Special and Extraordinary Facts About Computers, # 4

This week, we continue our series of blog entries titled “Special and Extraordinary Facts About Computers” to bring you even more digital highlights. Lets explore what one can do with only 64k of space or what was the first tablet. The next time you have a silence to fill, use one of these facts to save the furniture and restart the conversation! (Assuming you can figure out how to use it without making the situation even more uncomfortable. We “computer nerds” aren’t always good at this.)

DID YOU KNOW THAT… Programmers compete with each other to see who can create the smallest computer program?

Indeed, it is not only athletes who love competition. Programmers have a competitive mind too! One of the toughest competitions in the computer world is the 64k intro competition. Intros are types of demos – made up of graphics and music that give a glimpse of a programmer’s talents, but need to be small and tight.

Most modern software takes up about the total space of a DVD (that’s 4GB or 4,000,000 KB). But in an intro, programmers need to use only 64KB of space to create a program with advanced features like 3D animations. These programs are written in assembly language, also known as machine language. The talented people who create these intros also often belong to some of the more well-known hacker groups (e.g., Razor 1911).

Watch some of the animations created for the famous “demo parties” in 64k.

DID YOU KNOW THAT… The first tablet was created in 1963?

Although it looked very little like an iPad or Kindle Fire, the RAND Tablet, launched by the RAND Corporation in 1963, was one of the first portable computing devices.

A grid of cables below the surface allowed it to capture handwriting and drawings made with an electronic pen. The tablet connected to an input on the computer screen, allowing data to be reproduced on the screen.

The RAND tablet was touted as the first low-cost digital device and was one of the first to use an electronic pen.

View close-up photos and features of the RAND Tablet.

DID YOU KNOW THAT … some people still use the Internet by telephone modem?

While most people in North America and around the world use high-speed broadband internet, as of 2013, an estimated 3 percent of Americans still used dial-up Internet — that’s more than 9 million people. But depending on how old you are, you might not remember ever using dial-up!

Dial-up internet means internet delivered over a telephone line. Twenty years ago, it wasn’t unusual to pick up the phone and hear a strange sound on the line while someone was trying to send an email.

Today, we are usually talking of Mb/s of transfer speed, but it all started at 100 bit/s, or if you prefer, 0.009% of current internet speeds. Here’s what this means:

  • Loading the Google homepage on a 2400 baud (2.4 kbit/s) modem would take 2 hours and 30 minutes.(Yes, just the Google image and search box.)
  • Loading the Microsoft home page would take up to 12 minutes.

While you’re thanking your lucky stars for high speed internet access, learn more about the history of dial-up modems.

DID YOU KNOW … the internet started out as a single URL?

At one time, the entire internet consisted of a single page, at the URL http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html.

The page was about the “WorldWideWeb” project, and how you too could create an internet page!

While the original page sadly no longer exists, you can see how it looked after two years of revisions.