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A Short History of Computers In the Movies 165

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the smalltalk-in-the-movies dept.
Esther Schindler writes "The big screen has always tried to keep step with technology usually unsuccessfully. Peter Salus looks at how the film industry has treated computing. For a long time, the 'product placement' of big iron was limited to a few brands, primarily Burroughs. For instance: 'Batman: The Movie and Fantastic Voyage (both 1966) revert to the archaic Burroughs B205, though Fantastic Voyage also shows an IBM AN/FSQ-7 Combat Direction Central. At 250 tons for each installation (there were about two dozen) the AN/FSQ-7 was the largest computer ever built, with 60,000 vacuum tubes and a requirement of 3 megawatts of power to perform 75,000 ips for regional radar centers. The last IBM AN/FSQ-7, at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, was demolished in February 1984.' Fun reading, I think."
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A Short History of Computers In the Movies

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  • The Q-7 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 24, 2013 @01:19AM (#45772915)

    Am I the only one here who's programmed that beast? Assembly language; Fortran had just been invented. Might fit one into a current Walmart, might not. I recall during our training (LA) we heard of another computer in the city! Had to go talk to those guys across town.

    Still cranking out code, at 84.

  • by Firethorn (177587) on Tuesday December 24, 2013 @01:31AM (#45772969) Homepage Journal

    First, vacuum tubes lasted much longer than 6 months, Second, that's what PM is for. Preventative Maintenance would have you replacing the tubes before they're reaching EOL, increasing system reliability.

    You just have to accept a few hours of downtime every few months while they swap out thousands of tubes.

  • by LaughingRadish (2694765) on Tuesday December 24, 2013 @01:32AM (#45772975) Journal

    Here's something nice: http://starringthecomputer.com/ [starringthecomputer.com]. Various sightings of various computers in movies along with ratings of importance, realism, and visibility.

  • Re:The Q-7 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by suso (153703) * on Tuesday December 24, 2013 @01:42AM (#45773003) Homepage Journal

    Am I the only one here who's programmed that beast? Assembly language; Fortran had just been invented. Might fit one into a current Walmart, might not. I recall during our training (LA) we heard of another computer in the city! Had to go talk to those guys across town.

    Still cranking out code, at 84.

    Whoever you are, Slashdot should interview you about your experiences.

  • by FairAndUnbalanced (959108) on Tuesday December 24, 2013 @01:43AM (#45773007)
    I think there's a ton of CDC [wikipedia.org] equipment in Collosus: The Forbin Project. It has a fairly standard "computer takes over the world" plot line but is a bit of fun as well.

    Note the movie trivia entry at this IMDB link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0064177/trivia [imdb.com]

    "When the executives at Control Data Corporation found out that Universal was planning a major movie featuring a computer, they saw their chance for some public exposure, and they agreed to supply, free of charge, $4.8 million worth of computer equipment and the technicians to oversee its use. Each piece of equipment carried the CDC name in a prominent location. Since they were using real computers - not just big boxes with a lot of flashing lights - the sound stage underwent extensive modifications: seven gas heaters and five specially-constructed dehumidifiers kept any dampness away from the computers, a climate control system maintained the air around the computers at an even temperature, and the equipment was covered up at all times except when actually on camera. Brink's guards were always present on the set, even at night. The studio technicians were not allowed to smoke or drink coffee anywhere near the computers."
  • by sumdumass (711423) on Tuesday December 24, 2013 @01:56AM (#45773065) Journal

    I've seen old radios and televisions with vacuum tubes at least 35 or 30 years. I remember the television repair man coming into the house to replace a couple when they broke down. It was strange when we got our first solid state TV as they just replaced boards and there was no tubes we could run down to the drug store and get. You used to just look for a glow in the tube when something wasn't working right, if there was no glow, you took it with you and there was a testing machine made by rayovac right in the drugstore that you could test them on and it would cross reference any models to the ones they had in stock.

    I don't know how that compares to the tubes in the computers, but they were surprisingly resilient considering the age of the tech behind them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 24, 2013 @02:45AM (#45773241)

    Everyone remembers the Minis, but the true geeks remember Benny Hill playing one of the cinema's first computer hackers.

  • by Animats (122034) on Tuesday December 24, 2013 @03:31AM (#45773389) Homepage

    Tube computers seldom had tubes fail in operation. Part of daily maintenance was to run the machine on "high margins", with voltages raised about 10%. Half an hour on in that mode would blow out all the tubes near failure. Those were then replaced, and the machine would then operate for the rest of the day without problems. A tech who had worked on UNIVAC I computers once told me they'd never had a tube failure during regular operation.

  • by BlackHawk-666 (560896) <ivan.hawkes@gmail.com> on Tuesday December 24, 2013 @03:43AM (#45773423) Homepage

    Check out these old buggers, and the ads featuring Tom Baker, the legendary 4th Doctor Who.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fSRC0S7pls8 [youtube.com]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 24, 2013 @03:52AM (#45773457)

    It was provided as a demonstration of IRIX capability...

    I've used it briefly - doing an ls was faster... Even in the movie it was slow.

    It was part of a rather wide experiment in different ways to show a filesystem characteristics...

    Not shown very well in the movie, it used blocks of different sizes to illustrate the number of files in the directory. Opening a "building"/directory drew a new scene with the contents of the directory and file size characteristics to select new blocks. Links in the diretory shown as lines. As I recall, only two levels were ever shown at a time The current directory as the central square, lines connecting building on the square would connect to the next level square. Browsing was done by rotating the scene/moving in/out and selecting a block to enter.

    It worked, but was inherently slow.

  • by NixieBunny (859050) on Tuesday December 24, 2013 @04:16AM (#45773541) Homepage
    The other trick was that they always left the filaments burning. The filaments are most likely to fail during warm-up. The failures due to reduced emission were preventable by replacing tubes after x thousand hours.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 24, 2013 @04:23AM (#45773567)
    Some tubes could be made to last very long indeed, it was all about getting the cathode pure enough and the inner structure of the tube rugged enough. I give you the Bendix 6900.

    http://frank.pocnet.net/sheets/131/6/6900.pdf [pocnet.net]

    Enjoy, took me a while to fish up that one...

    Then you add a tube cooler to keep the envelope cool....

    http://www.audiohum.es/WebRoot/acens/Shops/audiohum_es/4CDA/8C25/B57E/99A6/67E7/0A01/006A/BCCA/2060100002.jpg [audiohum.es]

    They put tubes under the ocean on trans-Atlantic cable repeaters, they had to be reliable.

    Although I can't prove it, I'm pretty sure the Voyager probes use ceramic planar triodes (GE Y-1171) as their output tubes, the things that generate the radio waves beamed back to us.

    And last but not least, in WWII they invented electronic proximity fuzes... You guessed it, vacuum tubes. They didn't last too long (boom), but they managed to survive the 100000G acceleration out of a cannon and the 20000RPM that goes with it.

  • Re:The Q-7 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NetAlien (2855345) on Tuesday December 24, 2013 @05:24AM (#45773825)
    At 18 in 1964, I was just a young guy who programmed the IBM 407 Accounting machine [columbia.edu] that was also installed with the AN/FSQ-7 in the Canadian underground NORAD headquarters in North Bay, Ontario. The program complexity on those machines was measured by how much the boards weighed. Lots of wires terminated with pins containing tiny metal balls (like hitch pins) to keep the pins from being pushed out when the board was inserted into the 407 to run whatever program its wiring instructed. Diodes were sometimes needed to prevent back-flow (that machine's source of bugs). Spent over 7 years in the "hole" with the huge Q-7. Nostalgia!

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