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How Computers Work -- Circa 1979 248

Guinnessy writes "In a younger, more innocent time, Ladybird Books came out with a series of children's books called "How things work." Someone has put the 1971 and 1979 versions of How Computers Work onto the web. It's a fascinating glance at how much computers have advanced since the silicon chip was introduced. State-of-the-art in 1971 consisted of fitting thirty components into a 1 cm3 volume."
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How Computers Work -- Circa 1979

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  • ...and its proper title is "How it Works... The Computer"!
  • 1971 = 3*3*3*73
    1979 is prime
  • by 0xdeaddead ( 797696 ) on Monday July 18, 2005 @05:54PM (#13098282) Homepage Journal
    I feel it being /.'d like now... Although I know why my computer room sucks now, our tiles are not orange... :|
  • dupe!! (Score:4, Funny)

    by gambit3 ( 463693 ) on Monday July 18, 2005 @05:56PM (#13098297) Homepage Journal
    Dibs on dupe!!

    Do I get a prize?
  • [joke] (Score:3, Funny)

    by Lord Bitman ( 95493 ) on Monday July 18, 2005 @05:56PM (#13098298) Homepage
    [insert joke about how fascinating it is looking back at what links from two+ years ago were like here]
  • Repost! (Score:4, Informative)

    by willith ( 218835 ) on Monday July 18, 2005 @05:57PM (#13098299) Homepage
    Repost from November 04 []. Not bad, considering!
    • Re:Repost! (Score:2, Funny)

      by madprof ( 4723 )
      It is fascinating to see how Slashdot editing has advanced over time.
      Back in November 2004 dupes were occuring only a few days apart. In July 2005 they are taking 8 months to occur!
    • Re:Repost! (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Well, technically it's a repost from 1979, but...
    • Re:Repost! (Score:2, Interesting)

      by StonedRat ( 837378 )
      Notice the original post was from the "doomed-to-repeat-ourselves" dept.
  • by cagle_.25 ( 715952 ) on Monday July 18, 2005 @05:57PM (#13098300) Journal
    Interesting that tape and disk were competing media back in the day. Now they each have specialized uses (backup and storage, resp.).

    My first 5.25" was a Commodore external drive. It cost me about $300, IIRC. I was so psyched! Until I went to college and saw the 30MB HDDs for Macs. :-)

  • W00t!!1! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Monte ( 48723 ) on Monday July 18, 2005 @05:57PM (#13098309)
    Check out those pictures of hot data-processing chixors! Man, 70s era DP babes. Be still, my heart.
    • Co-incidence? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mccalli ( 323026 )
      Check out those pictures of hot data-processing chixors! Man, 70s era DP babes. Be still, my heart.

      At the time of writing, the quote at the bottom of the page is:
      "To be loved is very demoralizing. -- Katharine Hepburn"

      I think I'm beginning to get what she meant. Mind you, as I pointed out the first time this was posted, they do seem to have Emma Peel working for them [].


    • Argh!

      I saw data-processing. I then saw DP next to it and though "Dual penetration? A little out of place in a book for children!".

    • Check out those pictures of hot data-processing chixors! Man, 70s era DP babes. Be still, my heart.

      Dude! That's yo mama!

  • Illustrations (Score:4, Interesting)

    by bobcat7677 ( 561727 ) on Monday July 18, 2005 @06:00PM (#13098327) Homepage
    A quick glance at the pictures also gives one a sense of how styles have changed since the 1970s as well. Gotta love the hair on the picture of the chic carrying a tape reel in the datacenter:P

    So glad we don't use stacks of punch cards anymore. I mean can you imagine how many truckloads of punch cards you would need to install windows XP? :P
    • Re:Illustrations (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Monte ( 48723 ) on Monday July 18, 2005 @06:10PM (#13098407)
      I mean can you imagine how many truckloads of punch cards you would need to install windows XP?

      Let's assume we need all of a 650Meg ISO image to instal Windows XP. That's 650x1024^2 or 681,574,400 byes. A standard Hollerith punch card can hold 80 bytes, so we need 8,519,680 cards.

