blinkenlights

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blinkenlights /blink'n-litz/ /n./ Front-panel diagnostic
lights on a computer, esp. a dinosaur. Derives from the last word of the famous blackletter-Gothic sign in mangled pseudo-German that once graced about half the computer rooms in the English-speaking world. One version ran in its entirety as follows:

                   ACHTUNG!  ALLES LOOKENSPEEPERS!  Das
     computermachine ist nicht fuer gefingerpoken und mittengrabben.
     Ist easy schnappen der springenwerk, blowenfusen und poppencorken
     mit spitzensparken.  Ist nicht fuer gewerken bei das dumpkopfen.
     Das rubbernecken sichtseeren keepen das cotten-pickenen hans in
     das pockets muss; relaxen und watchen das blinkenlichten.
This silliness dates back at least as far as 1959 at Stanford University and had already gone international by the early 1960s, when it was reported at London University's ATLAS computing site. There are several variants of it in circulation, some of which actually do end with the word `blinkenlights'.

In an amusing example of turnabout-is-fair-play, German hackers have developed their own versions of the blinkenlights poster in fractured English, one of which is reproduced here:

                              ATTENTION
     This room is fullfilled mit special electronische equippment.
     Fingergrabbing and pressing the cnoeppkes from the computers is
     allowed for die experts only!  So all the "lefthanders" stay away
     and do not disturben the brainstorming von here working
     intelligencies.  Otherwise you will be out thrown and kicked
     anderswhere!  Also: please keep still and only watchen
     astaunished the blinkenlights.
See also geef.

Old-time hackers sometimes get nostalgic for blinkenlights because they were so much more fun to look at than a blank panel. Sadly, very few computers still have them (the three LEDs on a PC keyboard certainly don't count). The obvious reasons (cost of wiring, cost of front-panel cutouts, almost nobody needs or wants to interpret machine-register states on the fly anymore) are only part of the story. Another part of it is that radio-frequency leakage from the lamp wiring was beginning to be a problem as far back as transistor machines. But the most fundamental fact is that there are very few signals slow enough to blink an LED these days! With slow CPUs, you could watch the bus register or instruction counter tick, but at 33/66/150MHz it's all a blur.


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