Archive for February, 2019

The (arguably) most pleasing Floppy Disk Drive

February 24, 2019

SordA73

I saw recently in an Ebay auction the most pleasing floppy disk drive subsystem ever. Ever! Unfortunately it was too expensive to buy just as a conversation piece.

I am not sure what the designer usually did. Maybe tape drives? Hifi devices? Mainframe peripherals?

Also, seems to be a very rare thing. Google knows nothing about a SORD FD Processor A73…

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VCFB 2019 Announcement

February 17, 2019

If you have read my blog, you know that I participated in the Vintage Computer Festival Berlin (Germany) in 2018 and 2017. As I contribute to the organisation this year a little bit, here is the announcement of the 2019 event:

Vintage Computing Festival Berlin (VCFB)

Date: October 12 & 13, 2019
Location: The “Ladestrasse” area of the German Museum of Technology (Deutsches Technikmuseum) Berlin

(Access via Möckernstr. 26, 10963 Berlin, Germany)

The Vintage Computing Festival Berlin (VCFB) is an event about historic computers and computing technology. In exhibitions, talks and workshops, participants from all over Germany and beyond present many different aspects of Vintage Computing. Established in 2014, the VCFB has steadily grown and has attracted well over 2500 visitors in 2018.

In addition to retro computers, also historical operating systems, programming languages, network technology as well as pocket and mechanic calculators will be shown. Most of the exhibited devices are still in working condition and can be used by visitors.

Admission is free!

Special Exhibition “Computers from Germany”

Leibniz, Zuse, Nixdorf and others – German inventors and companies have had a long lasting effect in computing history. As a location for research and development, as an important market, and as a place of manufacturing, both the Federal Republic of Germany and the German Democratic Republic have played an important role in history. As the 50th anniversary of renowned East German manufacturer Robotron approaches, we celebrate the event with a special exhibition on computers from Germany. We thus invite exhibitors to present (working) historic computers with a relation to Germany independently of whether they came from a German company, were designed or “Made in Germany”.

Game Room

The “House of Computer Games” presents the history of computer games. Visitors get a hands-on experience of past digital games on over twenty historic game consoles and home computers.

Short Conference “COMPUTER SPACE – 50 years of hardware, software, and wetware in space”

On July 16, 1969, not only the first men landed on the moon – but also the first computer. The moon landing as part of the Apollo 11 mission was an unprecedented symbiosis of humans, hardware and software. Since then, many anecdotes and myths have grown around these protagonists. Five presentations in our short conference will demonstrate that Apollo 11 was not the beginning but only a first climax in the convergence of computer and rocket technology. The conference will further explore what came before and how the moon landings had a long lasting influence on technology and culture (even extending to literature and computer game history).

Information for exhibitors will follow.

Review of the documentary: General Magic

February 7, 2019

I was very excited when I learned in December 2017 that there was a documentary about the company “General Magic” in the making as I know their products, their operating system (Magic Cap), and their vision about Mobile Software Agents using their programming language Telescript. I never deeply researched the company history, though.

When I had an exhibit on Magic Cap devices and a presentation on “Mobile Agents and Telescript” at the VCFB 2018 in Berlin I thought it would round up things nicely to also have there a screening of the documentary that was first shown earlier in 2018 at diverse film festivals. Therefore, I contacted the production company and tried to arrange that. Unfortunately, as I found out, this would have commanded too much money and would have been needed to be restricted to a private audience in order not to spoil their chances at other upcoming festivals. However, they told me then, they were at the verge of doing a big distribution deal.

I now found out that this deal was the distribution as “National Geographic Channel” content and that the movie is even available in other languages (such as German). As such content, the movie is currently available on many distribution channels such as TV and streaming services. I used Sky Ticket (Entertainment), but that is only one of the options.

So, my expectations were high. How is my impression about the movie?

In the beginning, I was quite confused. The first 30 minutes (highlighting the history before General Magic was founded) seemed like an Apple fanboy fantasy. Some of the heroes (like Andy Hertzfeld) of the heroic history of the Mac join forces with the Apple visionary (Marc Porat) who dreams about smartphones as early as the 1980s. In order to bring the vision of devices which allow users to communicate everywhere they form General Magic as a spin-off of Apple. If you watch the movie you get the impression that noone has ever endeavoured such a daring task and only superhuman beings did even thought about it.

