TT : Misc

Wow, who knew. According to Wikipedia, the order of the Teutonic Knights exists today as a charitable organization (they don’t seem to have a website though). It even has a grandmaster – one Bruno Platter. And I thought that Alexander Nevsky got rid of them completely. Or at least the Soviet era cartoon that I’ve seen made think so, because my education in that period of Russian History never progressed much further than that.

I noticed that at home I mostly use Outlook as a very slow and crappy spell checker for my blog. I only keep it around because of the spellchecker and because Gmail does not have an import feature. I tried importing with Gmail Loader, with the whole crappy export to Firebird thing, but that messes up most Russian emails and does not set the dates correctly. Why Google does now provide an import utility is beyond me – it would have completed lock-in for so many users. Also, I wonder, what’s the best software spell checker that money can buy?

Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters presents : Microsoft’s famous (mentioned in Microserfs and the Joel’s rant ) Ship-It award throughout the ages. I wonder if I could buy one of these on eBay :)

Amdahl : Business in the Front, Party in the Back

A few years ago I purchased a strange piece of computing history on eBay. Some guy in Canada was selling what he described as a “model” of an Amdahl processor. He did not include a picture with his listing, and because of that I was able to snap it up for about 30 wing-wangs.

When the package arrived, it turned out to be a real 42 (!) processor board from an old Amdahl mainframe that was “presented to T. Eaton Company for its purchase of Amdahl 5995-3550M processor in June 1992” as the plaque said. T. Eaton Company no longer exists, it was swallowed by Sears. Neither does Amdahl – it is a part of Fujitsu now.

The little cooling towers made it possible to air cool the chips.

The back of the board was very strange though. All the wiring seemed to be done “point-to-point” by hand. Overall, thinking about how many work-hours went into designing and making that board made me shudder.

[update] Thanks to the Boing Boing liks this seems to have become the second popular post on my site – first one being the Revelation post which gained popularity thanks to being the only google result for “omnioum finis imminet” for a while. I’ve got some great information from former Amdahl employees:

Tom: ”
The item is an MCC (multi-chip carrier) from an Amdahl V8, V7 or V6. Many were plugged into either side of a large frame which connected the MCCs to each other and to power, the console, memory, and the IO cables.

The finned gizmos are cooling towers glued to the top of the individual chips. A plastic cover directed cool air over the towers and fans exhausted it out the top of the frame
hese were used in the 470 series computers. The follow on computer, the 580 used much larger boards about the size of a pizza box. They were inserted into a plenum (which became known as the pizza oven) with ZIF connectors on the side. They had black instead of gold cooling towers with more fins.

The board is circa 1980. The back wiring was done in Japan because they couldn’t find enough people in the US who could do it well. I believe the chips were laser bonded on the front with the hand wiring on the back. Note that the circut boards were multi-layer and the back wiring was only used where they couldn’t get enough paths from the circut boards and for engineering changes after production.

NoOneAtAll : “Amdahl used to give out dead hardware and out-of-date engineering samples to their sales guys made into lots of different things. I’ve seen coasters made out of unusable processors, an Amdahl sales binder made from a set of bad carrier boards, a couple of plaques like this one made from DOA MCC modules, pen holders made out of ribbon cable, etc.

An IBM reseller I worked at spent Amdahl’s entire corporate lifetime telling them no. By the time the sales guy gave up, pretty much everyone at the company had been hit up by the guy as a possible lead, and pound for pound there was more dead Amdahl hardware repackaged as kitsch on the desks in sales than we had actually moved in Amdahl equipment. ”

[update] Two similar processors just came up on eBay. The picture quality is ghastly, but they seem like a bigger version of the one that I have, with even more complicated back wiring.

P.S. Don’t forget to take a look at the rest of my blog, or if you are interested in Amdahl, at the rest of my Amdahl-related posts.

iPhoto Retro or John Sculley’s Gift To The World of Photography

I collect 20th century technology antiques. They are not expensive and don’t take up much space – perfect for my cubicle museum.

My shelf at work houses a small, but growing collection of monstrous early cellphones. There are a couple of gigantic vacuum tubes (some from an early Univac), a core memory plane, a multiprocessor unit from an Amdahl mainframe, a weird hardwired logic unit from a forgotten computing machine. My latest purchase is rather interesting – the first consumer digital camera.

A $700 piece of equipment in 1994 Apple Quicktake 100 cameras sell for just a few bucks on eBay. I first saw one mentioned in this outstanding livejournal post. This guy’s camera still had some images in it which provided a weird time tunnel into some office party in 1994. I guess the people in the photos were celebrating extravagant Mac purchases.

I bought two cameras on eBay for just a few bucks each, and one came with a cable and a floppy with PC software. Not even hoping that it’d work I plugged in the serial cable, installed the software on my Win 2000 machine, turned on the camera and ran the program. It worked the first time.

