Wednesday, July 10, 2013

History, computer style--only coding geeks can grok most of this.

The missing pictures were linked to Facebook album pics and that's why they're not appearing.  Looking into fixing that.

As stated in my Profile, I've been online ever since computers could talk to each other even before the PC was invented. Mainframes were talking to each other on the phone via acoustic couplers using what would eventually become an RS232 standard port for the PC after the PC was invented.  Same deal, same standards, familiar rate of 300 baud.  I was mainly on an IBM 370 VM/CMS at Academic Computing in my early college years (okay, so I occasionally played a game of Star Trek) where the first language I picked up was CMS (Conversational Monitor System).

Computer language, that is.  Forget the French I grew up with, forget the Portuguese I signed up for as a freshman (at the end of the day, it's all Latin anyway)--CMS was the language that would serve me well even today as VM (Virtual Machine) became regarded as some kind of Microsoft novelty when it really isn't.  Windows is still evolutionary bloatware that would still take antique WordStar commands in its earlier versions.  When MSDOS 2.0 finally came out with the first version of commercially sold PCs, it would still take CP/M commands.  Nothing about Microsoft is original. 

I did some moving around since the PC was finally invented by IBM (enlisting Intel for the purpose of miniaturizing the venerable IBM 370 onto a microchip that became the Intel 8080 microprocessor).  So there ya go--I was already intimately familiar with the thing by the time a whole huge room of computer became small enough to fit on a desktop. Alas, all the moving I did had the effect of my being able to preserve some documentation from this computer history, but also losing a lot.  Recently, storage damage due to moisture incursions mandated that I go through all my old packing boxes and scan stuff into today's technology storage media before I completely toss it all, and it's partly in presentation with this blog entry, beginning with record of interactions on the now-defunct CompuServe.

I have a Facebook Album which has a lot of it already scanned in, but just today I located some stuff I thought I'd lost or tossed long ago and pertains to what I put in my Profile on Google Plus: printouts from my CompuServe WITSIG days (aka NETWITS).  When I was on there, I had the first laptop ever manufactured, and that was the Tandy Model 100. I also bought a suite of attachments including a 4-color plotter (not to be confused with a printer; the Model 100 could indeed do scientific plotting as a sort of proto-CAD manner), and it was the plotter that preserved some of that irreplaceable humorous chatter that took place on WITSIG with some of my favorite people.  I've scanned it, and I will post it here.

"RR" = Ronald Reagan. <>lessa<> was the sysop of the SIG (Special Interest Group), but just as guilty as smartassery as the rest of us NETWITS renegades. Definitely one of the family among such luminaries as Otto Graph and Mahatma Coate. Partial list:

The following duplicates a couple of Users, but my name and ID is listed, and I post this as a proud badge of long standing NETWITS smartassery with seniority.

Of course I noted with much interest that Son of Sister Sam was also in via the Phoenix node of CompuServe. Yes, you would be accurate if you said that I honed smartassery down to a science--but I was not alone.  My co-conspirators are still out there somewhere in cyberspace, so keep looking over your shoulder.  Typical chatter would be just as off-colorful as it was colorful:

Yeah, that wasn't a condominium we were talking about, and the preceding discourse was omitted because I checked an agreement with Blogger not to post adult content. Among my historic artifacts in storage I also discovered everything I ever wrote as an assignment for all of my English classes, thinking that this particular story was worth writing an essay about, because this is where smartassery surfaced in the first place.

I went from doing battle with a TA who proclaimed that "English is hard" every chance he got to getting not just A+-es on my papers but smiley faces too. Stewart Vyse, you know I'm talking about you, man.

This was basically the launch of the Clara Listensprechen Report as first conceived in English class and then into print on the ASWLC. Whole 'nother tale, that. Anyway...

Ah, the wonderful world of languages. French, Portuguese, CMS, CP/M, which was the proto MSDOS command set; MSDOS proper, and BASIC. I really took to BASIC like a duck takes to water, and that proved useful when I interviewed with Motorola for its USA-1 automated factory project, so despite its acronym, it was NOT a language used by beginners.  When I first signed on, it didn't start out with a central computer control system, but they were working up to it.  Central computing involved a DEC mainframe, but the individual machine co-ordinators were (ta-da!) Tandy Model 100s.  Well hey--that was the ONLY laptop on the market with a shrunken IBM 370 smooshed inside, and I knew how to program the thing like it was my native language.

Not just in BASIC, but also machine language (assembly language).

Served to come in handy still yet again when USA-1 closed down, and two departments later, wound up in the Electronics Materials Operation of Motorola and they had an interesting automated acid dipper I got more or less assigned to: the Autotraq.  Learned a new version of BASIC: robot BASIC, which was called RBASIC.

And since my employment at Motorola, I picked up a few other machine languages as well, including one that was proprietary to Westinghouse, whose boilers I was already familiar with, heh.

So there you have it.  What was used for calculators, though? Slide rules. What's old is new again (except for the slide rule), and just because it may be new to you, doesn't mean it was invented just yesterday, although the programming language standard these days is C++. @Tipa, if you should come over from Facebook to read this, you should note that not every editor will accept ASCII coding from your keyboard just like Facebook editors can.  The following is a test of what low-end ASCII that Blogger will tolerate:

☺☻♥♦♣♠•◘○.........◙♂♀♪♫☼►◄↕‼.........¶§▬↨↑↓→←∟↔.......▲▼ !"#$%&'

Confirmed: Blogger editor will accept low-end ASCII code.  Let's see how well it does with extended ASCII.


Ya, I'd say it does well with extended ASCII too. Very good.  P.S.--I also speak hexadecimal fluently.

Computer Employment Gallery

Before that, I was a C&I tech at Illinois Power Co. and member IBEW, Instrument Man 2nd Class. Is this computer history? You bet.  The Leeds and Northrup computer which monitored all the subsystems of all three boilers was a classic analogue computer using a truckload of operational amplifiers (op amps).

Before there was such a thing as digital computers, there were analogue computers and not just using vacuum tubes either.  There were pneumatic analogue computers and relay computers as well, and the one thing they had in common was that their configuration worked as computational logic gates.

The Leeds & Northrup computer was used for on-grid operations monitoring/safety, but a separate computer was used for combustion efficiency analysis and that was a Honeywell digital mainframe that spoke octal, and generated printouts on not printers exactly--they printed out using EBCDIC on relay-equipped IBM Selectric typewriters.

A third computer made by Bailey was used for ramp ups and shutdowns.

 The notations with LN numbers = Leeds & Northrup part numbers.  A typical L&N logic diagram follows:

Next is a publication for the employees...What, this isn't the computer history part now? Actually, Illinois Power Company doesn't exist anymore either.  It's where the computers were, and it, too, is history.

The following is a sort of map of one of the three boilers I worked on. There were two of these (Westinghouse cyclone-fired once-throughs, universal pressure type) and one General Electric recirc, drum type.

Taking photos of the power plant are usually prohibited, but on my last day at work, before going to Motorola, I was permitted one shot from the ladies' room...

{okay, so I took 3 to make this composite}  As dirty and as hot as it was, it had its good moments and there are times I actually miss the ole place, especially that lake.  You should see the channel cat and drummers you could pull outta that thing. Oh yeah--I was granted permission to keep my boiler book and hardhat.
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