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EDSAC Computer To Be Rebuilt

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the ok-but-let's-only-rebuilt-the-allies dept.

United Kingdom 97

nk497 writes with this bit from PCPro: "The first working stored-program computer is set to be rebuilt at Bletchley Park, home to the UK's National Museum of Computing. The Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator ran its first programme in 1949, and was two metres high. Its 3,000 vacuum tubes took up four metres of floor space, and it could perform 650 instructions per second. All data input was via paper tape. The EDSAC used mercury-filled tubes for memory, but in the interests of safety, the replica will use an alternative non-toxic substance. Rebuilding it will take four years, and the public can visit to watch the work as it happens."

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But..... (0)

Xhris (97992) | more than 3 years ago | (#34875448)

Can in run Linux???

Re:But..... (2)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#34876844)

Maybe. In theory you might get a scaled down bare bones Linux to run, but even so you would be hard pressed to run any programs with it. Vaccuum tubes were replaced by transistors in the '50s and '60s, which in turn were largely replaced by ICs in the '60s and '70s. A single vaccuum tube preforms the same functionn as a single transistor. The Z80 CPU chip, which came out in 1976, had 8,000 transistors, more than twice the tubes of this entire computer.

The Z80 processes around 40k instructions per second, compared to EDSAC's 650 IPS. That's sixty times as fast as the EDSAC. Imagine how long it would take just to boot!

As I noted in Growing Up with Computers [kuro5hin.org] , UNIVAC, a more powerful computer with 5200 vaccuum tubes that first shipped the year I was born, was less powerful than a Hallmark Greeting card.

You might get commercial software to run (2)

AYeomans (322504) | more than 3 years ago | (#34879340)

... since LEO [wikipedia.org] , the first commercial business computer, was based on the EDSAC design. Amazingly LEO computers were still in use in 1981. Check out the LEO Computers Society [leo-computers.org.uk] .

Re:But..... (1)

Ambient Sheep (458624) | more than 3 years ago | (#34882716)

The Z80 processes around 40k instructions per second, compared to EDSAC's 650 IPS. That's sixty times as fast as the EDSAC.

That's pretty unfair on the Z80, too. To get anywhere near that figure, you'd have to take your basic 1MHz Z80, and have it continually execute the longest possible instructions, which were rarely used and took up 23 T-states (clock cycles) - that would give you 43,478ips.

In practice, most Z80 instructions executed in the range 4 to 13 clock cycles, and just about every Z80 I ever met back in the day was the 4MHz part, so you're talking between 300k and a million instructions per second. So more like a thousand times faster than poor old EDSAC.

(Nowadays of course, the modern Z80 clones/cores run the basic instructions in just 1 clock cycle.)

Re:But..... (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#34929010)

Perhaps it is unfair; I just did a quick google of Z80 for a comparison.

Re:But..... (1)

mewyn (663989) | more than 3 years ago | (#34886504)

> Maybe [snip]

Or, no.

Thing is, early computers were immensely different than the computers we have today. Addressing modes weren't fully thought out, instruction sets were esoteric and more suited for hand assembly, and even just getting information to/from memory wasn't quite what you'd expect. Both delay-line and drum memory were delay based, you had to have extremely tight timings to get the word you wanted.

Linux leverages many modern conveniences and paradigms. Without heavy modification, it cannot run on anything older than a M68000/i80386 processor with appropriate support hardware, and the older you go, the more you have to gut, change and cripple.

Re:But..... (1)

NadNad (550015) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880252)

Can in run Linux???

Very...slowly...

Re:But..... (2)

SnarfQuest (469614) | more than 3 years ago | (#34881106)

You'd need to reduce Linux's total footprint to 1024 instructions+data with no swapping, no hard disk, no networking, and all I/O through punched tape, but within those limitations it should run just fine.

FFS don't run Windows on it! (1)

crusty_architect (642208) | more than 3 years ago | (#34875462)

Or Linux for that matter...

Re:FFS don't run Windows on it! (1)

macraig (621737) | more than 3 years ago | (#34875474)

Perhaps Windows CE instead? *ducks*

Run brainfuck on it! (1)

leuk_he (194174) | more than 3 years ago | (#34875604)

Actually the code that is run on the minimalistic instruction set reminds more to BrainFuck then to anything resembling a OS.

