90 points by kristianp 3 months ago
I would love to get my hands on an old Lisp machine, just to play with it. While there's obviously nothing pragmatic about using one of them nowadays, I think they're an incredibly interesting footnote in computing history, and I always like to think about the "what if?" universe where Lisp-centric architectures were the norm.
This is why I'm keeping an eye on this project. https://makerlisp.com/
I work at a company that's been using Lisp since the 80s, and we have an old Lisp machine serving as a coffee table/conversation piece in our entry area :)
Heh, I got Doug to switch from D-machines to MIT-style (and those symbolics machines, as it happens) back in, what, 85 or 86. I'd been using Interlisp at PARC as well of course CADRs and Symbolics machines at various places including MIT, and was somewhat opinionated on the topic.
The symbolics service office was across the hall from me so I got extremely fast service when needed (I had two in my office, one with, gasp a color screen).
If you're in the NYC area I'd like to see that; for that matter, I'd like to see any company that's been using Lisp since the 80's...clearly their engineers have good taste.
Alas, we're in Austin (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyc). I just checked and the exact machine is a Symbolics 3630.
whoa! Cyc is still around? As in Lenat's ontology of everything project?
It managed to cling to life by converting into a counterterrorism project and allowing itself to be funded by the Department of Homeland Security.
I think it's been over a decade since we've done work for the government, but yeah, one does find a disproportionate amount of terrorism-related facts popping up when combing the knowledge base, sometimes yielding comedic results when Cyc is asked very open-ended questions.
Does Cyc still claim that the reason for going to the dentist was to have DazzlinglyWhiteTeeth?
Last time I checked you could get a 3600 for around 3.5k. While not as cool, you can get DEC Alphas for a lot cheaper and I'm told they run OpenGenera pretty well. You might be able to actually use an Alpha for "real" work, as well.
There is also port of OpenGenera to 64bit linux.
As for the real work on Alpha: 10 years ago my desk had generic PC, DEC PWS443au and Ultra 5. The PWS was perfectly usable for most of the daily work back then, but then software got bloated pretty quickly :(
And if you are going to get Alpha: it requires PS/2 keyboard that really supports the whole PS/2 protocol and does not work with "AT keyboard with PS/2 connector", which is what about half of what existing "PS/2" keyboards really are.
From personal experience, the Linux port of OpenGenera isn’t very stable.
I bought a MacIvory from David Schmidt about a decade ago. He's a little hard to get ahold of and based near Washington DC: http://www.symbolics-dks.com/
My memory is fuzzy, but I seem to remember paying about $2k for the MacIvory.
Why not try one of the emulators ?
I have, and those are fun, but there's something really satisfying with playing with old hardware like that.
> I have, and those are fun, but there's something really satisfying with playing with old hardware like that.
I'm sorry to inform you that you probably have an unhealthy interest in wirewrapping and should probably seek help. :)
On another note, I was overly fond of those old CADR keyboards and would probably spend an irrational amount of money if someone were to bring them back. The ctrl-meta-super-hyper keyset at the bottom of the boards was a much more consistent theme than the mishmash that we're all stuck with in the modern age.
These guys make a lot of limited run keyboards and have thought of doing a space cadet kbd: http://kono.store/ . If enough people express interest they'll launch a KS to fund it (they've done quite a few so their track record is pretty good).
I wouldn't want a clone of the specific space cadet -- the board flexed too much making it a tiny bit spongey. But a modern clone need not have that problem, and need not have such an absurdly high profile.
The only wire-wrapped machines Symbolics shipped were CADRs; all their own designs were PCBs.
I'm with you. Some older hardware often not only has a nice aesthetic and impressiveness, but it also has functional details that are lost in emulators/ports/etc.
That said, one can get a lot of neat experience by playing with things like a Common Lisp implementation with SLIME, or even really learning your way around Emacs Lisp development (it's long had some pretty powerful programming tools for a dynamic environment). Similarly, something like Squeak can give you a lot of the Smalltalk-80 dynamic environment experience.
If you want to play with Lisp power of syntax extension and minilanguages/DSLs, CL or Emacs Lisp will let you do that with things like `defmacro`. Racket (which is not as dynamic) has a spin I like even more, emphasizing things like `syntax-case` and `syntax-parse`, along with `#lang`, and a solid integration with the module&phase system.
(A sad story: When I was a teen, one day in the entryway of a CS department, (coincidentally taking an OOP class in C++ and Smalltalk) there were pallets or carts stacked with then-vintage Tektronix machines and maybe some TI machines, like the kind that likely ran Smalltalk and/or Lisp. I stopped and gazed wistfully, but I was super-busy, and didn't go ask the sysadmin how I could give some of them a good home. Now I kick myself, like you never forget that time you realized after it was too late that your crush was interested, and you wonder what might have been.)
A while back I picked up a copy of "LISP Lore: A Guide to Programming the LISP Machine" at Goodwill, for $1
The Lisp dialect is dated, and the code isn't runnable on a modern machine, but it's still interesting to see the Lisp idioms and techniques used, the API design, etc.
After I finally bought a copy (at a pretty expensive price), someone uploaded a version to the Internet Archive:
Maybe one could build a retro Lisp machine keyboard using the same modular parts as: https://old.reddit.com/r/MechanicalKeyboards/
I'd pay good money for one. If anyone does this, please let me know.
I think this is totally possible to do as DIY, as seen in that subreddit. :) Anyway, probably someone will do it first, and post a photo series of the steps, and then more who want a new and sustainable Lisp power-user keyboard will be inspired to do it.
I have a friend in Mountain View with a bunch of symbolics machines in his garage. He's in the process of moving house so wants to get rid of them soon. Anybody who wants to give one a good home and can pick one up from Mountain View let me know and I can put you in touch.
I have been actively repairing and reverse engineering a number of lisp machines from Symbolics- including original L and G machines (36xx).
I have working disk emulation, ‘breath of life’ for bringing up new system disks, and a number of folks can probably attest I’m the best home to preserve these long term.
I can arrange pickup.
I also will keep the systems together, safe from keyboard collectors.
Please, get me in touch with your friend.
My love of these systems and desire to properly preserve them runs deep: [email protected]
I forwarded this comment to Phil.
I can pick up in Mountain View immediately, cmh at mac dot com.
I'd be interested. Username @ googles public email service...