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Looking Back At Australia's First Digital Computer

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the originally-it-was-just-one-digit dept.

Australia 88

An anonymous reader writes "Sometimes, it's the oldest machines that are the most fascinating. PC & Tech Authority has posted this gallery of photos of the first automatic electronic stored-program computer in Australia and one of the first in the world — CSIRAC. The photos show a machine massive in size — the main system comprised nine steel cabinets containing 2000 valves that weighed over 7000kg. Using valve technology and World War II radar systems as a starting point, the machine was used for various purposes including weather forecasting, forestry, loan repayments and building design. It boasted a 1000Hz memory clock and a serial bus that transferred one bit at a time. The system generated so much heat, cool air needed to be blown up through the cabinets from the basement below. In addition to being Australia's first computer, it is also said to have been the first computer to play digital music anywhere in the world. When CSIRAC was turned off for the last time, a witness described it as 'like something alive dying.'" Museum Victoria has some short but informative pages about CSIRAC, too, including this one about programming the thing, and another about the dangers and annoyances of working on it.

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88 comments

Totology of the day... (2, Insightful)

dexotaku (1136235) | more than 2 years ago | (#40343413)

"a serial bus that transferred one bit at a time." .. good one.

Re:Totology of the day... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40343429)

Tautology of the day...

There, fixed that for you.

Thank you, come again !

Re:Totology of the day... (1)

dexotaku (1136235) | more than 2 years ago | (#40343493)

[shoots eir typist]

Re:Totology of the day... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40343755)

There are many serial protocols that uses more than one bit at a time, nibbles, bytes or even more. One could claim that intrachip cache protocols are serial even though they are 128bit wide or more as moving a cacheline takes several clock cycles.

Re:Totology of the day... (1)

Malvineous (1459757) | more than 2 years ago | (#40348225)

Yes, like that old connector which transferred one byte at a time...what was it called? Oh yes, the parallel port :-)

Re:Totology of the day... (1)

hamster_nz (656572) | more than 2 years ago | (#40346211)

Obligatory XKCD [xkcd.com] reference.

Bit shallow isn't it? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40343451)

"Like all other first-generation computers, CSIRAC had its own unique design. Its programs had to be developed from scratch. To do so, users needed to know the workings of the machine, as well as how to convert instructions into software it could understand." ... that's all we get? I wouldn't exactly call that informative... this is Slashdot, not Fox News.

Next Up on Slashdot...! (-1, Troll)

RobotRunAmok (595286) | more than 2 years ago | (#40343529)

Ghana's First Combustion Engine!

Remembering Bangalore's First TV Station!!

Behind-The-Scenes at New Zealand's First Nuclear Reactor!

Slashdot!! Where Technology is Multi-Cultural and Diverse... First!!!

Re:Next Up on Slashdot...! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40343585)

Behind-The-Scenes at New Zealand's First Nuclear Reactor!

I don't know if Slashdot will still be around whenever that eventually happens.

Re:Next Up on Slashdot...! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40346555)

It appears as if someone hasn't visited parallel dimension Alpha-Niner....

Re:Next Up on Slashdot...! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40350097)

According to Wikipedia, it was "the fourth stored program computer in the world. It is the oldest surviving first-generation electronic computer and was the first in the world to play digital music."

If that isn't significant enough for Slashdot, what is?

Re:Bit shallow isn't it? (2)

mister2au (1707664) | more than 2 years ago | (#40343533)

If you are really interested there is plenty of information around the internet ... take a look at a http://ww2.csse.unimelb.edu.au/dept/about/csirac/ [unimelb.edu.au] which has good detail including emulator .. It was suitably modest with RAM of 768 20-bit words and storage capacity of 2048 words.

I found the 1959 programming manual quite amusing, particularly the section on binary representations which suggets you reference a manual page for numbers up to 32 - really drives home the point how new all of this was !!!!

