View Full Version : Computing History Tour

15th May 2010, 08:15 PM
So today I spent a particularly geeky Saturday going on a Computing History Tour of Melbourne, a walking/tram tour through Melbourne visiting various locations in the city that relate to the early days of computers. Unfortunately I forgot to take my camera, but I did take a few shots with my dodgy-quality mobile that might interest you guys:

Apple II in Monash Museum of Computing History:


Apple Lisa in Monash Museum of Computing History:


CSIRAC, Australia's first computer (in the Melbourne Museum):


The tour is run regularly by my PhD supervisor, there are more details about it here (http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~gfarr/tour/) if anyone's interested, as well as a link to book in to future tours. (It's free.) There was also an article about it in The Age last year: Computer tour spins web of interest (http://www.theage.com.au/national/computer-tour-spins-web-of-interest-20090513-b3au.html)

15th May 2010, 08:25 PM
I had no idea Monash has a computer museum!

CSIRAC is one of my favourite things at the Melbourne museum :)

15th May 2010, 08:32 PM
I had no idea Monash has a computer museum!

It's at the Caulfield campus - I had no idea it was there either, and I was a Monash student for over 5 years!

15th May 2010, 08:51 PM
I used to spend ages watching those displays. I should go back again one day.
For those who don't know where it is, it is at caulfield campus of Monash Uni opposite the main library. It's not in a special room, it's just out in the open, you can't miss it.

15th May 2010, 10:19 PM
Ha! I walk past it every week, might take a proper look next time, it's kinda got a weird placement since Caulfield campus doesn't even seem to have such a major IT focus..

16th May 2010, 12:18 AM
With three years of design and construction completed in 1949, CSIR Mark 1 (http://www.csiro.au/science/CSIRAC.html) (of which some 40% remains at the heart of the CSIRAC on display at Caulfield) became Australia's first electronic computer and the fourth electronic computer in the world, and resided at the CSIRO's Radio Physics Laboratory in Marsfield, not far from where Macquarie University is today.

In March of 1951, Brian Cooper, an electrical physicist (and nocturnal proto-nerd who spent many evenings at the CSIR lab) successfully tested the world's first magnetic drum storage mechanism as secondary storage. This great-great-gandfather of the hard drive was as large as a two door refrigerator and could hold a staggering -- for the time -- 1,536 bits. Not bytes, bits, 192 bytes or 0.18 KB in today's terms. That's about one tenth the size of a single TCP/IP packet.

In June of 1951, Geoff Hill wrote a lengthy program to calculate and then play a sequence of pulses in the audio range, and in August of that year CSIR Mark 1 played the world's first digitally-generated music, "Colonel Bogey", to an international audience during Australia’s first computer conference. CSIR grew slowly but steadily, but in 1955 it was dismantled and shipped to the University of Melbourne. The new curator, Professor Thomas Cherry, renamed the machine CSIRAC.

In 1957, Pr. Cherry wrote the first computer program to perform digital synthesis of musical tones based on a method of entering standard musical notation -- another world first. His short ditty "Lucy Long" made academic headlines, and even scored a mention in the local press. The program and its musical entry data were recorded on 12-hole paper tape (http://museumvictoria.museum/collections/items/286959/12-hole-paper-tape-csirac-computer-music-lucy-long-2-t747-1957), which is held by the Victorian Museum.

CSIRAC remained in operation until 1964, when it was realised that it was the oldest funtional stored-memory electronic computer in the world, having run for an almost continuous 30,000 hours. CSIRAC was carefully disassembled and stored, and replaced by an IBM mainframe. CSIRAC has since spent the rest of its existence being moved to and from storage, until it reached its current home back at Caulfield in 2006.

In 1991, three of CSIRAC's original engineering team rejoined to restore it to fully functional status for one reason only -- to recreate "Lucy Long" from tape, as it had never been captured to any recording medium at the time. Three core-memory cards needed re-threading and several banks of valves had to be imported from Russia and the USA before CSIRAC's central processor could be coaxed back into life. The original punched tape machine required a full strip down and reconstruction to be made functional (a priceless diagnostics tape was lost in the process!) and the valve based audio output circuitry had to be rebuilt from scratch as it had gone missing in 1961.

Unfortunately, the Museum would not release the punch tape for "Lucy Long" fearing it would be chewed by the punch tape machine, but one of the team, John Spencer, was given one of the two copies of the synthesis and input program "T739" which painstakingly transcribed by hand into a CSIRAC emulator (http://unimelbpress.co.cc/dept/about/csirac/emulator.html) he wrote that ran under Windows 98, then using circuit his colleague Ron Bowles developed to connect the PC's parallel port to the punch tape machine, created a new copy of T739. Without access to the "Lucy Long" tape, the third member of the restoration team, Jurij Semkiw, helped compose a new short tune called "In Cellar Cool".

If you ever wondered what kind of musical racket a room full of valves, fans and one loudspeaker would make, then you're in luck. Here (http://unimelbpress.co.cc/dept/about/csirac/music/InCellarCool.mov) is what was recorded at the Caulfield exhibit that fateful day in 1992, fans 'n all.