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Hello from 1978 (nycresistor.com)
210 points by rbanffy on May 17, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 38 comments

The 11/34 powered the Schlumberger wireline logging units in the offshore Gulf of Mexico, beginning in about 1980. Schlumberger designed dozens of Unibus cards, one as a controller for each logging tool. So most of the system was a giant slotted cage for sliding the appropriate cards for the job, into. The main peripherals were a TI thermal printer and keyboard, a tape drive, a Tektronix display, and a continuous film recorder unit that captured the scrolling Tektronix image. I found this image: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/-O6FC-DLQI5w/ThWTeDxv2-I/AAAAAAAAB2... The PDPs are lower left; behind the panel directly in front of the engineer is a whole mess of Unibus cards. The most amazing thing about the system might be the number of cards you could plug into it.

Edit to add: The plugin cards were way more than controllers. They were (analog) computers too, fulfilling signal processing functions, and other computations, the poor little PDP could not hope to keep up with. For example, one device detected, I presume using analog circuitry, the peak of the first arrival of a sound wave transmitted through earth and mud, across a couple of meters. The card would report the time between the click and the peak of that arrival, back to the PDP. Nowadays you'd digitize the signal and write a program to look for the peak. Back then you designed circuits!

Fifteen years ago I was handed a Wang (http://www.computermuseum.li/Testpage/WangVS100.htm) and told to get it working. Apparently some company my employer had acquired used this thing to store its business records, and my employer used PCs so they just wanted to archive what was on the Wang then get rid of it.

The thing booted up but there was no display--the integrated screen was somehow blown. So I got a suitable television and that worked, modulo the TV's overscan clipping off the first character on every line. I then found enough adapters to get it to print, connected a dot matrix printer with continuous forms (just like Wang intended!) and printed every single document on the disk drive. Imagine.

It came to perhaps a thousand pages.

Reminds me of something similar I did about 20 years ago as a new and lowly employee in an HR department. Said department was part of a larger organisation which of course kept everything centrally on huge mainframes, access to said mainframe being allowed in the regional office by means of a green-screen terminal connected to a dedicated line.

While the mainframe was of course the ultimate authority of what was what, for everyone, our local department just wanted to do some basic employee management on the then new wave of Windows 3.1-based softwares running on local PCs.

But how to populate the PC data? Obviously retyping it was the only possible way, and I was hired literally to do that and nothing else for a month. First thing I said, naturally, was "why not just export it from the mainframe?"

Not possible, I was assured. The mainframe was a secure device for storing secure data and no talk of exporting would ever get through the layers of bureaucracy. The mainframe terminal had no disc drive or local storage, being a thoroughly secure device with a secure connection through the secure floorboards. And anyway, I was hired as a typist so would I please get on with it for the next month, which was how long they had estimated would be required.

An hour later the job was done - with no retyping at all, thank you very much.

How? Well, I'll admit to feeling rather too pleased with myself for knowing that the terminal's attached dot matrix printer was not the only device that could speak RS232. Connected the secure terminal to an entirely not secure PC, and printed everything I wanted straight to disc. Edited the captured file in Wordstar and fairly quickly had a CSV-type file that went straight into the standalone software.

Although I'd effectively instantly put myself out of a job, they were good enough to keep me around. I ended up staying for years.

Once upon a school Christmas holiday my father brought home a Televideo TS-806 [1] and a terminal. The thing contained a load of documents which they'd like to have on their snazzy new server, but nobody could find out how to copy them. The files were in some alien format, produced by a text processor native to the TS-806. I resolved this by hooking up the thing to a Bondwell 12 [2] through RS-232, printing the documents on the Televideo and receiving them in PIP [3] on the Bondwell. The (single-sided) Bondwell floppies could be read on one of the machines connected to the new server and the problem was solved. I considered this quite a feat at the age of 16...

[1] https://archive.org/stream/bitsavers_televideo2anceManualMay...

[2] http://www.z80.eu/bondwell.html

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peripheral_Interchange_Program

I took one computer programming class in college. PL/1 with a PL/C compiler using punch cards. Said no way, this is absurd.

Three years later (after graduation) I was introduced to an 11/34. Then an 11/44 with 1MB on internal memory and removable disk packs. On to a VAX 11/780, an 11/785, an 11/750, clustering, an 8650, a 6310, etc. I even built a MicroVax I from parts purchased used.

There's a ton of us who still remember 30 and 60 amp power supplies and sequenced spin-up of drive stacks.

And we walked uphill both ways to our jobs with nothing but a TI calculator in our pockets.

Surely, you mean an HP 16c?

