Sunday, 20 November 2022

8x8 (10. 321)

yotta, yocto: prolific data generation drives the need for uniform names for extremely large and extremely small numbers—see previously—via Marginal Revolution  

quarantine caper: narrow escape from Jingdezhen just before lock-down  

a classic non-equilibrium thermodynamic reaction: a demonstration of a Belousov-Zhabotinsky oscillation in a Petri dish—via Nag on the Lake’s Sunday Links  

don’t copy that floppy: an overview of a few anti-piracy schemes of the late 1970s and early 80s  

jpeg morgan: the rise and fall (and broader fall-out) of crypto bank and exchange FTX 

infantry: Academy Award winning Czechoslovakian animated short Munro (1960) about a four-year old drafted into the army  

fangcang: artist, after being identified as a “close contact” is confined in a remote hospital and transforms room into exhibition space  

euler equations: computers make break-throughs in understanding fluid dynamics

Saturday, 12 November 2022

w³ (10. 297)

Though somewhat overshadowed by the achievements and recognition of colleague Tim Berners-Lee and his proposal for a hypertext system to connect many of the departments and projects of CERN in 1989 and which contained the kernal of the idea, credit for the World Wide Web also goes to fellow computer scientist Robert Cailliau for their joint proposal put forward on this day in 1990 for the World Wide Web. Not only did Cailliau come up with the logo and co-programmed the first web browser (MacWWW) with Nicola Pellow, he was instrumental in taking the concept out of the laboratory and releasing it into wilds, running several parallel projects to ensure interoperability and make the underlying structure more robust and cross-compatible, secured funding and organised a series of conferences and steering committees.

Saturday, 5 November 2022

the commodordion (10. 273)

Fellow Internet Caretaker Miss Cellania directs us to the latest project by Linus ร…kesson (see previously here and here) with eight-bit modified accordion made with two Commodore 64s and a bellows made out of floppy disks. We suspect that ร…kesson’s next ingenious instrument will be C64 bagpipes after this exercise and master-class. More at the links above.

Wednesday, 2 November 2022

buffer overflow (10. 263)

Released on this day in 1988 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology network (to avoid suspicion at his own university), the eponymous Morris worm (short for tapeworm due to its parasitic lifestyle) was one of the first to be distributed on the internet, written by a graduate student from Cornell named Robert Tappan Morris—the son of a US National Security Agency cryptographer, and exploited a range of vulnerabilities to propagate, and like a fork bomb was able to crash systems by overburndening them. Intended as a white-hat hacking exercise to explore vulnerabilities, Morris had originally programmed the worm to check if a system was already infected but instead instructed it to replicate itself a given percentage of times—leading to a destructive, exponential avalanche of malicious code, leading to his conviction under the 1986 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Paying a hefty fine and suspended from school, Morris nonetheless would go on to become a professor of computer science at MIT and co-found Viaweb, one of the first web apps and the venture capital funding firm Y Combinator, backing the launch of over three thousand internet ventures, including DoorDash, Reddit, Twitch and Airbnb.

Thursday, 22 September 2022

king under the mountain (10. 159)

Courtesy of Things Magazine, we are invited to reminisce about the pioneering illustrated text adventure computer game (see previously here and here) The Hobbit—released forty years ago this month for the ZX Spectrum developed by Veronika Megler and Philip Mitchell. It was quite noteworthy and much intimated for its advanced and intuitive syntactic analysis that allowed players to enter complex commands—the language parser called Inglish, a parred down but serviceable vocabulary—and engage with the game in ways that were previously restricted to the imagination. True to the source material (see also) and like the later snowclone ‘All your base are belong to us,’ the refrain from play about dwarf-king ‘Thorin sits downs and starts singing about gold’ carries some pop culture weight as well as the narrative, ‘You wait—time passes’ as one hides in a wine barrel until the opportune moment for escape. Here is an emulator where one can again experience the adventure.

