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HP Computing in 1969/1970

Posted by Chuck Lytle on 21 Aug 2002, 10:28 a.m.

I got my master's degree at Purdue in 1970 under Sam Perone, who was one of the very first people to interface digital computers to scientific instruments. He and Harry Pardue ran an intensive, three-week NSF course every June for academic/business people called "Digital Computers in Scientific Instrumentation" (also the title of a paperback that came out of the course). Through the pull of Purdue instrumentation guru Stan Amy, who was a personal friend of David Packard, early every June a huge truck would appear, down from Skokie, IL, loaded with HP 2115 and 2116a&b cpus. We taught HP assembly language, and HP knew all those students would go home knowing how to program only HP computers. We set up all interfacing using those huge, blue LogicLabs (made by ??), wiring everything up with a maize of banana plug wires. Had to "hard wire" our own A/D coverters, clocks, etc. because none were commercially available. Basic had just come out, and we spent a lot of time writing a subroutine library we called "Purdue Real-Time Basic" that would reach into HP assembly language and set flags, etc.

Notable students included old man Keithly of Keithly Instruments fame. When other companies got wind of how HP was "helping out" the short course, they insisted on bringing demo cpu's to campus, and we ended up having to set up a sort of show room in one of the vacant chem labs. DEC brought Nolan Bushnell (who later founded Atari) who had what had to be version one of Space War set up to run on the PDP-12. Craig Williams and I built two joy sticks (were these really the first???)in the basement Chem. Dept. shop out of two Budd chassis and aluminum tubing. We soldered push buttons to the top of each tube, flattened the other ends, and soldered them to two gimbled pots. I assume Bushnell had SOMETHING cooked up to run the game, but he didn't have anything with him. Thus our rudimentary sticks. Bushnell also gave us a little program to play ping-pong using the light registers on the front of the HP 2116b. All programming was put on paper tape and usually fed into the cpu via a floor teletype. For longer programs, we rewound tapes using electric drafting erasers outfitted with aluminum discs.

I vaguely remember that the HP 2116b had 12K of memory. The diode boards were huge and clearances tight. On a couple of cpu's, we kept experiencing transients that could only be solved by keeping the cpu's very cool. To run the course without glitches, we resorted to funneling the entire output of a window air conditioner into the open back of the cpu using big pieces of cardboard and duct tape. Now that was computing! Red Green would've been proud.


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