As they have not yet introduced the people whose voice they are using in the beginning, initially it is mainly the same kind of stock videos that every Youtuber uses if he/she has only a script, but no actual footage.

In this first 30 mins the movie does not look right nor left, does not take into account other approaches to similar problems, earlier developments, or even facts that do not fit the unbroken image the movie wants to project. One example is the phase in the life of Andy Hertzfeld where he leaves Apple because of the line management, his own Mac software developments outside Apple that an unpleasant-as-always Steve Jobs then licenses from him. Watching the movie you do not even learn that he was not with Apple anymore at the time of General Magic.

However, even in the first 30 mins this film transports the coolness of General Magic very well. People wanted to work there by any means because the cool guys were there, and because the company made such a fuzz (because General Magic is exactly *not* the company you have never heard of, at least at the time). Also, one starts to notice the heavy use of original video recordings at that time, mixed with parts from interviews from today.

The next 50 minutes or so the move changes its posture to a more reflected style. One can get many interesting insights in the history of the company. Also, as the history of General Magic progresses, one gets told the problems the company faces by the people that were involved.

Technically, the movie consists almost entirely from segments of interviews (old and new) and the video footage General Magic had made in their days. There are no speakers from the off and almost never interviewers asking questions. Although the film seems like an objective documentary at the surface, the (invisible) selection of answers and the absence of questions makes one suspicious whether it reflects the complete interviews truthfully.

In the last 10 minutes the movie tries to install the company as the sole reason for the existence of smartphones, naming the influences of the company visions to Steve Jobs (iPhone) and Android (as Andy Rubin who headed the development of Android worked at General Magic). In my opinion that is quite debatable as this discussion omits any discussion of ideas, projects and products outside General Magic. However, I can imagine that the history of General Magic has sharpened the senses of many former employees of which mistakes not to make 🙂

All in all, in my opinion, this movie is not a technology documentary, it is a commemoration drama (in order to invent a term). It confuses the high-flying Apple vision (Pocket Crystal) with the not-so-fabulous and over-engineered-at-the-wrong-places products that in the end come out of General Magic’s efforts. It cites mainly persons inside the General Magic bubble. The film is very good in achieving to bring the visions, the atmosphere, and some of the people to life. From a computer historian’s point of view it is a primary source of subjective information, but one has to objectify and to relate the found information in a bigger picture himself. I find the movie entertaining, but then again, I would have probably done so in almost every case given the subject matter.

“General Magic” is 90 minutes long.

References

DDC 223

February 3, 2019

IMG_0928

I wrote an entry about the company David Computer some time ago. Even after I did some research a lot of things were unclear. However, having read this post, Mr. Pierre Artaz from France contacted me saying that he was in the process of restoring a computer system that says “DDC Computer” on the console (one of the predecessor companies of David).

We wrote back and forth, he send me a bunch of photos, and we think we were able to determine the model that he has. It is a DDC model 223 from about 1980. As you can see on the first picture

  • the machine looks very 70s. Orange with brown, and a little bit of unavoidable grey.
  • the machine is not a small one. The main chassis on the left (which is basically empty) contains the CPU, the memory, and the I/O, the next two cabinets are hard disks with removable disk platters, then comes a desk with a terminal, finally a printer

He sent me also a photograph of the (German) configuration sheet glued on some panel inside the chassis:

IMG_0868.jpg

Ok, so it might be a model “223”. Was there something like that? What do I do if I want to identify a computer model sold in Germany? Of course, I consult the CC Seller archive. And in the “CC Seller EDV 1979” issue, I find the model 223:

  • 96 kB RAM
  • 2 * terminals with 2000 characters each
  • 1 * printer
  • 2 * 14 MB harddisks
  • price: DM 112139 (multiply by a factor of 2.3 for Francs in 1980)

Unfortunately, CC Seller does not tell us anything about the CPU. But if you read my previous entry on David Computer, you know that it was speculated that they used a Fairchild chip that is compatible with the Data General NOVA. I do not have a picture of the CPU PCB (yet), but if you look at the console, what do you see?

IMG_0852

Ok, seems to be a 16 bit architecture. Hmm, it looks very much like this (up to the text for the buttons):

1280px-Nova1200.agr

By ArnoldReinhold – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3578915

The console of a Data General Nova 1200. I think that basically settles it.

The machine also has extensive paperwork for the hard disks. They came as OEM models from CalComp and are a model T-25 and/or T-50.