Re:Run brainfuck on it! (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#34877186)

Yet Grace Hopper managed to write compilers on not much better equipment. You can always mimic complex instruction set rith a reduced instruction set, but of course that will slow it down even more. PUT, GET, ADD, and SUB are theoretically the only instructions a CPU needs (did I miss one or two essential instructions?).

Re:Run brainfuck on it! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34877278)

Some sort of branch operation.

Re:Run brainfuck on it! (1)

jandrese (485) | more than 3 years ago | (#34878544)

I'm pretty sure you need some sort of loop and branch mechanic to be Turing complete. Well, the loop mechanic may not be 100% necessary, but branching certainly is.

Re:Run brainfuck on it! (1)

leuk_he (194174) | more than 3 years ago | (#34879098)

Brainfuck is turing complete.

Re:Run brainfuck on it! (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#34879108)

Depends [wikipedia.org] , it would seem (and while not limiting ourselves to what is strictly practical)

Re:Run brainfuck on it! (1)

Carnildo (712617) | more than 3 years ago | (#34882778)

I think you can implement "branch" as a computed "PUT" to the program counter.

Re:Run brainfuck on it! (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#34928064)

You're right, I missed jmp. Kind of hard to program without loops!

Re:Run brainfuck on it! (1)

hvdh (1447205) | more than 3 years ago | (#34882308)

Actually, a single instruction with two operands is enough for a CPU to be turing complete.
Nice thing: You don't need coding bits or an instruction decoder, as all instructions are of the same type.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_instruction_set_computer [wikipedia.org]

Re:FFS don't run Windows on it! (3, Informative)

mswhippingboy (754599) | more than 3 years ago | (#34876602)

With 650 IPS and 512 18 bit words of memory I doubt much of any kind of monitor, much less OS could be implemented. Still, if anyone would like to give it a shot, there is an emulator available at

http://www.dcs.warwick.ac.uk/~edsac/

Re:FFS don't run Windows on it! (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#34877036)

That's basically in the range of minimal ram requirements of Contiki (and not the only one for sure); IPS three orders of magnitude away from 8-bit machines, so nothing too dramatic.

Question is how practical could it be considering probably quite "manual" I/O (nvm if there would be place left for any programs)

Not bad, in half of a century - even "smartdust" beats such elders.

Re:FFS don't run Windows on it! (1)

mswhippingboy (754599) | more than 3 years ago | (#34877324)

That's basically in the range of minimal ram requirements of Contiki (and not the only one for sure);

While Contiki has a minimal RAM requirement of 2K, it also occupies 40K of ROM. The EDSAC had a total architectural maximum of 1024 words (albeit 18 bit words), but only 512 words were actually implemented. Still, I recall when I had a TRS-80 Model I that had a pretty functional version of BASIC implemented in only 4K of ROM and 4K of RAM. It's amazing what can be done in such constrained environments.

Re:FFS don't run Windows on it! (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 3 years ago | (#34877800)

Actually, it seems Contiki can go down even to tens of bytes (still some K's of flash of course) / it can be slimmed down from more typical installs.

So there's probably some possibility (at least when it comes to memory), when targeting this one specific memory layout.

(BTW, OS-9 looks like a totally jaw-dropping thing for TRS-80; and not available only way past the time of home computer it runs on, like Contiki or SymbOS)

4 years to build? (3, Insightful)

ciderbrew (1860166) | more than 3 years ago | (#34875466)

The war will have been lost to Jerry by then!

Re:4 years to build? (2)

augustw (785088) | more than 3 years ago | (#34875492)

EDSAC was built post WW2.

Re:4 years to build? (1)

ciderbrew (1860166) | more than 3 years ago | (#34875524)

Pick either Seinfeld or Springer for me to back out of this one; but the war against them goes on.

not too sure why you are talking about WW2.

*looks are feet.

Re:4 years to build? (1)

ciderbrew (1860166) | more than 3 years ago | (#34875530)

*looks at feet.

:(

Re:4 years to build? (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#34875560)

Cheer up. Buy yourself a BMW.

Re:4 years to build? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34876338)

Or a Mini Cooper.