Here are the two Apple QuickTake 100’s that I purchased. I bought two so I could take stereo images and view them on my 100 year old stereoscope. In a couple of years I think I’ll be able to buy a couple of iPod photo thingies for a few bucks and do what this guy did.

Times Square at night in full .3 megapixel power (compressed to 500 width).

Times Square at night with lower resolution option turned on

Snow storm in Brooklyn

Considering how difficult lighting conditions were the results are respectable. Usability wise these cameras are lacking. Even though they look like those binoculars from Star Wars movies, they have a very nasty lens cover that is very hard to open without leaving a nice fingerprint on the lens. Taking portrait orientated pictures is rather hard.

So here I am, paying tribute to one of the last Apple products of John Sculley’s era at Apple (note how Apple CEOs are arranged in a timeline at Wikipedia – just like kings). I wonder if Steve Jobs will ever consider making an Apple digital camera. So far the fate of Apple Newton shows that to Jobs anything ever touched by Sculley is taboo.

Victorian Prank 96 Years In The Making

Here’s my latest eBay acquisition – a wonderful 96 year old postcard featuring currently 340 year old Van Pelt Manor (aka Van Pelt Mansion and Van Pelt Homestead) located at 18th Ave & 82nd St. in Brooklyn.

Ethics of publishing other people photographs and letters are rather questionable to me. This seems to be a gray area. For instance I feel that many posts in found_objects, foundphotos and vintagephoto communities of photos that were ripped up and thrown out, or of embarrassing nature, or personal letters overstep some ethical guidelines. But on the other hand I enjoy them nevertheless.

I don’t think that the writing on this postcard could likely hurt or embarrass anyone, so I decided that I’ll publish it.

It came from someone at 182 Garfield place. A little note on the right says “look under the stamp”.

On the back it says:
New York is a great place, we are “Forty five minutes from Broadway”. Do you see “Kitty” very often. She ran away and never did say good-bye to me. Pump up your Airship and sail over to see me some evening soon.
Youre “Soda Water Tessie”.

The stamp was still attached. The mystery of what was under the stamp was solved rather quickly : being a stamp collector I know how to properly take stamps off. My wonderful espresso machine provided some steam and I carefully peeled back the 1 cent green Ben Franklin (Scott Catalogue # 300). “Was it hard to get off?” – the little prank that “Soda Water Tessie” pulled on Mr. Ray Feathers of Toledo, OH finally saw light of day 96 years later.

I wonder, did Mr. Feathers actually own an airship?

P.S. Taking stamps off is generally a capitally bad idea. Dang early collectors liked to steam off stamps so much that we have very few surviving stamps on envelopes (which are often referred to as “postal history”). “Postal history” items usually sell with a high multiplier to the value of every stamp on the envelope.

When Photos Were Stereo, But Not Music

Si Morley from “Time And Again” had a hobby – looking at antique stereophotographs. I researched the topic a bit and came up with with a bunch of interesting information and a new hobby.

We all know that Victorians, for the lack of television had to go to great lengths to entertain themselves. There was rampant piano playing, singing and weird parlour games galore. But they did have a futuristic technology  that sadly is rather uncommon these days. Stereoscopy.

You’d think that by now we’d have 3d television, at least in a crappy Star Wars hologram kind, but alas. 3d movie theaters and movies are rare, 3d lcd monitors get announced, but seem to be vaporvare.  But Victorian bourgeois, they had whole libraries of 3d photographs and special viewers in almost every family. 

You can read up on the history of stereophotography here, but to me the most important was this:  the most popular viewer type was the Holmes-Bates type that looked like this:

(I’ll add a picture later when mine will arrive from eBay, but for now you can find a bunch of images here)

and there are virtually a kajillion of pictures for it on eBay ranging in price from a dollar to hundreds eBay is amazing – there’s even a dollhouse size stereoscope for sale.

I also found an awesome online store that sells a huge variety of stereoscopy related items, including a cheap Lorgnette viewer that should work well with Holmes type stereophotographs.  I bought a few to give to my friends so that I’ll be able to send them stereophotos that I’ll be taking. Fun, Victorian style.


Ok, I am going to wallow in my geekiness. I went ahead and bought a Pro-Lite led marquee Model PL-M2014RV6 (aka Tru-ColorII ) on eBay for 150 hard earned American dollars.

I mounted it in my cube, connected it to the serial port of my computer and proceeded to hack together a perl script that talks to it. Easy enough. Then I innovated (in a Microsoft meaning of the word) – wrote a script that parses our weblogs and outputs what people search for on the marquee with fancy dissolve effects. Add a couple of lava lamps and it’ll be just like Googleplex.

I read up on Pro-Lite programming on this website, but ended up not using any of the code from there. Also some of the information there is outdated – the ROM on my sign is version 6.5

P.S. For those of you who are wondering, “tru” colors are: red, orange, yellow, lime (!) and green. They come in dim, normal and bright varieties, also rainbow, red/green, red on green and other combinations. All other colors are not “tru”.

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