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Don't let the oscilloscope fool you
December 30, 2010 2:38 AM   Subscribe

"In the late '60's I worked for Bell Labs for a few years managing a data center and developing an ultra high speed information retrieval system. It was the days of beehive hair on the women and big mainframe computers. One day I took a camera to work and shot the pictures below."
posted by channey (69 comments total) 76 users marked this as a favorite

 
These are wonderful.

I have a bunch of similar shots taken at our microfilm business in the 1970s, complete with polyester everywhere, Aqua Net, sideburns, ashtrays with menthol drifting up in curls, and "Hang In There!" posters and blacklight velvet-flocked unicorn posters in the diazo duplication room. It's nice sometimes to go through the images and remember what it was like to be a kid in that place, when everything was going gangbusters and everyone was inventing the field as they went along.

No matter how modern and timeless you feel, you'll always look back and laugh.

You'll also look back and see that we're always the same—just folks, doing our jobs.
posted by sonascope at 2:45 AM on December 30, 2010 [5 favorites]


I let the oscilloscope fool me once in my junior year of college, and promised myself, never again. But seriously, am I a relic because I recognize a couple pieces of equipment there?
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:55 AM on December 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Wow. It's interesting to see pictures like this, to me they're like something out of a history book, but the people in these pictures are probably still alive and to them this was just how things were a couple of decades ago.
posted by delmoi at 2:56 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Quite interesting to note that at the dawn of the computing age women were so intimately involved.
posted by PenDevil at 3:02 AM on December 30, 2010 [12 favorites]


I love beehive hair on big mainframe computers.
posted by Wolfdog at 3:12 AM on December 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


The most striking aspect of these pictures to me is that the world was not, in fact, black and white back then.
posted by Dr Dracator at 3:13 AM on December 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


Off hand, I'd say that was a Tektronix 585 .

Those boards in back of the lady holding the probe are wire-wrapped. A gazillion miles of wire. Jeez, was that a headache to work on.

Tech comes and goes. So does fashion. Nice pix from the old days.
posted by FauxScot at 3:15 AM on December 30, 2010


Fun stuff. Thanks for the link.
posted by spoobnooble at 3:25 AM on December 30, 2010


My start in IT was quite similar to this, albeit just a few years later... in 1973. We operated the IBM big iron round the clock in three shifts with staff in the tape library running after the more than 40,000 nine-inch reels to load on the vacuum tape drives. Another crew of operators manned the 3211 printers churning out hundreds of thousands of pages per night on 6-part carbon laced paper that had to be decollated for perusal by the analysts. The more experienced operators sat at the mainframe consoles, basically scheduling the job flow through the S/360 and S/370 processors.

We mounted large 40 pound packs of magnetic disks that spun at phenomenal rates of speed and stored seemingly endless amounts of data. Of course by today's standards, what now fits on your digital camera memory card took a 2000 square foot room of these monster disks back then. We truly thought technology had made a quantum leap when the disks came fixed on the drives and didn't have to be mounted and unmounted, a heavy and time-consuming process.

There was a firm belief in the idiom of "all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." Especially on the overnight shift, pranks and games were the order of the day. The tape librarian could not imagine why the mouthpiece in his telephone had such a horrible odor until someone fessed up that it had been stuffed with limburger cheese the night before. The computer room was on the 2nd floor of a ten story office building. The poor soul who feel asleep in the portable printer paper storage bin was quite surprised to awaken on the 10th floor after a surreptitious ride on the elevator. The security guard had a few questions.

We all had shoulder length hair and did lots of things we shouldn't have, but we were also loving the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of something so technologically marvelous. The mainframe computing of that day was changing in leaps and bounds and we seemingly rolled in another monster system every six months or so. They were water-cooled and required huge air handlers that kept the people in sweaters year round. We loved every minute.

