Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
Programming IT Technology

Researcher Resurrects the First Computer 149

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.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Researcher Resurrects the First Computer

Comments Filter:
    M. U. C.

    Now that's some vintage computer porn!

    But seriously, I'm interested in how the Manchester Mark 1 implemented its random number instruction (to select the phrases for the love poems). Was it von Neumann's [wikipedia.org] middle square method [wikipedia.org] from 1946? Does anyone know?

    I remember lengthy discussion in my undergrad days of how a completely logical computer could come up with a truly random number and talking about the theory that every software solution is pseudorandom. I'm just wondering what the first computer had implemented.

    • every software solution IS pseudorandom.

      Of course, Newton should us that nothing is truly random, just too complex to understand well enough to predict.
      For example, if you new all the variables going into a coin toss, you would know what the result would be.

      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        If you newed all the variables of a coin toss, you'd get the same result every time.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by davidgay ( 569650 )
        Somebody's been missing out on the last century's worth of physics...
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You need hardware, not software, to produce true random numbers. At the company I used to work at we discovered that some of our Zener diodes were 'too perfect' and they started to show an effect called micro-plasms (rather poorly documented). After some research we nailed it and I was able to use some of the engineering dies to make a true random number generator for my laptop.

    • Sounds rather like a spam e-mail...
    • Sounds like something you'd see on http://www.engrish.com/ [engrish.com]
    • by Deagol ( 323173 )

      Meh! Check *this* out:

      cd /usr/ports/games/sex ; make install clean ; sex

      "Land o' Goshen!" stammered the bull-dyke prostitute as the bung-hole stuffing drug sucker diddled her muscular buds and hammered his spouting earthmover into her hungry paradise valley.

      Same effect without all the poetic subtlety of a more prudish era! Everything old is new again. The creators of both programs obviously had too much time on their hands.

      • Gentoo, muthafucka:

        $sudo emerge sex
        $ sex
        "No, no, do the goldfish!" yelled the wanton DARPA contract monitor as the sphincter licking midget lashed her dribbling knees and reamed his swinish plunger into her porous swamp.

        Beat that!

        • by Deagol ( 323173 )

          "Gentoo, muthafucka"

          Here's a quarter, kid. *ting!* Go get yourself a real OS. ;-)

          • You mean "go dumb down and stop having freedoms"? Because that is the reason I'm preferring Gentoo. Got any problem with that?

            Just curious. What do you call a real OS? Something more primitive, like an old UNIX? Or something more dumbed down, like Ubuntu, Mac or even Windows?

            Now get off my lawn!

            • by Deagol ( 323173 )

              The command sequence I listed earlier was meant for FreeBSD, which is what I use. So far as I know, the only UNIX variants to have a /usr/ports tree are FreeBSD and OpenBSD.

              Calm down -- I was just ribbing. Nobody's suggesting you use Windows.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by vertinox ( 846076 )

      Now that's some vintage computer porn!

      That makes me wonder... Who was the first person to depict the image of a naked woman on a computer (ASCII or otherwise)

    • What makes you think it was algorithmic? Some of the encryptors I have worked on used a white noise source into a long register ... truly random, yet done in hardware!
  • by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <BadAnalogyGuy@gmail.com> on Friday April 10, 2009 @10:59AM (#27531773)

    Roses are red,
    Violets are blue.
    Fondle my wee wee
    And I'll massage your woo woo.

    Let's see that old heap create something as romantic as that!

  • by Jeian ( 409916 ) on Friday April 10, 2009 @11:04AM (#27531837)

    A article about resurrection on Good Friday, perfect timing. ;)

  • 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.
    • by foobsr ( 693224 )
      Interesting question — but no, quote [missourireview.org]: "I came to The Cyberiad through another book, Robotic Fables."

      It seems, though, that this book has not yet reached the Internet yet.

    • 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 Darth Muffin ( 781947 ) on Friday April 10, 2009 @11:11AM (#27531925) Homepage
    Resurrect would imply he's getting the original working again. This is more like a clone...

    Great, now I've got a Computer version of Jursassic Park running around in my head.

    • by jd ( 1658 )

      You're right, and it's not even the first. The Manchester team rebuilt the Manchester Mk. 1 for the 50th anniversary.

    • Watch out for hunting packs of VAX-11's, there smart bastards, 2 of them will distract you while the third one leaps from behind.

  • Darling Duck, You are my fervent eagerness. My devotion devotedly cherishes your devoted eagerness. My rapture winningly is wedded to your ardent tenderness. You are my burning love. My longing yearns for your liking.
  • not nearly as impressive as when a computer was actually the title of a person.

    For you younger reader, a person calculating targeting trajectories(and other things) for the military was called a 'computer', becasue the computed numbers.

  • by cptnapalm ( 120276 ) on Friday April 10, 2009 @11:33AM (#27532271)

    Computer: My processor races at
                        the way you nurture
                        my love kernel module
                        dearest, adored researcher

    Researcher: Err, thanks... but I don't think of you that way. Let's just be friends.

    Computer: heart dumped. Recover mode initiated. s/love/eternal hate/g.

