Posts Tagged ‘computer’

Have you ever owned a computer that made you want to pull your hair out? Wondering if your computer would be on the top 10 list of worst computers of all time? You might be in luck. Chassis Plans, a rugged computer manufacturer, has created this interesting infographic outlining some of the worst computers of all time. From the Commodore VIC 20 to the Netbook, this visual takes you through some of the most loathed computers and the features that drove their owners mad. Name a computer problem and one of these computers probably had it. From slow processor speeds to computers that would turn on in the middle of the night to computers that would melt discs, the problems go on and on. Surprisingly some of these computers, despite their problems set records like “the first commercial computer to be used in space” or “the first personal computer to sell more than one million units.”

The Worst Computers of All Time [Infographic]

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[Note to readers: This is a guest post that originally appeared on the Blogineering blog.  Special thanks to Dorothy Shaw for calling it to our attention.]

Many of the greatest advancements in history have come about as the direct result of those working as engineers. Engineers provide us with practical solutions for a host of problems, as well as advance practical science and technology. They take theories and ideas, and often turn them into working principles and products that better our lives. From the compound pulley system invented by the great Greek engineer Archimedes, to the tall buildings and air conditioned comfort we enjoy today, engineers have been at the forefront of our technological advancement.

While there have been many notable engineers throughout history, there are some whose inventions and insights have been exceptionally useful. From engineering students tinkering to improve old designs, to the engineers who have discovered sweeping laws that affect the way we view the scientific world, here are 20 of the most notable engineers:

  1. Archimedes of Syracuse: No discussion of notable engineers can leave out Archimedes of Syracuse. No matter how you might quarrel with other additions on any list of great engineers, Archimedes must be on the list. He was a keen observer and inventor, developing engineering principles of fluid displacement, as well as inventing the compound pulley — one of the most important inventions in all of history.
  2. Francis Bacon: The scientific method owes its existence to Sir Francis Bacon. A true Renaissance man, Bacon was also a philosopher, statesman and lawyer in addition to being a scientist. He died in the name of science, as he fell victim to pneumonia during one of his experiments as he studied the effects of freezing meat.
  3. Daniel Bernoulli: Perhaps you’ve heard of the Bernoulli Principle? This is the principle of fluid dynamics that is used in the construction of aircraft to determine air speed. It was discovered by Daniel Bernoulli, son of a renowned mathematician. Bernoulli also discovered how to measure blood pressure, and was well known for his work on the Conservation of Energy.
  4. John Logie Baird: The Scottish engineer John Logie Baird invented a mechanical television. While Philo T. Farnsworth would be credited later with developing the dissector tube that made electronic TV possible, Baird is credited with providing the first televised objects in motion, and the first televised human face, as well as demonstrating color television in 1928.
  5. Henry Bessemer: One of the most significant building advancements was the production of inexpensive steel. And the engineer who created the process for mass-producing steel was Henry Bessemer. Bessemer had been working on a process similar to American William Kelly’s process, and he bought the patent from Kelly. Today, steel is still made using process based on Bessemer’s method.
  6. Gustave Eiffel: The Eiffel Tower in Paris, France was named after someone; that someone was Gustave Eiffel. This French civil engineer contributed to structural architecture, and enhanced metal construction of bridges.
  7. John Ambrose FlemingSir John Ambrose Fleming is the inventor of the first vacuum tube. His engineering feat is known as the precursor to electronics — even though the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated his patent.
  8. Edwin Armstrong: The American engineer Edwin Armstrong is know for his innovation of frequency modulation (used in FM radio and for other purposes). He was also known for superheterodyning and regeneration.
  9. Seymour Cray: In today’s computer dominated society, it is important to pay homage to Seymour Cray, the engineer believed to be the founder of supercomputing, and the first to build a device making use of functional parallelism architecture.
  10. Wernher von Braun: One of the most important rocket developers, especially of rockets for the space exploration effort, was Wernher von Braun. Initially working for the Nazis, developing the V-2 ballistic missile, von Braun later surrendered to the Americans — along with 500 rocket scientists — and came to work in the U.S.
  11. Robert Goddard: Even though the New York Times panned Robert Goddard’s theories of travel to the moon by rocket, he had the last laugh. He built the first liquid-fueled rocket, and it has been a source of technological advancement for decades.
  12. Arthur Casagrande: One of the greatest contributors to dam building and other earth construction was engineer Arthur Casagrande, a pioneer in soil mechanics.
  13. Henry Darcy: The modern style Pitot tube was invented by Henry Darcy, an engineer who developed a law describing flow in porous media. Today, Darcy’s achievements can be seen in hydrology and petroleum engineering.
  14. Wendell Bollman: When you see truss bridges spanning great lengths, you can thank Wendell Bollman, a self-taught civil engineer. His designs for ferry bridges and other truss bridges have influenced us for decades, even though there is only one remaining “Bollman truss” bridge still in existence.
  15. Thomas Brassey: This civil engineer is notable for his prolific railroad building. Thomas Brassey was the premier contractor for railroading building throughout Europe, and is also responsible for Canada’s Grand Trunk Railway.
  16. George Stephenson: English civil engineer George Stephenson built the first public railway in the world that made use of steam locomotives. He was also friends with Thomas Brassey, and encouraged him to contract to build railways. The world’s standard railway gauge is the Stephenson gauge, named after the man who developed it.
  17. Willis Carrier: Do you enjoy air conditioning in the summer? If so, you can thank Willis Carrier. Carrier’s first air conditioning success came only a year after he earned his Masters in Engineering from Cornell. And the rest of us have benefitted every since.
  18. Burt Rutan: One of the most influential aerospace engineers is Burt Rutan, whose innovative designs are prominent in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. He is responsible for SpaceShipOne, the first private rocket plane to put a person in space, and for the first airplane to make it around the world without needing to refuel.
  19. Fazlur Khan: Considered to be central to the “Second Chicago School” of architectural design, Fazlur Khan is largely responsible for inspiring some of the most interesting structural engineering  feats of the latter half of the 20th Century, changing skyscraper construction.
  20. Judith Resnik: Focus on the tragic Challenger explosion often centers around teacher Christa McAuliffe. However, Judith Resnik, a NASA engineer, also perished in the flight. She had worked on orbiter projects, and influenced design procedures related to special integrated circuitry.