      Big assumption here, if someone has better data please chime in - but I'm going to assume 75 Hollerith cards stack to one inch, so we're talking 113,596 or so inches worth of cards, 9,466 feet.

      Assuming a semi trailer is 28 feet long, that's 338 stacks. Which is as far as I'm going to take it, but it's not a full truckload.

      However one should never underestimate the bandwidth of a truckload of tapes.
      • Standard Hollerith punch cards were 80 columns by 25 rows - so, if each of your "bytes" were 25 bits long (actually, lets just call them words with a bit-length of 25). I think (not sure) they were 25 bits long to represent 3 real bytes with a parity bit for checksums (?)...
        • Ignore the above - I was notified on another post of my error - punch cards were 80 columns by 12 rows - and after a bit of reading, the way data is actually stored on a card is completely different from a bit pattern - each "column" actually stores a character of sorts - although I am not sure whether you can store a full byte value within a position or not...
      • Your a geek.
  • l337 (Score:2, Funny)

    by razathorn ( 151590 )
    If I went back in time with my old 266 laptop and spoke leet speak... I'd get all the compu-hotties.
  • by toupsie ( 88295 ) on Monday July 18, 2005 @06:01PM (#13098337) Homepage

    10 STORY = "How Computers Work -- Circa 1979"
    40 GOTO 20
  • That subscriber bonus 15 mins somehow didn't work. So Dupe and BUG both at the same time. My Beastie Boys background music agrees with me.
  • by Zane Hopkins ( 894230 ) on Monday July 18, 2005 @06:02PM (#13098350) Homepage
    It seems nowdays with computers being so commonplace that most folk are just not interested in 'how computers work' anymore. Thats certainly what I see when I get called round to fix peoples machines. They just want them to work.

    Perhaps we /.'s are evolving out of existance?
    • Are people still interested in how nuclear reactors work?

      Average people aren't intersted in anything geeky. they just want to move on with life. they don't care to know anythinng.

      [note: this is a little rambling, but it's tangential]

      That's why Bill Gates Is so scared. If linux can work better than windows, people will just want linux 'because it works.' Mac OSX has already seriously helped apple become acceptedby mainstream users. How long til a vendor like dell realizes that they could roll thier
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 18, 2005 @06:05PM (#13098367)
    the British Ministry of Defence ordered a print run of about 20,000 in plain covers to issue to soldiers as an explanation of how computers worked.
    It was a pretty succinct explanation for neophytes
  • Chindren's book (Score:5, Interesting)

    by brunes69 ( 86786 ) <slashdot@keirstead. o r g> on Monday July 18, 2005 @06:07PM (#13098378) Homepage
    The funny (sad?) part is that this "children's book" is more advanced in many ways than some of my CS intro classes were 7 years ago (and some people still failed out!)

    People getting dumber? Nah.. can't be!

    • Wait... they actually failed people out? There are a number of people here that I can't figure out how they passed enough classes to get into the higher level ones. I'm beginning to think that no one fails. I've even had difficulty failing classes that, for all intents and purposes, I was trying to fail.
    • Re:Chindren's book (Score:3, Informative)

      by madprof ( 4723 )
      Actually it is an indication of just how high quality Ladybird books were. My mother bought us loads of them because she believed in the educational value of them and in quite a few cases they really were very good.
      This is a case in point.
    • Reminds me of the Model T owner's manual. Things seem so complicated then, even though it's actually the other way around (in a sense, it's a testament to how user-friendly things have gotten).

      The manual. []

      An excerpt - how to adjust the crank shaft []

  • by Anonymous Coward
    This reminds me of a book my mom bought me maybe 10 years ago: 20th Century Computers and How They Worked: The Official Starfleet History of Computers [].

    It was a very interesting way to learn about technology at my age (what was I, like 12?) especially as a Trekkie, since the author compares "old" 20th-Century technology to "Current" Starfleet technology. It was very well done, I recommend picking up a copy (no, there are no affiliate links in there).
  • ... and the ultimate advancement came when the mouse was introduced, forcing right handed people to use their more developed instrument (fitted to perform complex movements like writing) to press buttons. Sic(k)!