I had a wonderful 30 year career in IT, eventually retiring in 2003 at the ripe old age of 50. I did tech support and PL/1 programming, systems analysis and systems administration. The last seven years I was the performance analyst and capacity planner for a network of 8000 internal interactive users of zSeries and iSeries systems. But I will always remember my start as an operator in the mid-70s with wide-eyed joy and a great anticipation of learning new things. It was a great time to be working with technology, and the pinochle games on midnight shift weren't too bad either.
posted by netbros at 3:30 AM on December 30, 2010 [36 favorites]


I love that this is described as an "ultra high speed information retrieval system". I bet it could be outperformed by what most people have in their pockets these days. The hairstyles, on the other hand, have the edge.
posted by iotic at 3:46 AM on December 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


The history of women in IT goes all the way back to the beginning, not that anyone really ever promotes that history, alas.

At my workplace, I was responsible for wrangling the mighty punchcard duplicator and the keypunch machine, which were in use well into the nineties for working with microfilm aperture cards. They were "obsolete" technology, as the saying goes, except they worked really well as a way of combining descriptive metadata (in the form of data punched into the card itself) with high-resolution analog media. Plus, watching the card sorter pick out a specific card was a real thrill—you kinda wanted to have "Powerhouse" playing, watching the cards whiz by and flip around while it was looking up a specific card.

Programming the duplicator was done on a brain-melting plugboard that folded out of a panel in the left front of the machine on a mechanism so gorgeously elegant in its movement that you could really see where the money went in its creation. It took forever to put patches together, but they worked well enough. When I found an example of the breed on display at the Smithsonian, I made a nuisance of myself, albeit for a good cause.

"I could patch this up for you so it's not just random," I explained to some poor curatorial assistant I'd managed to drag out of his office. "You see there? Those lines would never be set up like that."

"How do you know that?"

"I used to run one of these machines."

"You look awfully young to have done that."

"It was last year," I said. I started to reach over to the machine to point something out and the guy's museum degree tingled. He blocked my hand.

"It's fine as it is."

"But, don't you want this display to be accurate?"

"It's accurate enough as it is."

"Well," I griped, "Your sign for the Commodore 64 is wrong, too. It uses a 6510 CPU, not a 6502."

Yeah, I'm a dick. But...but...awww, nevermind. When I ended up in the museum business myself, though, I took the complaints seriously enough to correct more than a few little errors in our signs and print materials.

It's been a while since I've been back to the Museum of American History, but if that display's up, I bet both of those exhibits are still forging a slightly inaccurate history.
posted by sonascope at 3:56 AM on December 30, 2010 [42 favorites]


Fantastic photos. I like the tidiness. And it's all so familiar. In college we had an IBM 360 system. I loved hanging out in the machine room.
posted by rmmcclay at 4:06 AM on December 30, 2010


Pic on an IBM 360 System.
posted by rmmcclay at 4:08 AM on December 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Pic of, even.
posted by rmmcclay at 4:09 AM on December 30, 2010


with staff in the tape library running after the more than 40,000 nine-inch reels to load on the vacuum tape drives.

I'd forgotten about that until you mentioned it, the way they sucked up the tape with a wooshing sound, ending with a pop and a sigh when it grabbed, and the spools were threaded taught without even touching them. Other people were supposed to do that for me, so whenever I tried, it seldom worked the first time, if at all.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:15 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


In the 90s I worked for British Telecom's research labs - and I can remember seeing some pictures of office work from this same era. The photographer had not been able to find colour film - but there was exactly the same tendency towards beehives, mutton chops and conspicuous slide rules.

