Berkeley Enterprises 1956 Report

From: Doug Yowza <>
Date: Tue Jan 12 13:45:32 1999

On Tue, 12 Jan 1999, cswiger wrote:

> Ok, well, one of the criteria of the Patent office for
> registered 'firsts' is that it must have utility! What
> makes it fun, promising, useful as opposed to an
> academic intellectual curiosity?

I could ask the same about the Altair when it first came out -- no
software, no real I/O, and only a few bytes of memory.

> We read about early logic devices with interest, but
> the Simon seems to lack a certain critical mass to
> generate widespread enthusiasm, it's basically an ALU
> unit.

I beleive the PDP-8 has eight instructions in its instruction set. Simon
has nine :-) I don't know how to program one yet, but I believe there are
control instructions as well as ALU and storage instructions.

> That's like claiming a horizontal output unit,
> affordable to a home user, was the 'first TV',
> even tho a sophisticated hobbyist could buy it and use it
> as a part of a larger project that could actually do
> something useful. There's nothing really there that would cause
> thousands of hobbyists to get excited over the possibilities
> enough to rush out and plop down four grand and swamp the
> manufacturer with so many orders they couldn't keep up.

Well, you have to remember that Simon was made around 1950, when very few
computers existed on the planet and the very *concept* of computing was
foreign to just about everybody. In spite of, or perhaps because of this,
Radio Electronics did a series of articles about building Simon over about
a year. Who can say how many future computer scientistics Simon
influenced? And, to me, influence is what we're talking about when we
talk about the *first* something.

All I know for certain is that at least one budding computer scientist was
haevily influenced by Simon: Ivan Sutherland. Sutherland went on to
heavily influence interactive computing and the GUI. To me, this makes
Simon the closest thing we have to an "Eve", the first progenitor of the
interactive personal computer.

> But we want to know more - was the tape program storage,
> could it make decisions and branch based on comparisons,
> scalable, etc.

The paper tape *reader* couldn't be used for storage, but it was used to
read in programs and data. The memo I posted talks about Magdum, the
magnetic drum, being interfaces for external storage. The report does
mention comparison operations, I believe. But don't ask for too much.
This was *1950*, 25 years before the Altair, several years before
transistors, a time when the number of computers on the planet could
probably be counted on fingers and toes.

I find this literally awesome. Bow down before Simon! We are not worthy.

-- Doug
Received on Tue Jan 12 1999 - 13:45:32 GMT

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