History and Nostalgia

The Autodesk File

The history of Autodesk and AutoCAD told through contemporary documents, edited and annotated by Autodesk founder John Walker. You can read this 900 page book on-line on the World-Wide Web, or download a copy to read or print off-line in either PostScript or Adobe Acrobat PDF format. New: Fifth edition (2017) updates to modern Web standards, typography, and navigation.

The Analytical Engine

In 1837, Charles Babbage invented The Analytical Engine, a mechanical card-programmed digital computer which anticipated almost every aspect of the electronic computers which would not appear for more than a century afterward. These pages are a virtual museum where you can explore the Engine both through historical documents and an emulator which allows you to experience for yourself what it would have been like to program a steam-powered computer. New: 2017 update adds a JavaScript/HTML5 Web-based emulator and several new sample programs.

Calendar Converter

Millennium, shmillennium! Round numbers depend on which calendar you use to keep score; human cultures have invented dozens of calendars over the centuries, all equally valid. Our Calendar Converter interconverts (in browsers which support JavaScript), a variety of calendars from various cultures and computer time representations.

Commodore Curiosities

In the late 1980s I became interested in mass market home computers as possible markets for some products I was considering developing. I bought a Commodore 128 and began to experiment with it. I wrote several programs, some of which were published in Commodore user magazines. Here are three of those programs: a customisable key click generator, a moon phase calculator, and a neural network simulator. All programs can be run under the VICE emulator on modern machines.

Computation, Memory, Nature, and Life

This paper, using Stephen Wolfram's A New Kind of Science and Frank Vertosick's The Genius Within as points of departure, suggests that reliable, robust, bulk digital memory is both the secret of life and why computers so fascinate us.

Fifty Years of Programming and Moore's Law

The occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the first computer program I wrote provides an opportunity to reflect on progress in computing, Moore's law, which has largely driven it over that period, and where things may be going in the next decade, which I've taken to calling the Roaring Twenties.

Floating Point Benchmarks

There are many disadvantages to being a balding geezer. In compensation, if you've managed to survive the second half of the twentieth century and been involved in computing, there's bearing personal witness to what happens when a technological transition goes into full-tilt exponential blow-off mode. I'm talking about Moore's Law—computing power available at constant cost doubling every 18 months or so. When Moore's Law is directly wired to your career and bank account, it's nice to have a little thermometer you can use to see how it's going as the years roll by. This page links to two benchmarks I've used to evaluate computer performance ever since 1980. They focus on things which matter dearly to me—floating point computation speed, evaluation of trigonometric functions, and matrix algebra. If you're interested in text searching or database retrieval speed, you should run screaming from these benchmarks. Hey, they work for me.

New September 2021 updates adds Raku (Perl 6) to the C, C++, Chapel, Ada, Algol 60/68, COBOL, Common Lisp, Erlang, Forth, FORTRAN, FreeBASIC, Go, Haskell, Java, JavaScript, Julia, Lua, Mathematica, Mbasic, Modula2, Pascal, Perl, PHP, PL/I, Prolog, Python, Ruby, Rust, Scala, Simula, Smalltalk, Swift, and Visual Basic (6 and .NET) language implementations of the floating point benchmark, and includes a comparison of the relative performance of these languages.

How Many Dots Has It Got?

What's a “WUXGA”? Ever since the advent of the IBM PC, manufacturers of personal computers, graphics adaptors, monitors, and projectors have obfuscated the resolution of their hardware with increasingly grotesque acronyms. This document deconstructs the various acronyms and provides the information you ought to have been given in the first place: how many pixels each mode can display.

Marinchip Systems: Documents and Images

In 1977, I founded Marinchip Systems, with the goal of developing personal computing hardware and software that provided the power and convenience afforded by contemporary timesharing systems at a fraction of the price. Starting in 1978, Marinchip delivered the first true 16-bit personal computer on the S-100 bus, based on the Texas Instruments TMS9900 microprocessor. This document is an archive of documents and photos from the Marinchip era, including scanned copies of many of the hardware and software manuals.

Mind Grenade

In the fall of 1969, I made my first foray into digital electronics by designing and building my own version of a random music generator invented by Harry S. Pyle. Fifty years later, it still works. Explore digital design from half a century ago, how this device which looked and sounded like people thought computers ought to worked, and enjoy a modern software emulation that runs inside your Web browser.

Nixie Tube Clock

In the bronze age of computing and electronics test equipment, nixie tubes were commonly used for decimal digital displays. This clock, available both in kit form and assembled, combines that vintage technology with digital electronics for a retro look and modern practicality.

Slide Rule

Before computers and calculators, there were slide rules. It is difficult for people today to appreciate just how magic it was to be able to carry a small tool, made of bamboo and plastic, that could perform many of the computations of engineering and science which used to be so tedious in mere seconds, as long as you were happy with its limited precision. This document explores this vintage computing tool, using it to solve a variety of problems ranging from loading a turnip truck to interstellar flight.

Strangelove Slide Rule: Nuclear Bomb Effects Computer

Relive the chilling calculations of the Cold War with this interactive edition of the Nuclear Bomb Effects Computer published in 1962 by the United States Atomic Energy Commission. Enter the yield and range, and the full suite of weapons effects will be displayed just as on the original pocket slide rule. Nuclear weapons users who prefer a physical slide rule, either out of nostalgia or an appreciation for its ability to operate in post-apocalyptic conditions, will find instructions for making their own.

Talkin' 'Bout My Innovation

In the late 1980s, due to the software patent craze, Autodesk was in a mode of patenting everything we could think of in order to build up a portfolio of patents to use defensively if somebody came against us with a (probably) bogus patent. My contribution was a means for computing with physical units which I'd just implemented in a rudimentary form for AutoCAD. Here is the original disclosure of this invention and the U.S. patent was it was granted more than four years later.

UNIVAC Memories

UNIVAC Memories returns to the 1960s and early '70s to explore the room-sized UNIVAC mainframe computers I programmed in those days. Discover million-dollar memory, two and a quarter ton 100 megabyte hard drives, minus zero, and other curiosities from the brash adolescence of the second generation of computers.

Update: November 2017 update adds a Univac Document Archive with hardware and software manuals, product brochures, and related documents from the 1107–1100/80 era.