Divers Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t Know—Madalena Cruz-Ferreira SpecGram Vol CLXVIII, No 4 Contents Reasons to Become a Professional Linguist—Wye T’Kolr and Prof. Fess Oar

From the Archives!—SpecGram Editorial Hotline and Κολοσσός Vacuum Tubes

The SpecGram Archive Elves™

As previously reported, our very own Butch McBastard unearthed a satchel of papers and other miscellanea labeled, “Top Secret SpecGram Time Capsule, 1964Do Not Open for 50 Years!” The intermittent wrangling with the SpecGram legal team over potential incriminating evidence proprietary information continues, but we are again able to share with our readers some of the treasures found within the satchel.

Here is a photo of the sixth and seventh archival items,* a phone from the Speculative Grammarian Editorial Hotline, and collection of vacuum tubes from Κολοσσός, an early SpecGram computing platform.

SpecGram Editorial Hotline and Κολοσσός Vacuum Tubes

In the late 1950s, the SpecGram office phone system was upgraded with an “intelligent, minimalist, principle-based, transformational call-routing system” named “Call-α”. In principle, there was no need to call any particular phone number to reach the person you needed to contact. Certain kinds of information, called “constraints” in the technical manuals for the system, would automatically route the call based on the caller, the time of day, the projects, priorities, and responsibilities of the caller and of all possible call recipients, along with other less well-understood factors, automatically connecting the call to the appropriate party. The system was controlled by a powerful-for-the-time computer, Κολοσσός, although it never worked particularly well.

Κολοσσός was the vacuum-tube–based SpecGram “supercomputer”, built in the early 1940s. Κολοσσόςa precursor to later SpecGram computing platforms like Λόγος and Σκέψη—featured paper tape input (in Sanskrit), a uncihertz trinary processor, and nine icosiheptatrytes of memory (a phenomenal amount at the time). Though its primary function was to find constraint-satisfying solutions for the “Call-α” telephone routing system, a programming error resulted in it spending most of its time simulating random changes to Pāṇini’s grammar in an attempt to “evolve” it into Punjabi. (The similarity between this task and the “Call-α” task should be obvious to the well-educated reader, and was in fact caused by a fencepost error, a common programming pitfall even today.)

While the formalism behind “Call-α” is superficially the same as Chomsky’s much-maligned “Move-α” formalism, there’s no evidence that Chomsky ever used or even knew of the “Call-α” program, as it was, at its inception, considered a SpecGram trade secret, and later, when it clearly had failed, an embarrassment to be kept hidden.

More to come...

* The photo-documentation intern responsible for this photo was “honestly feeling a bit lazy” and “thought one photo was more efficient than two” at the time the photo was taken. In accordance with Article ʢ, Chapter ƪ, Section ʘ, Paragraph ɝ, Lines ʋ-ʑ of the SpecGram Uniform Code of Intern Justice, the intern in question has been flogged and re-flogged, and was ultimately derezzed.

Divers Things You Didn’t Know You Didn’t KnowMadalena Cruz-Ferreira
Reasons to Become a Professional LinguistWye T’Kolr and Prof. Fess Oar
SpecGram Vol CLXVIII, No 4 Contents