"The user should gradually become familiar with the binary symbols for the integers 0,l,2,.,.30,31, which are listed on page (i), but these can be worked out mentally by partitioning the integer into such of the components 16,8,4,2,1 as it contains. Thus 21 = 16 + 4 + 1 = 10101 (binary). It is useful to understand the principles underlying addition and subtraction in the binary system. The addition of corresponding digits follows the table:-
        0 + 0 gives 0 with 0 to carry
        0 + 1 “ 1 “ 0 “
        1 + 0 “ 1 “ 0 “
        1 + 1 “ 0 “ 1 “
        Thus: -
          1010 1101 1100 11010
        +1100 +1101 -1010 -01101
        10110 11010 0010 01101

where in the case of subtraction the digit is borrowed rather than carried.

serial bus (1)

Ozoner (1406169) | more than 2 years ago | (#40343455)

Groan,

A serial bus can be more than one bit wide, but never mind....

Re: serial bus (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40343635)

doesn't that make it a parallel bus?

Re: serial bus (1)

pbjones (315127) | more than 2 years ago | (#40348065)

SCSI?

Patents? (-1, Troll)

TechLeadNY (2648313) | more than 2 years ago | (#40343461)

Did they patent any of their wonderful 'discoveries' so that they could leech off of others for decades? Or did Australians not figure that scam out until later?

Packet switching: not patented
TCP/IP: not patented
Wireless networking: not patented
WWW: not patented

Wifi: patented! For shame australia. I am legitimately disgusted.

Re:Patents? (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40343479)

What a load of bullshit.

Just more sour grapes from the jealous.

Hop back to your $7/hr minimum wage, slave.

Don't get sick now, you know you can't afford it.

Re:Patents? (4, Funny)

commlinx (1068272) | more than 2 years ago | (#40343489)

Wifi: patented! For shame australia. I am legitimately disgusted.

Well get fucked and use a captital A next time.

-- Australia

Re:Patents? (0)

TechLeadNY (2648313) | more than 2 years ago | (#40344495)

It's not my fault that your country is known primarily for racism and government-led patent trolling.

Somehow, the UK and USA can make networking breakthrough after breakthrough without patents ruining it for everyone, but the moment australia comes up with a tiny part of it, they start demanding hard currency.

Pretty sad state of affairs, but you really can't expect much from that place. Just be glad that other countries' research institutions aren't price gouging you to use the Internet that they developed.

Re:Patents? (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 2 years ago | (#40344639)

It's not just WiFi, we've invented a vaccine that protects your women from cervical cancer and are getting royalties on that too. Just like WiFi it's cents per item if not less.
You don't hear about that (and the "other countries price gouging", because of course the USA, UK, etc, etc help fund their public research that way too), because other industries don't try to rip the inventor off as much as does the US computer industry.

Re:Patents? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40347635)

I have to pay to access the internet and lease a domain. I think I have to pay for everything I use that is computer related, except the headaches - but then I have to pay for Aspirin so... where's all the free stuff?

Re:Patents? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40348841)

USA can make networking breakthrough after breakthrough without patents ruining it for everyone

BAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!

Re:Patents? (1)

MrKaos (858439) | more than 2 years ago | (#40349175)

It's not my fault that your country is known primarily for racism and government-led patent trolling.

Australia, in 1857, was the first country in the world to grant the vote to Women, indigenous people and allow them to stand for seats of parliament. There were no riots and no one died. So fuck you very much for your misguided and misinformed post.

Re:Patents? (1)

dingram17 (839714) | more than 2 years ago | (#40350421)

You are full of wrong. Australia gave women the vote in 1902. New Zealand gave women the vote in 1893.South Australia gave women the vote in 1895. Aborigines had the vote in some states prior to Federation, but this was not universal until 1962. Read Wikipedia and the Australian Electoral Commission. You are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.

Re:Patents? (1)

MrKaos (858439) | more than 2 years ago | (#40357875)

Australia gave women the vote in 1902. New Zealand gave women the vote in 1893.South Australia gave women the vote in 1895. Aborigines had the vote in some states prior to Federation, but this was not universal until 1962.

Great, thanks for clearing that up.

You are full of wrong. You are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.

So because I'm wrong does it mean that that Australia is a racist country? Some dickheads are, and if Australia was a racist country we wouldn't have the diversity of peoples we have. So thanks for pointing out my error in dates but it still shows that an Australian state was the first in the world to give Women and Aboriginals the right to vote including the right to stand for office, and that it was bloodless revolution.

i.e. the way democracy *should* work!

Re:Patents? (1)

dingram17 (839714) | more than 2 years ago | (#40358397)

Umm, no. What I said is that you are entitled to your opinions, not your own facts. If you think don't Australia is a racist country then that is your opinion. Whether you are right or wrong is simply someone else's opinion.

