The "Little Man" Computer
Although it is completely inaccurate, it is sometimes convenient to imagine
a computer's processing as if it were being managed by a "little man" inside
the computer. This (imagined) "little man" behaves following an extremely
rigid routine and never performs outside that routine.
An LMC (Little Man Computer) can be imagined to have certain resources available
for the little man to use: input and output "trays", a calculator, a collection
of numbered "mailboxes", and a counter to keep track of which mailbox the
"little man" should look in for his next instruction.
the "Little Man"
the "little man" can only do a limited number of things:
- move about the "computer room" which contains the LMC components
following a fixed pattern of actions (call the "Instruction Cycle")
- remember at most one Mailbox number (as described below), one 3
(decimal) digit Data value, and one 3 (decimal) digit Instruction value
- perform other activities within the computer room as part of the
"Instruction Cycle" by following instructions posted on the wall as a table
of things to do depending upon the first digit of the Instruction value that
the "little man" currently remembers
- each Mailbox has a unique 2 (decimal) digit "Mailbox number" between
00 and 99 inclusive.
- each Mailbox contains a 3 (decimal) digit "Mailbox contents" value.
- Decimal digit keypad
- Addition & Subtraction operation keys
- 3 decimal digit display
- Last operation result indicator (negative, zero, or positive)
- note: the calculator does not allow for signed values; a result
indicator will be set to show a arithmetic operation result less than zero, but this
result will be displayed as a large value (10's complement) and is not treated
as negative by subsequent operations. The calculator has several indicators:
Negative, Zero, and Positive (note: Positive is turned on for a positive or
a zero result); these indicators are only modified by the arithmetic instructions
ADD and SUB
Input and Output Baskets
The only facility for communication between the "little man" and the world
outside the "computer room" is by means of a single Input basket (or "tray")
and a single Output basket. A single 3 (decimal) digit value is all that will
fit in either basket at any one time.
The Counter contains a 2 decimal digit value that can be modified
in one of three different ways:
- Increment - the "little man" can hit a button which causes the value
in the Counter to be incremented by one; this is by far the most common way
the Counter value changes.
- Instruction Set - based on an instruction given to the "little man",
the "little man" has the ability to set the Counter value to any value supplied
as part of the instruction.
- External Reset - the "little man's boss" from outside the computer
"room" can click an external button at any time and reset the value in the
Counter to 00.
Instruction Set Table of Actions
As mentioned earlier, there is a table posted on the wall telling
the "little man" exactly what to do depending upon the Instruction value
that the "little man" is currently remembering.
| Code ||Meaning|
|1xy||copy value from Mailbox with the supplied Mailbox number (xy) to the Calculator|
|2xy||replace the number in the Mailbox at the supplied Mailbox number with the current Calculator value|
|3xy||add the value in the Mailbox at the supplied Mailbox number to the Calculator|
|4xy||subtract the value in the Mailbox at the supplied Mailbox number from the value in the Calculator|
|500||copy the value currently in the Input basket to the Calculator|
|600||copy the value from the Calculator to the Output basket|
|800||skip the next instruction (i.e. increment the Counter an extra time) if the Calculator Negative indicator is on|
|801||skip the next instruction if the Calculator Zero indicator is on|
|802||skip the next instruction if the Calculator Zero or Positive indicators are on|
|9xy||re-set the counter to (xy)|
LMC Instruction Cycle
The "little man" continuously repeats the following sequence of
three major activities:
As a first step in the fixed routine, the "little man" must get
the instruction telling him what he should do next.
- he reads and remembers the Mailbox number currently displayed
as the Counter value
- he goes over to the Mailbox with the Mailbox number that he is
remembering, reads the 3 digit value in that Mailbox, and remembers it as
the current Instruction value (forgetting any previous Instruction value
that he might have been remembering
of the Counter must occur before instruction execution, as will become
obvious when we look at instructions whose execution modifies the value
in the Counter.
- the "little man" pushes a button which increments the Counter value
so that it contains the Mailbox number of the sequencially next Mailbox.
- the "little man" compares the first digit of the Instruction
value that he is remembering with the list of values in the "Instruction
Set Table" to find out what he should do.
- he then follows the directions given in the Instruction Set
Table that correspond to the first digit of the Instruction value.
These three major activities are called: Fetch, Increment, and Execute.
Every computer does this.
The "Little Man Computer" Instruction Set
In order to know what should be done for any single instruction, the "little
man" compares the first digit of whatever Instruction value he is currently
remembering with a list of values in an Instruction Set Table and then performs
what ever action is indicated in the table next to the matching code.
Every instruction in the LMC is encoded as a 3 decimal digit number
- Operation Code - the left-most digit indicates the specific type of action or operation the "little man" should perform.
- Address Field - the right-most two digits generally refer to a Mailbox number which the "little man" is to use in performing the requested operation (however, for some operations, these two digits may be ignored or may have some other special meaning).
The "No-Match" Problem
One obvious problem that could occur would be how the "little man" should handle an instruction which is not on his Instruction Set Table. Notice that any value beginning with a "0" has no specified action. The "little man's" actions should
he encounter such a value as an instruction are unpredictable. It is the programmer's responsibility to ensure that this never happens.