Re:4 years to build? (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#34877560)

not too sure why you are talking about WW2

He's probably confusing EDVAC with ENIAC. ENIAC was originally built to computer firing tables for WWII, but the war ended before ENIAC was completed.

Re:4 years to build? (2)

pspahn (1175617) | more than 3 years ago | (#34875514)

I'm at a loss for why it will take so long. I'm guessing it's because they'll have one guy working on it by himself during the weekends so he can avoid his nagging wife. When they asked him how long it would take him, he pulled "ahh! Four years!!" out of thin air.

Re:4 years to build? (2)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#34875554)

I'm at a loss for why it will take so long.

Not so bad now that we know what a computer is. Requirements slip was of course a big problem in the early days as a little bit of experience in construction gave you 1000 new ideas to try to implement.

Re:4 years to build? (2)

augustw (785088) | more than 3 years ago | (#34876840)

Actually, EDSAC was originally built pretty quickly for the time (about 2 years) precisely because Wilkes, the project leader, decided to use only proven techniques and methods so as to supply a usable computing facility to Cambridge University, rather than extend the state of the art.

Re:4 years to build? (5, Informative)

hcdejong (561314) | more than 3 years ago | (#34875786)

I think you're not far from the truth. The museum is run by volunteers, and depends on donations for income. They operate on a shoestring budget; this particular build will have dedicated funding, though.

Re:4 years to build? (3, Informative)

jonbryce (703250) | more than 3 years ago | (#34875906)

Probably. Also, elfin safety requires them to develop a new type of memory that simulates the mercury tubes used in the original.

Re:4 years to build? (1)

dave420 (699308) | more than 3 years ago | (#34877636)

I think you're confusing "health & safety" with "common sense" :)

Re:4 years to build? (1)

blueturffan (867705) | more than 3 years ago | (#34878780)

Exactly how dangerous is mercury in a sealed vacuum tube?

Re:4 years to build? (1)

operagost (62405) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880416)

I wonder. (stares suspiciously at fluorescent tube)

Re:4 years to build? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34880966)

There is no concern as long as the tube does not break.
Typically, a mercury pellet is heated with a filament and the mercury is in vapor form.
If the glass breaks, GTFO or you are dead.

lack of valves? (1)

petes_PoV (912422) | more than 3 years ago | (#34876026)

At a guess, finding enough of the required types of valves (aka "tubes" in other languages) is a time consuming activity

Re:lack of valves? (1)

ae1294 (1547521) | more than 3 years ago | (#34881438)

At a guess, finding enough of the required types of valves (aka "tubes" in other languages) is a time consuming activity

Can't they just steal some from the Internet when nobody is looking?

first computer with stored programs? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34875510)

I dunno, but in 1949 they were already ... half a dozen at least that would fit into this characteristic.

The oldest coming into my mind: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Z1_(computer) [wikipedia.org]
while mechanical and being a bit unreliable due to being handmade from scrap metal... still fits into the description.

Mark I and others also should be noted, in 1949 it was definitely not the first...

Re:first computer with stored programs? (1)

uglyduckling (103926) | more than 3 years ago | (#34875950)

I'm not sure that's a genuine stored-program computer. From what I recall, it was a very clever adding machine. Either way, it was a prototype rather than a fully complete, reliable machine that was used for research or commerce.

Re:first computer with stored programs? (4, Informative)

Jecel Assumpcao Jr (5602) | more than 3 years ago | (#34876264)

None of the early Zuse machines were stored program computers - they had a relay memory for data and got their instructions from punched tape. The table in the Wikipedia page about the Z3 seems about right:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Z3_(computer) [wikipedia.org]

The Manchester Baby was the first stored program machine, quickly followed by the modified ENIAC (the original used patch panels and cables) and then the EDSAC. Since the Baby was created to explore ideas for the EDSAC rather than as a usable machine on its own, I guess if you squint enough the article is right in an Obi-wan kind of way :-)

Re:first computer with stored programs? (1)

crunchygranola (1954152) | more than 3 years ago | (#34879726)

I dunno, but in 1949 they were already ... half a dozen at least that would fit into this characteristic.

The oldest coming into my mind: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Z1_(computer) [wikipedia.org] while mechanical and being a bit unreliable due to being handmade from scrap metal... still fits into the description.