I didn't think Australia was all that racist until I travelled out west. It was a shock to me the way that people spoke (black & white people) of other races. It is my opinion that in the cities Australia is multicultural and quite tolerant, but in many (but not all) of the small country towns they party like it's 1912, not 2012.

Re:Patents? (1)

dingram17 (839714) | more than 2 years ago | (#40358425)

BTW, the Maori in NZ gained the right to vote in 1840 with the Treaty of Waitangi. From that point, Maori and Caucasion/Pakeha were all treated the same. If you needed to be a land owning man to vote, then race was irrelevant. When universal suffrage was granted in 1983, all men and women could vote in the national elections. If an Australian colony (there were no states in the 1800s) gave the vote to all before NZ did, then that's great, but which was it (I'd like to read up on that history)?

Re:Patents? (1)

MrKaos (858439) | more than 2 years ago | (#40369587)

Umm, no. What I said is that you are entitled to your opinions, not your own facts. If you think don't Australia is a racist country then that is your opinion. Whether you are right or wrong is simply someone else's opinion.

I understand that but the statement the troll said was "your country is known primarily for racism and government-led patent trolling". Australia certainly contains racist people but the definition of Australia as a racist country is not acceptable because our country protects equality by law. Discrimination in Australia is against the Law. I could no more accept that *primary* characterisation of Australia, as a Country, than I could of New Zealand, Canada, UK, US etc.

If you say Apartheid Africa was known as a racist Country, Nazi Germany etc then yes it's some thing that they were known for. It's because those things are against the law in Australia that the characterisation doesn't make sense as anything other than a troll, which it is. We certainly have more to do, like Immigration and Marriage equality and a Human Rights Charter but it's more than my opinion, it's a fact of law.

I didn't think Australia was all that racist until I travelled out west. It was a shock to me the way that people spoke (black & white people) of other races. It is my opinion that in the cities Australia is multicultural and quite tolerant, but in many (but not all) of the small country towns they party like it's 1912, not 2012.

This is a reasonable characterisation. It takes time and I think that one of the ways for our country to grow is to allow immigration to occur to country towns. They have a shortage of many of the types of Human Resources that good immigration policy could solve. I think that because they struggle so much it creates a Catch-22 situation of fear, that creates racism. But I have had similar experiences.

BTW, the Maori in NZ gained the right to vote in 1840 with the Treaty of Waitangi. From that point, Maori and Caucasion/Pakeha were all treated the same. If you needed to be a land owning man to vote, then race was irrelevant. When universal suffrage was granted in 1983, all men and women could vote in the national elections.

New Zealand has always been, as a primary characterisation, a strong advocate for Human Rights issues and is ahead of Australia in many respects. I have had many Maori friends over the years, one of my mates is an Islander, so yeah I completely recognise that Australia has followed New Zealand's lead there.

If an Australian colony (there were no states in the 1800s) gave the vote to all before NZ did, then that's great, but which was it (I'd like to read up on that history)?

I only said that because I was watching a documentary on women's suffrage and I'm sure it said 1857, I only watched it the night before. It was fascinating the political manuvering that went on, the last minute the conservative party amendments to the legislation that allowed white and aboriginal woman to not only vote but to stand for office because they thought no one would possibly vote for it, and they did, it passed into law.

I'm also certain that it said that South Australia was the first place in the world to achieve it. If I haven't recalled correctly it's on the ABC website somewhere, way to tired to find a link. I checked the wiki for South Australia and it said Official settlement began on 28 December 1836, when the colony was proclaimed at The Old Gum Tree by Governor John Hindmarsh.. - Cheers

Re:Patents? (3)

deniable (76198) | more than 2 years ago | (#40343607)

<Richie> Welcome back to the one day Trollfest where TechLeadNY has just been dismissed for a duck. Pretty piss, poor effort, really.</Richie>

Re:Patents? (1)

mister2au (1707664) | more than 2 years ago | (#40344207)

Got him, yes! Piss off, you're out!

Re:Patents? (2)

Tim the Gecko (745081) | more than 2 years ago | (#40345555)

<Richie> Welcome back to the one day Trollfest where TechLeadNY has just been dismissed for a duck. Pretty piss, poor effort, really.</Richie>

Username begins with "Tech": Check

Slashdot ID > 2500000: Check

Attacks.... Australia??? This guy must have snoozed through the shill orientation class.