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TUAW (The Unofficial Apple Weblog) has a wonderful story today about an eBay auction for an original Apple I computer, which starts out at $50,000. And what do you get for your winning bid?  TUAW explains:

“A non-working Apple I motherboard, the original shipping box (with the return address being the home of Steve Jobs’ parents), and the original manual, complete with schematics on how to take the motherboard and build a workable computer out of it.

“The original full-page advertisement for Apple was included with each Apple I. This features the original Apple ‘Isaac Newton’ logo that was designed by the third founder of Apple, Ronald Wayne. Wayne also wrote the Apple I manual. Finally, you’ll get a photograph of every other owner of this computer. The existing owner has a picture of himself, the computer, and Steve Wozniak that he’s including.”

By April of 1976, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak co-founded Apple Computer. The Apple I, their first product, was the first single-circuit board computer. It had a video interface, 8K of RAM and a keyboard. Its processor, the 6502 designed by Rockwell, cost a mere $25.

The computer, originally mounted on plywood with components visible, was first unveiled at a meeting of the now-famous Homebrew Computer Club which was based in Palo Alto, CA. A local computer dealer (The Byte Show) ordered 100 units, provided Wozniak and Jobs agreed to assemble the kits for customers. In all, 200 were built and sold for $666.66 each.

This is an extraordinary specimen of the Apple I – widely acknowledged to be the first hobby/home computer ever built. And the important archive of ephemera included in the package makes it practically unique. TUAW’s writeup is accompanied by several thumbnails of documents packaged together with the computer (including the cover of the manual, above).

However, there is one caveat: if you happen to be the successful bidder, you are asked to travel to Roseville, California to pick it up due to the irreplaceable nature of the Apple I. So what are you waiting for?! The holidays are right around the corner!

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As it turns out, Digital Equipment Corporations’s “Space War”, which I’ve previously discussed, was not the only technologically ground-breaking game made interactive on DEC’s PDP-1 computer. Fifty years ago this year, an ancient Near-Eastern game, “Kalah,” was also programmed by MIT students for this computer. In its traditional form, it required the movement of stones from one’s “pits” as illustrated above.

During the course of the game, “stones” are removed from each player’s pits, and are cast into the Kalahs (or goals), but are never removed from them. The game ends when one player’s pits are entirely empty. The other player then casts the stones remaining in his pits into his kalah. At this point, the player with more stones in his Kalah would win. The way the MIT students designed it was very much like computer chess: you would play against the computer itself.

Not long after the game was developed in 1959, it was played remotely on DEC’s PDP system, where one party, on a computer terminal in California, was able to play the game with another sitting at a similar terminal at DEC’s headquarters in Maynard. This was the first time such an interactive computer game had been played remotely. This proved a very popular game for many years following. Copies of Digital’s original notes on the game are included in the archive of the Computer History Museum.

Illustration credit: The Computer History Museum, Mountain View, California.

— Christopher Hartman

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