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World's Oldest Computer. The Witch
Old 11-21-2012, 08:12 AM   #1
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World's Oldest Computer. The Witch

The oldest computer, witch has been restored by Brits.

This machine uses decimal base instead of binary.

Some cylindrical looking items, I recognize as re-purposed telephone linefinder. A stepping relay, the moving part of which could travel up/down then in a horizontal plane to make a particular connection. Can see them at work in some old movies "tracing the telephone call" There were hundreds of banks of these in the old telephone exchanges.

The program is loaded via punched tape. I actually worked on and used the DEC PDP8 with 2 K of memory and it had the same method of loading the program, then the raw data was also fed in via punch tape.

BBC News - Witch at Bletchley: 'World's oldest working digital computer'
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Old 11-21-2012, 08:38 AM   #2
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It does look like an old phone switch. We have come a long ways. Imagine what another 50 years will bring in computing.
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Old 11-21-2012, 09:27 AM   #3
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Thanks for the link... Very interesting... and the reference to the tracing of telephone calls, reminds me of the old movies where the tension built up as the telephone company was making the trace. The scenes showed banks of switches that were clicking much like the ones in the video.

Although not well know at the time, the company that I worked for, was on the cutting edge of practical computer use in the retail industry. In the early 1960's there were "white rooms" with banks of computer tape to tape memory, with IBM punchcards used for input. As a District Manager, in the mid 1970s I carried a portable, somewhat primitive fax machine that used a spinning reader and transmitted documents over the phone lines.

Perhaps a little off topic, but also in the early 1960's the company was using teletype machines. Later, perhaps 1968 or so, all of the 2,000+ company field offices had teletype machines, used at night in long distance offpeak times to transmit orders to the main offices for processing.

Your mention of the punch tape reminded me of this... During the day, teletype operators would keypunch the info and print out long rolls of the yellow punch tape. At night, the teletype machine would be set for automatic call-in and tape to tape tranmission.

Most of our machines were ASR33,'s made in Chicago by "Teletype".
Teletype Machines

One more thing, on a personal note. Much later on, in the mid 1980's our company gradually went out of business, and stopped using the machines. At that time, I was special projects manager for shutting down the field operations, and was working myself out of a job. As the project progressed, disposal of fixtures and equipment became an major effort, and the top level management decided to take full losses on the mostly depreciated equipment. The teletype machines which originally cost $2000+, (I think), were offered for disposal @$20.00 ea.

That brings in another use for the machines which at the time was still cutting edge technology... Teletype for the hearing and speech impaired.
See this:
Telecommunications device for the deaf - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
My plan was to keep the machines in their storage locations, and to lease them out on a monthly basis/ @$25.00/mo. Business plan was pretty good, and initial capital equipment cost was only $4000.... plus storage fees.

My buddy kicked me in the head, and I stopped... It was the best thing in the long run, as I decided to go into a different self employed business.

Anyway, I can still remember the clicking and chunking of the machines in operation, and the small "ding" with every carriage return. Kept one of the ASR33's for many years as a memento, until a small flood ruined the mechanics.

No, not the oldest computer, but a big part of computer history, that is now long forgotten.
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Old 11-21-2012, 09:46 AM   #4
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Very cool - I was not aware of any decimal computers.

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Old 11-21-2012, 12:40 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by imoldernu View Post
Most of our machines were ASR33,'s made in Chicago by "Teletype".
...
The teletype machines which originally cost $2000+, (I think), were offered for disposal @$20.00 ea.
I got one for free back in 1978. It, along with many others, had been declared surplus by some company (I think it was Cargill, but not sure) and given (you haul 'em away) to amateur radio operators like me.

We used them for RTTY (radio teletype) with the old Baudot code (predecessor of ASCII). I finally ended up giving it to another ham when I moved, but it was good fun while I had it.
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Old 11-21-2012, 03:03 PM   #6
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This thread is bringing back some old memories. Paper tapes (and their associated bit buckets, as we called them), step switches (I've seen and heard thousands of them in central offices) Low speed modems (e.g. 103A3's) that you could actually watch the relays function while in operation.
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Old 11-21-2012, 03:44 PM   #7
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So like compiling my COBOL program wasn't going to happen? I mean 2k of memory
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Old 11-21-2012, 04:09 PM   #8
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So like compiling my COBOL program wasn't going to happen? I mean 2k of memory
Right. Machine language only. No bloatware
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Old 11-21-2012, 06:29 PM   #9
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I never worked on the PDP-8, but learned machine language programming on the Intersil 6100. This was a PDP-8 that was reduced to a chip, and closely emulated the original CPU. It was far inferior to the newer Intel 8080 and the Zilog Z80 that started the microcomputer revolution.
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Old 11-21-2012, 07:37 PM   #10
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Your mention of the punch tape reminded me of this... During the day, teletype operators would keypunch the info and print out long rolls of the yellow punch tape. At night, the teletype machine would be set for automatic call-in and tape to tape tranmission.
During the 1980s, our ballistic missile submarines would head out on patrol for 90 days of radio silence. That meant we'd copy traffic continuously (in case we had to launch nuclear missiles) but we would not transmit.

Of course we still had to file status reports or submit requests or do a thousand other tasks that were normally handled by a radio message, but we couldn't transmit for 90 days. So a radioman would type up messages every day (maybe a dozen or so) on the venerable OJ-172 teletype and run a paper tape. The radiomen would wind the tape into a small circle, put a twist-tie around it, and hang it from the overhead.

By the end of the patrol there'd be nearly a thousand of the little paper-tape rolls up there, all cataloged and stored in order of importance. We'd finally come off alert status and give Radio permission to transmit. They'd do it for hours (at 2400 bits per second) until they finally cleared the message backlog...

When our daughter was on a ballistic missile submarine last summer, their longest alert period seemed to last for a couple weeks. At the end of it we'd get 10-12 daily e-mails from her, all transmitted within the same 60-second timestamp. I guess it's all done on the boat's computer network now and queued up in a gigantic e-mail buffer-- probably a lot faster than 2400 BPS, too.
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File Type: jpg OJ-172 teletype.jpg (21.4 KB, 4 views)
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Old 11-23-2012, 06:47 PM   #11
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PDP8 - Presentation #1 - YouTube

The PDP8 at work.

Presentation 2 on youtbe ahows loading punch tape instructions.
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