One of the most entertaining aspects about studying old material from research labs is seeing how well they managed to predict the future. For the telecoms industry, certainly in terms of the devices people might use and how they might use them - not too well. There was a great film made by the General Post Office (as BT was then) showing their 60s era conception of a future office. The protagonist held a (stilted), mocked up videoconference with a colleague from Sydney. "Bruce" then wanted to share a map with him and the map showed up on the screen. At this stage the guy in the demo took out something that looked like a giant rubber stamp - he brought it up to cover the whole video screen and to somehow capture the image. He was then able to stamp this onto a piece of paper - thus having his own "facsimile" image.
posted by rongorongo at 4:20 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


@sonascope - I doubt there's standards for Smithsonian curatorship, but there is a legend that happened with a friend of my oldest brother. Rich, by the time he was in high school, was probably the foremost authority on the Luftwaffe. He went to the Smithsonian and they had a display where they flashed up silhouettes of WWII planes to challenge you to identify them. He nailed every single one as if he were competing on Jeopardy. One of the last ones they flashed up, his answer was "they're going to say that it's a _____, but it's really a ____." And he was right again. He got the curator and made his case. I think the cost of fixing it was prohibitive.

That said, when I worked at Bell Labs in the early '80s, security could be pretty edgy about bringing in recording equipment. If you got caught sneaking it in, you could lose your job. I worked for Max Mathews1, making electronic violins. I make most of the parts by hand from wood or aluminum in a secret machine shop2 and was very proud of my work - I was mixing stains to match the neck to typical instruments and doing things other people never did - I made necks from laminated beech and walnut. At any rate, I wanted some pictures, so it was easier to sneak a violin out than it was to sneak a camera in, so I did just that.

Murray Hill Bell Labs was an amazing place. There were times when I went exploring just to see what I could see. I found the chemical stock room and flipped through the catalog just to see what you could get. Parts of it were like listing of the periodic chart. For grins, I checked Plutonium. Yup. You could order Plutonium. Chances are you wouldn't *get* it because you needed security clearances and signatures from people pretty high in the organization. I knew my department's org chart (I wasn't even on it) and it had Arno Penzias(Nobel Prize winner) at the top - and he couldn't sign for it.

1I still keep this job on my resume
2The machine shop was 'secret' because Bell Labs had a public machine shop that was expensive and OSHA compliant. They did wonderful work, but if you needed something quick knocked out (like a brace for a test rig), it was neither cheap nor expedient to go through the official shop.
posted by plinth at 4:35 AM on December 30, 2010 [28 favorites]


Plinth, you've made me completely jealous.

I'm going to bury my nose in my pd manual and pout now.
posted by sonascope at 4:54 AM on December 30, 2010


Quick! Somebody call the retronaut!
posted by punkfloyd at 5:09 AM on December 30, 2010


mathamatitions=mathematicians
Does that profession still exist?
posted by thinkpiece at 5:19 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Like sonascope, I too used to operate both a keypunch machine and duplicator. Sadly our system just used the plain, boring old punch cards, not the fancy cool microfilm aperture ones.
posted by trip and a half at 5:42 AM on December 30, 2010


sonascope: They were "obsolete" technology, as the saying goes, except they worked really well as a way of combining descriptive metadata (in the form of data punched into the card itself) with high-resolution analog media.

Aperture cards are what put food on my table today -- I've got racks of them at work that we're rapidly converting to digital images. There's a good chance of walking into your county recorder's office and finding that all their 1960s-1990s documents are on aperture cards. Every so often, a guy from the local jet shop stops in and drops off a handful of DOD aperture cards, complete with hollerith holes, for us to scan so he can email a PDF to his fabricator. Sadly, I'm the only person who really appreciates the stuff. When I asked our repair guy (who's been around long enough to have worked on them) about how the machine used for exposing and developing the cards worked, he looked at me like I was retarded.
posted by AzraelBrown at 5:48 AM on December 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


Unbelievable as it can sometimes seem, workplace bonds are very strong and that comes through with these wonderful photos. Thank you so much for sharing.
posted by KathyBraid at 5:58 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


...workplace bonds are very strong...

