Ordering a Lisp machine

Just sent off the Paypal payment for a MacIvory II system with 2.6 MW of memory. I’m hoping also to get a Symbolics keyboard, although Symbolics is apparently out of the ADB box that allows the keyboard to be used with the vintage Macs.

It was a tough call whether to splurge for this or, for about twice the money, a new MacBook Pro. I’m hoping the Symbolics machine will be much more entertaining.

My main idea of a project is to use the Lisp Machine as a Chaos FILE host, in order to allow development on the CADR simulator with a versioned file system, without having to simulate and learn ITS or TOPS-20.  To get that to work, I probably will need to do a little bit of investigation to understand how the Symbolics box gets configured to talk on the network, what Chaos packets look like on the Ethernet, how to get those to my Python/Lisp code on the modern machine, and, for data security what would be needed to talk to a CD-ROM drive on a remote computer, or to use a remote computer to do backups (to a simulated tape drive?).  In order to get 2.6 MW of NuBus memory, I had to choose a Mac config without a CD-ROM drive, and I’m not too excited about trying to get an external SCSI drive for this old machine. Backing up to floppies is another thing I don’t want to relive.

Some other things I’m looking forward to are Zmail, Concordia (to generate HTML output, anyone?) and Document Examiner,  using CLIM, and grokking the Symbolics compiler(s).


4 Responses to “Ordering a Lisp machine”

  1. thekevinmackay Says:


    I google searched “communicating with GPIB synthesizer example code” and your blog came up on page 1. You must be prominent in the field. I envy your PhD.

    On a separate note, both my full name and e-mail address were “already in use” when I set up an account to leave this comment. Somebody has apparently set up a me blog behind my back. I hope there are not pictures…


  2. thekevinmackay Says:

    Oh, and whats a MW of memory?
    Sounds very powerful.

  3. jaoswald Says:

    MW is a “megaword”: the MacIvory uses a 40-bit word. The Lisp machines don’t address memory at the byte level; some of the bits were used to distinguish between address pointers, integers, machine instructions, and other data types. That allows the machine to automatically detect illegal array accesses and automatically manage dynamic memory allocation. Another 8 bits per word are used for ECC (error correction coding) to allow correction of single-bit errors. So a 8 megabyte memory board is 1.3 MW of MacIvory memory.

    I haven’t seen any compromising pictures of you on the web, yet.

  4. thekevinmackay Says:

    Cool. I just Wikipedia’d MacIvory to guess what you might be doing with one. Looks like dead technology. Are you self-training as a computer architect?

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