My days of academic computing were a far cry from
todayís powerful systems. This
was the era before public Internet access and at the dawn of the first
microcomputer kits. The
IBM-compatible personal computer was still a few years away.
Each campus in the district had timesharing access to a central
computing site with access via modems.
Timeshare access at the time was to two computer systems, a UNIVAC
1106 and an HP 2000F. The
UNIVAC was a powerful system for its day and could process programs in a
variety of languages. Some of
the ones I remember are ALGOL, APL, Assembler, BASIC, Cobol, Fortran,
Lisp, PL/I, RPG, and Iím sure there were many others.
An excellent article on a similar system can be found here.
The HP system was a minicomputer in which students programmed in
BASIC or ran class-related tutorials to help them with their studies.
My first computer experience was using a Teletype
unit like that shown here which connected to the central site via an
The thin ribbon of yellow on the left side of the
unit is paper tape. This
could be used to output a program source code or a stream of data by
punching holes in a certain pattern in the paper.
You simply roll it up and take it with you.
The unit could punch (output) tape or it could read a roll of tape
in order to get the program or data back into computer memory.
Timesharing connections were made by picking up the
telephone handset and dialing the number of the central system.
If the system had a line available (if the line wasnít busy), the
system answers and upon hearing the characteristic tone, the user put the
handset into the rubber cups of the acoustic modem similar to this one.
Hit enter, return or some other designated character
sequence and you would get a welcome message from the central site.
Logon with your student access id and you could get a directory
listing of the available programs. The
modem next to the Teletype unit connected at a data rate of 110 baud.
Thatís right, a mere 110 baud.
Remember that we were printing on paper, so fast speeds would have
overwhelmed the printing mechanism. The
room had maybe 10 of these units and with them all running at the same
time it was noisy.
In an adjacent room of this complex was an area with
a few CRT terminals. This
appeared to be the place where the power users hung out.
Their terminals connected at 300 baud and used more advanced
modems, some of which were not acoustic types, but closer to a modern
external modem. A couple of
these terminals were graphics-capable and manufactured by Tektronix. I remember some engineering students doing some sine plots.
There was some game playing also and the administration didnít
seem to mind as long as you didnít hog the terminal all day.
I recall an instructor saying that the game playing and game
writing was teaching students some advanced programming concepts, even
though a lot of time was spent playing them.
I met some of these students who were able to create programs far
beyond the usual offerings of the college.
One student in particular I remember as someone who seemed to know
much more than most of the professors.
He taught himself assembly language programming and seemed to know
the Univac hardware inside/out. He
created a multi-player war game that became the rage of our campus and
Months later I discovered another room across campus
which housed a huge remote printer with an attached punch card reader.
This was the UNIVAC 1004 card reader/punch and printer unit.
It read 300 punch cards per minute and printed at 300 lines per
minute. All the students on campus using the UNIVAC shared this one
printer when needing output. The
days of the ubiquitous laser printer were in the future. An adjacent room there contained IBM cardpunch equipment such
as the model 029 pictured here.
Students taking programming classes would punch their
cards here and feed them into the 1004 reader.
Card jams were common with students and staff scrambling to undo
the mess. This was batch
processing, whereas accessing via CRT was called demand processing.
Batch tended to be slow whenever the computer was in heavy use.
Students would sometimes wait for over an hour for their program
output to spit out from the printer.
They would get impatient and submit their card batch again and
again, hoping to speed things up. Some
of the more savvy ones would discover the CRT room across campus and sit
there to avoid the aggravation of handling card decks.
Dropping your deck on the floor and scattering the cards was a
guaranteed way of having a bad day.
Hereís a picture of a typical 80-column card, which was used to
feed programs into the 1004.
The HP 2000F seemed to work much faster at most times
of the day. Today this very
same HP 2000F system is housed at the SMECC museum.
I hope this brief peek into MCC campus computing in the 1970s will
give you an idea of how far weíve come since the timesharing days. -KM