Of Wangs And Core Dumps

I started learning programming on a Soviet computer called Iskra 226, a few of which were given to our after school program by the kind Navy bureaucrats. I vividly remember finding a BASIC program already stored on the hard disk that cheerfully asked a few questions about the weather and the megatonnage of a warhead and then quickly calculated the size of the epicenter, severity of fallout and whatnot. The teacher was not amused and asked me to delete the program before anyone else had a chance to see it..

Although Iskras turned out to be less popular with other kids who preferred Soviet knockoffs of Sinclair Spectrum which had good graphics and buttloads of nice games that could be loaded from audio cassettes, I preferred the loud monochrome screened monster. You see Iscras had peripherals – a dot matrix printer that sounded like a machine gun and a humongous hard drive that sounded even louder.

Later I learned that Iscra was a clone of a Wang 2200 computer. And even later I learned a bit more about Dr. Wang’s company. So, continuing my Computer History Through Coffee Mugs Series, I present to you a prized mug from my collection:

As it turns out, Dr. An Wang also happens to be the inventor of magnetic core memory, a technology that always fascinated me. Here is a core memory plane from my collection:

Core memory stores bits by sending current to donut shaped rings of ferrite. Wikipedia article explains how this works. Early core memory arrays used a small amount of larger ferrite cores. Later ones, like the one on the above picture used buttloads of tiny little cores. From what I heard, these amazing devices were assembled by third world garment workers. By hand. Under microscopes. If you have any doubt that this is true, take a look at these close-up shots that clearly show that this is done by hand:

Jay Dubya Zee shed some light on how horrible is the job of people who assemble camouflage nets. Think about how much worse is doing something like this:

How much ram is this you might ask? The back of the card holds a label. It says:
Lockheed Electronics Company, Inc.
Data Products Division
Core Memory 8k x 18
2001002326-1A1 HK022

These days core memory is still used in aircraft and spacecraft because it keeps the information when power is off and is supposedly less prone to radiation.

The word wang these days mostly means “penis”, a common name of a Chinese restaurant, is used on t-shirts, as a sentence enhancer or just at random. Also, unexplicably, “wing-wang” is another name for a dollar.

Memory dump files are called “core dumps” to this day because of core memory. Also it is common to refer to core dumps of dilithium and chockolatium.

Monitor 451 or Ixnay on the X-ray

What I always thought to be just dirt on my screen or glasses, turned out to be a burned in picture of the login screen. Modern monitors are supposed to turn themselves off after a period of time, didn’t they? I thought that the login screen in NT used to jump around like a screensaver? Apparently not so.

A friend from the Fair and Balanced Network told me over lunch that the reason network logos are usually 3-d and rotating is because people used to get rather nasty burn-in on their TVs with static logos.

This got me thinking — what kind of statistics are out there about radiation exposure in programmers? I spend about 8 hours a day in front of an electron gun directed at my face and chest. And I’ve been having salivary gland troubles for a while. People worry about stupid cell phone microwaves. Monitors shoot X-rays. Now that is scary.

I am thinking now of buying a couple of flat panels for home and work. As expensive as it can be, it’s probably a good idea.

Z-Ray Vision

Man: “Psst, you want to buy organ? Fresh and cheap, ready for transplant.”
Fry: “Ooh, what’s this?”
Man: “Ah, is x-ray eye. See through anything.”
Fry: “Wait a minute, this says z-ray.”
Man: “Z is just as good! In fact is better, is two more than x!”

Futurama episode 1ACV07 – My Three Suns

Well, you all know that I consider Canon Powershot G2 and G3 the best digital cameras a normal person can actually afford. You also probably know that I pay close attention to naming schemes. So here’s a little story with a surprise ending for you.

The granfather of the camera I like so much was Pro 70, which was the first camera to have a flip screen.

The next one was called Powershot G1. It was a very popular and well designed camera. It’s sensor was very sensitive to IR radiation which makes it probably the best digital camera for infrared photography. The biggest complaint was the color of the body. Most photographers hate silver plastic.

Next up was Powershot G2. It was almost identical to G3 with slight changes to UI and optics. Most G2s were made out of the same ugly silver plastic, but there was a special all black edition. I was lucky enough to buy a black G2. I had to order it from Canada.

