Two-Character Unix Commands

Here’s a fun survey question: name as many two-character Unix commands as you can and say what they do.

Let’s be precise about what we mean by a “command”:

  • Shell aliases like la are not commands.
  • Shell built-in commands count as commands; over time the shell incorporated directly things that were previously separate executables in Unix.
  • Commands not available in a wide variety of Unix distributions by default don’t count. In other words, if you have to install some optional package to get the command then it isn’t a “Unix” command.
  • Optional: Only allow commands included in a “classic” Unix from Bell Labs.

Ready? Let’s go.

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The Mystery of Ctrl+[

Tommy Bennett gave a great lightning talk at CppCon 2016 entitled “Algorithm Mnemonics: Increase Your Productivity With STL Algorithms”. This was really two lightning talks jammed into one. In the second half, Tommy talks about how to increase your productivity with the vim editor simply by learning to use Ctrl+[ instead of ESC because of the distance traveled by your fingers on the keyboard. In the talk, Tommy wonders why Ctrl+[ works for ESC. This short post will explain the mystery of Ctrl+[ along with other interesting characters you can type on your keyboard.

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An HTTP Server in TECO, Part 2

Last summer for the Summer 2012 Retrochallenge Competition I made some progress on an HTTP server in TECO. While I didn’t quite finish, I did make considerable progress. For the Summer 2013 Retrochallenge Competition, I’ll attempt to finish off this HTTP server in TECO and support .TEC files as CGI scripts.

An HTTP Server in TECO

The Summer 2012 Retrochallenge Competition is on for the month of July, 2012. I’m going to implement a small web server in TECO and update this page with progress on my implementation.

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Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing

The Computer History Museum has a new electronic exhibit: Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing. There is a section giving a broad stroke outline of the history of computer graphics as well as other areas of computing. Check it out! If you’re ever in Silicon Valley (Mountain View, CA), I recommend you visit the museum in person to see some of the items from their collection in person.

Don’t buy from ebay seller carp-o-matic

I bought an SGI Indigo^2 workstation from ebay seller carp-o-matic. An Indigo^2 is a heavy machine. The seller packed it in a used cardboard box with crumpled up newspaper around the sides and top and no padding on the bottom. End result? A smashed up workstation. I contacted the seller and they refused to do anything about it. They are not a reputable seller and I recommend that you not do business with them.

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“General and Special Purpose Computers”, 1986

Government Attic released a heavily redacted copy of the report “General and Special Purpose Computers: A Historical Look and Some Lessons Learned” from 1986. Its interesting that a report from 25 years ago is still considered to have sensitive information that needs to be redacted in response to a FOIA request. (Unlike wikileaks, government attic obtains documents legally through the Freedom of Information Act.)

SGI IRIS 3130 Joins the Collection

Silicon Graphics Inc., more commonly known as SGI, produced a series of 3D graphics hardware architectures beginning in the mid 1980s. Their first product line was the IRIS series of terminals and workstations based on the Motorola 68000 processor. Over the years that I’ve been building the collection for my museum of computer graphics history, I’ve managed to obtain most of the SGI product line except for the first generation IRIS machines and the Fuel and Tezro which are still too expensive. Recently I came across an opportunity to get an SGI IRIS 3130. This is the largest model in the IRIS product line which consists of the IRIS 1000, IRIS 2000 and IRIS 3000 series machines. The IRIS machines were featured in an episode of Computer Chronicles from April 5th, 1984. I’ve got some pictures of the IRIS 3130 I’ve acquired on picasaweb.

Exotic Terminal Sighting

Can anyone identify these terminals? The orange keycaps on the one remind me of my ADDS Envoy, right down to the single yellow key in the upper left. The other terminal has a similar enclosure to the first, so my guess is that they are two different models from the same product line. If you recognize these, please post in the comments!

Radio Teletypewriter AN/GRC-46

Teletypes are an interesting bridge between typewriters and computer terminals. They’re more electromechanical in nature than electronic and they make a great amount of noise when they’re operating. The military used lots of teletype gear and this instructional film talks about a radio teletypewriter unit.

Vintage Round-Up

Don Tuite writes the article “Farewell, CRTs…” in electronic design about the disappearance of CRTs. Apparently the last major market for new CRTs is for televisions in India and soon that too will be displaced by the LCD/LED flatpanel screen. Among vintage computer collectors there is already some nostalgia for CRT monitors instead of LCD monitors. Personally I think LCD monitors have gotten good enough in terms of contrast, response time and other characteristics that I don’t mind then anymore. I have some large 19" and 21" SGI monitors in my collection and I know they are becoming scarce. They’re big, heavy, difficult to ship, and only weird vintage computer collectors are interested in them. In most localities you have to pay to have the CRTs recycled.

