Software as Hardware: Apollo’s Rope Memory

Programs for the Apollo Guidance Computer were encoded by painstakingly threading wires through tiny magnetic cores

2 min read
Photo by Mark Richards/Computer History Museum
Photo: Mark Richards/Computer History Museum

Alan Kay, the pioneering computer scientist, has observed that “hardware is really just software crystallized early.” The rope memory device shown here, a prototype created in 1963 by Burroughs Corp. [PDF], makes Kay’s point. In rope memory, bits of information are represented by threads of wire and tiny doughnut-shaped magnetic cores. A core with wire threaded through the center represents a 1; an empty core represents a 0. In this way, the pattern of wires can form a computer program—software crystallized as hardware, in other words.

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The Godfather of South Korea’s Chip Industry

How Kim Choong-Ki helped the nation become a semiconductor superpower

15 min read
A man in a dark suit, bald with some grey hair, leans against a shiny blue wall, in which he is reflected.

Kim Choong-Ki, now an emeritus professor at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, was the first professor in South Korea to systematically teach semiconductor engineering.

Korea Academy of Science and Technology
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They were called “Kim’s Mafia.” Kim Choong-Ki himself wouldn’t have put it that way. But it was true what semiconductor engineers in South Korea whispered about his former students: They were everywhere.

Starting in the mid-1980s, as chip manufacturing in the country accelerated, engineers who had studied under Kim at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) assumed top posts in the industry as well as coveted positions teaching or researching semiconductors at universities and government institutes. By the beginning of the 21st century, South Korea had become a dominant power in the global semiconductor market, meeting more than 60 percent of international demand for memory chips alone. Around the world, many of Kim’s protégés were lauded for their brilliant success in transforming the economy of a nation that had just started assembling radio sets in 1959 and was fabricating outdated memory chips in the early ’80s.

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