Saturday, 17 September 2022

7x7 (10. 141)

jezero: Perseverance explores a Martian crater  

lingthusiasm: an interview with xkcd author Randall Munroe on hypothetical questions about language and orthography—via Language Log  

achievement unlocked: a radical redesign for Girl Scout badges—see also  

3½, 5¼: an interview with the last purveyor of floppy disks—via JWZ  

emoticons: more on the IPA, EPA (English Phonotypic Alphabet), Issac Pitman and other champions of spelling reform from Shady Characters  

jazz and cats: the life and surrealistic art of Gertrude Abercrombie  

earth below us: outstanding images from the Astronomy Photographer of the Year Contest

Saturday, 23 April 2022

8x8

song birds: a printed circuit bluejay and other avian friends  

industrials: a leitmotif of edifying vocabulary—see previously—from Futility Closet  

occultation: Perseverance rover captures Mars’ lumpy moon Phobos partially eclipsing the Sun 

infinite tapestry: a generated side-scrolling landscape—via Web Curios  

days of rage: a gallery of activism posters curated by the USC Library system—see previously—via ibฤซdem  

art bits: an archives of HyperCard stacks (see also)—via Waxy  

ghost in the shell: skeletons in video games  

cheeps and peeps: the rich, melodic syntax of birdsong

Saturday, 26 February 2022

8x8

squirrel monkey: imagining Wordle vintage 1985—see also  

ะผะธัั‚ะตั†ั‚ะฒะพ: Ukrainian art community despairs as invasion advances

rumble: the overlooked musical virtuosity of Link Wray  

snake island: Ukrainian soldiers stand their ground and face off a battleship defending a military outpost on Zmiinyi, the rocky islet where Achilles was entombed 

regression to the mean: a spate of controversial laws passed in the US to curtail discussions in classroom that would make straight, white cis people uncomfortable (previously)

existential crisis: dread creeps into the everyday and makes it difficult to focus on what’s vital and the ultimately inconsequential  

ะฐั€ั…ั–ั‚ะตะบั‚ัƒั€ะฝะพั—: Ukrainian designers and architects fight back against Russian incursion  

acrophobia: sociable early internet word game that solicited wrong answers only plus several contemporaries

Sunday, 6 February 2022

dass modell / computerliebe

The first West German act to chart in the UK in the latter half of the twentieth century, the double single (A-side and B-side) from Kraftwerk (see previously here, here, here and here) first rose to number one on this day in 1982 and held its place for twenty-one weeks.  This success led to the group’s first concert tour.  From their eighth, bi-lingual studio album Computerwelt, the thematic tracks dealt with the effects of technology and computers on society, the songs debuted in May of the previous year with the likes of “Pocket Calculator,” “It’s More Fun to Compute” and “Heimcomputer.”

Sunday, 30 January 2022

elk cloner

Among the first computer viruses released in the wild—that is, not restricted to a single laboratory or network, and contagious in the general population, fifteen year old student Rich Skrenta created on this day in 1982, developed the year prior, self-propagating code as a prank, doing no harm to the host computers, the Apple II models, nor their vector, shared floppy disks with computer games and other software passed around by members of a local computing club, eventually becoming an irksome bug revealing itself after a set number of iterations of running the programmes—having already taken up residence in the host and infecting subsequent disks inserted with the user witlessly spreading it. Cheeky and harmless as it was, this experiment boded of vulnerabilities ahead.

Friday, 28 January 2022

boss level

Airing for four seasons from 1982 to 1984 on the Turner Broadcasting System and then in syndication, the competitive arcade game show was moderated first by Mark Richards and Geoff Edwards, but for this unaired pilot screened for a test audience, it was hosted by the accomplished Alex Trebek.

Friday, 7 January 2022

poฤรญtaฤovรก hra

Via Things Magazine, we discover an emulator archive of computer and arcade games created by the Slovak programming community in the late 1980s—available for download in their original versions or as English translations. More at the links above including all exhibits at the National Design Centre in Bratislava.