Re:Patents? (1)

MrKaos (858439) | more than 2 years ago | (#40349129)

Did they patent any of their wonderful 'discoveries' so that they could leech off of others for decades? Or did Australians not figure that scam out until later?

Australia got scammed out of royalties for plenty of things. A research paper on the photoconductivity properties of selenium, published in 1907 by Professor O U Vonwiller from the University of Sydney, provided the key technology for the subsequent invention of the xerographic process in the United States by Chester Carlston in 1937. The result was the Xerox copier.

Australia got scammed out of plenty of royalties and manufacturing jobs there.

Wifi: patented! For shame australia. I am legitimately disgusted.

For sure Patented because the research into fast fourier transform and echo cancellation were sufficiently costly that the CSIRO *should* collect royalties on it's inventions so it can make more technology inventions because that's what it does!!!, it's not gear towards profit. The CSIRO is a legitimate user of the patent system because it is using the patent system they way it is intended to be used, where the actual creator and developer of the technology is being paid for the work it has done and can fund more technology development.

Hipsters! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40343481)

It is a serious computer - it has a physical keyboard.

1000 Hz (1)

sphealey (2855) | more than 2 years ago | (#40343485)

1000 Hz - you could come very close to hand-cranking it!

sPh

Re:1000 Hz (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40343629)

1000 Hz - you could come very close to hand-cranking it!

Dude, if you can come close to hand cranking something 1000/second you should really think about not masturbating so much.

mercury delay (3, Interesting)

busyqth (2566075) | more than 2 years ago | (#40343515)

In 1949, mercury delay line memory was ok, but by 1955 it was hopelessly outdated.
I'm pretty surprised they didn't retrofit with core memory at some point, but then again, the rats nest of wiring in those photos doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in the upgradeability of the system.

Re:mercury delay (1)

AHuxley (892839) | more than 2 years ago | (#40343531)

Australia did not have a GCHQ or NSA budget at the time :)

Re:mercury delay (4, Informative)

mister_dave (1613441) | more than 2 years ago | (#40343859)

I think the first post war British computer was developed by Lyons [leo-computers.org.uk] , a food retailer/wholesaler/manufacturer. If memory serves, the British Government of the day rented it for batch jobs. :-)

There's a good book about it, A Computer Called Leo: Lyons Tea Shops, and the worlds first office computer [harpercollins.co.uk] .

Re:mercury delay (1)

Anne Thwacks (531696) | more than 2 years ago | (#40346043)

I think the first post war British computer was developed by Lyons,

Then you are very poorly informed. The Leo was preceded by EDSAC 1, EDSAC II, ACE, and several other machines whose names I forget. Leo was, as the article says "The world's first Office computer". However, the Leo was an amazing development (as were the others for their time).

this Australian machine sounds like it was derived from EDSAC I, which dates from 1946.

Re:mercury delay (1)

mister_dave (1613441) | more than 2 years ago | (#40346695)

Then my memory was at fault. However, wikipedia [wikipedia.org] reminds me that Lyons contributed finance to EDSAC.

Standingford and Thompson saw the potential of computers to help solve the problem of administering a major business enterprise. They also learned from Goldstine that, back in the UK, Douglas Hartree and Maurice Wilkes were actually building another such machine, the pioneering EDSAC computer, at the University of Cambridge.[1]

On their return to the UK, Standingford and Thompson visited Hartree and Wilkes in Cambridge, and were favourably impressed with their technical expertise and vision. Hartree and Wilkes estimated that EDSAC was twelve to eighteen months from completion, but said that this timeline could be shortened if additional funding were available. Standingford and Thompson wrote a report to the Lyons' Board recommending that Lyons should acquire or build a computer to meet their business needs. The board agreed that, as a first step, Lyons would provide Hartree and Wilkes with £3,000 funding for the EDSAC project, and would also provide them with the services of a Lyons electrical engineer, Ernest Lenaerts. EDSAC was completed and ran its first program in May 1949.[2]

Following the successful completion of EDSAC, the Lyons' board agreed to start the construction of their own machine, expanding on the EDSAC design.

