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Originally Answered: What is the history of the generations of computers?
PIONEER COMPUTER & AEROSPACE life was ripping yarn
Dr.Pat. Early Indigenous counting 1,2,3,4, MANY.
Early 1950s fun was around Australia’s computer Siliac – 2nd to CSIRO’s – whilst doing Sydney Uni Physics, albeit Siliac mercury & CRO memory taught nix re modern machines. Now catch its glory at a Melbourne Museum! For years circa 1978, 1k SHARP PC-1500 single-line screen pocket machine complete with postage stamp size 10k extra, some I/O, tape taking 1-minute to save 1k of your program & cute precision color printer-plotter on 2″ paper roll was indispensable; even enabled my Math Problem-solving Library. Formerly popular here with vast clubs, academics & related magazines, it still works. Following 2 fascinating years with CSIRO Solar Physics, we ’58 married & migrated to California’s Malibu Beach home plus pioneering many items, electronics & instruments in computers & AeroSpace over 7-years including extensive results-publishing. $14,000 salary could buy new big-fin cars monthly! True PCs weren’t around, but it’s a myth that computers hadn’t become indispensably common. Awesome principal-interest Process Sensing & Control Computers were then made by scores of main & 100s of peripheral companies. Doing good work & changing jobs 9-monthly guaranteed 25% salary increase + what one could bargain. Northrup Aerospace advertised for 500 PhDs next week – evidently to pad contracts. These computers in 1000s of total hands-off turnkey applications & reliably functioning years, even decades, consisted of cabinets full of racks containing hand-wired cards comprising about 8 transistors & separate components like 2 stages of a register connected by non-strip cables. Such machines that ran factories had to measure 2000 DC microvolt thermocouples + scads of other signals from cables 1000ft away via slow mercury wetted relays & sleepy supersensitive amplifiers before digital conversion sequentially into the computer. Guys wrote the Process Algorithm formulas whilst brilliant women engineers stayed relatively clean programming. Turning number crunched digits into analog electric commands over 100s of cables especially to fail-safe Set-Point Controllers, the computer thereby ran virtually entire factories or other applications. Bulk memory was huge tape decks, with 8k to 0.131GB virus-free main memory invariably a big fast rotating magnetic drum sporting many read-write heads all over. Systems like ours also had a 4-16k fast arithmetic small cube core-memory of micro-magnetic doughnuts that only Mexican women could wire-weave. Boggling was the number of processes automatically controlled by adapting basically the same computer type, including those for which I was directly responsible like: Philips Petroleum complete trailer system I designed to check that computer works OK on one facility before trying on another. Hudson & Manhattan railroad, giant bridge toll & Panama Canal systems were evolving. Also Concrete & Steel mills plus Nuclear Electric Stations with nationwide Power Dispatch, & 13-week TV Station Programming including salaries… My pride was as 1962 TRW Project Manager age 27 of world 1st Los Angeles Computer Traffic Control from smoggy City Hall. Despite being an old RW300 machine, that dang thing functioned 20years – confirmed by an original engineer there when I 1984 revisited!! Curiously, I could never interest Aussie Traffic engineers in our flawless scheme. Traffic-lecturing Japanese we still meet at Conferences, however, bought all our related secrets. By then I’d patented (with grand honorarium) sprinting solid-state microvolt-signal massed-relay & amplifier replacements.
Regarding Computer Automatic Checkout of planes, rockets & ships etc, escalating pride was at Packard Bell AeroSpace (still around) into checking Saturn C5 Booster rocket of current popular Apollo Moon Lander. Space-mad as Sydney Uni student often corresponding with ex-V2 German (later NASA head) Wernher Von Braun & still having one letter, I conceived the basic Shuttle with all rocket stages firing simultaneously (my bigger rocket keeps topping up smaller ones with same fuel before it drops off) – rather than serially – that could have enabled orbiting years earlier. Sadly he said, “Sorry Pat, we’re too far down Apollo tracks”. I spent breathtaking 1964 time at Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville trying not to ‘rubberneck’ at reclining Booster’s 5-story diameter, or at clouds forming under amazing tall hangar ceiling! Just missed meeting Wernher at his home. NASA treated me well: 1st Class Champaign flights, huge limos to breakfast, Washington DC Hilton starlight dinners & frequent naughty shows in nearby Baltimore… No, as perhaps the 1st Aussie into deep Space work, I never trusted rockets enough to Astronaut train. Uni Physics partner did – only saved when a previous Apollo firestorm cancelled his trip!
