True tales of IT life are Sharky’s stock in trade, but the real people in them don’t normally get named. This tale, however, comes from a pilot fish who heard it as a lad from Bob Coveyou, a noted mathematician who worked at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) with fish’s father, and he’s worth mentioning because the tale involves what may well have been a computing first.
The tale is from the early 1950s, when Bob was one of several scientists who wrote programs for a unique computer at ORNL called ORACLE, or Oak Ridge Automatic Computer and Logical Engine. Like other
computers of that era, it had enough vacuum tubes to fill a room. It also had a couple dozen cathode-ray tubes for its memory. Each CRT could store 1,024 binary digits (bits) of electrostatic memory in the form of a 32-by-32 array of charged dots spaced a fraction of an inch apart on the tube’s flat face.
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