Re:mercury delay (1)

Pseudonym (62607) | more than 2 years ago | (#40349285)

Actually, it's worse than that. Australia was still officially a British colony at the time (technically, it remained so until 1986), and was under intense pressure from the British government not to pursue computer research.

CSIRAC did have a few innovations, though. It was the first computer musical instrument, and ran one of the first high-level languages. Well, high-level by the standards of the day.

Re:mercury delay (1)

hackertourist (2202674) | more than 2 years ago | (#40343683)

My first introduction to the concept of mercury delay lines was Cryptonomicon. Fun to see an actual computer that used these.

Re:mercury delay (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 2 years ago | (#40344175)

Well, magnetic core was pretty new back then. Choosing to go with mercury delay lines is the kind of choice you'd make as a designer because you were familiar with the technology and were confident it would do the job. Cambridge (UK) University's EDSAC was very similar to this Australian beast and successful computer that operated between 1949 and 1958; it's successor EDSAC 2 operated until the mid 60s. Despite being archaic in certain details (memory storage, logic circuitry) these were very architecturally sophisticated computers for their time.

I suspect planning for this computer went back several years before the actual construction, too. It may be that by the time they started building this thing they might have preferred core memory, but redesigning the memory system would have delayed the project for no particular benefit. They'd probably have to revisit the design of the whole system to make the change worthwhile.

Unrelated aside here. A sci-fi writer friend of mine asked for advice on how a steampunk automaton might store its program and data. I suggested the program be loaded by jacquard-style punchcards into a maze of tiny mercury delay tubes coupled with tuning forks and clockwork. I think mercury, being shiny and toxic, has a certain steampunk vibe.

Re:mercury delay (2)

busyqth (2566075) | more than 2 years ago | (#40345381)

Well, magnetic core was pretty new back then. Choosing to go with mercury delay lines is the kind of choice you'd make as a designer because you were familiar with the technology and were confident it would do the job.

In 1949, that was true.
But it was not uncommon for 1st generation computers to be modified several times over their operating lifetime to support newer technologies.

Re:mercury delay (1)

localroger (258128) | more than 2 years ago | (#40346661)

CSIRAC's design was probably very tightly coupled to the characteristics of those delay lines. If you look at all the pictures you'll see that there are even (shorter) delay lines which are part of the ALU. Upgrading would have amounted to a floor-up redesign -- and there were better technologies breaking out for all the parts of the computer, not just the delay line RAM.

Another one of the CSIRO's many achievements (5, Interesting)

It took my meds (1843456) | more than 2 years ago | (#40343521)

Please note CSIRAC was developed by the CSIRO. Yes this is the same organisation that some people have unfairly labelled as a patent troll regarding their licensing claims over technology they developed in relation to Wi-Fi. The CSIRO is a wonderful organisation that Australians should rightfully feel very proud of as they have long rich history of developing technologies that push the boundaries of science and benefit humanity. Take a look at http://www.csiropedia.csiro.au/display/CSIROpedia/Achievements+by+decade [csiro.au] to see the great volumes of innovation and excellent achievements of the CSIRO.

Disclaimer: I work at the CSIRO and I feel immensely privileged to work in an organisation that not only developed CSIRAC, but is devoted to advancing society through a multitude of diverse cutting edge scientific research endeavours.

Re:Another one of the CSIRO's many achievements (0, Flamebait)

busyqth (2566075) | more than 2 years ago | (#40343559)

You're proud of being responsible for "mechanised cheese making"?

Re:Another one of the CSIRO's many achievements (4, Interesting)

It took my meds (1843456) | more than 2 years ago | (#40343643)

Absolutely! Please don't underestimate such advances. Check out the article http://www.csiropedia.csiro.au/display/CSIROpedia/Mechanised+cheese+making [csiro.au]

Re:Another one of the CSIRO's many achievements (1)

517714 (762276) | more than 2 years ago | (#40345093)

They aren't responsible for mechanized cheese making. Kraft beat them to it ... by decades. But Kraft wasn't about to help others with the problem.

Re:Another one of the CSIRO's many achievements (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40347085)

Kraft??? You call that shit cheese? I'm guessing here but in your country do they just have two types of cheese, the orange one and the yellow one?

Re:Another one of the CSIRO's many achievements (1)

jiriw (444695) | more than 2 years ago | (#40343679)

Of course, he should be! It's the best thing since sliced bread.

