Tuesday, February 07, 2012

A spot of history.

Back in the day (the 1940s), there were computers* being used in the world war. The UK was using a massive tube device - when it worked - called Colossus to decrypt messages. Bletchley Park was the place. In the US, we were using ENIAC to figure out trajectories for artillery shells.

Get that last bit? Artillery trajectory. One of the first uses of computers was trajectory. (The Bletchley Park stuff is VERY cool, but not relevant to my ramblings. Sorry, Limeys.)

After the war, people continued fooling with computers. Obviously. By 1947, someone had filed a patent for a "Cathode Ray Amusement Device". I guess "video game" didn't occur to them. What was the game? A simulation of a missile range - you try to hit the targets.

In 1958, they'd gotten a working model put together and changed the format marginally, calling it "Table Tennis".
(Image from Wiki Commons.)
That should be recognizable, right? To at least most of us. We called it "Pong".

By 1961, MIT students (of course) were playing something they called "Space War!" With a bit more tinkering, it became "Asteroids" which you REALLY ought to recognize.
(Image from Wiki Commons.)
Asteroids was released to an appreciative audience in 1979; there was a lot of stuff between Space War and Asteroids, but you're following me, right? All this is based on that original computer work done with trajectory calculation.

Since then, it's been a long progression of that original artillery game, with better graphics. The latest one is the most popular video game running, right now. (Image from Rovio.)
That's right. The new awesome thing is based on the world's first Cathode Ray Amusement Device, over sixty years old.

Enjoy your historically significant video game. Playing it on the most high-tech devices the world can offer. (Your smart phone? More computing power than the entire fleet of space shuttles.)


*Depending on how we define computers, we can be here all day and on into April, discussing the history of computing, all the way back to the Sumerians. I'm starting with tube devices forward, and you can't stop me.


piggie1230 said...

Regarding definitions of "computer": My grandmother was a computer. She had a job doing calculations, and her job title was "computer" as in, one who computes. They told me that when I was bitty and my little mind was blown.

Mrs. A said...

So cool. And so obvious! Lovely path you've drawn to show the connections. We talk about Pong and Asteroids a lot in our house. So, smile! - you're going to be lunchtime reading for dh and the kids!

Donna Lee said...

I remember pumping quarters into the machine to play Pong at the bowling alley. I was fascinated by it. I also remember the first time I saw words appear on a screen when a keyboard was used. It was amazing. And now, here I sit playing word games and of course Angry Birds! and checking out my email, all on my phone.

Barbara said...

Oh, I don't want to stop you. I just love how your mind works and that you share it with us slackers (in the brain speed dept. anyway). We played Pong and Asteroids until we were cross-eyed. BIL worked for Atari, our kids were the coolest at Jackson Elementary for a (very) short time.

That photo of the Goob and her new Kindle motivated me and now I have my very own. Ooh, I love technology you can put books on.

Emily said...

I knew IMMEDIATELY that you were inspired by Angry Birds. What I love about the game (at which I'm hopeless, by the way) is those satisfying crashing noises and the way things collapse. Even my granddaughter (at 6, way ahead of me in the AB department) complains if the sound is off.
I love love love your blog. You can write about paint drying and I'll be happy.

Anonymous said...

Actually, during WWII the term 'computers' was used for the group of women who programmed the artillery trajectories using adding machines. They later were the first programmers of the ENIAC, although at the time all the emphasis was on the machine, not the women who made it work. There's a great documentary called 'Top Secret Rosies' (available on Netflix)that you might want to see for more details on the project and the brilliant women who worked on it.

Amy Lane said...

That's amazing-- sad, but seriously amazing. You'd think they'd invent something that could feed people, not blow them up!

Alwen said...

Catching up on past posts -

Here's one for you: look up Dorr Felt and the Comptometer. For a while there were even hand-held versions of these things, the way there were for slide rules. Very steampunk!

The Felt Mansion is about 20 minutes' drive north of me, recently restored, with a case full of Comptometers in one of the rooms.