Well, back then you fully expected to work at the same company for your whole career so you had time to bond.
posted by octothorpe at 6:21 AM on December 30, 2010 [6 favorites]


Mrs. RKS worked on strikingly similar systems from 1990-95 working for our state government, which hung onto mainframes way too long (hell, we attended the funeral of a co-worker of hers around 2007 and talked to some of the current staff; they were still running COBAL - uncertain if this was on a virtual environment or still on mainframe hardware). She was a programmer/analyst, not a computer room operator, but on her trips to the computer room (she went down there sometimes around the time I picked her up for lunch, since it was downstairs), that's very much what it looked like. I'm sure this system compares to the one she worked with as a white-cased 386 looks to the PC I'm typing on, but the physical architecture was very similar - tape readers the size of washing machines, etc.

In other news, I would love to have a secretary like Roxanne (or any secretary, for that matter), and Kathy looks like she would reject your precious data for being out of format any chance she got, but maybe that's just literally the snapshot of her expression and she didn't normally look like this.

Great find, thanks for posting.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:55 AM on December 30, 2010


Great to see pioneers in action.
posted by juiceCake at 6:55 AM on December 30, 2010


My dad worked for IBM for 32 years, starting in about 1967. He worked in the mainframe division. My brother and I had a shit ton of old punch cards laying around to play with. He also had a secretarial pool. Anyway, he used to take us in to work with him every now and then and we'd get to put on the little booties and shit and stare at the 'washing machines' and such. My favorite thing though is when he'd tell a particular story about punch cards. They used to play practical jokes on new guys. They'd wait until the guy had a meticulous program stacked up on his desk, ready to go and then they'd distract him and replace the stack with garbage cards. Then they'd let the guy return. A couple minutes later my dad would walk over, start talking to the guy and then pretend to sneeze and in the process knock the stack of punch cards off the desk, spilling them all over the floor. It still cracks me up imagining the look on some poor programmer's face as 15,000 punch cards flew all over the floor.

Oh, and, anyway know how I can get Roxanne's number?
posted by spicynuts at 7:05 AM on December 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


yeah, MrDoodley worked in a mainframe shop like this for about 15 years, into the late '90s. The owner bought machines and tapes from whatever municipality was giving up on them, all the time. He'd bring in huge cartons of tapes and have the new guys test them and destroy them if they had too much bad tape. Their favorite method of destruction was to wing them across the room so they'd explode against the wall in a shower of brittle, 30-year-old plastic. Fun!
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:18 AM on December 30, 2010


There's a picture of my mom at Honeywell where she was a programmer in the mid 60s. Beehive, cat's eye glasses and "mini computer" which was the size of a largish kitchen island.
posted by pernoctalian at 7:18 AM on December 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


the people in these pictures are probably still alive

Given the person who posted the photos, this is a tremendous insight.
posted by yerfatma at 7:21 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Many names have disappeared from my memory after 35 years, but these were an excellent and dedicated group of people.
posted by localhuman at 7:30 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


No beehive hairdos, but some great hardware on exhibit at the Computer History Museum.
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 7:49 AM on December 30, 2010


There's this scientific principle, I forget what it's called. But the idea is, if you send out the fanciest space ship our civilization is capable of building on a mission to the closest star, they'd only get halfway there by the time the next ship we sent picked them up. That is, the rate of technological advancement is so rapid that you're just better off waiting.

Anyway, I look back on all the "ancient" tech in these photos and think of how much progress has been made in just a single lifespan, and think about that fanciest-spaceship principle a lot.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:57 AM on December 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


So William H. Macy started out as a programmer.

Doris Day played a computer operator in That Touch of Mink, with disastrous results.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:00 AM on December 30, 2010


Very cool history. Many thanks for the pics, and the remembrances.

