I remember when computers were much simpler. Let me suggest a few reasons why we should perhaps maintain our memory of those simple systems—perhaps even build and program some simple computers.

Information is Power

Today (2015) there is a terrible political storm brewing concerning who computing devices are loyal to. More than one government has asked for backdoors into our computers. I here join the resistance to that goal, even while admitting some logic to the arguments for such doors. Security and complexity are antagonistic. Perhaps complex software systems can limit vulnerabilities to simple subsets of software, but today that art is not commercially available.


If plague, war or astroids reset our technology to 1900, it would be nice to have a few books to short-cut the long road back to now. The key insight is from the essay Nobody Knows How to Make a Pencil. How much worse is it with today’s computers?


In 1953 you could explain in a few hours to a smart high school graduate everything that was needed to program an IBM 701. The student would need to keep notes or more likely consult a short manual afterwards. Today that is not possible. Today’s computers have made some important progress over the 701 aside from more and faster circuits. This progress does not add much to those few hours of instruction.

The new simple computer would be accessible to the curious and attentive layman.

There is an orthogonal component to this quest: the hardware. Perhaps the discrete transistor is actually easier to build in 1900 than the vacuum tube. Some form of memory technology is needed too. The tale of the pencil is even more relevant here. here