Before and after the internet...

updated 08 feb 2020

These pages follow my interest and work in technology in the last 30 years. It's a mix of critique, cool looking shit, elegant beauty and awfulness. Science and tech is a cultural practice, and I also make things (art and automobiles, elsewhere on this site). I have no interest in boundaries between disciplines, it's all one big practice to me.

This document is loosely broken out into before, and after. The internet of course. Pre- and post- matter because of how people worked, collaborated, and communicated radically changed, before and after.

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Before

Before the internet, science and tech was practiced more or less within closed cultures, and documents and lore and all that sealed within. It's still difficult to find contemporary information, now. Things pre-net generally aren't documented except occasionally historically, which is completely different from contemporary views. That's what makes it so interesting to me.

DOCUMENTATION

Semiconductor datasheets and catalogs

Solid state component catalogs and datasheets, images indexed, as I have done for most of my electron tube data. They catalogs are often beautiful, and culturally revealing.

Electron tube database, 1958-1961

An indexed database of vacuum tube catalogs. I suppose the data is useful if you're working on old stuff, but mainly the catalogs are beautiful. Some 2000 devices are indexed, but entire catalogs are rendered as color images of reasonable resolution. These devices were once bleeding-edge technology, in exotic metals and glass.

Burroughs Nixie additional datasheets

Here are a few random datasheets that don't quite fit in the rest of the tube database scheme. These are courtesy David Forbes (www.cathodecorner.com) and will eventually be worked better into the indices (that's dictionary for more than one index). See Nixie datasheets and the more general electron tube database for more information. Devices B4081, 7977, 7009, B4021 Devices B6844A, 8037,...

NIXIE indicators and decimal tubes

The capabilities of informational displays have historically lagged other information and computation technologies, just as they do today. Unlike current bit-mapped displays, relatively un-bound to the symbols they present, historically display devices have generally had a one-to-one symbol-to-mechanism mapping -- character(s) silk-scree...

Miniature lamp data

Technical information on miniature incandescent lamps. It's surprisingly hard to find this data. Pages from an ancient Cramer Electronics catalog.

Nuclear Films: Updated July 11, 1996

Note: Experimental films by independent film-makers are marked "EF". Films that are so marked usually aren't available at local video rental stores. However, they can be rented from companies that specialize in selling and renting works by independent film-makers. The notes on experimental films are usually based upon the descriptions written by film-makers for the listings in rental catalogues. T...

LARGER-WORLD CULTURAL DOCUMENTS

Book review: A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates

the RAND Corporation, 1955 Free Press Publishers, Glencoe Illinois This is a strange book, possibly the oddest book I own, and I have a few oddballs on my shelves. On it's face, it's a rigorous mathematical table, the intended audience those working in specialized mathematical fields, so it's strangeness is not that obvious. First, a bit of background... However useful mathematical table...

COMPUTING MACHINERY AND INTELLIGENCE

by Alan Turing: I propose to consider the question, "Can machines think?" This should begin with definitions of the meaning of the terms "machine" and "think." The definitions might be framed so as to reflect so far as possible the normal use of the words, but this attitude is dangerous, If the meaning of the words "machine" and "think" are to be found by examining how they are commonly used it is difficult to es...

On holy wars and a plea for peace

Embedded in this now-arcane discussion of bit, byte, and word ordering within computers and communication links are some fun to read insights the author makes further on. Skim the nerdly parts if you want, and enjoy a taste of some lovely cultural discourse from a time gone by.

Real Programmers Don't Use Pascal

A letter to the editor of Datamation, volume 29 number 7, July 1983. I've long ago lost my dog-eared photocopy, but I believe this was written (and is copyright) by Ed Post, Graphic Software Systems, Wilsonville OR USA. The story of Mel is a related article. Programming has had it's bro problem for some time.

