Xerox Alto’s 3 Mb/s Ethernet: Building a gateway with a BeagleBone


Ken Shirriff documented his experience building a gateway using the BeagleBone single-board computer to communicate with the Alto’s Ethernet we covered previously:

I decided to build a gateway that would allow the Alto to communicate with a modern system. The gateway would communicate with the Alto using its obsolete 3Mb/s Ethernet, but could also communicate with the outside world. This would let us network boot the Alto, transfer files to and from the Alto and backup disks. I expected this project to take a few weeks, but it ended up taking a year.

See the full post at Ken Shirriff’s blog.

Bitcoin mining on a vintage Xerox Alto computer


Ken Shirriff writes:

I’ve been restoring a Xerox Alto minicomputer from the 1970s and figured it would be interesting to see if it could mine bitcoins. I coded up the necessary hash algorithm in BCPL (the old programming language used by the Alto) and found that although the mining algorithm ran, the Alto was so slow that it would take many times the lifetime of the universe to successfully mine bitcoins.
The Alto was a revolutionary computer designed at Xerox PARC in 1973 to investigate personal computing. It introduced high-resolution bitmapped displays, the GUI, Ethernet and laser printers to the world, among other things. In the photo above, the Alto computer is in the lower cabinet. The black box is the 2.5 megabyte disk drive. The Alto’s unusual portrait display and an early optical mouse are on top.

See the full post and more details on his blog,

“Hello world” in the BCPL language on the Xerox Alto simulator


Ken Shirriff writes:

The first programming language for the Xerox Alto was BCPL, the language that led to C. This article shows how to write a BCPL “Hello World” program using Bravo, the first WYSIWYG text editor, and run it on the Alto simulator.
The Xerox Alto is the legendary minicomputer from 1973 that helped set the direction for personal computing. Since I’m helping restore a Xerox Alto (details), I wanted to learn more about BCPL programming. (The influential Mesa and and Smalltalk languages were developed on the Alto, but those are a topic for another post.)

Full details at Ken Shirriff’s blog.