Old Computers – Western Terminal System / Interdata 7/32

 

My first experience with a timeshare / terminal based system was on an Interdata 7/32 running a locally written (at Western Washington University) called Western Terminal System (or WTS).

I started using this in 1976 while a student at a local high school.  Before that my experience was with an IBM 360 over punched cards.

Hardware

The Interdata 7/32 minicomputer allowed up to 1Mb of memory (these typically had 380-odd K – that’s less than a half a single Mb) and 32-bit words and 16 general registers (and I think 8 floating point registers).  One of the neat things about these was that they used an instruction set very close to the IBM 360 models.

In this case they connected from 16 to 20 character terminals up to a minicomputer with about 380K of memory.  Also attached were 4 200Mb disk drive cabinets (that’s a total of 800Mb).

In addition, as I recall the ‘blue’ system had a channel to channel interface with the IBM 360 mainframe.  Later on this allowed students to code IBM Jobs using the terminals and submit them to the IBM mainframe via this interface.  We thought that was kind of cool.

The simh project ( http://simh.trailing-edge.com ) has Interdata simulators for the 7/32, 8/32, and their 16-bit minicomputers as well as an early version of UNIX (the interdata was the first non-DEC platform unix was ported to).  OS/32 (the Interdata/Concurrent OS for the 7/32 and 8/32 and 3200 series) is around.

The Interdata Company was purchased by Perkins-Elmer computers and eventually became part of Concurrent Computers which still exists.  There are still  a few 8/32’s running today in various locations).

Software

The OS was a locally written timeshare system called ‘Western Terminal System’ (makes sense since it was at Western Washington University) consisting (and this is from memory) of a common low-level OS, basic meta-code interpreter, and basic (or WPL) to metadata translators.  It was used basically for CAI (Computer Assisted Instruction) using the Pilot language (all text based of course).  Users were given either a Private or Student userid and a user file.

Each CRT terminal had a 8K partition of memory and a ‘temp’ file of about 300 80 column lines of text (structured as 100 blocks of 3 80-column lines each).  Each user also had a user file of, on average, about 300 lines (also in 100 block of 3 80 character records) – the user file was ‘partitioned’ into seperate files sorta-kinda like a partitioned dataset – there was a directory and ‘data’ area.  And people used to have to compress their files often using a utility.  In addition all terminals shared a read-only ‘public’ file, file, which contains common utilities.

There were utilities to renumber basic files (fixing the gosubs correctly), list file contents, Edit files (line editing only) etc…

The basic language it hosted was a structured basic with do-blocks and the like.

In addition to basic there was PILOT used for authoring CAI courseware and WPL (Western Programming Language) a derivitive of PL/1.  Basic was somewhat integrated with pilot so you could define basic variables, do some simple statements, call basic subroutines.

A few of the terminals were Tektronix 1410 Storage tubes able to display graphics (but to erase anything you had to flash and erase the entire screen) – some of the routines and utilities were written to take advantage of the graphical nature.

Courseware was where you would sit at a terminal and enter the name of a course.  I remember taking their ‘FORBUS’ course which was an introduction to Fortran IV (and in fact that is how I learned Fortran).  They had a lot of other ‘corses’ which people can take, plus a couple of games.  Terminals were in one or two ‘terminal rooms’ which was staffed by student ‘consultants (sometimes called ‘insultants’).

One system, the ‘white’ system later was later given additional memory and a batch processor which included a Fortran compiler / interpreter.  The batch processor had (as I recall) 109K of memory.

I remember that they used to run SPSS in that small partitition.  The software (and batch processor) was modified so that certain fortran statements (I beleave it was the fortran REWIND 99 statement) would load in a new overlay of the SPSS program.  Output was to a queue or a hardcopy (mostly dot-matrix) printer – which were generally teletype printer terminals.  They were distinctive because they were noisy and when they executed a carrage return the printhead would slam (BANG!) into the side of the print area.  There were a few 1200 baud printers (I think they were DEC).

