Post written by John
Jonathan and I finally were able to visit the Computer History Museum located in the old Silicon Graphics campus in Mountain View. We had an outstanding few hours, bringing back many great memories. Jon decided he would try to take pictures of me with some of the stuff I had actually used.
EAI Analog Computer
This is me with the first computer I actually programmed (Summer 1966 at a high school engineering institute at Northwestern University), an Electronic Associates (EAI) analog system. It was programmed using patch cords and solved differential equations. The mess of wires by my shoulder is actually a “program”.
Here is me not with a computer I used, but with books about my first high-level programming language, FORTRAN. The rightmost book is Daniel McCracken’s A Guide to FORTRAN Programming, which was our text at MIT for the introductory programming course (Fall 1966). At the top of the stack of books is a FORTRAN text in Russian!
Apollo Guidance Computer
During Fall of 1967 I had a short stint at the Instrumentation Lab at MIT. This is where I learned industrial-strength IBM System/360 assembly language. I helped develop tools to enable writing programs for the Apollo Guidance Computer. That’s it at the top. Less than two years later, it would be on the Moon.
Diablo Disk Drive
By 1972 I had started work at Data General Corporation writing code for the Nova (to be seen later in this post). The disk drives that were attached to our machines were Diablo 31 units. Each platter (shown sitting above the drive unit) was 14 inches in diameter and could hold a whopping 2.5 million bytes.
Family tree of programming languages
I used a lot of high-level languages (FORTRAN, Algol, LISP, Pascal, COBOL, PL/I, C, C++, BASIC…) and wrote compilers for some of them, most notably FORTRAN. The exhibit on the family tree of programming languages was fascinating.
Here I am standing with the operator’s console for the IBM 7094. The first FORTRAN and assembly language (FAP) program I ever actually ran were for this machine at MIT in starting in 1966. Within two years the System/360 had replaced the 7094 as the teaching vehicle. Gotta love the earth tones, though.
The first minicomputer I actually programmed for real was the DEC PDP-8. During the summer of 1971 I wrote some lab control software for the Materials Science department at Northwestern. In the picture I am re-living the experience of entering the bootstrap loader program from the front panel switches. Pain then, pain now.
Data General Nova
Next we come to the Data General Nova, the first minicomputer to sell for under $10K. I wrote and managed a lot of software for the Nova and its successors, the Eclipse, the Eclipse MV (aka Eagle), FHP (aka Fountainhead) and AViiON from 1972 through 2002.
Taking a step back in time, the is me in front of an IBM 1130. The Civil Engineering department at MIT circa 1969 had one of these that was available for drop-in use. Back then this was as close to personal computing as I could get.
Finally we jump to the late 1980s and the Apple Lisa. We got one of these at Data General to try to understand what the next wave of desktop computing might be like. Sad reflection: Data General is no longer. It was acquired by EMC, which was later acquired by Dell. Apple is now a trillion-dollar behemoth.
Other highlights of the day:
Restored and working PDP-1 from MIT running Spacewar.
Restored and working IBM 1401 complex
Reconstruction of a section of Babbage’s Difference Engine
Displays on large early computers from ENIAC to SAGE.
Development of the IBM S/360 (esp. the Fred Brooks video)
A (non-working) Cray-1.
… and many more
Thanks so much, Jon!