I often wonder just how different our world might be had corporations back then had taken the short-sighted approach that today's companies take, and had not established pure-research concerns like Bell Labs, Xerox PARC, etc.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:18 AM on December 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


These photos could have been taken at my father's workplace-- I can remember visiting once and being so impressed by how modern and space age it all seemed there. Great find!
posted by idest at 8:25 AM on December 30, 2010


We now carry in our pocket many times the processing power & storage of that entire room full of equipment.
posted by mike3k at 8:32 AM on December 30, 2010


Speaking of fashion. (previously, pictures)
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:39 AM on December 30, 2010


"pork chops...and apple shauce"
posted by hal_c_on at 8:39 AM on December 30, 2010


That prototype computer is filling me with happy Vault-tec thoughts.
posted by quin at 8:40 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


CheeseDigestsAll: the computer history museum is very cool, but also kind of sad: the last time I visited most/all the computers weren't running.

They had this big display of 80's computers: Atari, Commodore, Apple II, PCs. All machines I spent countless hours with in my teens roped off with a sign saying "Do not touch the artifacts".

Artifacts?!

Anyway, I wish they would turn all those machines on, provide workstations and manuals and let people play with them. Looking at the cases is much less interesting than interacting with the machines.

channey: thanks for the post!
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 8:52 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of Desk Set, which Mr. Pterodactyl and I watched recently. It was partially really interesting because of the ways in which it was like an unselfconcious version of Mad Men; when I watch Mad Men I kind of think "oh, they're doing that to make a point", but there's a bit in Desk Set where a girl just tells a man her measurements and they call of the employees "girls" and they all dress like that. It's really fascinating to get a look at the genuine world and see all the real people as well as the genuine affection. Thanks for this!
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:53 AM on December 30, 2010


We now carry in our pocket many times the processing power & storage of that entire room full of equipment.

My phone has more processing power, storage, and Internet bandwidth than all of the core systems we used to run a 3000-user ISP in *1995*.
posted by mrbill at 9:00 AM on December 30, 2010 [7 favorites]


I've got such a hoardy fondness for these old machines, despite the fact that I was never quite smart enough to make a career with them, except as an end-user, that I briefly owned a VAX 11/780. Never got to use it, of course, because I can't even manage to install Puredyne on a netbook without several suicide attempts, but I'd gotten wind that a certain unnamed nearby government agency that once hosted the Explorer post I belonged to had actually left the machine sitting disconsolately by a dumpster. I had a couple friends help me shove it up a ramp onto my old F150, which was no mean feat--those machines were monsters.

Got it home, couldn't fit it in my apartment or even in the basement, so it sat out back, under a blue tarp, while I planned to take it out to my rustic cabin in West Virginia. That would have been a good place, too, if for no better reason than pure ironic juxtaposition.

"Oh, that?" I'd ask, as some curious visitor pointed out the hulking blue and white console sitting between the wood stove and the couch. "That's a VAX 11, for playing video games."

I'm not above such entry-level humor, seeing as I live in two rooms that total about 380 square feet and yet I have an ornate victorian pump organ in the front room that I keep there primarily so that I can say, "Have I ever shown you my enormous organ?"

Unfortunately, or possibly fortunately, I had a friend come by one time who was familiar with that particular machine, and who pointed out that it had been pretty extensively raided for parts prior to being set up for disposal, so I sadly hauled it out and called for a large trash pickup.

"I've got six bundles of brush and debris and a mainframe computer."

"A what?"

"A very large computer."

"An old PC?"

"No, a thing about the size of two smallish refrigerators."

"Really?"

Other than the occasional wild hair to find a nice PDP-11/03 (aka LSI-11) with a swoopy Lear-Siegler terminal like the one I learned BASIC on, I've let it all go. I had a brief scare in the late nineties when a Data General Nova in the most insanely glorious turquoise and tangerine color scheme showed up at the dumpster near the gun range, but I don't collect things like I used to.

I suspect, ultimately, that I miss the moment, the being there, in those roaring, modern, frigid rooms where the future was happening right in front of me, surrounded by the adults who were making it all happen. Everything's smaller now, and most definitely more amazing, and nobody's happy.