Later on Western installed a real VAX 780 running a version of VMS.  Soon after that my family moved away and I wasn’t able to access Western anymore.

WordPress and Facebook

Facebook is good – but limited in the nature and complexity of what you can post – it is a social networking site and not oriented toward posting long-rambling articles (like this one).  Blog software such as WordPress give a person a forum to post article (and essay) sized and complex postings (with embedded pictures, video, and general media).

Facebook is, at least for now, the foremost ‘Social Networking’ site.  This is where you and your friends can post messages on your wall, send messages to each other, post pictures, link to videos, and comment on other’s postings. You can also filter who can see which postings.  Its great for interacting with others.

WordPress is one of the most popular Blogging software out there (and free).  With Themes and Plugins you can have a very professional looking Blogsite in a few hours.  Postings are generally ‘public’ and anyone can see them.  Its focus is basically to publish your own articles and allow others to comment (and comment on the comments, etc…).   This site, babbling-geek.com is a seperate WP website with its own DNS address.  You can also create a wordpress blog under the wordpress.com site in just a few minutes and you don’t have to have your own web-hosting or DNS address.

For example right now I am editing this article with Windows Live Editor (part of windows Live) which allows for a word-processor like interface and you can embed videos, tables, pictures, links, maps, etc.. very easily.  You can also edit articles directly on the WP site itself.  But I find using windows live easier.  I used to have a ‘blog’ like site I would edit by typing in the raw HTML codes into a ‘.html’ file – that was much more difficult because I spent more brainwidth on ensuring that the HTML tags were correct and closed properly instead of the actual content.

What if you can link the two?   That way you can post your article-size ramblings and also post them to facebook.  Well between the Facebook API and the WordPress Plugins you can.  There are WordPress plugins you can use to allow you (and others) to post your words of wisdom on their FB walls (also Twitter, and other networking sites).

By opening this article (clicking on the title) WordPress will display a number of icons which allows you to note the article to various social networking sites (such as facebook, Twitter, Wave, etc…).

Scary.  Now I can expose everyone I know to my rambling.  Brahahaha……

Dumping the Cable Company

A couple of months ago we purchased a new 46” LED Samsung TV with an Internet connection.  This could connect to Netflix, Hulu (plus), and a number of other video sources I haven’t look at yet. 

At the same time we had Cable TV.  Pink Floyd had a verse in one of their songs, “200 channels of sh*t on the TV’ which is pretty much true.  With cable you get whatever the T.V. Producers decide you want to see – much like the T.V. news organizations decide what you want to see and hear.  In any case we had Cable T.V. but didn’t watch it much – and didn’t particularly like what was being shown.  We are not that big into the ‘big games’, nor ‘American Idol’, ‘Glee’, or whatever the latest T.V. fashion was.

We get most of our ‘News’ over the net and bypass the editors and filters at the alphabet media.

Also some of the shows are, basically, not good for the kids – I’m talking about the Kids shows.

As a result we decided to end our Cable-TV subscription.  Took our boxes (including the HweD Box downstairs) in and told them to end our cable account (and the $60/month for basic digital cable).  We still deal with Comcast for our internet – hard to beat the great download speeds – and with our increased bandwidth usage we need that.

I was somewhat concerned about Comcast’s 250Gb/monthly limit on bandwidth comcast imposes.  But after monitoring it for a couple of months we are still well under the limit.   We had been over the limit for a couple of months before all this when I left my torrent service running. We’ll see how our bandwidth suffers when we start connecting our refrigerator and toaster to the internet.

Now we use the TV less.  The kids like some of the ‘Netflix’ shows (and series) as well as some of the older shows.  Andrew likes to watch ‘Lost in Space’ of all things.  Yes it’s dumb and campy and corny but it doesn’t try to preach to you or glorify bad behaviour or brat kids.

And the additional $60/month can go to my Ebay addiction.