And I should know, being Dutch. What good would sliced bread be without an abundance of cheese?

Re:Another one of the CSIRO's many achievements (1)

neonsignal (890658) | more than 2 years ago | (#40355047)

blessed are the cheesemakers...

Re:Another one of the CSIRO's many achievements (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40343903)

I've seen CSIRAC at the Melbourne Museum, and it's quite an astonishing sight. It's in its a room dedicated to early computing, and the scale of the machine is something you can't appreciate unless you see it in person.

As for people dissing the CSIRO, get a grip! It's one of the foremost scientific research bodies in Australia, and is responsible for a number of inventions that have benefited _everyone_ (look it up on WIkipedia if you care). It's rare these days to find government-funded science/research organisations, and rarer still to find a place that peruses "pure research" goals. Yes, the CSIRO earned a patent on wi-fi, and rightfully so.

Re:Another one of the CSIRO's many achievements (2)

csirac (574795) | more than 2 years ago | (#40344349)

I believe it was CSIR back then, which is probably for the best because CSIROAC just wouldn't have the same ring to it :-)

I actually read about CSIRAC in highschool, at which time I thought it'd be fun to use as an online handle.

Funnily enough I now also work at CSIRO, joining 9 years after I'd already adopted the csirac handle. I've really appreciated the creative freedoms I've had, which has resulted in very productive tangents that we've developed as open source. This would not have been possible without all the great people around us enabling this kind of environment.

Re:Another one of the CSIRO's many achievements (1)

busyqth (2566075) | more than 2 years ago | (#40345363)

Don't tell me.
You're working on digital cheese?

Re:Another one of the CSIRO's many achievements (1)

amirulbahr (1216502) | more than 2 years ago | (#40357173)

I had the privilege of working on a project there for a few months. I have to say that the CSIRO is one of the institutions that Australians should be most proud of, but unfortunately, most have little idea of what it is or what kind of work goes on there.

Whatever you're working on, keep up the good work!

The first computer to play music (3, Funny)

Scoldog (875927) | more than 2 years ago | (#40343567)

In 1955, it was the first computer in the world to play music. Coincidentally, 1955 was the first time the RIAA tried suing a university.... for 1 million dollars!

CSIRAC @ Caulfield (3, Informative)

dregs (24578) | more than 2 years ago | (#40343675)

Interestingly, all the CSIRAC history forgets to mention it was located at Chisholm Institute of Technology's Caulfield campus (now Monash) for a long time as a display of one of the earliest computers ever made. I worked there and had the keys into the display, I now wish I'd added a bit of graffiti to the mercurary delay lines.

Re:CSIRAC @ Caulfield (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40348089)

I was at CIT ending in 1980 and do remember spending quite a few years looking at CSIRAC daily, then heading off to hand/machine punch my current COBOL program to batch run on the the mainframe overnight. The data the terminals arrived and we worked out we could store a macro in them was a fun day.

Fun days and bugger the Pinball Parlour over the road, way to much time spent in there.

CSIRAC (4, Interesting)

OzPeter (195038) | more than 2 years ago | (#40343697)

I have sitting right in front of me a copy of:

 
University of Melbourne
Computation Laboratory
 
Programming Manual
 
for the Automatic Electronic Computer
 
CSIRAC
 
(based upon papers by T.Pearcey and G.W.Hill)
 
August 1959

 
It's only 36 pages long, but is a fascinating read describing the internals of the computer as well as source code for things like division, sin and other fundamental things. I only have it because a company I was working for in the late '80s was about to throw it out in the trash and I walked past at the right time and grabbed it.

Re:CSIRAC (1)

OzPeter (195038) | more than 2 years ago | (#40343737)

I just saw that the CISRAC emulator code contains a word .doc file that is the manual I have. That's nice .. but I think the having the original is cooler!

Re:CSIRAC (2)

gsgriffin (1195771) | more than 2 years ago | (#40343747)

You can cause it to sin? Interesting.

Download the CSIRAC emulator now ! (2)

axonis (640949) | more than 2 years ago | (#40343699)

Why not play with the emulator now CSIRAC Emulator [csirac.info] Very cool !

