Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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.

Telescript University

January 2, 2019

„Telescript University“ was an early tutorial (at the General Magic premises) on how to program Telescript hold at least in May of 1994. I have a paper copy of the handouts of this event. As there is not so much material about Telescript out there, as I did not find a digital copy of this stuff in the Internet, and as a treat for the one other human interested in this sort of thing on christmas, I scanned the handouts. Here they are. Enjoy!

Title Version Date Content
Telescript-Language-Lessons DRAFT (0.x) June, 1993 Book that teaches Telescript to people with programming experience
TelescriptLanguageExcercises 1.1 8 August 1994 Short document on how to handle the exercises
Telescript Programming Telescript-Programming-part1 Telescript-Programming-part2 1.0c May 1994 The main content of the Telescript University slides: How to program Telescript
Programming-Demonstrations ? ? Short overview on Telescript program examples
HighTelescript 1.0c 24 June 1994 More formal, compact language description of Telescript
ScriptsFromScratch ? ? One programming exercise task
ExamplePrograms ? 8/10/94 A bunch of example programs, partially referenced by above documents

Everything Magic: The first app store?

December 23, 2018

When I presented my Magic Cap devices at the VCFB 2018 I heard from some people the claim that the Magic Cap devices had the first app store in the history. I never heard that claim before and decided to try to find out more about that.

It so happened that (looking through the material for the Telescript University seminar) I stumbled upon a small leaflet in the 1994 “AT&T PersonaLink Services” brochure that describes (unsurprisingly) the features of the short-lived AT&T service that provided email and other services to Magic Cap devices. One of these services was the “Market Square” service that was basically a platform for electronic shops that could be used by Magic Cap users.

The small leaflet was about one of these shops called “Everything Magic”. You can find the leaflet on page 34 and 35 of this scan of the brochure. The leaflet claims that whether “you’re looking for business software, games or even just a cool General Magic T-shirt, you’ll find it at Everything Magic […]”. The backside of the leaflet goes on: “Fast electronic software delivery. Everything Magic can deliver the software products you need right to your communicator. And because they’re send to you electronically, you get your order quickly.”

This really sounds like an app store. The electronic pay procedure probably came through the Market Square infrastructure. The delivery to the device was (push-wise) “electronically”. Whether this meant an automatic download-and-install method like in a today’s app store or as an attachment of an e-mail is unclear at this point.

According to the leaflet “Everything Magic” is a trademark of “eShop Inc.” According to its Wikipedia page, eShop Inc. was originally founded in 1991 to develop products for Go Corporation’s PenPoint operating system. In later years, it developed software for the Windows for Pen Computing and Magic Cap platforms. From 1993, it developed electronic commerce software, focusing primarily on the “business-to-consumer” marketplace. eShop was acquired by Microsoft in 1996 for less than $50 million and eShop’s technologies were integrated into Microsoft Merchant Server. Pierre Omidyar, one of the founders of eShop, earned over $1 million from the deal and later founded eBay.

So, was “Everything Magic” the first app store? According to the “App store” Wikipedia page, the first app store was the “Electronic AppWrapper” system presented in May 1993. It seems to me that the bulk of the software data of this system was distributed on a CD-ROM (maybe I am wrong there). The next contender Wikipedia mentions is a 1996 SUSE Linux component. It all depends (like for so many “firsts”) on what you see as the defining elements of an app store. Getting some software electronically and installing it on your computer is a very old feature (e.g. the original FTP protocol is from 1971). In my opinion an “app store” is a system where one can browse electronically in programs meant to be executable on some version of the user’s device, select or buy a program electronically, and the chosen program is then transferred and installed automatically in an integrated way (opposed to the need of a user to install a transferred program manually using the OS’ UI procedures). I also have the feeling that when we say “app store” we mean “for a mobile device and all that can happen virtually anywhere through the wireless data connection of the mobile device”. This latter aspect is not really a technical difference (the infrastructure on the server and the end user device side would be the same in either case).

So, if we mean “app store for mobile devices”, “Everything Magic” might have been very well the first one if

  • the program installation would have been taking place automatically (which we do not know currently)
  • if the shop was actually deployed (which we also do not know at this point. Also, one is often suspicious whether things that were announced in the Magic Cap world really made it to the product stage)

If the mobile aspect is not important to your definition of an app store,  “Everything Magic” is at least a very early example.

VCFB 2018: Short Report

October 21, 2018

As you might know by now, I attended the VCFB 2018 in Berlin. I had an exhibit and a presentation. I was most kindly mentioned on a popular German news page. I met many nice people.

The location was held at and co-organised by the German Museum of Technology  which was enough space and resources to support this event in a succesful way. Speaking of success: 2600 visitors have been counted, even more than last year.

Things-to-see-and-hear-wise, it was equally interesting. All the presentations were recorded and are available. There were many interesting exhibits. To me, the most interesting was “Smalltalk, Unix, Plan 9” by Angelo Papenhoff.

DSC_0030.JPG

He showed off:

  • A Xerox Alto simulator (Contralto) showing a very early version of Smalltalk
  • Research Unix (Bell Labs) and their GUI for it(!)
  • Plan 9 and its 9front forks (they develop the system further despite the fact that there is noone “official” from the original project left)

He gave also a presentation on “The GUIs of Research Unix and Plan 9” (German).

For the next year, I offered to contribute to the organization of the event, so maybe next year there will be more information on this event in English.

My VCFB 2018 Exhibit: PDAs using Magic Cap

October 21, 2018

DSC_0027c.jpg

At the VCFB 2018 I had an exhibit called “PDAs using Magic Cap”. It showed off a Sony PIC 1000 and 2000, a Motorola Envoy 100, and an Icras/General Magic DataRover 840. As the focus of the VCFB this time was “Graphical User Interfaces”, I concentrated on the Magic Cap GUI a little bit. Except the Envoy, all devices were up and running (I still have no power supply for the Envoy).

Interest in the exhibit was ok, the biggest group of people said my favorite sentence (“I have never seen something like that”), some were enthusiastic about the comic strip quality of the Magic Cap GUI, and a few people always wanted to have such a device.

There was also one (German) article about the VCFB 2018 which featured my exhibit and the presentation quite prominently.

If you want to read the posters next to the exhibit, either refer to this older blog entry of mine (English) or find it here (German).

My VCFB 2018 Presentation on “Mobile Agents and Telescript”

October 21, 2018

I had a presentation at the VCFB 2018 in Berlin on two topics on one of which I actually am an expert in :-). The title was “Mobile Agents and Telescript” and it dealt with the third topic of the General Magic topic: What would have happened technically if the first wave of Magic Cap devices would have been successful?

I gave my presentation in English for the sole purpose that you can also watch it as it was recorded (as all talks) by a CCC crew. So, without further ado, here is the link to the video recording of the presentation. And here are the slides that I presented that I presented.

VCFB 2018: I’ll be there

October 11, 2018

I’ll be at the Vintage Computing Festival Berlin (VCFB) 2018 exhibiting some General Magic Magic Cap devices and holding a presentation on Mobile Agents and Telescript. The VCFB start October, 13th and 14th in Berlin, Germany.

I would be thrilled to meet some of you there (I never really met a reader except people that read this blog because they know me).

I tried to be able to show the General Magic documentation movie there, but to no avail. Would have been a nice thing, rounding up the General Magic, Magic Cap, Telescript trifecta. However, I’m sure I will see it one day.