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My Life with Computers
My experience with computers began in 1970 while I was employed at Ampex Corporation. We used an System Engineering Laboratories (SEL) 810A mini-computer as the system controller in the Ampex Videofile system. This was a very large, scalable system for the storage and retrieval of document images to video tape. These systems were used by several large insurance companies, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, New Scotland Yard, and several other law enforcement agencies. By today's standards this computer was quite slow, but was state of the art in 1970:
1.75 microsecond cycle time for a whopping rate of 572 thousand instructions per second. Memory reference instructions required 2 to 3 cycles to execute.
64K, yes K, of memory. Since each location was a 16 bit word, this was equivalent to 128K bytes. Some of the earlier systems utilized only 32K words of memory, and the computer hardware required extensive modification to go to 64K.
A custom, Ampex designed I/O unit was installed in the computer to provide specialized input/output to the system peripherals and to provide for time sharing the interrupt channels of the basic machine.
An Ampex designed operating system provided real time re-entrant processing capabilities. All the software was written in assembly language for maximum execution speed and compact size of code. This system was interrupt driven, and there were stringent time constraints on the software side.
I originally worked on the hardware design of one of the peripherals for this system, a video hardcopy printer, from 1967 to 1970, when I then went into Field Service. I worked primarally on the hardware at first, and later assumed software maintenance duties as well. During this time I wrote several complex and useful diagnotics routines, and developed my keen interest in programming which has lasted with me until the present.
Several of the Videofile systems were utilized into the late 1980's and beyond.
My next assignment with Ampex, from 1981 to 1987, was with the Terabit Memeory System, specifically the system installed at the National Center for Atmospheric Research located in Boulder, CO, where I was the Field Service Site Supervisor. This system was much like Videofile and leveraged off the same technology, but the Terabit system was for storing mass quantities of digital data as opposed to document images. The major components of this system were:
8 dual tape drives utilizing 10.5 inch reels of 2 inch wide video tape. Each tape had a capacity of 5.5 gigabytes.
5 transport drivers. These units contained all the electronics needed to support the transport and could connect to any transport through a complex switcthing matrix. Each transport driver contained a Data General Nova mini-computer which provided all the control and interface functions to operate the transport within the system.
3 data channels any one of which could be connected to a given tape drive to provide the signal processing and error correction and the interface to the system control section.
The system control section provided overall control of the data storage section and the host computer interface sections which ultimately sent/received the data from the hosts: NCAR's Cray 1A and a CDC 7600 (later replaced by a Cray X-MP48) super computer. The computer used as the system controller was a DEC PDP-11/35. Each host interface was controlled by a DEC PDP-11/15 mini-computer under the direction of the system controller.
Rounding out the system control section was a disk storage sub-system consisting of an Ampex DC-830 controller and 3 Ampex DC-330 disk drives. These were 19 surface removeable disk packs each with a storage capacity of 100 Mb., and held the system software and the master file directory.
The Terabit Memeory System at NCAR was de-comissioned in April of 1987. As far as I know, there are no such systems still in existence. My exposure to PC's at NCAR was minimal as they were just beginning to make their appearance. Our computing needs were met by access to NCAR's UNIX systems via a terminal. I had my first exposure to the Internet while at NCAR, but it would be unrecognizable to today's Web surfer. It mainly consisted of Usenet and FTP, and was used mainly by scientists and engineers that had a government affiliation.
My entrance into "home computing" really came in 1990 when we purchased our first PC, although I had used PC's extensively while at Exabyte starting in 1987. Our first home PC was an NEC 386/16 SX with a 42 Mb. hard drive, MS-DOS 3.0, and Windows 3.0. The extent of my online world was CompuServe at 300 baud (there was a substantial surcharge for higher rates), and later, GEnie, no graphical interface or browser as we know it, just straight DOS. I also continued honing my programming skills in C with the Microsoft Quick C Compiler. I'd had exposure to other languages in the past such as Basic and Fortran, but all of my professional experience was in assembly language on DEC, Data General, and the SEL platforms.
Over the years we've continued to upgrade our computing power:
In 1992 we purchased a Gateway 486/33 DX, 4 mb. of RAM, DOS 5.0, and Windows 3.1, eventually upgraded to DOS 6.22 and Windows for Workgroups 3.11. This was my "work horse" until March, 2000.
In 1997, a Gateway Pentium 133, 32 Mb of RAM, 3.2 Gb. hard drive, and Windows '95. This was our first computer with multi-media capability and CD-ROM drive. This PC is still in daily use as Jimmye's primary PC.
In March 2000, and the PC I am using at present, a Gateway 700 Mhz. Athlon, 128 Mb. of RAM, a 20 Gb. hard drive, CD-ROM/DVD drive, and full multi-media capability.
Future expansion plans call for connecting the two newest Gateways in a home network, and a CD-RW drive for the Athlon. We are also looking at adding an all-in-one printer/scanner/whatever in the very near future.
I am still continuing my work and continuing education in C++ using Microsoft Visual Studio and MS Visual C++ 6.0, and am currently learning Windows programming with Microsoft Foundation Classes. Jimmye will be starting a class in Visual Basic shortly. Over the years we have both become expert level users of many different types of software especially the Microsoft Office suite. In addition, I've had significant experience through my work with developing and maintaining a large MS Access database. I was also the maintainer of our department's intranet web site for some time and gained a lot of experience in HTML (although it may not show here!). I will continue to update this page as significant changes come about and will also add some links to some of my favorite relevant sites.
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