The odd thing, though, is that I don't have the same fascination with the electronic musical instruments that I cut my teeth on. Everyone's a Moog freak, salivating like dogs at the thought of having a wall of modules there in front of them, but my Moog fetish lasted only until I had a chance to sit there, trying to patch together some sounds where the cables were all intermittent and buzzy, the jacks were all crackly, the knobs were all jumpy, and the oscillators never, ever stayed in tune. Hell, even the adored Fairlight was a mess to work with. When I got my first modern sampler, it was a revelation, and when I got my Nord Micromodular, which is essentially a giant wall of Moog in a little red box the size of a thick paperback book, I was in heaven. No nostalgia from me for those miserable old monsters that Keith Emerson would patch into a sort of overblown Minimoog. Maybe I miss the old computers because I never had to really struggle with their shortcomings.

Hell, I even miss raised floors with room for the billion cables you need to connect an IBM 360 to its peripherals and those beanbag ashtrays with coppertoned anodized aluminum trays for the ashes that the naughtier operators would sneak into the COM room on the late shift. Whole worlds change, but sometimes it's nice to step backwards a bit.
posted by sonascope at 9:05 AM on December 30, 2010 [7 favorites]


Coral cache, since the server at the original link is having some trouble keeping up.
posted by mendel at 9:09 AM on December 30, 2010


yeah, we borked it pretty good.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:12 AM on December 30, 2010


Honest to God, it amazes me that these pictures are real. The colors are insane! Where did that palette go?
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:26 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, it is jarring to me to see people sitting at a desk without a PC right there in front of them. I'm sitting here at work feeling a little creeped out right now.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:31 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Honest to God, it amazes me that these pictures are real. The colors are insane! Where did that palette go?

Discontinued by Kodak last year, is my guess.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:12 AM on December 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


oneirodynia: "Discontinued by Kodak last year, is my guess."

In an odd coincidence of timing, the last roll of Kodachrome is scheduled to be developed today.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 10:23 AM on December 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


The colors are insane! Where did that palette go?

Seriously:

PDP-11/40
Nova 3
Nova 4
Sol 20
8080b
360
Cray 1 (Dig the piping on the jacket!)
Cray 2 (Lurid color AND a fluorocarbon waterfall!)

Apple was even supposed to have saved us from beige for a brief moment, but now they're all dressed in black, white, and dull grey. Apparently, we've awakened in Kansas again, back on that goddamn dismal farm. Not that I'm bitter, just because that "She's a Rainbow" ad made me squeal like an eight year-old girl and run out to finally replace my dying SE/30 with a tangerine gumdrop computer. No, I'm not bitter at all.
posted by sonascope at 10:28 AM on December 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


My phone has more processing power, storage, and Internet bandwidth than all of the core systems we used to run a 3000-user ISP in *1995*.

That's probably because your core ISP systems weren't written in JavaScript.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:30 AM on December 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


More recently I kind of miss when Sun hardware was nice and purple. The new brushed metal stuff is arguably easier to replace FRUs on, but the purple stuff was a nice contrast to beige HP hardware and charcoal-gray everything else.
posted by Kyol at 10:47 AM on December 30, 2010


From about 1967 through most of 1970 I lived in Berkeley Heights, NJ, went to elementary school and just barely started Jr. High there. I probably went to school with some of those people's kids.
posted by lordrunningclam at 10:50 AM on December 30, 2010


Metafilter: Many names have disappeared from my memory after 35 years, but these were an excellent and dedicated group of people.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:21 AM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Neat. My mom was one of the first women programmers for Western Electric (who was part owner of Bell Labs) in the late 60s. It didn't occur to me that there was anything groundbreaking about this until a few years ago, since she always mentioned it in sort of an offhand way.
posted by electroboy at 11:37 AM on December 30, 2010


I doubt those pics were shot on Kodachrome - those shots are all available light, and Kodachrome was too slow (ASA 25) for that.
posted by tommyD at 12:47 PM on December 30, 2010


