We Just Found the User Manual for the First Digital Computer Ever Built

These days, losing the manual for some piece of electronics you’ve purchased is notable mostly because you had a printed document to lose in the first place. In the dead-tree dominated days of yore, of course, this was less true. Documentation loss is a major problem in the effort to understand old computer systems, and it’s part of what drives ongoing data preservation efforts across the industry. Until recently, the Zuse Z4 could have been a poster child for this sort of problem.

The Z4 was the brainchild of Konrad Zuse, a German who deserves to be better known than he is for his early, groundbreaking work. Zuse had the misfortune to be making some of his biggest breakthroughs immediately prior to and during World War II. It was Zuse who designed the first high-level programming language from 1942 to 1945. This is remarkable because, as Wikipedia notes, Zuse had no training whatsoever in mechanical computing devices. He independently discovered both propositional calculus and lattice theory, calling them “combinatorics of conditionals” and “study of intervals,” respectively.

The Zuse Z4 is the oldest preserved digital computer in the world and arguably* the first digital computer. The Z4 was developed through the end of the war and was moved multiple times while under construction to keep it away from the advancing Soviet army. After the war, it was expanded and became the second digital computer in the world to be sold. The preserved model is on display at the Deutsches Museum in Munich and is pictured above.

Its documentation, however, was a different story. A recent blog post by the Association of Computing Machinery details how the rare documents were found. Archivist Evelyn Boesch, with ETH Zurich University, contacted Herbert Bruder of the ACM and informed him that her father, René Boesch, had kept a tranche of rare historical documents. These turned out to include a user manual for the Z4 Zuse, as well as notes on flutter calculations. Other documents, dated October 27, 1953, detail what the Z4 was working on. At the time, it was being used to perform flutter calculations on the Swiss FFA P-16 fighter aircraft, which was then in development. Details from the recovered documents show that it took the Z4 50 hours to simulate 2.4 seconds of flight time, which is slightly worse than the current version of Microsoft Flight Simulator.

The ACM blog post notes that “around 100 jobs were carried out with the Z4 between 1950 and 1955,” implying an average per-job computation time of about three weeks.

What We Learn From Manuals Like This

The recovered Z4 manual illustrates why this type of document preservation is so important. From their earliest days, computers were upgradeable — machines like ENIAC were outfitted with the equivalent of RAM upgrades and CPU improvements. In the Z4’s case, support for conditional jump instructions was added post-manufacture. The only problem was, nobody could remember exactly how the feature worked. ACM notes: “However, in a survey a few years ago, the few surviving eyewitnesses could not remember how it was executed.”


Page 8 of the manual provides this information. My German is rusty, my technical German is nonexistent, and frankly, the images are a bit tough to read, so I’m not going to try to translate exactly how the function worked. Without information like this, it would be impossible to precisely replicate or understand how the Z4 embodied or improved upon the computational capabilities of the time.

*The answer to “Who invented the first computer?” is essentially arbitrary and depends entirely on how you choose to define the term “computer.” The UK’s Colossus is declared the world’s first “programmable, electronic, digital computer,” by Wikipedia, but it was programmed by switches and plugs, not a stored program. The Z4 is considered to be the first commercial digital computer but it’s not electronic. The first electronic stored-program computer is the Manchester Baby, but Konrad Zuse’s earlier Z3 could store programs on tape — it just wasn’t electronic. Other obscure machines, like the Atanasoff-Berry Computer, were not Turing-complete and couldn’t store programs, but still contributed critical ideas to the development of computing.

Also, if you were taught that ENIAC was the first computer (or digital computer, or electronic digital computer, etc, ad nauseam), that’s more propaganda than fact. ENIAC was more directly based on machines like Colossus than was known at the time, because the wartime efforts of the British remained classified, while ENIAC was widely celebrated in the media.

Finally, reading up on the history of early computing is a good reminder of how many people, institutions, and companies contributed various technologies and principles to the field. One reason you can subdivide the question of “Who built the first computer” to such a fine degree is that there were so many “firsts” for someone to achieve. There was a time in the 1930s and 1940s when mechanical, electromechanical, and digital systems were sharing space and serious development dollars simultaneously. We don’t have anything remotely equivalent today, and even our wildest architectural departures from the x86 “norm” are still based on digital computing. That could change in the future, if Intel’s MESO architecture comes to fruition and proves capable of replacing CMOS in the long term.

But for now, the 1930s and 1940s represent a tremendously dynamic period in computing history that we don’t really have an equivalent for — though some of the quantum computing work is getting really interesting.

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If You Don’t Understand DevOps, This Training Can Get You Up To Speed

DevOps is a lot like that old story about how sharks die when they stop moving. While it’s actually mostly a myth, DevOps and those that practice the art belong to a job sector that lives under a constant innovate-or-die mentality.