Monday, 11 January 2021

logic gates

Via Pasa Bon! we are presented with an educational toy in the form of a mechanical computer invented and marketed in 1965 by John “Jack” Thomas Godfrey called the Digi-Comp II that used marbles rolling down an incline through customisable, programmable interventions, like a pinball game (Flipperkast) or pachinko to teach coding. These basic calculations were accomplished—less kinetically—on the predecessor game with gears and latch circuits as a demonstration of binary logic. Much more to explore at the link up top including a giant model and a Lego version of the visual calculator.

Friday, 25 December 2020

the stone tape theory

Adapted for television and first broadcast as a Christmas ghost story back in 1972, the eponymous play directed by Peter Sasdy and written by Thomas Nigel Kneale innovatively tempered horror with elements of scientific plausibility by a research and development team of an electronics firm that have occupied a recently renovated a reportedly haunted Victorian mansion as their new facility and begin collaborating on a new project in computer programming and finding a new format for recording digital media.
Once mysterious events begin happening including the death of one colleague, they conduct some research and interview locals to discover that an unsuccessful exorcism had taken place in the house in 1890. The chief researcher theorises that the apparition that frightened his colleague to death was not a ghost in the traditional sense but that the room, the exposed stone walls somehow psychically recorded that botched casting out spirits and tries to tease out the secret of triggering the playback mechanism and harness it for data storage, only to realise that successive tragedies record over one another. Since the broadcast, the hypothesis of residual hauntings and the “stone tape theory” have been adopted by parapsychological investigators.

Friday, 26 June 2020

point-of-sale

On this day in 1974 after nearly a decade in development and first conceived as a method for tracking railcars and shipping containers, the first bar coded, marked with a universal product code (redundantly, UPC code) instead of a price tag item (see previously) was sold at a supermarket in Troy, Ohio.
Cashier Sharon Buchanan scanned (we are dismissive of such acts now as routine but Ms. Buchanan was very much from that moment on an engineer wielding the beam of a powerful helium-neon laser that bounced off a rotating mirror and onto the glass-plated register surface so a central computer could match the label against the shop’s programmed inventory—no mean feat that) a value pack of Juicy Fruit chewing gum for customer Clyde Dawson (not his only purchase during that visit—just the first one rang up).  Deconstructed, the encoding tables do look a bit like the I Ching, and afterwards the artefact, the (presumably a stand-in unless the purchaser indulged the museum this memento) was acquired by the Smithsonian. I wonder if this first barcode is some sort of talisman, a charm imbued with power over all the scanning to follow.

Thursday, 5 March 2020

zx81

Launched in the United Kingdom on this day in 1981, Sinclair Research’s innovative, intuitive and inexpensive (kits for self-assembly consisting of a slim and compact keyboard and an external cassette recorder for memory retailed for a mere £49,95) micro-computer was one of the first to be successfully mass-marketed and introduced the public to the idea of having a home computer, outside the bailiwick of business executives and hobbyists. Aside from the tape player, there were no moving parts and plugged into a television set as a display.
Despite perceived technical shortcomings—like the impractically low amount of memory, the unit truly prized open a path to better computer literacy, coding (see previously) and importantly the measure of confidence to see broader applications. Clones and variants soon proliferated—I remember using a Radio Shack derivative in a beige casing and flipping the VHF/UHF switch and felt I was entering programming mode, and the community of enthusiasts the ZX81 fostered was self-perpetuating, the early-adopters creating, sourcing software and hardware compatible with the computer. Founder and business executive Clive Marles Sinclair (*1940) amassed a fortune with this pioneering success and was given a knighthood for it in 1983. Later projects launched by Sinclair have focused on personal transportation and solving the last-mile problem with inventions like his folding bicycle that commuters can easily take on trains, the A-Bike debuting in 2006.

