Marko the Rat (marko_the_rat) wrote,
Marko the Rat

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We love you, CSIRAC!

While I was visting Ristin, he took me to the Melbourne Museum. There's lots of cool stuff there and it was a good opportunity to learn about Melbourne's history, but for me the highlight of the trip was CSIRAC.

CSIRAC was Australia's first computer, and only the fourth programmable computer in the whole world. Development began in 1947, and it was in service at CSIRO until 1956, after which it worked at Melbourne University until it retired in 1964. Computing was a whole new field back then, so it was basically designed from the ground up. This machine was a crunching powerhouse of the day, performing at a blistering 1 000 operations per second (.001Mhz). It had a memory capacity of 768 (20 bit) words (about 1.8KB in modern terms) and an interface consisting of oscilloscopes, blinking lights, a speaker, and punched paper tape, which may have made it a bit limited for games (although some games were developed for it). It used mercury tubes for memory. Part of what I find so fascinating about CSIRAC is the challenge it must have been to program it in its own arcane language, trying to make the most out of every bit.

After its well deserved retirement, CSIRAC was delivered to the Melbourne Museum; the only computer of its generation to still survive intact. CSIRAC was one of Australia's most important technological achievements, back when we still believed we could do anything. Well may we say, "We love you, CSIRAC!"

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