Monday, November 2, 2009

GE 635

Like most college graduates in 1969 I had two choices; go to grad school or go to the army. I chose grad school and in September entered the MBA program at the Amos Tuck School at Dartmouth.
At the time Tuck was in three buildings at the end of a road in a corner of the Dartmouth campus. Our computing facilities consisted of a small number of ASR 33 teletype machines in various locations around the school which were all wired to the GE 635 "mainframe" at the Kiewit Computation Center up the road behind Baker Library. The GE 635 ran the Dartmouth Time Sharing System (DTSS). The teletype machines had paper tape readers for loading your data or custom programs and printed all input and output on the rolls of paper fed through the back. Most of the programs we ran had been written in BASIC expressly for financial data or statistical manipulation.

The history leading up to 1969 is interesting and I will relate some of it here, but a complete retelling is available on the Dartmouth Computing site.
1962 - Dartmouth mathematicians John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz proposed building a College computation center and chose to implement a "time-sharing" system based upon a concept first realized on a small Digital Computer Corporation PDP-1 computer by a team of scientists from MIT and Bolt, Baranek, and Newman, Inc. They request a NSF grant to fund the project.
1964 - The NSF granted $500,000 to Dartmouth for the development of a time-sharing system and the computer language BASIC. A GE 225 computer, plus software, carring a price tag of $800,000 becomes operational in February.
1966 - General Electric (GE) renamed DTSS as the Mark-I and used it to build the largest commercial time-sharing system. Based on the success of this work, GE and Dartmouth College embarked on a project to put DTSS on the newer and larger GE-635 computer capable of handling 200 simultaneous users which becomes operational in 1967.
1969 - GE gave Dartmouth title to the $25 million GE-635 computer that had been jointly operated for three years, now serving 300 terminals at Dartmounth and throughout New England. The College and General Electric also announced a new three-year partnership in "cooperative work in computer technology."

In 1970 GE sold its computer business to Honeywell who later moved away from time-sharing. At the time, the sales event did not make a major impression on most Dartmouth students as there were other events happening at the time in Laos, Cambodia and Kent State.
I enjoyed using the terminals, running the programs and playing a little with BASIC, but still failed to envision the future of these machines...

Monday, October 26, 2009

State of the Art - 1969

When I graduated from college in 1969 the Computing Industry consisted of IBM and a group of (much) smaller competitors. These competitors were called the "7 Dwarfs" and eventually morphed into the "Bunch". They were Burroughs, Sperry Rand (eventually to become Unisys), NCR (National Cash Register), Control Data, Honeywell, RCA and GE. Most of them competed with IBM only in niche or specialized markets.
I looked up the 1969 Fortune 500 to get a feel for the relative size at the time of industry in general and the computer manufacturers in particular. What I found was surprising. IBM was the 6th largest firm. Of the top 10, three were auto (GM, Ford, Chrysler), four were oil (Exxon Mobil), Mobil, Texaco, Gulf), one was steel (U.S. Steel) and one was diversified (GE).
IBM was 6th with sales of $6.888 billion. GE was 4th with $8.381. RCA was 20th with $3.106. Sperry was 56th with $1.562. Honeywell was 72nd with $1.281. NCR was 86th with $1.102. Burroughs was 156th with $650 million and Control Data was 221st with $438 million. Overall industry was a lot smaller in 1969 than it is now. The largest firm was GM at $22.755 billion sales, the 10th largest firm was U.S. Steel with $4.536, the first firm over $1 Billion in sales was Olin with $1.002 in 104th. The last place on the list was held by Briggs & Stratton with $143.7 million in sales. Of course this was before business college was popular. A significant number of my classmates were sons of owners who had been sent off to learn "business".

IBM 1130

I attended Nichols College as an undergrad from 1965 to 1969. In the Fall of 1968 when I returned as a senior, there was a new IBM 1130 installed in the basement of Conrad Hall, a small building that contained the President's office.
Later that year, I think it was during second semester, I took the first and only course offered to students on this machine at the time - in FORTRAN programming. We wrote the code for our assignments on a special paper form that was green and white and had 80 boxes per line which corresponded to the 80 columns available on punch cards. I don't remember actually punching the cards so I think we left the sheets in a basket and came back the next day and the cards were wrapped inside the coding sheets. We then placed the cards in another basket and the jobs were run overnight. Ah, batch processing...
I learned FORTRAN this way but also that the machine was unforgiving. Any mistake, no matter how minor would cause the program to end abnormally (abend) and since we were limited to one run per night, we ended up learning to be very careful about error checking our code.
I was mildly interested in the computer and coding, but not enough to see the potential.

Thanks to my classmate, Ken Burrill, who wrote an article in the Nichols College magazine (see page 34) that refreshed my memories about all of this.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Binary State

Some days I feel like this:

And some days I feel like this:

What you see here...

This is the third or fourth blog I have started. None have lasted more than a year. I think this one may have a longer life than my others because I have a plan.

I am going to use this blog for occasional posts that connect my past job and computer experiences with the companies whose equipment and people I have come across in my career journey. I don't plan to post often, but when I do the post might be lengthy. Since most of my post material will be from my memory and perspective, if you read them and worked for or knew of the people or companies I mention, please feel free to comment with addition information.