Mark I and others also should be noted, in 1949 it was definitely not the first...

The development of computers that have all of the architectural features we consider standard took about 15 years and there were several steps in the process with each one having some sort of bragging rights. And deciding when the process was "done" and we had a fully modern architecture is something of a matter of judgment.

Back in the 1980s I researched exactly this question for a CS course project, and I examined the architectural details of every early computer to MANIAC and IAS or so. EDSAC was the computer I identified as being the first to have not only stored programs BUT ALSO "programs as data" - one that could rewrite their own instructions and thus (for example) load programs dynamically in the course of computation. Without this feature the concept of an "operating system" is essentially impossible. The EDSAC was my pick for the best claimant to the "first modern architecture" computer.

650 instructions per second (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#34875512)

Should have been enough for anybody. I bet it could calculate my tax return in the time it takes me to log in to gnome.

Re:650 instructions per second (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34876600)

To be fair, 650 instructions could easily be enough, with a decent instruction set and good hardware attached. For example, at that rate, this instruction set / program could radically improve the world, and would do it about 100 times per second: .loop:
                                      find $ineffectuals
                                      store d1, $nearest_politician
                                      load a1, nearest_politician
                                      load a2, all_silos
                                      launch
                                      jmp .loop

"Alternative non-toxic substance" (2, Interesting)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 3 years ago | (#34875538)

In fact Alan Turing himself pointed out that a mixture of alcohol and water would do the job as well as mercury (he wanted to use gin.) Perhaps "Mercury delay line" just sounded more techie to the Civil Service.

Re:"Alternative non-toxic substance" (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#34875556)

You'd think a gin delay line would have no trouble getting finance.

Re:"Alternative non-toxic substance" (2)

TapeCutter (624760) | more than 3 years ago | (#34875608)

"You'd think a gin delay line would have no trouble getting finance."

A "gin delay line" sounds like a queue at the gentlemen's club, Sir Humphrey would never allow it.

Re:"Alternative non-toxic substance" (1)

GerryHattrick (1037764) | more than 3 years ago | (#34875640)

Don't EVER delay my gin. (And why is mercury in a sealed tube 'dangerous'? Should I move away from the not-so-sealed barometer behind me? Is that why I need my gin?)

Re:"Alternative non-toxic substance" (0)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#34875660)

Mercury is nasty stuff [wikipedia.org] , but barometers often contain alcohol anyway.

Re:"Alternative non-toxic substance" (2)

91degrees (207121) | more than 3 years ago | (#34875738)

Alcohol barometers!? Do you mean thermometers, because for a barometer you want a dense liquid. An alcohol barometer would need to be about 10m high.

Re:"Alternative non-toxic substance" (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#34882964)

Must remember to think when posting.

Expansion due to heat? (1)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 3 years ago | (#34875834)

Mercury in a sealed tube is only as safe as the tube and the seal. There have to be arrangements to fill and empty the tube, and to allow for expansion. These are all potential weak points. I once had to condemn a piece of equipment built by an "electrician" which used 24 large mercury glass relays operated by rotary solenoids, in an open wooden box. The glass elements were rigidly attached and each time they switched the point of contact with the frame came under considerable pressure. One broken switch element and an entire factory would have had to be evacuated.

(The whole abortion was replaced with a small PCB containing mercury-wetted relays, which contain only tiny amounts of mercury - the electrician who built the panel didn't know the difference when he resd the spec.)

Re:Expansion due to heat? (1)

Muad'Dave (255648) | more than 3 years ago | (#34876614)

The whole abortion was replaced with a small PCB containing...

PCBs!?!?! They're HORRIBLY dangerous! Oh, that's PCB [wikipedia.org] , not PCB [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Expansion due to heat? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34877510)

When I was a kid I had a puddle of mercury the size of a quarter. It was a lot of fun to play with. I turned out ok.

Re:Expansion due to heat? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34878328)

The mercury would pose a slight danger to a person if it splattered on their skin when it broke; otherwise, the danger is negligible. You'd save more lives improving the visibility at the intersection in front of the factory.

