[Beowulf] Re: Religious wars

Bob Drzyzgula bob at drzyzgula.org
Wed Jul 23 19:54:13 PDT 2008

On Wed, Jul 23, 2008 at 09:06:03PM -0400, Perry E. Metzger wrote:
> "Robert G. Brown" <rgb at phy.duke.edu> writes:
> > Note that Bob and I started out on systems with far less than 100 MB
> > of DISK and perhaps a MB of system memory on a fat SERVER in the
> > latter 80's.  And the P(o)DP(eople) made do with even less in the
> > early 80's.
> My first machine was a PDP-8. 4k of 12 bit words of genuine magnetic
> core memory, and two DECtape units with some small amount of storage
> (I can't remember, but I think it was on the order of 100k). I believe
> there are icons on my modern desktop that take up more space than that
> whole machine had for core.

Although it wasn't my first machine [1], I did work with an
admittedly-old-at-the-time PDP-8 for a while in the early
1980s. It was used to run a Perkin-Elmer microdensitometer
(think quarter-million-dollar film scanner).  IIRC it had
no non-volatile memory, and thus one needed to hand-load
the bootstrap program using the front panel switches [2].
With the one I worked on, there was a hand-written sequence
of octal codes taped up on the machine rack, and to fire
it up you would mount a certain 9-track tape in the drive,
toggle [3] the bootstrap code into memory using switches,
and start it to running. The toggled-in code would load
the rest of the OS from the tape drive. There was another
version that would load the OS from a paper tape reader
attached to the teletype, but no one ever bothered with it
because it was such a PITA to use. Once you got it going it
would read the data from the microdensitometer and write
it to another 9-track tape (same drive, you'd unload the
OS tape and mount the data tape). And once you had the
data tape, you'd take it over to a PDP-11 and process the
image using routines coded in Forth...

Anyway, this is a good example of the sort of expectation
management that many of us went through in those early
days. By comparison, even ed starts to look pretty darned

Did I ever mention the months of my life I lost to an
attempt to get TeX to (a) compile and run in TSO on OS/MVS,
and (b) get it to generate output for an IBM 3820
remote SNA-attached laser printer?

I suppose the bright side, we didn't have to trouble
ourselves with firewalls, encryption, virus scanners,
security patches, or in many cases even authentication

> > vi back then was little more than a shell on ed IIRC
> It was (for nvi, is) the visual mode of ex, which is/was an extended
> line editor in the lineage of ed, kind of an extended ed.

Correct. In ex you would enter the command "vi" at the
colon-prompt to enter visual mode. You should still be
able to do this on any system with vi installed -- give
it a try! :-) FWIW, the shell command "vi" simply fires
up ex in that mode to start with.


[1] that was an IBM 1130 which bootsrapped off a single, 80-column
puchcard containing a small amount of object code.

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Multiplex-80_after_30_years.jpg

[3] You would enter the address you wanted to start at in
octal (actually just binary grouped into three digits)
using the switches -- IIRC up for "1" and down for "0",
and then throw another switch that would load that number
into the address register. Then you'd reset the switches to
the pattern for the data you wanted there, and throw the
"deposit" switch. Again IIRC as long as you were loading
data into sequential addresses, it would auto-increment the
address register, so from then on you needed only to keep
entering each data value and pressing the deposit switch.

And as long as I'm blathering about toggling things in from
the front panel, I will go ahead and mention that I'm just
old enough to have once been invited over to the home of
one of my college professors to see this new Altair 8800
thing he was putting together...

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