Last week, Reddit user c-wizz posted several images of what he called “old computers” on the vintage computing subreddit. Among the pictures were several PDP-8/es and an LGP-30. Both models date from the 1950s. However, the LGP-30 is notable for its connection to The Story of Mel.
The Story of Mel is a computer programming legend written by Ed Nather and published on Usenet in 1983. The story describes the travails of Mel Kaye, a computer programmer of exceptional skill. In the story, Kaye does the “bulk of his programming” on an LGP-30. He accidentally uses the machine to recode a blackjack program so that it wins and the human player loses every game. When Nather was asked to fix Kaye’s mistake, he discovered an infinite loop controlled by self-modifying code. As Kaye puts it in the story, “If a program can’t rewrite its own code, what good is it?” Nather was so impressed by the feat of software engineering that he refused to fix the bug.
“If a program can’t rewrite its own code, what good is it?”
Nather’s story became so popular among computer programmers in the 1980’s that it has been republished countless times over the decades and is still the subject of study by programmers and hackers today.
The LGP-30 itself is also a piece of computer history. It was one of the very first commercially available computers that private individuals could buy and use. Only 45 examples were made, and the retail price of the early personal computer was $47,000 (almost half a million dollars in today’s value). Only a handful of the devices are known in computer museums today. So it really is a rare find.
Other notable users of the LGP-30 include meteorologist Edward Lorenz’s development of the strange attractor, the butterfly effect, and the chaos theory.
This particular unit of the LGP-30 is probably not the one referenced in The Story of Mel, but it’s not impossible. However, just finding one of them in the wild was enough to capture the imagination of users on Reddit – a testament to the long-lasting impact of Nather’s programming epic.
Source: Ars Technica
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