Category Archives: Engineering

The largest computer ever built

Locklin on Science has posted a fascinating piece about cold war computers.
Originally built to coordinate radar and missile defence across the US, the SAGE system could even control airborne “drones”!
This system was built in 1958 and didn’t go offline until 1984 (!!).

The SAGE system had many firsts: it was the first nation wide networked computer system. While it used special leased telephone lines and some of the first modems (at a blistering 1300 baud), it was effectively the internet, long before the internet. It was the first to use CRT screens. The first to use a “touch screen interface” via the use of light pens on the CRT. It was the first to use magnetic core memory. It was the first real time, high availability computer system. It was the first computer system to use time sharing. Many people attribute the genesis of computer programming as a profession to the SAGE system. Modern air traffic control, and computer booking systems of course, descend from the SAGE system.

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The GRAIL Project

In 1964 the RAND corporation unveiled the GRAIL Project. GRAIL was an early example of a GUI, and (the first?) example of a tablet.

The system used a programming language called GrailLanguage, which was a high-level flowchart-based programming language. All programs were written graphically and with a pen, using character recognition for statements and shape recognition for flow control.

Watch this video and tell me that the best new talent is working on Groupon for Babies or a better way to share photos.

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Machine with Concrete

Machine with Concrete is a gear train consisting of twelve pairs of worms and gears, each of which reduces the rotational velocity of the system by 1/50. The input shaft is constantly driven at 200 rpm, and the output shaft thus turns at (1/50)12 of that speed, at which rate, Ganson writes, “it will take well over two trillion years before the final gear makes but one turn.”

The punchline, of course, is that the final gear is embedded in a block of solid concrete.

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Military IRC

Apparently the US Military uses IRC in a command and control context.
This was a big surprise to me!

A 2006 thesis from the Naval Postgraduate School states that internet relay chat (IRC) is one of the most widely used chat protocols for military command and control (C2). Software such as mIRC, a Windows-based chat client, or integrated systems in C2 equipment are used primarily in tactical conditions though efforts are underway to upgrade systems to newer protocols.

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A Detailed Peek Into Formula One Engineering

ScarbsF1 is a fascinating blog analysing technical developments in Formula One.
Worth a look.

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