Category Archives: Computing


Released on this day in 1981 the ZX81, by Sinclair Research. It will go on to sell over 1.5 million units around the world.

Operating system: Sinclair BASIC
CPU: Z80 @ 3.25 MHz
Memory: 1 KB (64 KB max. 56 KB usable)
Storage: External cassette tape recorder at 250 bps
Display: Monochrome display on UHF television
Graphics: 24 lines × 32 characters or 64 × 48 pixels graphics mode
Dimensions: 167mmm deep, 40mm
Mass: 350 grams



Konrad Zuse, a German engineer (b. 1910) died on this day in 1995. He designed the Z3 computer.

Zuse Z3 replica on display at Deutsches Museum in Munich

The Z3 was the world’s first working programmable, fully automatic digital computer. It was built with 2,600 relays, implementing a 22-bit word length that operated at a clock frequency of about 4–5 Hz. Program code was stored on punched film. The initial values were entered manually.

The Z3 was completed in Berlin in 1941 but was not considered vital, so it was never put into everyday operation. Based on the work of Hans Georg Küssner’s “Program to Compute a Complex Matrix” it was written and used to solve wing flutter problems.

Zuse asked the German government for funding to replace the relays with fully electronic switches, but funding was denied during World War II since such development was deemed “not war-important”.

The original Z3 was destroyed on 21 December 1943 during an Allied bombardment of Berlin. The Z3 was originally called V3 (Versuchsmodell 3 or Experimental Model 3) but was renamed to not be confused with Germany’s V-weapons.

A fully functioning replica was built in 1961 by Zuse’s company, Zuse KG.


Chrysler Portal

Looking for sliding doors ?

Forget the Peugeot 1007, or the Honda Vision XS-1, here it is..

The Chrysler Portal

The important features:

    • Electric Drive.
    • 400km range on a full charge.
    • 350kw DC Fast Charge.
    • Track-mounted seating that can fold flat, slide the full-length of the vehicle or be removed.
    • Sliding, Illuminated, portal-shaped articulating front and rear doors for easy loading/unloading.
    • In-vehicle wireless network enabling seamless integration of personal devices.


In 1956 FORTRAN, the first modern computer language, was first shared with the coding community.

The Fortran Automatic Coding System for the IBM 704 (15 October 1956), the first programmer’s reference manual for Fortran

This was the first computer programming language I used (circa 1977). We didn’t have computers at school, programs were written out in longhand and transcribed to punch cards.

These were collected and sent to a mainframe that ran the program and printed out the results in wide,  punched paper.

The IBM 704 mainframe, which used FORTRAN language

Most of our work was returned where a single punching error, had terminated the program. Just to get a list of the first few prime numbers was an achievement.


Bertram Fiddle

The Adventures of Bertram Fiddle
Episode 1: A Dreadly Business

I first came across this from episode 73 of Smashing Security

This is a Victorian murder mystery game, available on steam and for the Android. It was installed on my tablet at the time (April 2018) and while briefly played, never finished.

With a (little) help from a walk-through the game was completed in an afternoon. It’s a fun little game, with lots of silly wisecracks and puns, mostly referencing things in the 20th century.

Episode 2 Continues the story…..


Prog Day

Today is International Day of the Programmer.

In 1956 The IBM 305 RAMAC was introduced, the first commercial computer to use disk storage.


Then, in 1985 Super Mario Bros. is released in Japan for the NES, which starts the Super Mario series of platforming games.


Comp Bug

On this day in 1947 a moth lodges in a relay of a Harvard Mark II computer at Harvard University, causing the first case of a computer bug.

The Harvard Mark II, also known as Aiken Relay Calculator, was a computer built under the direction of Howard Aiken and was finished in 1947. It was financed by the United States Navy. Howard Aiken and Grace Hopper worked together to program and build the Mark II.


PC Birth

The IBM Personal Computer, commonly known as the IBM PC was introduced on August 12, 1981. It was created by a team of engineers and designers under the direction of Don Estridge of the IBM Entry Systems Division in Boca Raton, Florida.


On August 6, 1991, Tim Berners-Lee posted a short summary of the World Wide Web project on the alt.hypertext newsgroup, inviting collaborators.

This date is sometimes confused with the public availability of the first web servers, which had occurred months earlier.

Eng Explained

From the Archives (1990’s ?)

Engineers Explained

People who work in the fields of science and technology are not like other people. This can be frustrating to the nontechnical people who have to deal with them. The secret to coping with technology-oriented people is to understand their motivations. This chapter will teach you everything you need to know. I learned their customs and mannerisms by observing them, much the way Jane Goodall learned about the great apes, but without the hassle of grooming.

Engineering is so trendy these days that everybody wants to be one. The word “engineer” is greatly overused. If there’s somebody in your life who you think is trying to pass as an engineer, give him this test to discern the truth.


You walk into a room and notice that a picture is hanging crooked.

A. Straighten it.
B. Ignore it.
C. Buy a CAD system and spend the next six months designing a
solar-powered, self-adjusting picture frame while often stating aloud your belief that the inventor of the nail was a total moron.

The correct answer is “C” but partial credit can be given to anybody who writes “It depends” in the margin of the test or simply blames the whole stupid thing on “Marketing.”


Engineers have different objectives when it comes to social interaction.

