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.