Mel the Programmer

Though this was written in the 1980's, the LGP-30 was a vacuum tube machine from the late 1950's. Turns out that Mel is Mel Kaye, a real person, who wrote the software libraries for the LPG-30 and LGP-21, and is a macho programmer of the canonical sort, self-modifying code, obscure, secretive, anti-documentarian. I have his signature on some LGP documentation. His code is tight, fast, absolutely unreadable and absolutely unportable. For serial drum memory machines, however, optimum coding requirements and primitive tools made clarity impossible.

Classic Computer Scams: World Power Systems, Inc.

In 1979 an outfit calling itself "World Power Systems, Inc." appeared on the scene with an amazing assortment of microcomputer peripherals, mostly for TRS-80 and S-100 systems. Alas, they were scam artists, taking people's money and sending nothing in return. A hint of this is visible in a photograph of their 3S+P Interface Card, shown in one of their advertisments. Although it appears ...

OTHER CULTURAL MUMBLE UNCATEGORIZABLE

Photos from the Ivall book.

(no excerpt)...

DISPLAY TECHNOLOGY AND METHODS

Burroughs Corp. Nixie and Panaplex application notes

While there's sufficient information in the net and elsewhere to light up Nixies and make them work (see my Nixie datasheets) as far as subtleties go (off-cathode leakage, ionization time vs. multiplexing, the reason for the funny digit stacking order) there's little informatin out there. But here are a few useful Burroughs Application Notes. If you are trying to work with Nixies read N101 and N102, as ...

the Charactron display device

1. THE HARDWARE The Charactron (sometimes branded a Typotron), a special-purpose electron tube, was a peculiar device with a brief life, but appears to have been an important fulcrum of sorts in the history of computer graphics and art. This Note rather rambles; there's simply too much untold story in here, so I've settled on nailing down some facts and connections. In the 1950's, before Moore's Law...

Army Tactical Operations Central (ARTOC) information system

Input/output, I/O, is the klunky and crude write-off phrase for the only part of symbolic machinery that's of any use or interest, where the alien machine innards tie to the world, mainly people. The interface between people and their machines is pretty much the limiting factor in making symbolic machinery useful. It's historically been a bottleneck and a weak point,...

INFORMATION COMMUNICATION

An annotated history of some character codes

by Tom Jennings contact me most recently revised 20 april 2016 revision history Entire contents copyright Tom Jennings 1999-2016, 2019. All rights reserved. ASCII is not art. It's a code, a way of hiding things within a smaller thing. This document is about character codes, specifically a history of ASCII(1), the American Standard Code for Information Interchange, and immediate ancestors; FIELDA...

Bits, Bauds, & Modulation rates

Serial communications, here meaning RS-232 and current loop 1999, revised slightly February 2005 mark and space -------------- Serial lines are either spacing, or marking. I was always confused as to what mark or space meant, which was the state of the line when no characters were being sent, etc. I can't understand why now, it's amazingly simple. The resting state is called "spacing". Mark...

Number and character representation within computers

How is a number (quantity) represented, stored in memory, or sent via some communications protocol? There is no "real" or "right" way. When you have the concept in your head of "one hundred and twenty three", how you express that is utterly independent from the concept. Arabic or roman digits, 123 small stones, etc. The concept of a quantity is utterly independent of it's representation. The ser...

INFORMATION STORAGE

Paper tape

Paper tape is a data storage medium from a past century. It's roots are in mid-19th-century telegraphy. The cliche "dit dit dah dah" sound of audible telegraphy is really that of simple point-to-point radio Morse Code telegraphy, such as amateur radio or, once upon a time, ships at sea. Telegraphs, as in telegrams, business and personal messages and all that, started out as visible marks on lon...

magnetic tape for data storage

once universal, now forgotten, storing digital data (not analog sound) on magnetic tape is pretty much a lost art. i like magtape for its physicality. a small reel of half-inch tape typically holds 10 megabytes, for an approximate sense of working with it. the specifics of linear magnetic data recording have very little presence on the world wide web for a number of reasons; while disk drives are ...

Drum memory computer data from Huskey & Korn's COMPUTER HANDBOOK

Description of drum memory storage from the Husky and Korn book.