Ideas must be generated. Prototypes must be refined. Improvements must be made. And it all has to happen yesterday.

To succeed in DevOps requires individuals who can not only move a product through that conveyor belt of development but ultimately watchdog and optimize the pace of that operation so nothing ever falls through the cracks.

The Dynamic DevOps Certification Training Bundle ($59.99, over 90 percent off) lays out the entire DevOps process, offering insight into the tools and techniques to become the person capable of directing a company’s full development chain.

The collection of nine courses packed with almost 50 hours of in-depth training can get your DevOps career underway, starting with the basics of moving from ideation to production with the introductory DevOps Training Certification course. Meanwhile, the Puppet Training Certification advances on that learning, explaining how the steps in the development pipeline can be automated into even sharper efficiency.

To truly understand the process, you also have to understand the tools, so separate courses focus on some of the most popular apps and procedures in the DevOps game, including Docker, Ansible, and GIT. And since Agile Scrum is the gold standard methodology for Agile fans, the Agile Scrum Master Certification Training adapts that process to the DevOps sequence.

Finally, the training finishes by examining how Amazon Web Services customers can use that service’s robust set of cloud-based features to refine development work. And with successful completion of the AWS Sysops Associate Certification Training, AWS Technical Essentials Certification Training, and AWS Solution Architect Certification Training courses, students will also have the expertise to earn some valuable AWS certifications to add to their resume as well.

This course package is regularly a $2,500 value, but right now, the whole collection is available now for just $39.

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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ET Deals: First Discounts On New Apple Watch Series 6 and 8th Gen Apple iPad

Apple’s recently released Watch Series 6 and 8th gen. iPad are now on sale for the first time.  Both of these devices bring a rich set of feature enhancements over their predecessors and can now be picked up with a $15 and $30 discount respectively.

Apple Watch Series 6 40mm GPS Smartwatch ($384.99)

Apple’s Series 6 smartwatch has built-in hardware for tracking your blood oxygen level and heart rate. These features as well as a built-in fitness tracker make the Watch Series 6 an excellent accessory for any exercise routine. This model is also up to 20 percent faster than its predecessor, the Watch Series 5. You can now get one of these watches from Amazon marked down from $399.00 to $384.99.

Apple iPad 8th Gen 32GB 10.2-Inch WiFi Tablet ($299.00)

Apple’s newest iPad is significantly faster than the older 7th Gen model. The new 8th Gen model comes equipped with the company’s A12 Bionic SoC that first appeared inside of the iPhone XS, and this chip far outstrips the A10 SoC in the older 7th Gen tablets. The 8th Gen tablet also has a slightly higher resolution screen and is in general an all-around enhanced version of its predecessor. Amazon is currently selling these new tablets marked down from $329.99 to just $299.00.

Dell Inspiron 15 5505 AMD Ryzen 7 4700U Laptop w/ AMD Ryzen RX Vega 10 Graphics, 8GB DDR4 RAM and 256GB NVMe SSD ($646.57)

This Dell Inspiron notebook comes equipped with an AMD Ryzen 7 4700U processor that has eight CPU cores that can run at up to 4.1GHz. This makes the system relatively fast and able to handle multiple programs with ease. It also has a capable iGPU that allows the system to run games with low graphics settings reasonably well. Currently you can get one of these systems from Dell marked down from $789.99 to just $646.57 with promo code SAVE17.

Dell Alienware Aurora R11 Intel Core i7-10700F Gaming Desktop w/ Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super, 16GB DDR4 RAM and 512GB NVMe SSD ($1,477.39)

If you’re looking for a gaming desktop, you can’t go wrong with one of Dell’s newly redesigned Alienware Aurora R11 PCs. This version of the Aurora features an Intel Comet Lake Core i7-10700F CPU as well as an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super graphics card to give it all the performance it needs to run modern games with maxed out graphics settings. Currently with promo code SAVE17 you can get this system from Dell marked down from $1,779.99 to just $1,477.39.

iRobot Roomba i7+ 7550 Robot Vacuum w/ Automatic Dirt Disposal ($799.00)

If you’ve used a robot vacuum before, you may have found the need to empty its small dust bin a frequent nuisance. With the Roomba i7+, this becomes a significantly less bothersome chore, as the robot is able to empty its dust bin into one 30 times larger located in its charging base. Currently, you can get it from Amazon marked down from $999.99 to $799.00.

Dell S2721QS 27″ 4K IPS Monitor ($339.99)

Dell’s S2721QS is a 27-inch monitor that sports a 4K IPS panel with HDR and FreeSync support. The monitor can also be used for detailed video editing work as it covers 99% of the sRGB color gamut, and it also has a built-in pair of 3W speakers. Currently Dell is selling these monitors marked down from $449.99 to $339.99.

Note: Terms and conditions apply. See the relevant retail sites for more information. For more great deals, go to our partners at TechBargains.com.

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