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January 16, 2012

Picturing your community's future history

January is the month of last year that ScreenJet's Alan Yeo began to envision the first HP3000 Reunion, enjoyed by the community last September. It takes many months to bring together this kind of event as a grassroots organized effort. But that kind of patience is not a problem when it's hosted by IT pros seasoned enough to endure old-as-dirt mainframe and minicomputer management.

UNIVAC9030After the historic reunion was in the air, Yeo shared a picture of one such beast, a Sperry Univac 90/30, "their version of the IBM 360. (Click the picture at left to enlarge.) The two dials on the right were also used to dial in the register address to which code should start to be loaded on boot, however I think it was a long binary number indicated by the two rows of lights along the front."

2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the System 3000 as an HP product. The official rollout date is this fall. Bob Green, who attended the Reunion, helped to sponsor it and brought memories of working on the first 3000 documentation team, said the motto for the 3000's intro was "November is a Happening." How '70s it all was during that era.

Syntronic_ComputerWe've put our set of pictures online from the Reunion, a set you can browse as a Flickr photostream. I hope our community has got another Reunion in its tank for this 40th year. After all, there's seed money for the next event already banked, plus organization in place to process tickets. The venue couldn't have been more appropriate, too. On this US holiday commemorating Martin Luther King Jr., let's all celebrate another kind of freedom -- from the likes of the 360, that Sperry beast, or even HP's predecessors to the 3000 (as shared with that photo above from Terri Glendon Lanza, an ASK/MANMAN pro who won the signed poster of the night.)

Yeo reported on the trials and challenges of getting his Sperry to serve computing needs before the 3000.
Yes we ran MRP -- well when we had finished writing it.


I was lucky; I joined the company the week the Sperry was delivered, and everybody else was too busy keeping the old computer system running. It was just handed over to me and I was told go figure out to use it. About three months later when attention switched to doing something with it, I found I was the expert rather than the junior programmer.

My first task was to make the Relational Database useable. Yes it was called a Relational Database. However there was no mechanism to read data in a logical sequence. You could for example go in on a key of customer or part number but there was no mechanism to get the next logical record in ascending/descending sequence. So I implemented indexing in external ISAM files and trapped every database write/delete/update with a routine that updated the indexes. Programs were then modified to call a subroutine I wrote that used the indexes and retrieved the data from the database.

Ah, the days when you always had to roll your own. If I had realized what I was doing was writing a precursor to SQL, I could have written ORACLE at least a decade earlier than it appeared. Ah, the opportunities we missed.

I always remember Roy Brown bemoaning that back in the 70's, to get production and accounting people off his back requesting ad-hoc data analysis, he had written on a mainframe this dynamic grid based program. It had a set of simple arithmetic statements that could be associated with cells on the grid, into which the accountants could type or load numbers and then calculate the results. Yes he had written a spreadsheet (without knowing it) and was most surprised when the PCs came along and spreadsheets were one of the first killer apps.

08:09 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink

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