What did computers without screens do?

Ian S. King isking at uw.edu
Mon Dec 14 16:16:38 CST 2015

And think of all the PDP-8s *still* buried in the control units of
factories across the world.  The majority of these machines had no
displays, not even teleprinters.  Some had custom controls wired in through
stock or custom modules, and some had no more "UI" than the front panel
("set switches 2 and 3 to the 'on' position and press the 'run' key").
Some didn't even have that - the stock 8/m was a turnkey system.  The
reasoning was the same as that behind the microcontroller replacing the
555: complex behavior could be modeled in software rather than intricate
analog elements, and it was easy to change things if you needed to (e.g.,
if you changed out an instrument or effector.  -- Ian

On Mon, Dec 14, 2015 at 12:16 PM, Ethan Dicks <ethan.dicks at gmail.com> wrote:

> On Mon, Dec 14, 2015 at 2:05 PM, Mike <tulsamike3434 at gmail.com> wrote:
> >> On Dec 14, 2015, at 12:34 PM, Chuck Guzis <cclist at sydex.com> wrote:
> >>
> >> The subject brought up the thought of how many display-less computers
> we encounter every day without giving it a thought.  I think that probably
> 100 would be a safe bet.
> >> Looking over past this screen, I see my network hub, mouse, keyboard
> and heaven knows how many display-less computers inside the actual shell of
> my PC.
> >
> > .... if you think about it almost everything we touch has some kind of a
> computer cycle! ! ! GREAT POINT!!!
> Even lighting... I've pulled (and reused!) 8-pin PIC microcontrollers
> out of discarded emergency lighting.  "In the old days", a switching
> supply might have a 555 timer for an oscillator.  These days, an 8-pin
> uC is cheap ($0.75 or far less) and allows the behavior to be changed
> without a soldering iron, or allows the hardware design to be
> completed and sent out for manufacture before the software is
> complete.  If you want to change the frequency of a 555 oscillator,
> you have to design in a potentiometer or remove and install different
> value components.  If you want to change the frequency of a uC
> oscillator, you reprogram it (or if you have enough pins, design in
> some removable jumpers).
> Short version is, even the cheap and simple 555 has been replaced in
> many products with a cheap-as-or-cheaper-than microcontroller, not
> because it's simpler, but because it allows for greater flexibility
> and reduces the overall product cost.
> -ethan

Ian S. King, MSIS, MSCS, Ph.D. Candidate
The Information School <http://ischool.uw.edu>
Dissertation: "Why the Conversation Mattered: Constructing a Sociotechnical
Narrative Through a Design Lens

Archivist, Voices From the Rwanda Tribunal <http://tribunalvoices.org>
Value Sensitive Design Research Lab <http://vsdesign.org>

University of Washington

There is an old Vulcan saying: "Only Nixon could go to China."

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