the relevance of this, as this article is about a successor, not a predecessor.

    The judge in the 1973 patent decision was misinformed.

    The judge in the 1973 case was very well informed, the lawyers on each side of the case would hardly leave him lacking any information they felt he might need. They were being paid by the hour, naturally. He decided (quite correctly, IMO) that reorganizing the structure of a computer to be general-purpose rather than fixed-purpose by allowing the computing units to be connected together in different arrangements (which was the ENIAC's only real innovation) was insufficiently innovative to justify the granting of a patent on all forms of computing equipment even when the method of programming of those computers was completely different.

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