LaFarr's Early Computer Experiences

Last Up date: 2005 September 23
Page Started on Sun 2005-May-29
If you are just interested in a rather long list of computers I had studied or worked on click here.

The first computer I got a manual for, and took a night class on, was an IBM 650. That was a night class in the fall of 1957, while I was being sent to the University of Utah by the Air Force to study Meteorology. To avoid being drafted for the Korean War I took Air Force ROTC at Utah State University and hence had to serve three years in the US Air Force. That was where and when I became anti-military, but that is not germane to this web page.

After I got out of the Air Force I went to Iowa State University, to study Statistics; but found the Cyclone Computer much more interesting. The Cyclone was patterned after the ILLIAC; but different enough that ILLIAC software would not work. This was the first computer I actually got to run programs on. I was a graduate student. Bob Sharpe (A professor in the Electrical Engineering Department) and I wrote virtually all the software for this machine. The first were diagnostics to test out the instructions of the machine, this was all done in hexadecimal. I wrote a program that played music and was interviewed and played music for about 15 minutes on NBC Monitor radio, on February 10, 1962. We wrote an Assembler, SAR (Symbolic Assembly Routine). I think I am rather unique in that the first Assembler I used I helped write..

The first I got paid for writing programs was after I left Iowa State, doing weather data reduction on an IBM 1401 for the Nevada Test Site in Las Vegas, Nevada. Knowing 1401 got me a job with the telephone company in Las Vegas helping them do customer billing on a 1401.

In the fall of 1963 I took a job in Cherry Hill, New Jersey working for RCA. (For the younger readers: RCA was Radio Corporation of America, who at the time had the slogan: The most trusted name in electronics Which was true. It was RCA who invented the first method used in the USA for Color Television, and still used today. They dominated the field.) At the time RCA thought Computers were the wave of the future, and they could be a major player in the field. And they probably would have been if they had only realized that computers, unlike Television sets had to be reliable.

At RCA I worked with and on Fortran Compilers and later IBM 1401 Simulators, for five years. In 1968 I went with Ray Gollub to work for a Time Sharing company in Waltham Massachusetts. There I programed a PDP-8 as a front end for a CDC 3600 main frame. In 1969 I took a job at Control Data in Sunnyvale. Control Data would have been a major player in the computer field but both their hardware and software was pathetic. Seymour Cray was only interested in speed, and left error detection (parity) out of the 6600. He is quoted as saying: "Parity is only for farmers." And the software was so bad that Herb Grosh (working for the National Bureau of Standards and in charge of all US Government computer purchases) said: He didn't see any problem selling CDC computers to the Russians, if they were forced to use CDC software.

Have you noticed? I have a talent for defuncting companies.


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