In fact, 1959 project peaked pride at age 25 by inventing a fist-size external-ionizer Satellite Mass-Spectrometer (with Consolidated Systems Corp who made big ones) to measure tenuous space gases for Ranger & Mariner hard or soft Moon landings. So unbelievably precise was the amplifier that it could detect a few 1,000 atoms/sec providing its 10million-megohm feedback, discreet micro-valves & switches were assembled in unheard of 1959 clean rooms. My related Patents enabled the NASA contract, & I felt quite touched from Corporate’s standing ovation, despite only previous year USA arrival! Salary soon quadrupled especially when I called myself ‘Electronics Engineer’ or ‘Engineering Physicist’ rather than a Physicist job title in government or Universities. Physics is universally amazing: like finding better non-electronic solutions (ie thermal, chemical, optical, magnetic, sonic, mechanical…) to electronic problems; & inventing engines.
1972 saw my 2 last-ever paid jobs age 39 – not rich, simply enjoying ‘frugaluxury’. One job was as Chief Engineer, London robotics machine tool company Molins. For their 6-axis 2-ton SYSTEM 24 monsters (machining 24hours) in a vast hall with IBM computer-controlled conveyors supplying tools, light-alloy blanks & removing machined metal, I replaced each tool’s inept bulky Ferranti computer with a tiny 1/2-rack of condensed electronic cards. Instead of electronic control cabinets, I had my friendly team adapt an amazing 1971 single-card Data General Nova Computer – smaller than many modern units – to read acceleration ‘parts programs’ from a mini-magnetic tape deck, process them & thereby directly control the hydraulic-powered tool’s movement to 1/10,000″. 1st trial was like the 2nd coming!! American & Japanese couldn’t achieve this using a roomful of paper-tape data on their machines. Following colossal price reduction, I believe ours was & still is the world’s most sophisticated robot CNC Multi-Machine Tools. Complete colossus soon sold to New York’s monumental IBM who, becoming less mechanical, sold to Texas Instruments. America was again a treat. Final ever job weeks later into solar vehicles, heart monitor design, renewable energy & pure water at Norway’s CSIRO-equivalent, I saw stunning computers, for instance, print ship & plane 3D holograms to study, design, then automatically build mega-ton ships. For their Condeep I planned computers via GPS satellite to automatically sink titanic North-Sea grouped-cylinder oil platforms.
Always happy, never stressed or anxious, I returned home via Hawaii in a piratical-looking 27′ schooner. Over 84 countries it’s been a true ripping yarn – with family of 7 (or is it 8) grandkids + 3 ggkids still stuck in USA where born!! Computing now? Teaching Seniors much simpler methods; as well as living near-free comfort via solar etc in reportedly Australia’s most sustainable home for over 1/3 century…
A brief history of computers:
It is 40 years ago that man walked on the Moon. Hmmmm, methinks how powerful was their computer? Oh, wish I had never asked myself that question. I just spent half an hour researching it. My best guess is that the command module computer was about as smart as a simple wristwatch. It’s kind of difficult with the 1960’s technology, there is really very little to compare. Sort of like trying to compare a Roman chariot with a Porsche. Well, they both have wheels but from that point on.
Actually, it had a memory of 160Kb. About the same as a small picture on a web page. You turn it off .. all gone, no storage of data at all. But it did boot in about one second! (Oh, Vista .. are you listening, hmmm?). The thing was built (and no, I am not kidding here) by a big US corporation called Raytheon and they used: “middle-aged women with nimble fingers and a painstaking ability to work from coded knitting patterns:’
However, the ENTIRE computing power of the Houston flight center, you know, the big room with all the computer consoles and worried looking technicians; all smoking like a bushfire at full blast… Well, you know your laptop? Yep, your humble laptop has more computing power than NASA’s mainframe of 1969.
