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Olivetti Programma 101 “Perottina” (curtamania.com)
49 points by bootload on Jan 22, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 14 comments

I used one of those as an undergrad. It was really a programmable calculator. It was incredibly slow for an all-electronic device; square roots took seconds. You could write simple programs for it and get homework done, though.

It was beautiful. Olivetti had great industrial design in the 1960s and 1970s. Their typewriters and calculators were works of art, and you can often find them today in the collections of major modern art museums. Olivetti tried to get into computers, and even had a good-looking IBM PC clone. The nice design didn't help.

The Mathatron came out a year earlier, in 1963. (http://www.oldcalculatormuseum.com/math8-48mII.html) Unlike the Programma 101, the Mathatron had trig functions built-in. The Mathatron had enough compute power that they offered a remote-access shared programmable calculator with a phone modem. (http://www.amazon.com/Wright-Mathatron-Computer-Calculator-M...)

The shared-calculator approach reached its peak with the Control Data Remote Calculator. (http://www.oldcalculatormuseum.com/a-cdc-11-65.html) This was a scheme to have 2000 calculators share a CDC 6600 mainframe computer, an excellent supercomputer of the 1960s. It was not successful, and surplus units appeared in the movies Soylent Green, Westworld, and Marooned.

None of these were very powerful, but the alternative at the time was slide rules and trig tables.

"It was incredibly slow for an all-electronic device"

It wasn't all-electronic; that memory used _sound_waves_ to store bits. That six meters of wire probably meant that reading a word, worst-case, took about a ms (assuming a fairly generous sound speed of 6km/s), and about every instruction read from and wrote to that storage. This being the first of its kind, the implementation probably would be worst-case for both reading and writing (wait for the 'start of memory' marker, count bits until the ones needed come along)

And of course, it had to read its instructions from the same wire. I guess 500 instructions per second would be an exaggeration of its performance.

I started wondering how one would reliably store a bit in about a microsecond of audio in the 1960s in a device that doesn't require continuous tuning.

Google led me to http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delay_line_memory#Magnetostri.... It isn't audio, but a torsional wave, and Wikipedia claims a delay in the order of half a millisecond.

The key difference is that the Mathatron was not reprogrammable, according to that link. It would come preprogrammed with some programs in ROM, and that was it.

>Olivetti tried to get into computers, and even had a good-looking IBM PC clone. The nice design didn't help.

The M24 [1] worked well too. It had a good display, particularly with the black and white monitor. An OEM Logitech mouse could be plugged into the keyboard.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olivetti_M24

I agree about Olivetti's designs. I could tell they were something special even as a child, and wrote a bit about it here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8860920

Olivetti seems like an Apple of the day. They had a nice blend of engineering and design, all for the purpose of making the desktop enjoyable and productive.

I recently found this blog entry showing a lot of beautiful ideas http://ceciliapolidoritwicedesign2.blogspot.fr/2011/12/sotts...

The story of Olivetti is another sad story of great business created by visionary people like Adriano Olivetti, and destroyed by the same old ignorant people that run the country.

When Olivetti was in financial troubles, a task force of government people and people from other industries (FIAT, cited in the video at "https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oYB2oBc1BpA", linked in another post) gathered together not to help Olivetti, but just to sell it.

They just did not understand what they were dealing with.

Are you aware of a documentary in the English language on Olivetti?

There is a great documentary on this. Unfortunately Youtube only has the Italian version (not that there is anything wrong with Italian). I have seen it in English (narration and subtitles, so it's out there, somewhere).


I learned programming on one of those. It had a magnetic card to store your programs. You could connect it to an electric Olivetti typewriter. Imagine that, a real affordable printer back then!

The Olivetti-Underwood Programma 101 was the first computer I ever programmed before graduating to the "big iron" of Fortran on punchcards fed into a mainframe.

There is a Programma 101 on display at the Computer History Museum a couple of blocks from the Googleplex. I was walking along a glass display cabinet with my kids, saying, "I used that one, and I owned that one, and that one...," when there it was in all its ancient glory.

We had one of these at school, I don't remember much apart from the fact the teacher didn't have a clue what to do with it. It was about the same time I got a TI programmable calculator which was my real introduction to programming.

stumbled on this reading <https://www.hackerschool.com/blog/67-announcing-eight-new-re... and discovered this machine was 'first programming project' for 'Robert Lefkowitz' (r0ml)

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