[Humanist] 26.197 flashing lights

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Tue Jul 31 17:10:27 CEST 2012


                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 197.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                       www.digitalhumanities.org/humanist
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

  [1]   From:    Norman Gray <norman at astro.gla.ac.uk>                      (21)
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.196 uppercaselessness & machines of loving
                grace

  [2]   From:    "joe raben" <joeraben at fullchannel.net>                     (2)
        Subject: Flashing lights on early computers


--[1]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Sun, 29 Jul 2012 12:38:22 +0100
        From: Norman Gray <norman at astro.gla.ac.uk>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.196 uppercaselessness & machines of loving grace
        In-Reply-To: <20120728211222.5DECB2861C5 at woodward.joyent.us>


Greetings.

On 2012 Jul 28, at 22:12, Humanist Discussion Group wrote:

>        Date: Sun, 29 Jul 2012 07:09:31 +1000
>        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
>        Subject: machines of loving grace
>        In-Reply-To: <20120727235324.697AC2866F5 at woodward.joyent.us>
[...]
> One assertion in that documentary that I've run into elsewhere is that 
> the flashing lights on mainframe computers were put there for public 
> relations purposes, to make the big hulks seem, I suppose, scientific 
> and impressive at the same time. I would very much like to know if 
> anyone here is aware of reliable documentation on that point.

No reliable documentation, as such, but the Connection Machines [1] famously had all-black front panels which had red lights representing the state of the nodes in the machine.  It seems, though [2], that these had little real connection with the state of the machine, and were instead for a range of purposes including being Cool (an important attribute at Thinking Machines, it seems, during its short but beautiful life).

It's a tangential point, but Cray clearly also cared about the (intimidating?) aesthetics of their machines.  A supercomputer should _look_ super, dammit, and Crays do look to be dolled up in the hardware analogue of primary-coloured lycra and a mask (hmm: I'm thinking of Spiderman, here, not Kiss).

Best wishes,

Norman

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thinking_Machines_Corporation
[2] http://thedailywtf.com/Comments/Thinking-Machines.aspx?pg=3#194568

-- 
Norman Gray  :  http://nxg.me.uk
SUPA School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Glasgow, UK



--[2]------------------------------------------------------------------------
        Date: Mon, 30 Jul 2012 15:28:57 -0400
        From: "joe raben" <joeraben at fullchannel.net>
        Subject: Flashing lights on early computers   
        In-Reply-To: <20120728211222.5DECB2861C5 at woodward.joyent.us>


 When I saw the Eniac in the spring of 1946, its operation was indicated by columns of ten flashlight bulbs, which lit up in vertical sequence. As one column was complete, it went dark and a single bulb to its left was lit. This simple addition went on slowly enough for a human to observe it. Whether these lights were the progenitors of others on later computers I cannot tell. What I recall most vividly was being told that the machine was a whiz at arithmetic; had there been a hint of its verbal capabilities, I might not have waited until 1962 to investigate further.

Joe Raben




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