Sunday, July 11, 1999
Repent! The End is Near! (Y2K)
REUNION of Southern California OLD-TIMER Computer Geeks,
It was also the 45th anniversary meeting of the Los Angeles Chapter of ACM.
The meeting started with self-introductions by everyone present. These were filmed by cameraman W. Vincent (Vince) Neisius, an authentic old-timer. When it became Vince's turn the camera was turned over to Ed Manderfield for operation. Ed Manderfield introduced the meeting by saying that Northrop in the late 1940's was basically a company that was a navy contractor. However, computer operations got an air force contract and Northrop wasn't sure what to do with it. Eventually five computer companies, (Bendix, Alwac, J.B. Rae, Electronics Division of NCR and a company Ed could not remember) were formed from what was know as the "Boiler Room" at Northrop. A series of computers were developed on the West Coast and these are the people we are celebrating today.
The first speaker was Glen Hagan, founder of LRC/Alwac. He said he had joined Northrop in 1948 when it was just finishing work on the digital analyzer. He gave a description of how primitive the early computer hardware was and compared what existed then with the personal computers available today.
The next speaker was Lee Schmidt with his talk on "Forward into the Past". Lee started out by quoting information from a publication from 1963 that described computer rentals ranging from low end machines at $1300 per month up to $9000 per month for the IBM 650 and $43,000 per month for Univac 1105. Some of the machines had weird word lengths such as 31 and 33 bits. Lee said that by 1967 there were more computers and the price had dropped a bit. He then moved on to his "Forward Into The Past" presentation by saying that one move we don't want to make is back to the equipment used then. We don't want to go back to drum printers, punched paper tape or Germanium logic. However, he noted that some high-end audio systems today use vacuum tubes. Some current information practices could certainly use some of the rigor that was required in the past but that people seem to believe they can get along without today. He gave some examples of hilarious miswording that resulted from accepting spell check's "corrections" of words. We still need good proofreaders. Some of the modern networked conference systems run very slowly except on high performance equipment and frequently email can be received out of sequence resulting in confusion. Lee has paid bills by computer for many years, and now computer bill paying is being offered by a number of major banks on networked systems. A step backward here is that some of these systems don't provide ease in getting a copy of the transactions into the accounting system on your own machine. Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) are in general use today. Sometimes they have superseded Text User Interfaces (TUIs) that allowed you to move through a series of menus and key in text. Well-designed text menus were easy to use and many of them have not been suitably replaced by equally easy to use GUIs. The important thing is to get information in a form that can be processed, disseminated, and presented in a manner that enlightens the world of humans.
Next Harold Sarkissian spoke on "The Good Old Days". He joined the computer group at Northrop in 1947 back in the early days of computing which was a very interesting time. The difference from now till then is that recently IBM announced a 3 gigabit per square inch magnetic recording. At Northrop then a missile program used telescopes for guidance and analog computers were not accurate enough to calculate good positions. Wire recorders were available, but there was no magnetic tape available. 3M company supplied magnetic tape, but not the emulsion. They had to dissolve the magnetic material off the tape and transfer it to a drum. These were slow, primitive methods that were made to work. They finished the guidance system, but had trouble testing it because they didn't have good reference points. They didn't know where Northrop was with sufficient accuracy. They also had trouble getting the correct time and ended up using WWV radio signals. Northrop was the mid-wife to the computer industry and by 1972 thirteen computers and 27 companies had their roots in Northrop.
Robert Rector said he had many fine memories of the period when he started out under Dr. Walter Bauer at Rand and later moved to Ramo-Woolridge. He described the early days of the Los Angeles Chapter or ACM that was organized by Sybil Rock. The model for the organization was the Digital Computer Association (DCA) which was very much IBM oriented with some UNIVAC representation. Sybil wanted to affiliate with a national organization so she picked ACM. Walter Bauer was also an early organizer of the LA Chapter, as were a number of the people who worked for him. Early membership was very strong, in the 1200-1500 range. Frank Wagner, Jeanette Orgill, and Marjorie Hill were early DATA-LINK editors. In the early years ACM was involved in quite a number of national and international computer conferences. Many of the problems of today were discussed at very early dates at these meetings.
John Alridge said he had worked with Sybil Rock in 1951 and that analog computers were used to do matrix inversions for calculations of data from mass spectrometers. Digital computers provided more accuracy and Sybil and Cliff Berry worked on these initial operations. Sybil was a mathematician and if the pattern she had started had been followed ACM might have ended up as a numerical analysis association. Walter Bauer and Frank Wagner wanted to extend the range of ACM activities and believed that having dinner meetings with lots of drinks before-hand would make the meetings popular.
Peter Coffee, Technical Editor of PC Week, was not present in person, but presented an excellent report by VCR. He said: "The Future hasn't begun to happen yet". Incremental changes can create great progress and the bandwidth explosion is about to begin with multiple gigabit per second data streams. It is going to become more attractive to do things with distributed systems. There will be increasing need to outsource network system management. Network service will become more robust, secure, and mobile and quality of service will be demanded from networked systems. Lack of standardization has impeded networking, but standardization will gain momentum. Satellite constellations will provide worldwide capability although Iridium is not an initial commercial success. The initiator of a new system does not usually dominate the field. More power will be used for signal processing for things like digital cameras and digital phones. The new IPV6 Internet protocol incorporates new security provisions that require strong encryption to really be secure. Countries have delayed this and they should realize that encryption technology is out of the box and it is too late to put it back. He mentioned that while Linux has made significant progress that it only does half as well as Windows NT on throughput on equivalent machines so everything has to be put into perspective. He said he expects to see major changes occurring in a 2 to 7 year period.
That was the last presentation and the meeting broke up into a series of informal conversations.
This was the either the first or the last meeting of the year, and was attended by 29 people.
Mike Walsh LA ACM Secretary
|Save Wednesday, September 8, for the first meeting of the new year.|
To make a reservation, call Ed
Manderfield, (310) 391-5936, and indicate your choice of entree, by
Sunday before the dinner meeting.
There is no charge or reservation required to attend the program. Parking is free!
For membership information, contact Lee Schmidt, (805) 393-6224 or follow this link.
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Last revision: 1999 0804 [ls]