MACHINES

Librascope/General Precision LGP-21 Computer

This is the documentation for my Librascope/General Precision LGP-21 computer restoration project. The LGP-21 is the transistorized "little brother" version of the LGP-30 computer, a very popular vacuum-tube machine first produced in 1954. Though only a third the speed of the LGP-30, the LGP-21 was very small and consumed only 300 watts of...

Royal McBee/Librascope General Precision LGP-30 serial drum electron tube computer

These are a few photos I took of the [now defunct] Computer Museum's LGP-30. You can find a few documents about it on the net with a Google search. I may or may not expand this page, depending on what I do with the LPG-21 I have. The photos are really crappy, sorry, it was too dark in there....

Data General NOVA4

This is my old but nice Data General Nova 4/X minicomputer. At the moment it contains the Nova 4 CPU, hardware floating point, a Model 6070 10 megabyte fixed/10 megabyte removable hard disk, Model 6023 800 bpi vacu...

The Universal Machine

meh. i did this paper design during the year i was working in san francisco, while josh was in law school. i didn't have any way to work on anything physical so i did this paper design. it will never get built of course. feb 2012 My most recent (and most complicated) project is this Universal Machine. I keep repeating this paragraph from the Logical Design manual (below) as I've not yet said it b...

SOFTWARE

U.S.TTY/ITA2 to ASCII translation programs

This contains the ITA :: ASCII conversion programs, updated and corrected in August, 1999. NOTE: though commonly called "Baudot", the 5-level teleprinter code is really called ITA2; there is also a variant informally called "U.S. TTY" that has a few differences in the FIGS case; see the above ...

NICE TO LOOK AT OLD TECHNOLOGY

Cubic Corporation V-45 Digital Voltmeter

4 digit resolution, 0.01%, +/- 1 digit accuracy claimed Serial Number 275 26 transistors, 4 telephone steppers, 10 steps/sec. rack mount, 19"x5.25"x16", approx. 15 lbs Manufactured approximately 1960 It is tempting and even accurate to say that "Cubic Corp. was the third manufacturer of digital voltmeters", but that tells you nothing really, and implies that what went before is just a less-deve...

General Radio Model 723c Electronic Fork

This lovely device is an electronic frequency standard dating from the 1940's or early 1950's, a large tuning fork with a vacuum tube amplifier, and electromagnetic transducers to drive the fork. It outputs a nice sinusoidal voltage; a side affect is the constant, and substantial, singing of the tuning fork in it's Micarta and wood case. Here's a fairly decent audio recording of it (GR723c.wav). ...

Various fine instruments of the past

Teletype Model 28 Teletypewriter. A mainstay of communications for a generation, the model 28 is a genuine Brick Shithouse. Built into a hefty grey-wrinkle cabinet that sits on the floor, the fantastically complex, utterly reliable purely mechanical device spews out upp...



COLD WAR

Review of Andrew Hodges' book, Alan Turing: the Enigma

One of the few books on my 'keep forever' list Without this book, the real Alan Turing might fade into obscurity or at least the easy caricature of an eccentric British mathematician. And to the relief of many, because Turing was a difficult person: an unapologetic homosexual...

The Black Hole of Los Alamos

Ed Grothus' Black Hole, aka Los Alamos Sales Co. nominally sells what he calls "nuclear waste" -- surplus from the infamous Los Alamos National Laboratory, home of the Manhattan Project in the 1940's, and of even less-reputable horrors in the decades that followed.

Civil Defense film strips

Below are some representative images from some Civil-Defense 35mm film strips I purchased from Xerxes Books' 'atomic ephemera' list around 2000 or so. Content-wise these filmstrips are utterly predicatable -- fallout, basics of radiation dosage, radiacs, decontamination, shelters, etc, ad nauseum. The graphical style is pretty nice though, typical of the era. Unfortunately the quality of the images here suffer f...

The Earth's Satellite

This is a 45 rpm vinyl record made in the 1950's of the Soviet Unions Sputnik satellite circling the earth, a sound recording made from earth. It doesn't sound like much but it changed the world....









post-internet technology

updated 08 feb 2020

Old, historical technology and science at/after the start of the internet. My Fido/FidoNet stuff is here even though it is not strictly-speaking internet related, because it overlapped the internet's early commercial deployment, was a parallel cultural response.