  • The book describes magnetic core which was pretty well obsolete in 1971. It describes CPU, disk, and tape that have become smaller and faster, but that's about it. The monumental developments in programming languages - object-oriented, functional programming, concurrent programming - were in the past. Ditto for file systems, data structures, and operating systems.

    If you learned computer architecture back then, you wouldn't have much difficulty with today. Not like the man-frozen-in-the-glacier movie sc
    • The book describes magnetic core which was pretty well obsolete in 1971.

      And ironically, magnetic memory comes back [] with nanotech. What's even more ironic, is that hard disks, which haven't changed much, WILL become obsolete in the future.
    • Magnetic core memory was still being used as the sole memory medium in the mid 90's for a centralised process control system I worked on. It was a legacy ICL (UK) mainframe system from the early 70's adapted for realtime data acquisition and control but was kept going - it was actually quite reliable, until two more generations of equipment had been rolled out in the rest of the company and a rationalisation of regional control locations had been made. Due to a few problems in the new systems development
    • Core memory was not "pretty well obsolete" in 1971. Semiconductor memory was only just starting to come into wide use by then. It was not until 1974 that it became cheaper than core (see ory.html []), and even later before it overtook it in volume.
  • Sad (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Random BedHead Ed ( 602081 ) on Monday July 18, 2005 @06:16PM (#13098453) Homepage Journal

    I just looked up this article because I recognized it as a dupe, and found that it goes back to November of 2004 []. There were only 20ish comments about the article, so I thought I'd be the first person who noticed. I was wrong. At least five people had already posted their dupe spottings, and the number is probably rising.

    So I thought, what are the odds of my recognizing a dupe from eight months ago? Or of anyone else recognizing it? And then I realized - they're pretty high. I just discovered that I don't tend to miss Slashdot stories, ever, because if I'm away from the site for an extended period I usually scan backwards and browse the recent days, at least to get the basic ideas of the articles if not to go in-depth. In short, I've missed nothing here. Not in a long time. And I'm starting to wonder what that says about my life.

    How long do we spend on this site? How much of our lives is lost to this pursuit? What would happen if I didn't come to this site tomorrow, and on Wednesday I ignore the Yesterday articles? Am I capable of this? A Tuesday without Slashdot? Would I suffer from any withdrawal symptoms? Because I'm scared, but I think it's important enough to try.

  • &tid=133 []
    I bet they didn't know how true that'd be when they wrote it.
  • But, but, (Score:3, Funny)

    by Hawthorne01 ( 575586 ) on Monday July 18, 2005 @06:20PM (#13098492)
    There's no mention of Windows(tm) anywhere! How do computers work without Windows?
  • Might as well add my 2 cents...

    This book looks completely stupid... I have no idea who the intended audience was at the time, but I don't know if it was normal people.

    Anyhow, I have manuals from 1977 for equipment I use today. (Actually the equipment was built in 77 and I think it was around a bit before then).

    It's nothing quite like that, but pretty standard stuff for the industry. Things like how it works, diagnostics, troubleshootings, maintenance and EVERY SCHEMATIC you would need to fix it. (which i
  • This is so dupe... I read these whole books on-line over a year ago from a link on /.
  • If you like that, you might also enjoy the 1989 Time-Life Understanding Computers series. They actually have very good explanations and in-depth essays about the state of computers at that time. You can pick them up cheap on eBay.
  • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) ( 613870 ) on Monday July 18, 2005 @06:35PM (#13098596) Journal
    It's amazing how some of those images are burnt into my brain. But that was a fine book. It's audience was young kids (all Ladybird books where) and yet it discusses binary and CPU architecture. Of course the people who wrote that book were probably old men who were unaware of the revolution taking place around them. In bookshops we had old serious looking books full of Fortran and pictures of magnetic core memory and yet we we were already using machines with solid state RAM at home. It was as if serious computer professionals were in denial that those 'toys' were ever going to amount to anything.
  • Page 6 in the book talks about the Babbage punch card. This is off-topic from the OP, but Babbage punch cards were/are also used in other applications that just analytical machines. They are still used in weaving factories, for example.

