Welcome to Advent of Computing, the show that talks about the shocking, intriguing, and all too often relevant history of computing. A lot of little things we take for granted today have rich stories behind their creation, in each episode we will learn how older tech has lead to our modern world.
Episode 99 - The Berkeley Software Distribution
1:09:55UNIX is a big deal. It's one of the most influential programs in history. Most operating systems that we use today can trace their lineage back to UNIX. The only notable exception at this point is Windows. But all these new-fangled operating systems aren't blood relatives of UNIX, they are all derivatives. Second cousins, if you will. So how did we get from UNIX into a diverse field of UNIX-like things? It all starts with a little project at UC Berkeley. Selected Sources: https://archive.computerhistory.org/resources/access/text/2022/06/102743073-05-01-acc.pdf - Oral History of Bill Joy https://archive.org/details/aquartercenturyofunixpeterh.salus_201910/page/n157/mode/2up?view=theater - A Quarter Century of UNIX
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Episode 98 - The Canon Cat
1:10:28This time we are looking at a somewhat obscure machine: the Canon Cat. Designed by Jef Raskin, the Cat is sometimes called the spiritual successor to the Macintosh. That's a nice little epitaph, but doesn't fully explain the tangled mess of things between Raskin, Jobs, Apple, and the Mac. Today we will try to untangle some of that mess as we examine a fascinating little computer that could have changed the world. Selected Sources: http://www.canoncat.net/ -- Everything about the Cat https://archive.org/details/Apple_Mac_Selected_Papers_1980/ -- Raskin's Macintosh memos https://www.digibarn.com/friends/jef-raskin/writings/millions.html -- Computers by the Millions
Episode 97 - What Exactly IS A Database? Part II
1:07:41We've approach the beast itself: SQL. Or, as it used to be known, SEQUEL. In this episode we will discuss how early navigational databases failed, and how we were able to move past them into a relational future. It's a fascinating tale about how careful research and planning can lead to much better tools. Selected sources: https://www.seas.upenn.edu/~zives/03f/cis550/codd.pdf -- Dr. Codd on relational databases https://web.archive.org/web/20070926212100/http://www.almaden.ibm.com/cs/people/chamberlin/sequel-1974.pdf -- The first SEQUEL paper https://people.eecs.berkeley.edu/~brewer/cs262/SystemR.pdf -- A History and Evaluation of System R
Episode 96 - What Exactly IS A Database? Part I
1:00:17I've fallen into a bit of a data rabbit hole, and you get to join me. In this episode I'm starting my journey to understand where databases came from, and how they started to evolve. This will serve as a foundation for next episode, when we will dive into one of the most popular databases from the 1970s: SQL. Along the way we wrestle with GE, the realities of the Apollo Program, and try to figure out what a database really is. Selected Sources: https://sci-hub.se/10.1109/MAHC.2009.110 - A history of IDS https://archive.org/details/TNM_Integrated_Data_Store_introduction_-_General__20171014_0141 - Learn IDS for yourself! https://archive.org/details/bitsavers_ibm360imsRGuide1969_8480205/page/n6/mode/2up - Educational guide to IBM's IMS
Episode 95 - Aspen Movie Map
1:06:27So far I've strayed away from hypermedia in my larger hypertext coverage. This episode helps to fix that. Today we are looking at Aspen Movie Map, a project from 1978 that created a virtual Aspen, Colorado. Why would you want to digitize an entire city? Why did DARPA fund a trip to Aspen? And how does this link up with hypermedia? All this and more will be answered.
Episode 94 - Robots, and the End of Humanity
1:14:55Robots have always fascinated and horrified humanity in equal measure. The prospect of a synthetic lifeform is at times exciting, but can quickly turn south. Luckily we've never gotten that far... or have we? This episode we will look at a selection of early robots, from the Mechanical Turk to Elektro. All have one thing in common: they run off smoke and mirrors. Selected Sources: Robots of Westinghouse by Scott Shaut - Best source on Elektro and his friends https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T35A3g_GvSg - See Elektro in action https://www.google.com/books/edition/Inanimate_Reason_Or_a_Circumstantial_Acc/mvVdAAAAcAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1 - On the Mechanical Turk
Episode 93 - Fun and (Horror) Games
1:04:16Anybody up for a fright? This episode we are looking at 3 of the earliest horror video games I can find. Over this journey we will look at different programmatic ways to instill fear, how platforms can affect the route to terror, and even dig up the mystery of the first horror game. Selected Sources: http://www.twenex.org/ - Sign up for an account and play Haunt https://www.zx-gaming.co.uk/games/monstermaze/default.htm - Escape from Rex and his maze! The Untold History of Japanese Game Developers, by John Sczepaniak
Episode 92 - Copy Protection
1:25:44It's Spook Month 2022! To kick things off we are diving into the frustrating depth of copy protection, piracy, and the origins of commercial software. In 1969 the Great Unbundling made the software market viable for the first time. Ever since then pirates and software vendors have been locked in a battle over bits. This episode traces the early days of copy protection, and how spite played an important role. Selected Sources: https://fadden.com/apple2/cassette-protect.html - In depth analysis of Apple II copy protection https://www.princeton.edu/~rblee/ELE572Papers/Fall04Readings/CryptoProc_Best.pdf - The crypto-microprocessor https://sci-hub.se/10.1109/85.988583 - A personal recollection of the Unbundling
Episode 91 - Whirlwind
1:23:16Whirlwind represents a fascinating story of transition. The project started in the middle of the 1940s as an analog machine. As times changed it became a digital device. By 1951 it was perhaps the fastest computer in the world, filled to the brim with new approaches to design and new technology. It may have even been host to the first video game. Selected Sources: https://apps.dtic.mil/sti/pdfs/AD0896850.pdf - Report on MIT's storage tubes https://sci-hub.se/10.1109/MAHC.1983.10081 - An interview with Jay Forrester https://ohiostate.pressbooks.pub/app/uploads/sites/45/2017/09/retro-hurst.pdf - Screenshots and info about the Bouncing Ball https://www.retrogamedeconstructionzone.com/2021/07/the-whirlwind-bouncing-ball-simulator.html - Play the Bouncing Ball Program for yourself!