I sent this to my dad, an old techy who used to bring home punch cards from his work and he had this (sexist old koot) thing to say:

Thanks for the memories of the days when I had hair to comb. What I remember best was short skirts. You could see the womens skivvies when they sat down or when they came down stairs. The stairs in my building at TRW were open, no risers, and one had to look down when you heard high heels coming down. Good times and bad times.
....
Love Dad
PS. The big photos take too long to load. The guy sure had a lot of good looking women to work with. Lucky guy.

posted by vespabelle at 1:02 PM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I had one of those Tek scopes that I got free from a friend. It worked for a couple of years until one of the gazillion tubes in it went bad. I freecycled it to a guy who needed parts. It was a fun reminder of a long gone era in technology.
posted by tommasz at 2:42 PM on December 30, 2010


I'm from generation SNES, but I had one time where I had a taste of this life.

I was working on a Y2K conversion project on a 4 month co-operative work term as part of the degree, and one day was tasked with converting a very large datafile to 4 digit years. I'd work as I did then... compile, run, read, type, compile, run, read, rinse, repeat.

Sometimes, the results from the the dozens of tests I did per hour were late in seemingly random way. I just chalked it up to ha-ha-LOLAncientMainframes.

This I learned from my Manager who could probably program Tetris in JCL: Turns out, the file I was using for the test happened to be located on some Tape Drive, and every time I ran the test, someone had to physically load a tape onto a drive. They just kept robotically loading the tape drive like it was the 70s and I just kept on doing the evidence based programming thing like it was the 90s (which it was, for a short time longer).

So, in summation, this is awesome. Thyanks!
posted by sleslie at 3:13 PM on December 30, 2010 [2 favorites]


The new brushed metal stuff is arguably easier to replace FRUs on

The time is quickly approaching where a FRU is going to be a foreign concept.
posted by gjc at 3:52 PM on December 30, 2010


I doubt those pics were shot on Kodachrome - those shots are all available light, and Kodachrome was too slow (ASA 25) for that.

Kodachrome-X was 64 ASA. Still slow, but he could have used a tripod.
posted by oneirodynia at 4:07 PM on December 30, 2010


What always strikes me about equipment from this period is how great it is as an example of modern design. A few companies still take pride in how their gear looks (Apple, maybe) but not like the old IBM kit.
posted by paulg at 7:33 PM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


There were three Kodachromes available in the late '60s - 25, 64 and 200.

Kodachrome 200 could be push-processed to 800, easy... and looking at the grain in those pics, it likely was. 64 could be pushed two stops, too, to almost 400.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:57 PM on December 30, 2010


FauxScot: "Off hand, I'd say that was a Tektronix 585 ."

I think its actually a Tektronix 545 frame with a CA plugin, but I can't be 100 percent sure...
posted by promptcurry at 11:05 PM on December 30, 2010


Great photos. I'm pretty sure there's no way I would have found this on my own — thanks for sharing!
posted by defenestration at 8:19 AM on December 31, 2010


eeeee these are great! I love the woven RAM wall!!!
I got to see one of those up close in the storage area of my local Science + Tech museum. Armies of women wove RAM by hand! Blows my mind.

At least they did so in the earlier days. Not sure if they still did it by hand at that period, but the end product looks almost the same.
posted by Theta States at 10:34 PM on December 31, 2010


Civil_Disobedient: "But the idea is, if you send out the fanciest space ship our civilization is capable of building on a mission to the closest star, they'd only get halfway there by the time the next ship we sent picked them up. "

This was famously used in A. E. van Vogt's story, "Far Centaurus."
posted by Chrysostom at 5:29 AM on January 4, 2011


@defenestration...

I love it when you talk technical!

I was thinking 585 because of the dual time base. I don't think the 545 had one. (See the vernier dial mid right front?)

I was never any good with plugins from that era.
posted by FauxScot at 6:36 AM on January 8, 2011


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