Before and after the internet...

updated 29 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.

Bad links, old data, and meaning

29 feb 2020

Keep in mind some of these documents pre-date the internet, or are from the earliest years thereof. The current permutation of the intertubes ("it's not a big truck!") believes itself to be, acts as if it is, an idealized seamless fabric of links. A perfection not yet realized? Or a self-defeating delusion maintained by a deluded culture? YOU DECIDE. Old documents with dead links spoil the illusion, and sites with bad links are punished by the search engines to enforce the fantasy.

Documents from 20+ years ago are from a world that no longer exists. What to do with their old, bad links? Yes yes yes, they're errors, obviously. But they collectively refer to the inter-linking of their time, and even bad links are meaningful within that localized reality. Do we delete old movies or books because they contain outmoded ideas or relationships? Yes, if it's science and technology; no, if you are studying culture and human interactions or writing histories.

Of course most dead links I simply fix. But for ones I deem "historic" (run your own damn website!) my solution is to textually "damage" URLs so that search engines and browsers don't recognize them, and knock my already dubious standing amongst the SEO set, but allow people reading the document to see what the link intended. Usually this means simply removing the anchors and enclosures. It's a bit ugly but integrity is preserved. Also I'm lazy, and it's easiest.

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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 were sealed within. It's still difficult to find old 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.

BEFORE: "TECHNICAL" DOCUMENTS

Semiconductor datasheets and catalogs Solid state component catalogs and datasheets. The 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 datasheetsDatasheets that don't quite fit in the tube database scheme. These are courtesy David Forbes (www.cathodecorner.com).
NIXIE indicators and decimal tubesBefore the current eraof general-purpose displays, information display was usually symbol-specific; mostly digits. Awful and beautiful, at once.
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 Films with a "nuclear" or "atomic" theme, the list itself compiled in 1996.



BEFORE: LARGER-WORLD CULTURAL DOCUMENTS

Book review: A Million Random Digits with 100,000 Normal Deviates One of my very favorite books -- a mathematical table guaranteed to contain no information, with proof. "Written" by machine, in 1948. It gets weird after that.
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 ...

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 insights the author makes further on. Skim the nerdly parts if you like, and enjoy a taste of some lovely cultural discourse from a time gone by.
Real Programmers Don't Use PascalWritten as sarcasm but ends up endorsing macho programmer culture. 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. The requirements of "optimum coding" of serial drum memory machines and primitive tools made clarity impossible.
Classic Computer Scams: World Power Systems, Inc. In 1979 an outfit calling itself "World Power Systems, Inc." appeared in the pages of BYTE magazine, selling products just a bit too wonderful to be true. Alas, they were scam artists, taking people's money and sending nothing in return. In the early 90's I stole their name for my website.



BEFORE: DISPLAY TECHNOLOGIES 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.
the Charactron display device The Charactron was 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.
Army Tactical Operations Central (ARTOC) information system This talks about an amazing brute-force approach to what is essentially a real-time tactical multimedia system ... in 1961. I doubt it ever worked but I bet it was expensive. My favorite line from the article: ("hundred million bit disk file... each housed in a 2-1/2 ton utility truck"). A 2.5 ton USB stick.



BEFORE: INFORMATION COMMUNICATION

An annotated history of some character codesThis is a fairly comprehensive and technically thorough discussion/dissection of serial character codes, aka ASCII, ECMA6, Fieldata, ITA2, and others. It was ambitions HTML in 1999, too.
Bits, Bauds, & Modulation ratesThe scheme by which data is sent serially over a single wire. First used mid-19th century, still true today for asynchronous serial links. Mark and space etc.
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.
U.S.TTY/ITA2 to ASCII translation programs ITA to/from ASCII conversion programs, updated and corrected in August, 1999. Probably worthless now, you could do it in a browser.



