When the trees were big, the sky was blue and computers were heavy

Original author: Philip E. Ross
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You won’t find many good things now - children playing in the yard, fruits that are tastier than they look, comfortable air travel. But can anyone really be nostalgic for the old big iron computers that today's handhelds are losing in everything?

“Nothing can repeat a first love,” says Ed Telen, a retired engineer who, along with about 30 people, restored an old IBM 1401 computer for the Calif Museum of Computer Technology. “This is a mechanical machine: the tape mechanism has an air sensor, a small rubber diaphragm that is in contact with the tape and you can see how it works. For modern computers it’s fantastic, their elements are only a few nanometers long and you will never see them. ”

In the heyday of the 1401s, in the 1960s about 9300 pieces of such computers worked. Together with approximately 6,000 predecessors, by 1967 the 1400s lineup occupied half of all computers in the world. They were used primarily for sorting, in particular for bookkeeping, payroll, posting analysis and internal accounting.

These computers also had a cultural resonance. In the movie Dr. Strangelove (1964), a black satire on a nuclear war, has a scene from 1401th. Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson wrote a piece for the IBM 1401 Orchestra: A User's Manual (2006), which is available on iTunes.

The car has become popular due to its simplicity and cheapness. The 1401th worked with decimal data, not binary, and could accept numbers with different numbers of digits. Companies could rent it for $ 6,500 per month, which is equivalent to $ 45,000 today, a quite reasonable price for a fully transistor car with the ability to save programs. Such opportunities were provided only by large systems, costing six times this.

The museum made an even better deal in 2003, when five enthusiasts bought the old 1401th on German eBay for $ 21,000.

However, such a low price was due to the fact that the machine was flooded with water during storage in Hamburg. It took about 10,000 man hours to fix it. Parts changed mainly to the original. Sometimes it helped that the "recreators" themselves were old: Bob Erickson served the IBM cars in the fleet in 1943. The price also reflects the technical past of the seller, a German engineer who bought the car for his own purposes in 1972, when IBM stopped supporting these models , and he could not bear the possible destruction of the machine with which his whole life was connected. And of course, we can feel the effect of Moore’s law: the 1401th, weighing 4 tons, has one millionth of the computing power of a modern computer for $ 600.

Photos of the restored 1401th under the cat:

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