Re:Download the CSIRAC emulator now ! (2)

axonis (640949) | more than 2 years ago | (#40343739)

Opps url got slashed CSIRAC Emulator [csirac.info] even cooler ;)

Re:Download the CSIRAC emulator now ! (2)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#40344123)

Its written for Windows. That's sort of a step backwards, isn't it?

More on its history (3, Informative)

thogard (43403) | more than 2 years ago | (#40343955)

There is a book about it :
McCann, D. and Thorne, P. 2000. The Last of the First: CSIRAC: Australia's First Computer. Department of Computer Software Engineering, The University of Melbourne.

Too bad there is no ISBN so I have no idea where to get a copy outside of the Melbourne Museum where the machine is currently pretending to work.

In the second picture [pcauthority.com.au] you can see a wood case with boxes. That is its /lib and the smaller box is its /usr/local/lib. There are paper tapes inside cardboard boxes with libraries of functions such as multiply integer and real square root.

Its "assembly language" sort of looked like "(D0)->H1" for save 10 input bits into H. That was later changed to "0 D HL". "103 -> S" was changed to "3 7 K S" which is jump to address 103 or Jump 3x32+7. Of course there was no assembler in the early days so it was all punched using tables.

The mercury delay lines are interesting. You can put about half a kbit in one tube but you have to keep refreshing it as the sound of a bit goes from one end to the other and then gets regenerated.

Re:More on its history (3, Funny)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#40344239)

Photo number 9: It appears to have 5 windows open at one time. This makes it more advanced than the Metro UI.

Re:More on its history (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40356141)

My understanding is that it was a small print run. The book can be found at The University of Melbourne library.

Two of the men in that first photo of the article still visit the University once a week, volunteering their time with Museum Victoria to continue the effort of cataloguing and documenting CSIRAC - I just spoke to them last week :)

More information here: http://ww2.csse.unimelb.edu.au/dept/about/csirac/

-- mpp

Wow, that *is* massive. (2)

hey! (33014) | more than 2 years ago | (#40344007)

the main system comprised nine steel cabinets containing 2000 valves that weighed over 7000kg

By my math that's about 14000 metric tons in valves alone. That's 80% of the displacement of the HMS Dreadnought, the first modern battleship.

Re:Wow, that *is* massive. (2, Informative)

the eric conspiracy (20178) | more than 2 years ago | (#40344535)

I don't think the valves weighed 7000kg EACH.

Re:Wow, that *is* massive. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40347387)

That is some mighty complicated math you've done there, considering 1 metric ton = 1000kg. I think one of the parts in your calculator may have fallen out during the process.

Valves (1)

DERoss (1919496) | more than 2 years ago | (#40344141)

In case someone reading the article is too young to recognize the term, a "valve" is an electron tube, one of those things that would sometimes have to be replaced in the back of a radio or TV set. Yes, they got quite hot and any large array of them required special cooling. Even a radio or TV set could warm a room.

Re:Valves (2)

Colin Douglas Howell (670559) | more than 2 years ago | (#40344583)

Yeah, the full term is "thermionic valve". This is the British expression for what Americans call a "vacuum tube". Though I'm American, the British term seems to better describe the device's function.

Interesting (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 2 years ago | (#40344173)

The photos are interesting.

In keeping with the traditions of most tech oriented sites, the comments rapidly devolve into political rants and pro/anti Apple statements.

Why did these require so much power? (2)

ortholattice (175065) | more than 2 years ago | (#40344367)

One thing I've never understood is why these early computers (apparently) used power-hungry standard vacuum tubes, requiring huge cooling systems, rather than the vacuum tubes used in portable radios.

In the 1930s/40s - not sure when - battery-operated radios (portable for going to the beach, as well as non-portable for people who had no electricity before rural electrification) were common. These had vacuum tubes with a filament voltage of 1.1-1.5VDC at maybe 50mA; the filament served as the cathode to conserve power. The B+ battery was anywhere from 22.5V to 90V and, because they were expensive, were expected to last a long time. The tubes had numbers of the form 1xx, like 1S5 (a pentode/diode).

So 2000 of these would use only about 150 watts for the filaments, which is less than many modern desktops. I don't have a number for the B+ power consumption. I vaguely recall from a schematic I saw ages ago that there were high-valued resistors, maybe around 10K-100K ohms, in series with some of the plates in the low-level signal circuits, so it might not have been very much. Maybe someone else knows.

