Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Bad ass computer

I used to work around Big Iron, back in the day at Three Letter Agency.  The basement there was filled with stinking huge IBM 3090 mainframes, and different flavors of Cray Supercomputers (each painted a different color so you could recognize at a glance the one you were working with; we called the purple one "Barney").  But the most bad ass of all the computers there was this:

(Image source)

Of course, the rooms were dark, so walking past this always made me feel like I was near the warp core of the Death Star, or something.  The lights would be continually in motion; I'm not sure what it was for, but I suspect that each LED mapped to one of the 64,000 CPUs in this beast.  Rumor was that it was so fast, it would answer your question before you asked it.

What I hadn't known was that Richard Feynman was the first employee hired at Thinking Machines, Inc.  It's quite a story:

That man was so smart that he left smartprints when he walked across the carpet.  Figures he had to have been involved with one of the most bad ass computers ever made.

Postscript: it seems that you can go see that very same computer, now on display at the National Cryptologic Museum.


DaddyBear said...

If you're ever in the DC area, that's a great museum.

ASM826 said...

Working on A/B PLCs, there was always more processing capacity and I/O card slots than we used. I wanted to wire up a LED panel, a big one, and set it in an electrical cabinet door. It wouldn't have done anything at all, just lit the LEDs in random patterns based on time, tank heater status, counters, etc. But I would have used it like Spock.

When I was sure I had a problem figured out, just before I went to change a part, I could have gone and stared at the display for few seconds, then nodded to myself and gone to get the part or make the adjustments. It would have been awesome.

Anonymous said...

Wait...I thought the WOPR was the baddest computer...

AnarchAngel said...

At some point I would really love to buy a superconnector module as a piece of art furniture.

Hat Trick said...

It is disconcerting to think that what was cutting edge tech when I worked there 25 years ago is now a museum piece.