This piece of computer history launched 1,500 tweets.
The man in the photo (my husband, Tim) is holding an IBM Type 706 Williams-Kilburn Tube Electrostatic Memory drawer that we found in my grandfather's pole barn. (What's a pole barn? Basically, a really big shed.)
Before I tweeted this photo, Tim and I did some rough, back-of-the-envelope calculations to guess how much memory this circa-1954 hunk of valve and metal contained.
4K of IBM memory found in my grandpa's pole barn, captured in a 692K photo. #mindblown twitter.com/lturrentine/st...
— Lindsey Turrentine (@lturrentine) January 22, 2012
We estimated, based on what my grandfather could remember from his days as an IBM salesman, that the memory drawer stored 4 kilobytes of data.
Meanwhile, the tweet went nuts, going and going, and even making its way to the front page of Gizmodo. I'm not sure whether that counts as viral, but it's as close as I've gotten on Twitter.
So we decided to look for more information on the IBM 706, which IBM built in the mid-'50s to serve as a modular memory component for the IBM 701 computer, otherwise known as "The Defense Calculator" (a creepily Cold War name for a computer intended for scientific calculations).
The IBM 706 contains two so-called Williams Tubes, each handling 1,024 bits of memory adding up to 2,048 bits--roughly one quarter of the 1,024 bytes it takes to add up to a single kilobyte. (There are 8 bits in each byte of memory, bringing the 706 to a mere 256 bytes.) In other words, we were optimistic about the 706's capacity. The crazy machine in the picture held only one-quarter of a kilobyte of memory.… Read more