Xerox Alto Source Code Released

Over at the Computer History Museum, they’ve managed to get the Xerox Alto source code released. The Xerox Alto was a huge step forward in bringing computer graphics into the service of the ordinary user with its desktop metaphor for interacting with computer resources. Getting the source code for the system and making it publicly available is giving you the ability to travel back in time and see state-of-the-art systems from the inside.

Browse the source code.

2014 Evans & Sutherland Employee Reunion June 27th in Salt Lake City

Every year the employees of Evans & Sutherland have a reunion picnic in Sugar House Park in Salt Lake City, UT. This year the picnic will be on June 27th, 2014. They usually take a big group photo of those who attend.

2014 Evans & Sutherland Employee Reunion Invitation

If you know of other computer graphics companies that hold employee reunions, please let the museum know and we’ll be happy to post notices for those as well.

“The Engineering Design Revolution” by David E. Weisberg

I just stumbled across this free book today, “The Engineering Design Revolution: The People, Companies and Computer Systems That Changed Forever the Practice of Engineering”, by David E. Weisberg. It looks interesting and I will be reading it shortly. While I’ve always been interested in computer graphics, I wasn’t working in the field when computer graphics was being established as a distinct engineering area in the 1970s and 1980s.

Nice Direct View Storage Tube Demonstration

Over at davebr’s “My Tektronix Memories” page, he has a really great video of the Tektronix 4010 terminal demonstrating various features of the DISSPLA graphics software. This is a video taken of the screen of the terminal as it renders the demonstration file at 2400 baud. This gives you a very good representation of what using these terminals was like. You watched a bright spot move across the screen as it stroked the graphics onto the storage tube. If you look carefully, you can see the alphanumeric cursor blinking in the lower left side of the screen as the file transmits a bunch of NUL characters to the terminal in order to implement a delay in the presentation. The bright full-screen flash is the mechanism used to erase the screen before drawing the next picture.

Scanning Documents with Limited Colors for Optical Character Recognition

I scan a lot of documentation for BitSavers. Sometimes the documentation has a limited use of color, such as red text highlighting user input, and so-on. Eventually, scanned documents on bitsavers will be run through an optical character recognition (OCR) program. High resolution bitonal (on or off, single bit per pixel) images work best for the OCR process. However, scanning a document with limited use of color in bitonal form means that the limited color highlighting present in the original document is lost. This can be particularly confusing when the original document mixed highlighted text and black text in the same example. In this blog post, I’ll describe how I scan these documents in a manner that preserves the original limited use of color and also keeps the document ready for OCR.

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Stitching Partial Scans of Oversize Documents

Sometimes when I encounter vintage computing documentation, the source material I find is a photocopy of an original manual. Recently, while making one final trip to The Black Hole before it closed for good, I found a photocopied manual for a Tektronix 4953/4954 graphics tablet. The manual included the service information for the tablet. For Tektronix products of this period, the service information includes oversize pages that have schematic diagrams of the electronics. Because the manual was a photocopy, the person who made the copies attempted to get the entire diagram by placing various portions of the oversize sheet on the letter size copy area of the photocopier and making several copies to cover the entire diagram.

As I scanned the photocopied pages for BitSavers, I came to the last few pages and realized that they were pieces of a larger diagram. I used the free Microsoft Research ICE (Image Composite Editor) to process the pieces into a single unified stitched image. In the past I had tried the open source utility hugin, but it was always very tedious and time consuming to stitch together a single image from multiple scans. With hugin, I always had to perform several trial stitches before I had a composite that meshed properly from all my individual scans. With ICE, I simply drag the individual images onto it’s window and within seconds I have a high quality composite that I can save back out for inclusion in the final PDF.

See the results for yourself by looking at the last two pages of the Tektronix 4953/4954 Graphics Tablet Instruction Manual on BitSavers. You’ll notice that there are a few little bits missing around the edges of the individual scans; these are areas that are not present in the original photocopied pages.

JetBrains Donates PHPStorm License to Manx Project

JetBrains has graciously donated a license of PHPStorm, a PHP integrated development environment, to the Manx project. JetBrains supported open source projects like Manx with free licenses to their product. Thanks, JetBrains!

I’ve used other JetBrains products before, such as ReSharper, a productivity add-on for C# development in Visual Studio, and IntelliJ Idea, a Java development environment. I recommend both of these products highly!