Re:Expansion due to heat? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34878914)

But that wouldn't be in line with the politically correct enviro-meme that mercury is a DEADLY EVIL SATANIC BABY-KILLING POISON THAT WILL MAKE YOUR ENTIRE CITY BLOCK UNINHABITABLE IF YOU SPILL A DROP... uhh, unless its in CFLs of course.

I think its sad they're going for a politically correct rebuild... sorta like taking a Duesenberg Meteor (the EDSAC was equivalently awesome in its day) and putting in a Toyota Hybrid engine because gas engines are dangerous polluting monstrosities. So what? Its a one shot, one single system, and it should be remade the way it was.

Re:Expansion due to heat? (1)

mcgrew (92797) | more than 3 years ago | (#34878980)

One broken switch element and an entire factory would have had to be evacuated.

That's insane. When I was a kid, there was mercury in a hell of a lot of places. Thermostats and thermometers in every home used mercury. If a thermometer broke, we kids would play with the mercury (fascinating metal).

And these thermometers and switches had been in use for a couple of generations by then, yet I saw no evidence that anyone was harmed by it.

Now, if you ingest it, from eating tuna fish or inhaling the dust from a broken flourescent lamp, yes, you'll have problems. But in its liquid metallic form I've seen no risk, except risk to the environment itself (as in the aformentioned fish).

Your broken switches won't endanger your employees, but it may endanger your fish-eating grandchildren.

Re:"Alternative non-toxic substance" (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34875668)

In fact Alan Turing himself pointed out that a mixture of alcohol and water would do the job as well as mercury (he wanted to use gin.)

I guess "non-toxic" depends on the amount you consume then.

Re:"Alternative non-toxic substance" (1)

petermgreen (876956) | more than 3 years ago | (#34876582)

It takes a lot of alcohol to poision and afaict it breaks down organically into harmless stuff so releases aren't a concern.

Afaict liquid mercury isn't hugely dangerous simply because the body won't absorb much but vapours of mercury are worse and organic compounds of mercury are even worse. This gives a good reason for controlling it's use.

Pink Gin Computer (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 3 years ago | (#34876166)

In fact Alan Turing himself pointed out that a mixture of alcohol and water would do the job as well as mercury (he wanted to use gin.) .

Turing failed to include a dash of Angostura . . . with enough alcohol, the computer can shoot shit out, but everyone is too trashed to give a damn.

Re:"Alternative non-toxic substance" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34876204)

Mercury has two advantages here. Better acoustic matching with the quartz delay line transducers, and no significant cavitation effects, which would eat away at the driving transducer.

Re:"Alternative non-toxic substance" (1)

lurcher (88082) | more than 3 years ago | (#34876630)

As opposed to the entirly yummy and safe barium used in the valves getters.

Re:"Alternative non-toxic substance" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34877082)

I seem to recall that some early machines used an acoustic delay line: a sealed box with a microphone at one end, and a speaker at the other end. Of course it might just be easier to make a mock-up that looks right from the outside, but internally uses modern electronics :)

Re:"Alternative non-toxic substance" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34878208)

In fact Alan Turing himself pointed out that a mixture of alcohol and water would do the job as well as mercury (he wanted to use gin.) Perhaps "Mercury delay line" just sounded more techie to the Civil Service.

So, what you're saying is Gin is good for your memory.

Re:"Alternative non-toxic substance" (1)

careysub (976506) | more than 3 years ago | (#34879966)

Maybe they could use a gallium eutectic - you would preserve the ambience of a room-temperature liquid metal device* with more similar characteristics than water/alcohol (better acoustic impedance, non-corrosive, etc.). Although you see it for sale at prices of $15/g its current metal market price for high purity gallium is only $0.70/g. An alternative is Cerrolow 117, a reasonably inexpensive commercial alloy used for making mold prototypes, melts at 117 degrees F. Adding a small heating element would keep it liquid.

Re:"Alternative non-toxic substance" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34886236)

They did try the gin delay line, but it kept losing bits on Saturday nights.