    I own a kilt, and when I visited the weaver that made the kilt (Geoffrey(Tailor) [] in Edinburgh) they showed off their kilt weaving machine. It uses Babbage punch cards to control the action- load this color, weave, return, load other color, weave, return, ...

    (Well, I t

    • Sometimes I swear that we computer geeks know the history of our own machines less than the common US citizen knows about the US Constitution (the document, not the ship - though I would speculate fewer know anything about the ship).

      Yes, I know who Charles Babbage is, I know about his machines, I know that he designed the Analytical Engine (and named many of the pieces of the AE after mill parts - ie, the Mill=CPU, the Store=memory, etc) to use punch cards after seeing one of Jaquard's looms in actions (and

      • These cards had a standard size - 80 columns by 25 rows... Now you know why there is such a thing as an IBM 80 x 25 display - one screen could accurately represent a full card

        Actually, the standard punch card is 80 columns by 12 rows (rows 0-9, X, and Y). And one card represents just one line, whereas you can get 25 lines on an 80x25 display.

        • You are right! I am humbled - I am sitting here looking at my punch card (I collect old computer crap that isn't too bulky) - and 12 rows it is!

          I will go away and grovel now...

  • by nizo ( 81281 ) * on Monday July 18, 2005 @06:45PM (#13098668) Homepage Journal
    The only thing missing from this manual is the picture of a crying/screaming user standing in a pile of unlabelled cards that he just spilled on the floor.
    • No, what's missing the card taped to your mirror, with the words
      "Which one is it" written on it.

      Of course, there is none actually missing, but the mark doesn't know that.
  • ...But this is cool stuff. Look at the minidress the 'punchcard operator' is wearing. Holy Uhura Batman! Now that deserves an ESRB rating of 18+. As someone who hit 12 years old with 8 bit computers and remembers his parent bringing home one of the new WANG "laptops" (really, not bigger than todays laptops!) with like a 4 line LCD screen and built in 1200 baud acoustic coupler (1200 baud!!!! circa 1983) This brings back happy memories of the 8" floppy. With the movie Wargames out, this was the golden time t
  • Copyright issue (Score:3, Insightful)

    by houghi ( 78078 ) on Monday July 18, 2005 @07:08PM (#13098952)
    OK, it's a dupr as many have pointed out. What strikes me is that these are just JPG files. This company that hold the copyright was so kind to at least let them be put online for others to read.

    The majority of other companies and books will never be officially published. A lot of books are not in publication anymore and even if they are, the older versions (like this one) give an insight on how we thought at a certain time.

    It is depressing to know that this way most of our knowledge will be just as lost as the books of the library of Alexandia.

    If you do not have access to the books, they just might as well never have existed. It also shows that the lenght of copyright is rediculously long.
    • OK, it's a dupr as many have pointed out. What strikes me is that these are just JPG files. This company that hold the copyright was so kind to at least let them be put online for others to read.

      The majority of other companies and books will never be officially published. A lot of books are not in publication anymore and even if they are, the older versions (like this one) give an insight on how we thought at a certain time.

      It is depressing to know that this way most of our knowledge will be just as

  • by plexx ( 717557 ) on Monday July 18, 2005 @07:29PM (#13099151)
    In Soviet Russia, Computers understand how you work. In Soviet Russia, Cards punch you.
  • Every OS Sucks
    By 3 Dead Trolls In A Baggie

    I come from a time in the nineteen hundred and seventies when computers where used for two things. To either go to the moon, or play pong. And nothing in between, you see, and you didn't need a fancy operating system to play pong and the men who went to the moon, god bless them, did it with no mouse and a plain text only black and white screen and thiry-two kilobytes of ram.

    But then round about the late seventies home computers started to do a little bit more than
  • They are still the Von Neuman machine type, as described in that book. Just replace the components with bigger-better-faster-more complex ones, but not different. The same algorithms are applied to them, just as they had 25 years ago. And many algorithms are used today only because today's computers are faster than those of yesteryear, not because these algorithms where not known back then.

I've finally learned what "upward compatible" means. It means we get to keep all our old mistakes. -- Dennie van Tassel