Powershot G3 was the next camera in G series. Again, slight changes in UI, optics and more significantly a 4 megapixel sensor. Again, silver. Will they ever listen?

Now, the next camera is called Powershot G5. It has a 5 megapixel sensor which according to reports is a bit crappier than the one in G3. At least they dropped the silver plastic.

But wait, what happened to Powershot G4? Did it suffer the fate of Netscape 5? The rumour floated around that G4 was trademarked by Apple. Well, Apple has a Powermac G5 also.

The correct answer appears to be this:
“The word “four” is read as “si” in Chinese Mandarin and “shi” in Japanese, a close homonym for the word for death in both languages and in the Cantonese dialect spoken in Hong Kong. “

Hmm, I wonder how those Powermacs sold in Japan and China.

Memex Ahoy!

You’ll see, you’ll see. We will be all using memexes instead of the horrible pee-cees of today. It looks like even hardware is moving in that direction now. The first harbinger – dual displays are becoming almost commonplace.

For years it was possible to stick more than one video card into a box, hook a few monitors and have a two screened desktop in most modern windowing systems. Even Windows. Especially Windows.

But having two huge CRT monitors is not a picnic – they took up too much desk space, generated too much heat. And don’t forget radiation. But guess what – lcds are dirt cheap these days. Well, maybe if gold containing ore was dirt, but still they are kind of affordable. And multi flat monitor setups are so fricking amazing!

Ladies and gentlemen, start your droolers.

This was pure underwear soiling goodness from 9xmedia. Those are not cheap. But this is just one of the many, many different dual monitor products on the market. Check out this gallery of multi monitor setups. I will probably splurge on a 17 inch flat panel and a nice dual head video card for now. Should cost me about $600. I’ll keep my 5 year old CRT as the second monitor for now.

A (pa)JAMA Story

An article from JAMA:
Police Detainment of a Patient Following Treatment With Radioactive Iodine
We recently treated a 34-year-old man for Graves disease with 20 mCi of iodine 131. Twenty-four hours after treatment, his radioactive iodine uptake was 63%. Three weeks after treatment, he returned to our clinic complaining that he had been strip-searched twice at Manhattan subway stations. Police had identified him as emitting radiation and had detained him for further questioning ….

When I used to be a pre-med, I worked as a doorman/porter in a Manhattan building. I asked all the doctors who lived there to give me their old medical mags. Unfortunately most of them either threw them out or had them delivered to their office. But one very nice retired doctor supplied me with her old medical journals. I loved reading them. Too bad that JAMA is very expensive ($165 per year), and even now I can’t really justify getting it. I especially enjoyed the cartoons. :)

Also, one doctor who lived there died, and his relatives threw out all of his old medical books. I dragged all of them home, and now they reside on my bookshelves.

Best Sci-fi You Haven’t Read Part III or Call Time Police – We’ve Got a Time Traveler

William Fitzgerald Jenkins, better known under his pen name Murray Leinster, was born in Norfolk, Virginia on June 16, 1896 (or so they tell us). I have many reasons not to believe this. He earned his living entirely through freelance writing, except when he worked as a researcher in the War Department during WWI and WWII. In his early literary career he wrote various junk, including “cautionary tails of the perils that could await a young woman, who, in all innocence, failed to insure that she was properly chaperoned at all times” (I am still trying to locate those). In 1919 he witnessed a clock being reset on a building across the street, and rapidly rotating hour and minute arms of that clock gave him an idea. He wrote a story about time travel called “The Runaway Skyscraper”. Since then he wrote mostly science fiction. Good science fiction too, for instance he won a Hugo for one of his stories (becoming the only person who wrote before 20s to win a Hugo).

As I mentioned, he served in two World Wars as a researcher. I bet that most of his work was classified, but I’ve seen mentions that it had something to do with submarines. Crypto, nuclear propulsion – your guess is as good as mine. Seems pretty strange that a freelance writer would also turn out a brilliant technologist, because he was definitely a good engineer : he got two patents for “Front Projection System” (frigging Delphion is charging for access these days, so I can’t really look up what they are) which he later sold to Fairchild Camera.