I'm sorry, I disagree... (3, Informative)

jareth-0205 (525594) | more than 3 years ago | (#34875572)

The first stored program computer was the Manchester Baby

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manchester_Small-Scale_Experimental_Machine [wikipedia.org]

Re:I'm sorry, I disagree... (1)

MichaelSmith (789609) | more than 3 years ago | (#34875654)

The first stored program computer was the Manchester Baby

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manchester_Small-Scale_Experimental_Machine [wikipedia.org]

Surprising to see how involved Turing was during that time. Imagine how the computer industry would have developed if he had lived.

Re:I'm sorry, I disagree... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34877370)

...totally gay?

Re:I'm sorry, I disagree... (2)

PseudonymousBraveguy (1857734) | more than 3 years ago | (#34875722)

If you strech the definition of "working" to mean "practical", then the summary is correct. The Manchester Baby was technically first, but it was never meant to be a usefull computing device.

Re:I'm sorry, I disagree... (1)

jareth-0205 (525594) | more than 3 years ago | (#34876060)

If you strech the definition of "working" to mean "practical",

Clearly you're not a programmer... something doesn't need to be practical or usable to be considered "working"...

You are correct - but don't mock it (2)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 3 years ago | (#34876328)

The method of storage in the Baby - a static charge used to represent 1 or 0 - proved to be the most effective form of storage for RAM (as static and dynamic CMOS) and is becoming more and more of a competitor for hard drives. Though CRT memory was short lived, in the long run Williams proved to be right. The Baby was prescient.

National Museum of Computing is well worth a visit (5, Informative)

hcdejong (561314) | more than 3 years ago | (#34875634)

I was at Bletchley Park a couple of months ago and by chance the National Museum of Computing [tnmoc.org] was open that day. They've got some interesting displays of old computers, and their goal is to get them all running again. They cover everything between EDSAC and modern computers. Their oldest computer is a Harwell WITCH from 1951 (a decimal computer), this is being restored at the moment. Other fun stuff includes a collection of calculators, and a BBC micro with a working BBC Domesday Project laserdisc installation.

It's a separate museum on the Bletchley Park grounds, and its opening times are a bit limited (esp. in winter), so check before you go.

Re:National Museum of Computing is well worth a vi (1)

neonsignal (890658) | more than 3 years ago | (#34914728)

Also of interest is the 1949 CSIR Mark 1 (CSIRAC), which is held at the Museum of Victoria [museumvictoria.com.au] in Melbourne (unfortunately no longer on display). Because of its historical value, there is no intention to restore it to working order.

I'd love to visit Bletchley Park one day though if I'm ever on that side of the world.

Computers 1 Stupid People 0 (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34875836)

A GIGO story that RISKS readers may find interesting...

A couple months ago, FedEx failed to deliver a package to my house three
times in a row because no one was home.

Using the door tag they left for us, I contacted them and asked them to hold
the package at a FedEx location near my office.

I went there with a picture ID and asked for the package. The told me, "That
package isn't addressed to [my house number] [my street]. It's addressed to
[my house number+1] [my street], and the name on it doesn't match your ID."

Yes, that's right, the FedEx driver had attempted to deliver the package to
the wrong house three times in a row. I pointed out the erroneous delivery
attempts and told him he'd better make sure the package was redelivered to
the correct address. He said he'd take care of it.

Meanwhile, the intended recipient of the package called FedEx to find out
what had happened to her package. They informed her that they had made three
failed delivery attempts, followed by an attempt to hold the package for
pickup which failed because the person who came to get it did not have a
valid picture ID, so they had no choice but to return the package to its
sender. The fact that the delivery attempts were made to the wrong house was
not mentioned.

She argued at length with several people, telling each of them that there
had been no delivery attempts to her house, that she had not asked for the
package to be held anywhere, and that if she had, she would have had a valid
picture ID, so clearly whoever asked for the package to be held wasn't
her. They all insisted they could not deliver the package, but she did
finally convince one of them to give her the phone number of the person who
made the hold request (i.e., me).

We are passing acquaintances, so she recognized my phone number. She called
me and asked what was up, and I told her what had happened.

Armed with that additional information, she called FedEx back. She spoke to
several people who were apologetic and sympathetic and yet at the same time
insistent that there was nothing they could do. Since the computer said
there were three failed delivery attempts and a failed hold attempt, they
simply could not redeliver the package. No one seemed to have any idea how
to tell the computer that the delivery attempts had been to the wrong
address. Either that, or they were unwilling to do so (didn't want to get a
driver in trouble? didn't want to damage the performance statistics for
their location?).

