<< preface

this blog is nina wenhart's collection of resources on the various histories of new media art. it consists mainly of non or very little edited material i found flaneuring on the net, sometimes with my own annotations and comments, sometimes it's also textparts i retyped from books that are out of print.

it is also meant to be an additional resource of information and recommended reading for my students of the prehystories of new media class that i teach at the school of the art institute of chicago in fall 2008.

the focus is on the time period from the beginning of the 20th century up to today.

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>> Manchester Mark I


M. U. C."

"Loveletters" is a programm, that writes love poems on its own. Originally written by Christopher Strachey in 1952 and distributed at the campus of Manchester University, David Link wrote an emulator to run the programme in its original form.

More about it: http://www.computer50.org/

emulator by David Link:

The acronym “M.U.C.” stood for “Manchester University Computer”, the earliest electronic, programmable, and universal calculating machine; the fully functional prototype was completed in June 1948.[3] One of the very first software developers, Christopher Strachey (1916–1975), had used the built-in random generator of the Ferranti Mark I, the first industrially produced computer of this kind, to generate texts that are intended to express and arouse emotions. The British physicist performed this experiment a full thirteen years before the appearance of Joseph Weizenbaum’s ELIZA, which is commonly — and mistakenly — held to be the earliest example of computer-generated texts.[4]

Using numerous resources I found on the internet, I constructed an emulator of the Ferranti Mark I, and ran Strachey’s original programme on it, which is preserved in his papers held by the Bodleian Library in Oxford.[5] Thus the following analysis of how the hard- and software functions is not only based on theoretical consideration of the subject matter, but equally on transforming “thought into being and put its trust in the absolute difference” during the long and arduous reconstruction of the details, and to “stretching it [the mind] on the rack in order to perfect it as a machine”.[6]

Programme of a Love-letter

After studying mathematics and physics at King’s College, Cambridge, during the war Christopher Strachey worked for Standard Telephones and Cables Ltd. in London on electron tubes for centimetric radar. In this work he made use of the differential analyser invented by Vannevar Bush, which awakened his interest in computers.[7] After the capitulation of Germany, Strachey became a teacher. In January 1951 a friend introduced him to Mike Woodger of the National Physical Laboratory (NPL). The lab had successfully built a reduced version of Turing’s automatic calculating engine (ACE) the concept of which dated from 1945: the Pilot ACE. In May 1950 the first computations were performed on this machine. After the meeting with Woodger, in his spare time Strachey developed a programme for the game of draughts, which he finished in February 1951. The game completed exhausted the Pilot ACE’s memory. The draughts programme ran for the first time on 30 July 1951 at NPL, and developed into an early attempt at getting a computer to write its own programme, so-called auto-coding.

When Strachey heard about the Manchester Mark I, which had a much bigger memory, he asked his former fellow-student Alan Turing for the manual, transcribed his programme into the operation codes of that machine by around October 1951, and was given permission to run it on the computer.

“Strachey sent his programme for punching beforehand. The programme was about 20 pages long (over a thousand instructions), and the naiveté of a first-time user attempting a programme of such length caused not a little amusement among the programmers in the laboratory. Anyway, the day came and Strachey loaded his programme into the Mark I. After a couple of errors were fixed, the programme ran straight through and finished by playing “God Save the King” on the “hooter” (loudspeaker). On that day Strachey acquired a formidable reputation as a programmer that he never lost.”[8]

Because of this achievement, the National Research and Development Corporation (NRDC) offered Strachey the post of technical officer the following month. Figure 2 shows the general structure of the Love-letters software, in Strachey’s handwriting, that he developed in June 1952 along with two other small projects soon after joining NRDC. [9]

Apart from position commands like carriage return (“CR”), line forward (“LF”), and spaces (“spaces” or “sp”), the algorithm prints two salutations (“Add.” = address). Then it enters a loop, which is carried out “5 times” and, depending on a random variable (“Rand”), follows one of two alternative paths. One generates a sentence following the syntactic skeleton “You are my — Adjective (adj) — Substantive (noun)”; the other path gives “My — [Adjective] — Substantive — [Adverb (adv)] — Verb (verb) — Your — [Adjective] — Substantive” (the static words are underlined, the optional words are in square brackets). The first sentence of the example given at the beginning of this chapter follows the first scheme, and the second sentence follows the other. Each phrase ends with a “Full stop”. After the programme leaves the loop, it closes with the ending “Yours — Adverb (in the schematic this is given erroneously as “Adj”) — MUC.

>> the machine that changed the world - part 2: inventing the future

Thanks to www.waxy.org for digitizing and uploading these videos!

>> the machine that changed the world - part 1: giant brains

>> Vinyl Video


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... is a Media Art historian and independent researcher. She is currently writing on "speculative archiving && experimental preservation of Media Art" and graduated from Prof. Oliver Grau's Media Art Histories program at the Danube University in Krems, Austria with a Master Thesis on Descriptive Metadata for Media Arts. For many years, she has been working in the field of archiving/documenting Media Art, recently at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Media.Art.Research and before as the head of the Ars Electronica Futurelab's videostudio, where she created their archives and primarily worked with the archival material. She was teaching the Prehystories of New Media Class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and in the Media Art Histories program at the Danube University Krems.