BEFORE: INFORMATION STORAGE

Paper tape Paper tape is a data storage medium from a past century. It's roots are in mid-19th-century telegraphy. It's physically lovely tangible media.
magnetic tape for data storageOnce universal, now forgotten, storing digital data (not analog sound) on magnetic tape is pretty much a lost art. I like magtape for its physicality (only; it's awful in practice). A small reel of half-inch tape typically holds 10 megabytes, for an approximate sense of working with it.
Drum memory computer data from Huskey & Korn's COMPUTER HANDBOOK Description of drum memory storage from the Husky and Korn book.



BEFORE: MACHINES

Librascope/General Precision LGP-21 Computer The LGP-21 is the transistorized "little brother" version of the LGP-30 computer, a very popular vacuum-tube machine first produced in 1954. Fairly complete set of documents.
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.
Data General NOVA4 As if I had nothing else to do, I dragged home this complete 1980's minicomputer system, a data-logger for an oil refinery, and abandoned 20 years before, and made it work. You could today (sic) easily replaces it's 2000 lbs, 5000 watts of waste heat with a Raspberry Pi.
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.



BEFORE: NICE TO LOOK AT OLD TECHNOLOGY

Photos from the Ivall book. Scans of select pages from "Electronic Computers" by T. E. Ivall, 1956. Published by The Philosophical Library (London, NYC).
Cubic Corporation V-45 Digital VoltmeterOne of the earliest digital voltmeters ever made; circa 1960. It's lovely and makes great sounds, and has a beautiful display. 4 digit resolution, 0.01%, +/- 1 digit accuracy. 26 transistors, 4 telephone steppers, 10 steps/sec. rack mount, 19"x5.25"x16", approx. 15 lbs
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.
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, a fantastically complex, utterly reliable purely mechanical device.




BEFORE: COLD WAR

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 SatelliteA 45 RPM LP-sized "record" (grooved plastic disc) containing audio recordings of the Soviet Sputnik sattelite circling the earth. The recording was made by a radio amateur. It's hard to grok now just how alarming this event was to Americans. Audio and images.








post-internet technology

updated 08 feb 2020

Things of or pertaining to tech, science and culture after the start of the internet. My Fido/FidoNet stuff is here even though it is not strictly-speaking internet related, it overlapped the internet's early commercial deployment, and was a parallel cultural response.

There are many things missing here I will be restoring after I finish formatting them.

AFTER: CULTURE

Carbon Dioxide Camp Our Burning Man camp, often a theme camp, semi-organized from 2005 through 2010, was a great time, then we were done!

AFTER: DOCUMENTS

The standard for RS232 I think this is the very first document that I put on a webserver, in 1993. I swiped it from http://unix1.hials.no/~aoy/home_uk.html. it was so damn useful I was afraid it might disappear (lol). Finding this document was one of the things that made me consider that the web might actually be useful.
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 -- it backfired. People took it seriously, and TIME magazine gave it an anonymous mention in an article about the horrors of the new-fangled internet ("we're doomed!") (OK, they were right.)



AFTER: FIDO/FIDONET, WPS, LITTLE GARDEN/TLGNET

Fido and FidoNet Historiographic fodder for a history of FidoNet, the world's largest ever amateur computer network. Predates the (accessible) internet. I wrote the code and deployed it for a few years.
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.
welcome to 4chan Let's just say things have changed since I wrote this.



AFTER: ELECTRONICS

ohm's law is easy If you think you want to work with electronics you need to learn Ohm's Law. It's easy, it's just a proportion. Without it you can't do shit, and you will ruin all your LEDs, be mystified by resistors burning up. It's all quite easy. Stop resisting (no pun intended, but I'll take it.)
Using Photomultipliers in Two-Wire Probe ConfigurationsHow to wire a PMT. They're still useful, just inconvenient, what with 1500 volts and all that. But for ten bucks you can count single photons, at home.
Circuit building: stop using antique parts!The time to use Darlington-configured power transistors is never. There's nothing good about them. If you have a drawer full of them, seriously, throw them out. MOSFETs are trivially easy to use. Control 100 amperes with an Arduino pin and no heatsink or weird base current. TIP120? why not use a 6L6? At least those look cool.






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