Finally, she got a supervisor to agree to deliver the package. He brought it
over to her house in his own car, out of uniform, late that night, i.e.,
completely outside the system. One cannot help but wonder what FedEx's
computer says about the package now. Alas, I neglected to save the tracking
number so I can't find out.

A possibly related fact is that when the package was finally delivered, it
was all beaten up and had been broken open and patched up in transit,
despite the fact that it was in a brand new box when sent.

I contacted FedEx's executive complaints office by email several weeks ago
and asked them to comment on how this happened and whether supervisors
delivering packages late at night in their own cars is standard operating
procedure for FedEx. I got no response.

Re:Computers 1 Stupid People 0 (1)

SplatMan_DK (1035528) | more than 3 years ago | (#34875960)

So let me get this straight ...

A FedEx driver screws up a delivery. A manager/supervisor at the local FedEx office takes it upon himself to actually be helpful and sympathetic to the situation. He uses his free time to deliver the package, and probably has to jump through spinning hoops to handle the details of the delivery in his computer system (a fact you kindly point out yourself). Likely he will also have to answer to his superiors about the way he bypassed established procedures in order to help you out.

And you are giving him a hard time about it by complaining about his actions to the corporate complaints office???

What am I missing here???

- Jesper

Re:Computers 1 Stupid People 0 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34882290)

No, their computer system and bureaucracy was so inflexible and the people involved at FedEx so stupid that everything got fucked up. The manager wasn't doing a favor. He just wanted the issue to go away. Had so much noise not been made about it, he would have given no fuck. The manager was probably really irritated about it.

Why waste the money. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34875870)

The geek in me says this is a cool project. The realist in me says there is not much gained here by making the machine fully functional and the money for four years of work could be used to work on something more valuable. Is there really anything to learn here other than how good the machinists were back in the day?

AC for Karma preservation.

EDSAC Emulator? (2)

VortexCortex (1117377) | more than 3 years ago | (#34876076)

I love the fact that there is a common desire to preserve our historic technological achievements.

Working reproductions of dying / dead machines are a great learning tool -- We are all truly standing on the shoulders of giants today.

I feel that efforts such as rebuilding the EDSAC are in the same vein as those that would create emulators [warwick.ac.uk] for our out of production computers and video game systems as a cheap way to preserve the past.

What good is the EDSAC or an Emulator without a sampling of the programs the systems used to run? Surely different people would attribute different degrees of importance to different programs -- Thankfully digital storage is abundant and cheap enough that we are capable of preserving entire catalogs of programs.

Notice however, that the more relevant, beneficial and useful a replica or emulator is, the more illegal it is to produce due to patents and copyrights.
I fear that if the current copyright laws could be enforced absolutely, we stand to loose important parts of our history and culture for no other reason but greed. Given the long terms of copyright, it's a safe assumption that much of our digital heritage could decay and be lost before it's legal to reproduce it -- Even under good conditions CDs, Magnetic and Solid State Drives will all fail before 70 years after the author's life has elapsed.

I'm very wary of DRM and the DMCA -- Today we can recreate past works to better understand the significance of the shoulders on which we stand; Tomorrow we may find ourselves searching for footing that has long since crumbled away.

Re:EDSAC Emulator? (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | more than 3 years ago | (#34884322)

You'll be happy to know that the DMCA exempts the Library of Congress then :) I believe portions have also been clarified such that archivers are not only allowed to store ditigal backups, but they can reverse the DRM if they can prove that it is for archival purposes.

Of course, you'll probably also be happy to know that the DMCA doesn't mean a thing in most of the world, and that somewhere like Belarus will likely be the "digital Iona" of the future....

Re:EDSAC Emulator? (1)

VortexCortex (1117377) | more than 3 years ago | (#34991384)

You'll be happy to know that the DMCA exempts the Library of Congress then :) I believe portions have also been clarified such that archivers are not only allowed to store ditigal backups, but they can reverse the DRM if they can prove that it is for archival purposes.

Of course, you'll probably also be happy to know that the DMCA doesn't mean a thing in most of the world, and that somewhere like Belarus will likely be the "digital Iona" of the future....

