Saturday, August 07, 2004

in the name of the cathode, the anode, and the holy grid

Secrets of ENIAC:
The Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) was among the very first computers—some say it was the first, though there are competing claims. Built at Penn from 1942 to1946, its work was the most prosaic imaginable: calculating missile ballistics and later helping with the design of the hydrogen bomb....For someone who came of age in the second half of the computer revolution, the immediately surprising thing about ENIAC is its physicality. It is a machine in the most literal sense, built from huge metal boxes, massive cables, thick copper wires joined by gobs of solder, panels full of dials, bank upon bank of vacuum tubes. Looking again, the second surprise is the beauty and intricacy of its individual parts. A single tube, responsible for just one numeral in a decimal ring counter, contains a thicket of wires, planes, and baffles. If you peer very closely, a microcosm of strange and enigmatic scenes begins to unfold. These images of ENIAC express the wonder I felt when, as a child, I came to understand what a computer is: not just a calculating machine, but a tool for amplifying imagination, making it possible to weave structures of pure abstract symbols and see them rendered as concrete things, real places. This is pure magic.
V., p. 404:
In his electro-mysticism, the triode was as basic as the cross in Christianity. Think of the ego, the self that suffers a personal history bound to time, as the grid. The deeper and true Self is the flow between cathode and plate. The constant, pure flow. Signlas--sense-data, feelings, memories relocating--are put onto the grid, and modulate the flow. We live lives that are waveforms constantly changing with time, now positive, now negative. Only at moments of great serenity is it possible to find the pure, the informationless sttate of signal zero.

"In the name of the cathode, the anode, and the holy grid?"