By Grant Jacobs 07/08/2017


While travelling I’ve visited some science-related locations and seen the odd bit of science-related trivia.

On a wall of the ferry I took between Swedish the port town Oskarshamm and the walled city of Visby at the Baltic sea island of Gotland was a collection of photographs offering a pictorial history of the shipping company. One delightful photograph highlighted that they adopted modern computing devices early, their offices acquiring their first computer in 1976.

As you can see from the photograph above, they got a crane in for the installation job, fitting it in through a window with the panes removed and planks for skids to get it into the room.

Next time you get your computer delivered you won’t think that big box that the courier dropped off at the door is such a pain in the neck, right?

Advertised as “all the mini-computer you’ll ever need”, the NCR 399 was dedicated to accounting applications, “Ledger handling speed is 47 standard, 11-inch cards per minute.”

Memory came standard at 8 kilobytes, expandable up to 16 kilobytes with the addition of 2kb cards.

The linked pages are an hilarious trip to computing’s past. Take for example the specs detailing the cassette tape drive (remember those?): “Cassette recording mode 8-bit ASCII characters in serial fashion; recording density 800 bits/inch (100 characters/inch); transfer rate 6000 bits per second at a forward rote of 7.5 inches per second; inter-record gap 0.8 inch; rewind speed 75 inches per second.”

Speaking of cassette tape storage at 800 bits per inch, compare that storage capacity with that of IBM and Sony’s newly-announced sputtered tape: 201 Gb per square inch.

Source: IBM Research

They can squeeze about a kilometre of tape into a palm-sized cassette, holding in total 330 Tb of (compressed) data. You could literally put your entire digital life in the palm of your hand.

This is pricey stuff so it isn’t likely to end up in a consumer product any time soon. But just for old times sake we can still dream of a return of cassette tape to consumer applications, right?

You can read more about the new tape drive at ArsTechnica or at IEEE Transactions on Magnetics.

Traveller’s post-amble (and way off-topic!)

Taking the ferries while cycle touring can be excellent fun. Often you get to be the first on and off into the huge cargo holds, riding up ramp and into the cavernous bowels of the vessel on your own. Great stuff! You leave your bike down in the hold, and head on up to the join the passengers for the voyage.

Boat-shaped graves from late Bronze Age can be found in the rural countryside of Gotland. A smaller, simpler grave from the Stone Age was immediately to the north. Gotland had excellent cycling, although it was sometimes very windy – the island features a very large wind farm off it’s southern shore, and from the wind I battled into I’m not the least surprised!

Other articles on Code for life

Another one bits the dust: Goodbye Walkman

Filing research papers and web browsing: Zotero, Zotfile and Vivaldi

A new font – the alphabet in proteins

Terry Pratchett lives on in the wires and how to see it for yourself

Sinclair ZX envy

Featured image

Photo credit (as shown on original): Gotslandbolagets arkiv.


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