Sadly, just making it legal to break DRM doesn't mean the DRM will be broken. I.e. my brother's Zune will not sync with his Linux machine because of encryption -- He's now experiencing the Vendor lock-in that I warned him of.

The point being: Once DRM is perfected it may not matter if it's legal for you to break it -- Encryption done right is very infeasible to break. E.g. DMCA does not require the DRMmers to jail-break your device for you -- What happens if you can't do it any other way?

How many metres did you say? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34876356)

"The Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator ran its first programme in 1949, and was two metres high"

Which also happens to be the height of a killer robot. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Re:How many metres did you say? (1)

operagost (62405) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880446)

I'll only become concerned if they convert it to run on old people's medicine.

Yeah, (2)

reboot246 (623534) | more than 3 years ago | (#34876360)

they have an app for that.

Barely.

Imagine a beowulf cluster of those (2)

GodfatherofSoul (174979) | more than 3 years ago | (#34876950)

We'd have the mind-numbing processing power to get my garage door open, and one less US state.

Re:Imagine a beowulf cluster of those (2)

magpie (3270) | more than 3 years ago | (#34877812)

We'd have the mind-numbing processing power to get my garage door open, and one less US state.

Seems a fair trade in some cases.

Slashdot props for Wilkes (1)

Arakageeta (671142) | more than 3 years ago | (#34877382)

It's great to see that EDSAC will be rebuilt! I wonder if Maurice Wilkes, the project leader, was told before he passed away just this last November? He was probably the last of the "first generation" computer pioneers to pass away. Several slashdot stories of his passing were submitted, but I don't think it ever made the main page. At least he can get his props here now.

WRONG! Baby was *before* EDSAC (1)

dwheeler (321049) | more than 3 years ago | (#34877524)

Can no one look up and confirm well-known facts? Heck, this stuff is still within living memory. The article claims that EDSAC was the "first working stored-program computer" and that is just wrong.

The Manchester Small-Scale Experimental Machine [often known as "Baby"] was the first stored-program computer, not EDSAC. Baby was operational on June 1948; EDSAC didn't run anything until May 1949. Please don't play semantics with the word "working"; Baby worked, and in any case, all of these early computers were wimpy if you measure by storage or speed. EDSAC is important in computer history - don't take anything away from THAT - but let's get the facts right.

Re:WRONG! Baby was *before* EDSAC (1)

Em Adespoton (792954) | more than 3 years ago | (#34884362)

As mentioned elsewhere, the Baby was the testbed for EDSAC -- you could think of it as "EDSAC Lite". but it WAS a computer in its own right, so let's keep shaming the submitter and editors ;)

No Mercury? (1)

FrankDrebin (238464) | more than 3 years ago | (#34878968)

The EDSAC used mercury-filled tubes for memory, but in the interests of safety, the replica will use an alternative non-toxic substance.

So.... hamsters?

Mercury: (1)

Hartree (191324) | more than 3 years ago | (#34879278)

I'm guessing the decision was not based on safety but practicality.

A sealed tube of mercury is not a significant safety hazard in a one off application like this machine. There are an awful lot of wall thermostats out there with sealed glass bulbs of mercury in them.

The EU has regulations on RoHs (Reduction of Hazardous substances) that apply to electronics. It's likely it just would have been too much paperwork hassle to get an exception.

I'll bet for similar reasons the solder they use in connecting it will be lead free.

Besides, if they used gin, like Turing wanted, it'd definitely be extra geek points.

Not the first.... Konrad Zuse's Z3 was 1941 (1)

Dr. Crash (237179) | more than 3 years ago | (#34879504)

Edsac was not the first stored program digital computer.

Konrad Zuse's Z3 was running in 1941... turing complete, vacuum tubes, and all.

Mercury safety (1)

operagost (62405) | more than 3 years ago | (#34880360)

The EDSAC used mercury-filled tubes for memory, but in the interests of safety, the replica will use an alternative non-toxic substance.

Stupid safety theater. People all over the world sit RIGHT UNDERNEATH mercury-filled tubes. They're called fluorescent lighting.

Do these tubes explode spontaneously or something? Maybe they should give everyone eye protection and breathing apparatuses.

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