I wish more people used RPN calcs. In my EE course in the UK in the 1990s, I was the only person with an HP calc (HP41c and later a 48S). Everyone else was TI and Casio.

Always fun, next up doing a SYSGEN on RSX-11M :-) I'm impressed that the RKO5 worked. The filters on those things would often decay into dust.

Oh my glob, I remember doing SYSGEN on RSX-11M+. Haven't thought about that since ... probably since I did it (a few times, don't recall the problem I was having.)

Anybody here remember working on TOPS-20 on a DEC-20? And all the crashes when it was in heavy use late in the evening before some big assignments were due ...

All the DECWriters in the room would simultaneously clatter out "%DECSYSTEM-20 NOT RUNNING", there would be shocked silence for 2 seconds, then all the cries of anguish as everyone realized they hadn't saved the last few hours of work.

Good times.

"Anybody here remember working on TOPS-20 on a DEC-20?"

Yes, I did a lot of work on DEC-20s in grad school. It was the first machine I used that was connected to ARPANET (precursor to today's internet).

I also spent lots of time on a PDP-11/45, although it was running Unix (Version 7 from Bell Labs), not RSX-11. That machine had the old-style console with a toggle switch for each bit:


To boot it, you'd have to toggle in the address of the boot ROM into the instruction address register.

Oh, yes, sysadmin'd several DEC-20's, some at the Columbia University computing center, some at the MIT-EECS department (working for Joel Moses) (though the homegrown LISPMs were a lot more fun) and some at the Fairchild AI Labs (a startup for Schlumberger under the Fairchild umbrella in Palo Alto, populated by the principal ex-SRI AI folks, where the Symbolics LISPMs eventually took over).

And, yes, lots of happy memories, especially for the poor students when all the CRTs would send out their chorus of feeps and simultaneous %DECSYSTEM-20 NOT RUNNING messages (as sent by the PDP-11 front end).

That effect was most pronounced at one of the huge Stanford terminal rooms (where, luckily my buddies (Ralph Gorin, Marc Crispin (of later IMAP fame), JQ Johnson, anyone?) were the sysadmins, and not I ;-).

We used TOPS-10 and TOPS-20 at USAF Systems Command in the early 1980s. Good times...

Or beards.

I want to know more about the "digitized monkey brains."



[edit. huh - that's been edited to remove the actual story. Here's the story: http://edp.org/monkey.htm]

The jargon file has lots of great stuff in it (also see "Magic/More Magic"). Some versions have had some dubious stuff added, but that's a big old ball of flame waiting to happen, so I'll say read with caution :-)

Meta-nostalgia is when you find one of your own postings in someone else's nostalgia.

I feel old. :-)

I do some work in OpenVMS so the video looks surprisingly like 2014 to me.

does it still have EDT? If so then I'm sold!

Yes, yes it does.

"When faced with the bootup of an unfamiliar OS from the 1970s, “DIR” seems to be the most likely command."

I would think "HELP" :)

Most of the disk packs have had the help files deleted to reclaim 100 blocks so HELP results in a "?KMON-F-File not found SY:HELP.SAV". If the files are there, it looks sort of like this: https://www.flickr.com/photos/osr/14008886427/

IIRC, help would work too.

Would love to go to a museum with a chronological tour of computing.

The computer history museum in Mountain View is pretty good.

HNF, the self-proclaimed world's biggest computer museum is the place to go then: https://www.hnf.de/en/home.html

Wife will never allow nerd tourism, sadly.

So go with some friends instead? Some things are meant to be shared with your SO, some are not. She probably has some preferences which don't match yours as well after all.

If you're into this kind of thing and are in Seattle, I recommend stopping by the Living Computer Museum. You get to sit down and interact with the machines. :-)


(They don't have a PDP-11/34, but they have a lot of mainframes and other machines.)

The DIR in the video is such a lovely moment, somehow very touching to me .. I've always believed we should not retire computers, and indeed have my own swelling collection of old stuff that still boots and can be used for some purpose.

Old machines never die - their users do. Keep the Expensive Machine running ..

The rapid improvement of technology (even forty years ago) really impresses me, especially considering that commercially available handheld calculators were only available eight years prior (and were very expensive.) (I'm a vintage calculator collector.)

Enjoying old hardware like this is one of the reasons I've run a mailing list dedicated to the rescue of old computer hardware for the past sixteen years. It was originally Sun-specific but years ago we changed it to cover any hardware.


Man, it is so amazing to see the dates on those files! Some of those files are older than my wife.

Very cool! The last time I saw one of these was approximately twenty years ago. It was covered with dust and lying under a workbench in the back of some machine shop in a little town in Israel.

Always mount a scratch monkey.

The year I was born :)

i need to get myself one of these. nice story!

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