It gets better though. Back in 1943 (no, I was NOT there) the guy who founded IBM said that: “There is a world market for maybe five computers”. Who would think that the same company gave us the modern PC? Of course with time came wisdom, well sometimes anyway.. In 1949, Popular Mechanics magazine predicted, “Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons”. Sigh
And Bill Gates, of Microsoft is on record as saying that he could not see why anyone ” would ever need more than 640k of RAM”. The growth of computerpower since the 1960s has quite literally “exponential”. This guy, one Dr Gordon Moore back in 1965, (Oh, he started up Intel, by the way), predicted that computer processing power would double every 18 months, whilst the cost would remain constant. This has proved remarkably accurate. Still working today. However, there may well be another law causing some problems. ‘Gate’s Law’. The theory that software halves its speed every 1 month. (Still listening Vista?) In other words, even though the computers are faster, the operating systems are so huge, complicated and bloated; they kill any advantage that might have been had by fast hardware. Sort of like government bureaucracy.
Going further back in time, the first programmable computer was built in 1938. Hard to imagine that. It as called the Z1 and was made by a German, Konrad Zuse. It used punch tape, had a memory of 176 bytes.
In 1946, ENIAC was up and running. It took 3 years to build, occupied 1,800 square feet (167 Square Meters), and had 18,000 vacuum tubes. It was hardly portable; it weighed 50 tons.
1975 saw the first personal computer, the Altair 8800. I actually vaguely remember this machine. Lots of switches and red lights, none of which seemed to make a lot of sense to me at the time.
My first computer – which had the power of a broken $2 watch, was a Texas Instruments TI 99/4a. (I still have it, and it still works!) It cost $4,500 and ran on cassette tapes. From that to my current PC has been a journey of almost 30 years? Surprisingly, computers have become cheaper; down from $4500 to about $1250, they have become smaller too, about half the physical size of my old clunker. They are faster of course; they store ridiculous amounts of information. I supplied a new PC the other day; it had a 250 GB hard drive. That is 131,072,000 times more storage space than my first PC (I had to get a calculator; for that one!).
The future? Now that is really anyone’s guess. The main problem is that things can’t really get much smaller. Already separation between ‘wires’ in a computer is down to the size of a couple of atoms. There is talk of quantum processors, DNA computers and optical computers all becoming available in the next few years. But don’t hold your breath. I remember IBM announcing that a 1000 Gb holographic memory cube would be available by the year 2000 (at that time 20Gb hard drives were the standard), it would ‘revolutionize’ computers, as no hard drive would be necessary and everything would be stored in a single 2.5cm square cube.
Let’s just wait and see…. Perhaps this article has some bearing on the History of computers: At a computer expo (COMDEX), Bill Gates reportedly compared the computer industry with the auto industry and stated, “If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25.00 cars that got 1000 miles to the gallon”.
In response to Bill’s comments, General Motors issued a press release stating: If GM had developed technology like Microsoft; we would all be driving cars with the following characteristics: For no reason whatsoever, your car would crash twice a day. Every time they repainted the lines in the road, you would have to buy a new car. Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason. You would have to pull over to the side of the road, close all of the windows, shut off the car, restart it, and reopen the windows before you could continue. For some reason you would simply accept this. Occasionally, executing a maneuver such as a left turn would cause your car to shut down and refuse to restart, in which case you would have to reinstall the engine. Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, was reliable, five times as fast and twice as easy to drive – but would run on only five percent of the roads. The oil, water temperature, and alternator warning lights would all be replaced by a single “This Car Has Performed An Illegal Operation” warning light. The airbag system would ask, “Are you sure?” before deploying. Occasionally, for no reason whatsoever, your car would lock you out and refuse to let you in until you simultaneously lifted the door handle, turned the key and grabbed hold of the radio antenna. Every time a new car was introduced car buyers would have to learn how to drive all over again because none of the controls would operate in the same manner as the old car. You’d have to press the “Start” button to turn the engine off.
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