Sunday, 1 March 2020

roll for perception

Founded a decade prior and six years after the establishment of role playing games as popular platform with Dungeons & Dragons, Austin-based Steve Jackson Games saw success with several genre-based games of strategy with dice, cards and table tops games as well as popularising the idea of creating and decorating miniature models of the enemies and playable characters became the subject of a sting operation culminating in a raid and seizure on this day in 1990 by the US Secret Service.
The impetus for monitoring and investigation was based on a rather spurious, tenuous concern that a proprietary document on how 911 emergency numbers (see previously) operated shared on a BBS (bulletin board system) in Chicago subsequently appeared on one in Texas for whom an SJG employee was webmaster (yell for the SysOp). The dragnet warrant consisted of nothing but over-reach and compounded three company computers along with over three hundred floppy disks, including the master programme for the firm’s computer version of its most popular game due to be released shortly but delayed in a fashion that crippled their business. Steve Jackson Games took the Secret Service to court and successfully sued them to recuperate some of their financial losses and encourage the agency to not be causal and sloppy about their justification. This suit and the Secret Services failure to amend their ways in a string of similar but unrelated operations (Operation Sundevil, a crackdown on perceived illegal hacking activities) during the same year that reflected the government’s learning curve when it came to technology were the catalyst for the establishment of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an international digital rights group that champions internet civil liberties.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

time_t

At the stroke of midnight universal coordinated time 1970, the Unix epoch began. Counting the seconds from that point on and treating everyday as if it had eighty-six thousand four-hundred of them (discounting leap seconds makes the logging events slightly asynchronous with time as measured by atomic clocks but this discrepancy is factored in later in dating), the calendar convention does not have the y2k problem built into the programming from the beginning.
However, under the current conventions for designating a timestamp, Unix will experience its own on 19 January 2038, when the thirty-two-bit integers that seconds are stored in exceed capacity and reset to 13 December 1901. The future implications of this bug weren't appreciated until around 2006 when programmers (a notoriously lazy group) began to realise that their kludge, a temporary solution—a quick and dirty work-around, for computer operations to never time out (substituting forever for after a billion seconds, about thirty-two years) started to cause an overflow error when the tumblers roll over.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

really simple syndication

A contributing author, Jamie Zawinski, refers us to a collection of nominations from scientists, historians, programmers and journalists for the most consequential pieces of code, which affects and informs society as much as any custom, convention or creation, though more aloof by design with few able to incant such spells.  
Though not exhaustive, the list and associated stories are pretty comprehensive and cover the classic milestones (often taken for granted) starting with the invention of the programmable loom in the early eighteenth century to JPEGs, GeoCities, RSS feeds, wikis and a whole host of viruses. One rather elegant vector we’re introduced to is the recursive single line of code (pictured) that is called a fork bomb or a wabbit for its prolific nature. This string of instruction (these are not the magic words, please don’t type them) launches a denial-of-service attack by repeating itself until all system resources have been taken up.

Monday, 15 July 2019

series g

Replacing industrialist partners Matthew Bouton and James Watt of steam-engine fame, the Bank of England’s next batch of £ fifty notes will feature on the reverse mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing, whose pioneering work not only helped defeat Nazi Germany by decrypting transmissions between command and control and the front but was also indispensably formative in how we regard electronic cognition and artificial intelligence.
Speaking of his work programming the British Bombe, one of his code-breaking electro-mechanical machines, the bill has the quotation, “This is only a foretaste of what is to come and only the shadow of what is going to be.” Although this statement does not amend past missteps—Turing’s contributions only much later acknowledged and rehabilitated and the country’s marked ingratitude, such decisions are consequential and meaningful, standing in marked contrast to the United States, whose money mostly only features dead presidents and the planned roll-out of a black, female abolitionist on the $ twenty note was delayed and deferred over the current pretender’s affection for the observe as it stands, featuring a president infamous as a slavery apologist and for his genocidal treatment of Native Americans.