“Normal” people expect to accomplish several unrealistic things from social interaction:

*Stimulating and thought-provoking conversation
*Important social contacts
*A feeling of connectedness with other humans

In contrast to “normal” people, engineers have rational objectives for social interactions:

*Get it over with as soon as possible.
*Avoid getting invited to something unpleasant.
*Demonstrate mental superiority and mastery of all subjects.


To the engineer, all matter in the universe can be placed into one of two categories: (1)things that need to be fixed, and (2)things that will need to be fixed after you’ve had a few minutes to play with them. Engineers like to solve problems. If there are no problems handily available, they will create their own problems. Normal people don’t understand this concept; they believe that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Engineers believe that if it ain’t broke, it doesn’t have enough features yet.

No engineer looks at a television remote control without wondering what it would take to turn it into a stun gun. No engineer can take a shower without wondering if some sort of Teflon coating would make showering unnecessary. To the engineer, the world is a toy box full of sub-optimized and feature-poor toys.


Clothes are the lowest priority for an engineer, assuming the basic
thresholds for temperature and decency have been satisfied. If no
appendages are freezing or sticking together, and if no genitalia or
mammary glands are swinging around in plain view, then the objective of clothing has been met. Anything else is a waste.


Engineers love all of the “Star Trek” television shows and movies. It’s
a small wonder, since the engineers on the starship Enterprise are
portrayed as heroes, occasionally even having sex with aliens. This is
much more glamorous than the real life of an engineer, which consists of hiding from the universe and having sex without the participation of other life forms.


Dating is never easy for engineers. A normal person will employ various indirect and duplicitous methods to create a false impression of attractiveness. Engineers are incapable of placing appearance above function.

Fortunately, engineers have an ace in the hole. They are widely
recognized as superior marriage material: intelligent, dependable,
employed, honest, and handy around the house. While it’s true that many normal people would prefer not to date an engineer, most normal people harbor an intense desire to mate with them, thus producing engineer-like children who will have high-paying jobs long before losing their virginity.

Male engineers reach their peak of sexual attractiveness later than
normal men, becoming irresistible erotic dynamos in their mid thirties to late forties. Just look at these examples of sexually irresistible men in technical professions:

* Bill Gates.
* MacGyver.
* Etcetera.

Female engineers become irresistible at the age of consent and remain that way until about thirty minutes after their clinical death. Longer if it’s a warm day.


Engineers are always honest in matters of technology and human
relationships. That’s why it’s a good idea to keep engineers away from customers, romantic interests, and other people who can’t handle the truth.

Engineers sometimes bend the truth to avoid work. They say things that sound like lies but technically are not because nobody could be expected to believe them. The complete list of engineer lies is listed below.

“I won’t change anything without asking you first.”
“I’ll return your hard-to-find cable tomorrow.”
“I have to have new equipment to do my job.”
“I’m not jealous of your new computer.”


Engineers are notoriously frugal. This is not because of cheapness or
mean spirit; it is simply because every spending situation is simply a
problem in optimization, that is, “How can I escape this situation while retaining the greatest amount of cash?”


If there is one trait that best defines an engineer it is the ability to
concentrate on one subject to the complete exclusion of everything else in the environment. This sometimes causes engineers to be pronounced dead prematurely. Some funeral homes in high-tech areas have started checking resumes before processing the bodies. Anybody with a degree in electrical engineering or experience in computer programming is propped up in the lounge for a few days just to see if he or she snaps out of it.


Engineers hate risk. They try to eliminate it whenever they can. This
is understandable, given that when an engineer makes one little mistake, the media will treat it like it’s a big deal or something.


* Hindenberg.
* Space Shuttle Challenger.
* SPANet(tm)
* Hubble space telescope.
* Apollo 13.
* Titanic.
* Ford Pinto.
* Corvair.

The risk/reward calculation for engineers looks something like this:

RISK: Public humiliation and the death of thousands of innocent people.
REWARD: A certificate of appreciation in a handsome plastic frame.

Being practical people, engineers evaluate this balance of risks and
rewards and decide that risk is not a good thing. The best way to avoid risk is by advising that any activity is technically impossible for
reasons that are far too complicated to explain.

If that approach is not sufficient to halt a project, then the engineer
will fall back to a second line of defense: “It’s technically possible
but it will cost too much.”


Ego-wise, two things are important to engineers:
* How smart they are.
* How many cool devices they own.

The fastest way to get an engineer to solve a problem is to declare that the problem is unsolvable. No engineer can walk away from an unsolvable problem until it’s solved. No illness or distraction is sufficient to get the engineer off the case. These types of challenges quickly become personal — a battle between the engineer and the laws of nature.

Engineers will go without food and hygiene for days to solve a problem. (Other times just because they forgot.) And when they succeed in solving the problem they will experience an ego rush that is better than sex–and I’m including the kind of sex where other people are involved.

Nothing is more threatening to the engineer than the suggestion that somebody has more technical skill. Normal people sometimes use that knowledge as a lever to extract more work from the engineer. When an engineer says that something can’t be done (a code phrase that means it’s not fun to do), some clever normal people have learned to glance at the engineer with a look of compassion and pity and say something along these
lines: “I’ll ask Bob to figure it out. He knows how to solve difficult
technical problems.”

At that point it is a good idea for the normal person to not stand
between the engineer and the problem. The engineer will set upon the problem like a starved Chihuahua on a pork chop.


Steve Willoughby’s E-mail: SUBSCRIPTION — It’s FREE!: