This year marks the 63rd anniversary of ENIAC, the first modern-day computer. Built at the University of Pennsylvania, ENIAC was the first all-electronic digital computer. Unlike earlier computers, it used vacuum tubes rather than relays in its logic circuits. For information on ENIAC, go here.
ENIAC's anniversary has gotten tremendous amounts of attention from the computer-related press. Ignored in all the hoopla, however, are some other great machines of the late 1940's that helped usher in the computer age:
A powerful computer, but given to odd, unexplainable errors. Here's a typical example:
Programmer: "MAINEEAC, what is the sum of 3 and 5?"
MAINEEAC: "I'm going to butcher your entire family, starting with your baby sister.
Designed to use simple algorithms to make choices between equally good possibilities, this computer never performed satisfactorily. Its selections always seemed to be random, or based on algorithms beyond the understanding of its programmers. Also, it was prone to holler "ollie ollie oxen Free" for no apparent reason.
The classiest of computers, more powerful than any of its comtemporaries. Occupying fourteen floors of an office building in Detroit, KADILAC could go from 0 to 60 instructions in just seven seconds, but used an extraordinary amount of electricity to operate. A smaller version of the machine, PONTIAC, was also a disappointment.
An early artificial intelligence experiment, CATARAC was the first computer designed to "see." Its built-in camera would analyze objects in attempt to identify them. Unfortunately, the lens was prone to fog, causing wildly erroneous identifications. A military-sponsored program, CATARAC was dismantled in 1967 after it identified a visiting Five Star General as Leon Trotsky.
The first of the big computers built for a practical purpose, BIGMAC was designed to plan the menu at several government cafeterias. Too many programmer-cooks spoiled the brew; BIGMAC formulated meals consisting entirely of carbohydrates, and the project was eventually scrapped amidst a flurry of finger-pointing.
NEKROFILIAC, NYMFOMANIAC, AND AFRODEEZIAC
This trio of computers was funded jointly by Masters and Johnson, the U.S. Air Force, and Paramount Pictures. No results from this experimental project were ever published, but whispered rumors indicated that the interactions between the three machines were "intriguing."
The research leading up to this computer seemed promising, but turned out to be a dead end.
These are just a handful of the electronic marvels built by the pioneers of the computer revolution. Many others have also carved their niche into silicon history:
TARMAC, LILAC, BIVOUAC, KARDIAC, BRIKABRAC, ZODIAC, HEMOFILIAC, and INSOMNIAC.
Yes, in paving the way toward the computers of today, ENIAC was definitely an important paving stone -- but let us not forget the other stones that also line that road.