How does a “cautionary tail” writer becomes a great sci-fi writer, submarine researcher and inventor? I think that he was replaced by a time traveler. He wasn’t alone, he had friends too.

Here is an excerpt from and introduction Will Jenkins wrote for an anthology “Great Stories of Science Fiction” that he edited:

“During the late lamented World War Two, the FBI had occasion to check on me. They decided that I wasn’t subversive, and made due note of the fact. As a consequence, one day I had a telephone call. A voice said pleasantly that it was the FBI calling, and they’d like to talk to me. I searched my conscience hurriedly, and then asked where I should come to talk. The voice said graciously that he’d come to see me. He did. In a hurry. With a companion.

One was a large man with a patient expression, and the other was quite young and looked rather shy. They produced credentials and proved who they were, and I obligingly proved who I was, and then one of them said, “Tell me, have you ever read the Cleve Cartmill story, ‘Deadline’?”

I said I had. The larger FBI man asked interestedly, “What did you think of it?”

“A pretty good story,” I said, “and the science is authentic. Quite accurate.”

Then there was a pause. A rather long pause. Then he sighed, and reluctantly inquired, “Well, what we want to know is: could it be a leak?”

At this point my hair stood up on end and its separate strands tended to crack like whiplashes. Because “Deadline,” by Cleve Cartmill, was a story about an atomic bomb, and this was a year before Hiroshima. The bomb in the story was made of uranium-235, it was to explode when a critical mass was attained, and there were other details. The story described most minutely the temperature of an atom-bomb explosion, the deadly radiation, the lingering aftereffects, the shock-wave, the heat-effect, and all the rest of the phenomena that a year later were observed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But I was being asked about it before Hiroshima, and the Manhattan Project was perhaps the most completely hush-hush of all the hush-hush performances of the war.

My copy of this book is of course signed :)

But that is nothing, nothing I tell you, compared to what Will Jenkins himself wrote. You see, he wrote a story called “A Logic Named Joe” in the year 1946. Here is an excerpt

“I’m a maintenance man for the Logics Company. My job is servicing Logics, and I admit modestly that I am pretty good. I was servicing televisions before that guy Carson invented his trick circuit that will select any of ‘steenteen million other circuits—in theory there ain’t no limit—and before the Logics Company hooked it into the Tank-and-Integrator set-up they were usin ’em as business-machine service. They added a vision-screen for speed—an they found out they’d made Logics. They were surprised an pleased. They’re still findin out what Logics will do, but everybody’s got ’em.

You know the Logics set-up. You got a Logic in your house. It looks like a vision-receiver used to, only it’s got keys instead of dials and you punch the keys for what you wanna get. It’s hooked in to the Tank, which has the Carson Circuit all fixed up with relays. Say you punch “Station SNAFU” on your Logic. Relays in the Tank take over an’ whatever vision-program SNAFU is telecastin comes on your Logic’s screen. Or you punch “Sally Hancock’s Phone” an the screen blinks an sputters an’ you’re hooked up with the Logic in her house an’ if somebody answers you got a vision-phone connection. But besides that, if you punch for the weather forecast or who won today’s race at Hialeah or who was mistress of the White House durin’ Garfields administration or what is PDQand R sellin for today, that comes on the screen too. The relays in the Tank do it. The Tank is a big buildin foil of all the facts in creation an’ all the recorded telecasts that ever was made—an it’s hooked in with all the other Tanks all over the country—an everything you wanna know or see or hear, you punch for it an you get it. Very convenient. Also it does math for you, an’ keeps books, an acts as consultin’ chemist, physicist, astronomer an’ tea-leaf reader, with a “Advice to the Lovelorn” thrown in. The only thing it won’t do is tell you exactly what your wife meant when she said, “Oh, you think so, do you?” in that peculiar kinda voice. Logics don’t work good on women. Only on things that make sense.

Logics are all right, though. They changed civilization, the highbrows tell us.All on accounta the Carson Circuit. “

Holy Crap! How did the time police miss this guy??
By the way, notice some military humor there. Do you know what SNAFU means?

If you would like to read some of Murray Leinster’s stories, a good place to start is “First Contacts: The Essential Murray Leinster”