Some video game dudes have rigged up a car driving video game with a twist. Instead of driving a virtual car down a virtual track, you drive a model car from the perspective of the driving seat down a physical track constructed out of cardboard. Check out their video mashup.

Meanwhile, I finally got around to taking some pictures of the warehouse where my vintage computing collection is stored. Things are in a state of disarray right now because I am organizing my friend’s arcade game collection and things are temporarily stored in my area to make space. However, you can get an eyefull of my “wall of sgi” machines as well as a glimpse into the large serial terminal collection I’ve amassed.

Linus Åkesson: The Chipophone

Linus Åkesson discusses his Chipophone, an electronic organ transformed into a chiptune synthesizer.

PLATO@50 Conference

PLATO welcome screen

PLATO welcome screen
(click any photo for a larger version)

On June 2nd and 3rd, 2010 I attended a conference at the Computer History Museum called “PLATO@50: Fifty Years of Innovation”. The first computer I ever saw in person or used was the PLATO installation at the University of Delaware. My sister was taking a course in biomechanics at the University and brought me into the terminal room where I could login to PLATO and use a variety of educational courseware without needing a special account or paying any fees. The rest, as they say, is history. I spent quite a number of hours exploring all the educational courseware on PLATO. I was in this weird age range where the “kids” courseware was too simple and the University student courseware was too complex. However, I was immensely fascinated with this thing called a computer.

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PLATO@50 Conference Video

The Computer History Museum has published all the conference video from the PLATO@50 conference. I think game developers will find the session on PLATO gaming interesting. If you only have time to watch one video, I would suggest the first one which is an overview of the PLATO system. For those with an interest in the origins of the plasma display panel, check out the hardware session. If you have an interest in social networking software, check out the online community session. Of course, if you’re a PLATO junkie, watch them all!

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Vintage Computer Festival Midwest 5.0

Commodore PETJack Rubin announces Vintage Computer Festival Midwest 5.0:

Vintage Computer Festival comes to Chicago!

The fifth edition of VCF Midwest will take place in Chicago (OK, Lombard is a suburb) this fall – join us on September 18 in conjunction with ECCC as we once again coax vintage electrons into motion.

The show will run from 8:00 AM on Saturday on into the night, coming to an official close at 1:00 AM Sunday morning. Early setup will be available on Friday evening from 5-6:30 PM, at which time the exhibition area will be locked until the show opens on Saturday morning.

In addition to exhibitions of eclectic electronica, we will feature speakers, vendors and a Vince Briel workshop (come ready to homebrew!).

Admission is FREE to all whether you come to show, look, build, talk or sell.

Exhibitor and session info to follow shortly, but save the date NOW!

Join us!

Jack Rubin

Rooms are available at a reduced rate at the adjoining Fairfield Inn. Ask for “ECCC” or “vintage computer” rates.

Evans & Sutherland Reunion 2010

What: Evans & Sutherland Reunion 2010
Date: Friday, June 25th, 2010
Time: 4:30 PM – 9:30 PM
Place: Sugar House Park
Lakeside Terrace Pavilion
South side of the lake
Please Bring: Any dish(es) you would like to share and your drinks, utensils, plates, etc.
Contact: Kate B. 484-7804 (h)
Judee E. 259-3655 (c)
Connie B. 583-1419 (h)

Invitation PDF

“History of NSA General-Purpose Electronic Digital Computers” (1964) just published a PDF version of this internal report on the history of general-purpose computers at the National Security Agency. Dated 1964, it provides lots of interesting information on early computers used by the NSA, both tube-based and transistor based. The NSA is the part of the US government responsible for cryptographic codes.

Teletype Love

Paul Cembura services and sells teletypes from his El Sobrante, CA location. Check out the photos of his stock. For the best atmosphere while you’re checking out the pictures of teletype parts and stock, listen to an ASR-33 teletype printing a document. Wikipedia has a nice article on the ASR-33 teletype. Chances are that when you see or hear a teletype in a television show or film, its an ASR-33. Teletypes have an interesting sort of steam punk feel to them as they are largely electromechanical devices, as opposed to CRT terminals which are largely electrical devices.

The Net@40: Visionary Robert W. Taylor in Conversation with NPR’s Guy Raz

As part of the Net@40 year-long celebration at the Computer History Museum, Bob Taylor and NPR’s Guy Raz will share a stage to discuss the origins of the personal computer revolution and computer networking. The discussion will be held at the Computer History Museum at 1401 N. Shoreline Blvd., Mountain View, CA on Thursday, May 13, 2010 at 7 PM. More details here.

Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”…. NES style