DOCUMENTATION

1994 online "toilet cam" hoax

In 1994 I put up this fake toilet camera web page, to poke fun at the idiotic cameras-on-coffee-pots and other net.nonsense that was all the rage then -- but it backfired. Many people took it seriously, and even TIME magazine gave it an anonymous mention in an article about the horrors of the internet (an age-old tradition in mealy-mouthed media -- any change in the culture is doomed to 'signal...

FIDO/FIDONET, WPS, LITTLE GARDEN/TLGNET

Fido and FidoNet

I'd been using BBSs since 1976 or so, 300 baud accoustic coupler type, rotary-dialing Chicago busy signals, but in 1984 I wrote my own, called Fido, and shortly thereafter a thing called FidoNet, a store-and-foreward emailing and file-transmission system that was (1) the first such thing, ever; (2) the largest privately-owned co...

The Little Garden, TLGnet, Inc.

From 1992 until it was sold in 1996 I ran an internet service provider (ISP) called The Little Garden, later TLGnet, Inc. I had four other partners of varying degrees of involvement. TLG started in 1992 as a "share" of a then-arcane and expensive internet connection between three pioneer businesses; more detail is available here. In 1992 the...

Eastlake's Observation

An absolutely brilliant and succinct description of large social processes is below. For a more modern and functional take, and some practical solutions, see this lovely PDF by CAE (Critical Art Ensemble), Join the Community. Subject: sociology Date: Thu, 4 Mar 1999 13:50:54 -0800 (PST) From: Randy Bush To: Tom Jennings From: "Donald E. Eastlake 3rd" Subject: Re: Draft new charter Date: Thu, ...

Rocks and Code, MFA thesis

University of California Master of Fine Arts degree concentration in Art, Computation, Engineering 2009 my 2009 UCI MFA thesis titled "Rocks and Code" explores western science's "belief" in scientific objectivity, by looking at, and exploiting, the interconnected histories of uranium mining and it's human effects (specifically in Grants, New Mexico), nuclear physics, focusing on the persuit ...

Burning Man, Carbon Dioxide theme camp

This page is mostly vestigial, having been replaced by the Carbon Dioxide Camp site. This is still where I upload images though since that site doesn't have a photo album feature, and I hate removing working links. Here is the Bob Stahl's 'Temporary Desert Structures', currently hosted on geocities, which is poised to disappear. Hence the safe-keeping copy. Here is the Burning Man official site ...

ELECTRONICS

ohm's law is easy

if you don't know Ohm's Law, you should learn it, the basics are really easy. it's a simple proportion. when i was 8 years old (a half-century ago) i learned to draw this mnemonic so likely you can too: in electrical engineering, E is short for "electromotive force" which we all call Voltage (volts). I is current (erm, probably because the letter C means Coulombs, or capacitance. tough luck ju...

Using Photomultipliers in Two-Wire Probe Configurations

The following diagram depicts how a PMT operates in the two-wire probe configuration. The probe wire must supply dynode resistor string voltage while simultaneously providing signal pickoff for counting. While we show the dynodes as "grids" they are more like "cathodes" in a triode. They *will* source current pulses into the dynode resistor string. For this reason the upper dynodes must be bypas...

Circuit building: stop using antique parts!

27 aug 2015: earlier this month this page got attention from some folk on hackaday who got their panties in a twist over this rant against continued use of antiquated electronic components. i freely admit this is a rant -- a particular style of writing, though breathlessly worded, also rigorous and backed up by testable assertions. but that didn't seem to matter to some; apparently the TIP120 is a...

cookbook code and circuit solutions

software-driven voltage buck down converter this circuit and code efficiently provides (poorly) regulated 3.3V output from the "wild" power output by an Adafruit Solar Charger/LiPo battery supply. the Solar Charger output is "load shared", meaning that while the sun is charging (or has power provided via USB or other DC input) it both charges the attached LiPo battery and provides load power ou...