[1401_interest] History of Computing class at San Jose State
rdill at cyburban.com
Tue Mar 1 20:39:11 PST 2011
Let me chip in.
The very early machines were simple, but different. Memory (forget
storage which was paper tape or cards or else everything was in memory)
Who used what? The mercury delay line was one. it sent sonic pulses
down a column of mercury where they were retrieved in order and re-sent
if they needed to stay remembered. The use of WW II 3 inch radar CRTs
with a transparent electrode on the front of the tube was another
(WilliamsTube) and it was later refined to use custom tubes with mica
targets (barrier grid storage tubes), but I'm not sure how many
computers got those. I cut my teeth on an IBM 650 which had 2000 ten
digit words on a many-headed drum spinning at 12000 rpm. My first solo
was trying to run the machine when the belt driving the drum had
failed. I didn't succeed. Later, I would have recognized that the high
pitched sound wasn't there. OK, I'd had only ten minutes of training!
Magnetic cores came in during the late 1950's. That was supplanted by a
bold move (another "bet the company" decision) in the med 1960's, just
as rapid advances in core technology and performance were happening.
There were some interesting sidelights, like finding the one in a
hundred-million failure issues with cores and fixing them.
The origins of electonic memory circuits from the flip-flop to IC
memory chips (ref Farber-Schlig, both firends) to the DRAM (Dennard who
I helped complete his PhD Thesis) are another research area. Once one
got off static memory to dynamic (3-device may have been first befor
D-Ram) what were the things that allowed progress? I remember one point
when IBM suddenly reduced the price of semiconductor memory from a
million dollars to 1/7 of that by introducing a new low end 360 computer
which needed lower memory costs. How did we get from that level to
today? It took a lot of different things.
Storage, initially, was things like cards and paper tape. I grew up
using the latter. RAMAC was one of several devices used to provide an
alternative. One of them delivered infinite capacity. That's enough of
a teaser to let me not go further.
Architectures are equally interesting. Besides the names, what were the
differences in architecture of the early machines. As they moved from
simple and primitive to more interesting, what was added and who
contributed the ideas? I have a closeted view, having only 45 years
with IBM before defecting. In the early IBM machines, there was a
distinction between "scientific" computers, mostly sold to the
government and a few universities .. and the "business" machines. The
latter did their arithmetic in decimal because accountants had a pride
about the last penny and didn't like round-off errors.
Beyond that there were a whole lot of levels of increased
sophistication. I have little knowledge of the "high street" (a street
in Poughkeepsie NY) computers which served the DEW line, but they must
have had some really interesting stuff in their RADAR interpretation.
The Stretch machine from IBM was a landmark super-computer series, but
it's solo big brother Harvest had, so far as I know, the first pipeline
processor. I believe that TC Chen, who lives in Almaden Valley was the
originator of the pipeline. I think he is still alive, but I haven't
contacted him in some years.
Then there is software. Which machine got the first assembler program?
Were the early machines really programmed in machine code? I came in
late! The 650 had an optimizing assembler (SOAP for Symbolic Optimizing
Assembly Program). It was an assembler which placed the input and
output variables for an operation at locations on the drum so that the
addresses would be just coming under the heads. It also had a simulator
available which gave the machine the image of a three-address floating
point decimal computer. I used that because I was an engineer wanting
answers who would trade long hours in the middle of the night for
keeping track of decimal points. Wolontis was the originator of the
program and it had the names Wolontis and BLISS (Bell Labs Interpretive
System). There was also at Carnegie a compiler effort (parallel to
IBM's Fortran) . It was IT (Internal Translater) and Perliss (the
hallowed professor at the school) took credit for it. Hal Van Zoeren in
in the bay area. He was one of the people who wrote it. He never got
his PhD for that work, but I seem to be the one holding the grudge.
Little of this brings one up to the era of the first really mass
produced computer - the 1401. I'll leave it to that team to speak up.
retired from both IBM and Hitachi Global Storage with about 50 years in
computer technology and some management of same from processes to chips
to displays to computer applications.
The course sounds like a good one. In my mind it should be about ideas
.. tracing from history toward the future. It could look forward to (as
I have) to when we can't keep Moore's Law going. Many look at that as a
problem. I look at it as opportunity. Just think about how many things
you might make with three billion transistors on a chip. There should
be creative designs for centuries, if not millennia, even if the
underlying technology doesn't change
On 2/24/2011 3:43 PM, Ronald Mak wrote:
> During next fall semester 2011 (August-December), I will be teaching a
> new class, CS 185C *The History of* *Computing*, in the Department of
> Computer Science at San Jose State University. This is a class I
> requested a while back, and I'm very happy that it got approved
> despite the school's current budget woes.
> With the help of the Computer History Museum, its volunteers, and
> industry pioneers, I hope to have a class that will excite the
> students and teach them something useful about the past. I've been
> warned that "computer science students aren't interested in history"
> and I want to prove my detractors wrong.
> CS 185C will be an upper-division course in the CS department, so I
> can't have students simply reading about history and turning in book
> reports. I want them to conduct research on original material, talk to
> the pioneers, and work on real projects. I expect around 20 students
> and I may have them form small 2- or 3-person teams.
> I need your help to design meaningful projects that will last about 4
> months. They can be hardware or software. Projects can include
> restoring an artifact, creating a simulation of a historic machine
> architecture, researching the evolution of some hardware (e.g., memory
> systems) or software (e.g., a utility or a programming language), etc.
> I want students to appreciate how good designers were back
> then despite constraints that may no longer exist, and carry the
> lessons forward to their work today.
> Please send me your ideas! What computer system or software from the
> past do you think students ought to learn about? Let me know if you
> wouldn't mind having students contact you by e-mail or in person to
> share your knowledge and experiences. If you're willing to be a mentor
> for a project, that can be a wonderful experience for you and the
> students. It would be great if any of the projects can also benefit
> the museum somehow.
> Thanks for your help and support!
> -- Ron**
> *Ronald Mak*
> (408) 927-1905 (IBM office)
> (408) 533-2726 (cell)
> Professor of Computer Science (adjunct)
> San José State University
> _ron.mak at sjsu.edu_ <mailto:ron.mak at sjsu.edu>
> Lead, San Jose Center for Advanced Studies (CAS)
> Research Staff Member,
> IBM Almaden Research Center
> _rlmak at us.ibm.com_ <mailto:rlmak at us.ibm.com>
> 1401_interest mailing list
> 1401_interest at computerhistory.org
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