Of course higher-power tubes might be needed to drive the I/O such as relays etc., but it seems the main logic circuitry could have been relatively low power.

Re:Why did these require so much power? (2)

Colin Douglas Howell (670559) | more than 2 years ago | (#40344645)

Perhaps because the low-power tubes were considered unsuitable for computing applications? Vacuum tubes in digital switching circuits have quite a different workload from those used in radios as amplifiers. The low-power tubes may not have provided fast switching performance, or they may have been unreliable in switching circuits. I'd think that power usage was a secondary concern for the designers of these computers; reducing it would be nice, but not at the cost of speed or reliability.

Re:Why did these require so much power? (1)

stevebyan (806118) | more than 2 years ago | (#40345405)

Because those battery tubes, to achieve their low filament-power consumption, used directly-heated cathodes (as you noted). If you think about this a bit further, you'll realize that this greatly limits the number of circuit topologies, because all of the cathodes in every tube must be connected together via the filament power supply. Imagine constructing logic gates where every transistor's emitter had to be directly connected to ground. Do-able, but limiting.

Re:Why did these require so much power? (1)

Richard_J_N (631241) | more than 2 years ago | (#40349177)

I'm not sure that's a sufficient reason. All Valves are "N-type", and a typical bipolar logic gate (or bistable) using only NPN transistors does indeed ground the emitters. The reason for indirect heating of the cathode isn't really about biasing (especially if a negative supply rail exists), but about allowing cheap, unrectified AC supplies to be used for the heater without introducing hum into the signal. For a battery-driven radio, this problem vanishes.

Incidentally, I recently built a battery-powered valve/op-amp hybrid amplifier. The valves are 1980s era, really quite tiny, and draw 10mA at 1.5V for the heaters, which glow almost imperceptibly. The B battery is a single 9V battery. (This one is rather a demonstration device; it doesn't have much voltage gain, and the valves have to be buffered by the op-amp to drive headphones - but it can be done).

Re: Why so much power? - RELIABILITY (1)

Cryptosmith (692059) | more than 2 years ago | (#40350659)

Reliability was the highest priority among first-generation computer designers when choosing radio tubes (also called valves). J. P. Eckert was co-designer of the ENIAC, which was the first thing that might be called a working computer. Eckert spent a lot of engineering time on tube reliability. He selected tubes that seemed especially long-lasting and likely to work correctly out of the box. He drove them with circuits that treated them as gently as possible: lower voltages to preserve filaments, for example. While I have no knowledge of the relative reliability of compact tubes compared to full-sized ones, I'd have to guess that the smaller tubes were significantly less reliable. If the average tube life is 2,000 hours, then a 2,000 tube machine won't run for very long between tube replacements. ENIAC had over 17,000 tubes.

Bad system design? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40344381)

The active components are valves, they have 2000 of them, and the thing weighs 7000kg. That's 3.5 kg per valve. Valves used as digital switches. Sounds like the design is not particularly weight-efficient.

Re:Bad system design? (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 2 years ago | (#40344681)

Weight doesn't matter so much unless you are putting it in an aircraft (eg. apparently some huge 1970s vintage Antanov transports still have a large area filled with valves - maybe that was for the control systems to resist EMP?).

Re:Bad system design? (2)

Colin Douglas Howell (670559) | more than 2 years ago | (#40344695)

There's plenty of other stuff in there making up the total system weight: structural framework, power supplies, and of course the mercury delay line memories, which were basically big sealed tanks of mercury. It also seems to have had magnetic drum storage, another heavy component. And I doubt weight of the system was a major concern anyway, as long as the floor could support it.

Blink3nlights have more MIPS (1)

vik (17857) | more than 2 years ago | (#40346817)

Interesting fact: The micro that runs the blinkenlights on the CSIRAC panel these days has more grunt than the original computer. The things you learn at Linuxconf...

Vik :v)

Mislabeled Image #14 (1)

Cryptosmith (692059) | more than 2 years ago | (#40350679)

Image #14 is labeled as a "console teleprinter." It is really a storage drum, which was a a geometric alternative to the disk drive. Drums had a row of fixed-location heads for recording and playback. There was one head per track, which eliminated the moving arm. I once had a similar drum from an IBM 610 "calculator." It weighed about 30 pounds and stored 1,200 BITS. Perfect doorstop.
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