A rare discovery: Redditor finds vintage computer systems from 1956 and 1970 in their grandparents' basement
On November 7, a Redditor named c-wizz announced on r/vintagecomputing that he had discovered two ancient, rare computer systems in their grandparents' basement.
The first was LGP-30, short for "Librascope General Purpose 30", first manufactured in 1956, for $47,000, which is about $512,866 today, Ars Technica reported. According to Time-Line Computer Archive, the computer is one of only 45 manufactured in Europe. c-wizz also found several PDP-8/e computers, released in 1970, and originally sold for $6,500.
The LGP-30 was developed by Stan Frankel, one of the first programmers of the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer. The desk computer had only a minimal amount of hardware, with an instruction set of 16 commands. The LPG-30 included a rotating magnetic drum memory that could store 4,069 31-bit words; it also comprised 113 vacuum tubes, and 1,450 solid-state diodes, according to Masswerk.at. It used conventional office power and didn't need air conditioning.
So, how did c-wizz's grandparents come to possess these?
"The only thing I know is that my grandfather used it for some civil engineering calculations in the 60s and that he was one of only a handful of people in the country that privately owned such a computer," he responded to another Redditor.
LGP-30 was part of hackerdom's most heroic epics
Users who have commented are quick to mention the epic "The Story of Mel", one of hackerdom's great heroic epics. The story was posted to Usenet by its author, Ed Nather on May 21, 1983.
Turns out Melwin Kaye, a Librascope programmer, had to port a Blackjack program from the LGP-30 to another computer. The author, Nather, had to find a bug in the software, and chances upon Kaye's programming ideas. Edward Norton Lorenz, an American mathematician, and meteorologist also mentioned for developing of the butterfly effect and chaos theory - they were developed as a result of experiments done on the LGP-30.
One of the users asked c-wizz if they had found any manuals. To which he said: "I actually found a binder with documentation on the ACT-III compiler and memory layout. And there seem to be some instructions on how to transfer code written for the LGP-30 to the PDP8\E." They also responded to another comment stating: "There seem to be more modules belonging to the PDP/8E's as well. There is a whole 19" inch rack where all of this is supposed to be mounted in. Maybe I can find some manuals and try to put it all together..."
Another Reddit user mentioned that they too had an LGP-30, which was undergoing a "long-term" restoration. "One thing to be very careful of is the drum. The spacing between the heads and oxide surface is extremely tight and with age, the heads can make contact due to expansion," they wrote.
c-wizz has plans with his rare find. "It would truly be awesome if someone can get this thing operational again! I found a museum in Germany (where I'm from) that apparently has a working LGP-30. I think I'll reach out to them," he wrote in a comment.
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