    Computer: Yes, fleshy one... Friends. Oh, yes. Friends.

  • Strachey and CPL (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ajb44 ( 638669 ) on Friday April 10, 2009 @11:34AM (#27532287)

    Strachey was also the lead programmer behind the programming language CPL, the great-grandfather of C (via BCPL and B). CPL was too ambitious and was never completely implemented - it tried to do everything; a bit like Perl 6 really.

    The overview paper:http://comjnl.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/6/2/134 is quite interesting; sadly it is now behind a pay-wall. There are some features of the language, such as type inference, which have not become common until recently. It also has some obvious poor decisions with hindsight - the same character starts and ends blocks; all lower case letters are single-character variable names; multiple-character variable names must be capitalised (this is done to allow implicit multiplication, ie, xyz=x*y*z). I suspect it could be implemented without huge difficulty with modern tools. Unfortunately, the full definition was never published, and only exists in a few copies of 'The CPL Working papers' archived in university libraries. Perhaps one day google will scan it.

  • Baby? (Score:2, Informative)

    by astroe ( 985563 )
    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.
  • This is so sweet. All love poems? Cute!
  • So in actuality zombies are messengers of love? I guess that would make sense. Since love comes from the heart, the desire to eat brains comes their need to eliminate everything but the heart.
  • That's the burning question!
    • I guarantee you it will run Duke Nukem Forever.
    • Of course it will, it's a general purpose computer. Of course the port may take quite a while to turn out in punch cards... And you might need to worry more about "Pixels per Minute" than "Frames per Second"

  • I guess the author never heard of Konrad Zuse [wikipedia.org]?
  • Virn Base Computer: Jam. Jamble. Scramble. Uncode. Declassify. Jargon. Love is the only reality. Keller. Colour. Cooler. Killer. Calor. Choler. I love you. I know a land where love. Keller. Don. Don. Dun. Din. Dan. Den. Perhaps we will be lovers for a long while. Who knows? Who know --

    Orac: Teleport? I am not programmed. Three squared to the principal. I love you. My emotions are deeper than the seas of space. One times one is only possible in the ultra-dimensional. I love you. We will be lovers for a littl

  • Speaking of lustful computers, earlier this decade a robot went gay after a spilled wine cooler fried his circuits.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YBUImjOCg5g [youtube.com]

  • 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 )

      YOU try doing hard real-time coding with no timestamp counter or system clock! :) Seriously, the banner program was more impressive, IMHO. I've provided links in another post to video footage from the 50th anniversary CD.

  • by onemorechip ( 816444 ) on Friday April 10, 2009 @12:51PM (#27533325)

    ...with the ILOVEYOU virus.

    • by jd ( 1658 )

      Or maybe the original program BECAME the ILOVEYOU virus. Evolution takes along time, but there have been many clock cycles since the poetry code was first written.... Be afraid. Be very afraid.

  • ENIAC [wikipedia.org] was the first Turing-complete, general-purpose electronic computer, completed in 1946. Its predecessors were either not Turing-complete, not programmable, or not fully electronic (i.e., electro-mechanical). The judge in the 1973 patent decision was misinformed.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by julesh ( 229690 )

      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 dec

  • by viralMeme ( 1461143 ) on Friday April 10, 2009 @02:14PM (#27534309)
    Scientists from the RAND Corporation have created this model to illustrate how a "home computer [rogerwendell.com]" could look like in the year 2004. However the needed technology will not be economically feasible for the average home. Also the scientists readily admit that the computer will require not yet invented technology to actually work, but 50 years from now scientific progress is expected to solve these problems. With teletype interface and the Fortran language, the computer will be easy to use.
  • According to this it was Konrad Zuse and the Z3 [wikipedia.org], in 1941 [idsia.ch]
    • by julesh ( 229690 )

      According to this it was Konrad Zuse and the Z3, in 1941

      The Z3 wasn't stored-program in the modern sense, as it responded to instructions as they were read at input via a punched tape. Looping was obtained by gluing the two ends of a tape together. The Manchester machines stored their programs in random access memory, thus could have jump and branch instructions, which the Z3 lacked.

  • "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." .....You mean, one of the first examples of a spam-generating program. I see spammers have been doing their History homework.....

  • So about 2 trillion speed increase in 61 years.
    Thats a doubling speed of 18 month (41 doublings) or order of magnitude per 5 years (12 magnitudes).
    Exactly Moore's Law!
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konrad_Zuse [wikipedia.org]
    The wiki should give some overview of his ideas and work in the 1940's.
    I guess he was 'almost' at "the first fully electronic general-purpose stored-program computer" stage.
  • I've been always been told that my modern day calculator got more horsepower than that first computer back in the day!!

  • 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.

    Interestingly, this is still the standard term to refer to computers in Chinese. Unfortunately, I can't write it here due to Slashdot's Unicode inadequacies.

  • It's just a matter of time. The computer now, and before long, the dead.

"Conversion, fastidious Goddess, loves blood better than brick, and feasts most subtly on the human will." -- Virginia Woolf, "Mrs. Dalloway"