Tuesday, September 27, 2022

My Early Computer Experiences

My interest in computers started when I was in grade school, or more likely started when I was watching Star Trek in the late 60's and early 70's. The first time I actually got to use a computer was in High School, when i took a computer programming class. At the time a bank in town had a DECSYSTEM-2020, basically a PDP-10, which they did not not come even close to using all of its resources and so allowed Billings Senior High to access it and teach computer classes. It was on this system that I learned to program Basic for the first time. At this point I did not really get into computers, the instructor was pretty uninspiring, plus he and I disagreed on the utility of flow charting.

When I started college at Eastern Montana College (EMC), they actually had their own Dec system. It ran the same operating system as the one used by my High School, but I cannot tell you what model it was. Here is a picture of it in the early 80's, maybe someone can tell me what it is..

It was at EMC where I really took my first steps into learning how computers really worked. I learned not just how to program, but how the actual operating system, TOPS-10 or TOPS-20, worked. This was also where I learned how to hack, the security, or lack there of really makes me cringe today. I did get caught once, fortunately the Professor who caught me was the Father of a High School friend who knew me pretty well, he let me skate, but also let me know he was very unhappy with me. He also reminded me of the incident 12 years later when I was the best man at my friends wedding.

Over the last couple of weeks I have been building a Serial Terminal, not really for any real functional reason, but mostly because I could. Those early computer experiences I had were through serial terminals, so it kind of gave me a bit of a nostalgia rush. Like all good nerds, I started wondering if I could actually recreate those early experiences. Obviously buying an actual DECSYSTEM-2020 would not be an option, I doubt there are many left in existence, let alone in a functional state and even if there were, they would cost a fortune to ship and require me to dedicate a room in my house to it. However, after five minutes on Google, I discovered there is a very good emulator out there by the name of SIMH. I also discovered that copies of TOPS-10 and TOPS-20 are pretty widely available and a few very nice people have even made rebuilt packages like TOPS-10 in a Box and the TOPS-20 Panda Build. Both of these worked out of box on my Debian 11 machine with no messing around at all.

TOPS-10 in a Box was the easier of the two, however keep in mind it is a bit limited, the person who built its only goal was the play Will Crowther's Original “Adventure” as it was intended to be played, so while it does contain both FORTRAN and BASIC compilers, it does not have all the bells and whistles. The TOPS-20 Panda Build is far more complete and includes a bunch of extras like Emacs and has networking built in as well. Over the next couple of days I am going to marry these two packages to a Raspberry Pi 4, use my Serial Terminal to access it and see if I can get some of those old feeling I had back in the late 70's and early 80's of my early exploration of those systems.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.