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Douglas Engelbart, Inventor of Mouse     Real Programmers (Ancient History)

Blasts from the Past     Finding a Long Lost Relative and a Commodore User

The Rough Road to Commodore Meetings

 

Douglas Engelbart, Inventor of the Mouse

By Dick Estel

The name of Douglas C. Engelbart is hardly a household word but his contributions to the world of computers surpass those of many better known names.

Born in 1925, he passed away July 2, 2013 in Atherton , CA . The following is summarized from his obituary in the New York Times.

Dr. Engelbart entered the field when computers were room-size beasts, but early on he had a vision of what could be. In 1950 “he saw himself sitting in front of a large computer screen full of different symbols — an image most likely derived from his work on radar consoles while in the Navy after World War II. The screen, he thought, would serve as a display for a workstation that would organize all the information and communications for a given project.”

In December 1968 he gave a remarkable demonstration before more than a thousand of the world’s leading computer scientists at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in San Francisco , one of a series of such conferences that had been held since the early 1950s. Dr. Engelbart was developing a raft of revolutionary interactive computer technologies and chose the conference as the proper moment to unveil them.

For the event, he sat on stage in front of a mouse, a keyboard and other controls and projected the computer display onto a 22-foot-high video screen behind him. In little more than an hour, he showed how a networked, interactive computing system would allow information to be shared rapidly among collaborating scientists. He demonstrated how a mouse, which he had invented just four years earlier, could be used to control a computer. He demonstrated text editing, video conferencing, hypertext and windowing.

The technology would eventually be refined at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center and at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Apple and Microsoft would transform it for commercial use in the 1980s and change the course of modern life.

In 1969 he helped create a system called the ARPAnet computer network, which developed into what is today the Internet.

Dr. Engelbart was one of the first to realize the accelerating power of computers and the impact they would have on society. In a presentation at a conference in Philadelphia in February 1960, he described the industrial process of continually shrinking the size of computer circuits that would later be referred to as “ Moore ’s Law,” after Intel co-founder Gordon Moore.

Speaking of the future, he said, “Boy, are there going to be some surprises over there."

    

Real Programmers

"Lest a Whole New Generation of programmers Grow up in Ignorance..."

By utastro!nather (May 21, 1983)

A recent article devoted to the macho side of programming made the bald and unvarnished statement:

Real Programmers write in Fortran.

Maybe they do now, in this decadent era of Lite beer, hand calculators and "user-friendly" software,
but back in the Good Old Days, when computers were made out of drums and vacuum tubes, Real
Programmers wrote in machine code. Not Fortran. Not RATFOR. Not even assembly language.
Machine code. Raw, unadorned, inscrutable hexadecimal numbers. Directly.

Lest a whole new generation of programmers grow up in ignorance of this glorious past, I feel
duty-bound to describe, as best I can through the generation gap, how a Real Programmer wrote code.
I'll call him Mel, because that was his name.

I first met Mel when I went to work for Royal McBee Computer Corp., a now-defunct subsidiary of
the typewriter company. The firm manufactured the LGP-30, a small, cheap (by the standards of the
day) drum-memory computer, and had just started to manufacture the RPC-4000, a much improved,
bigger, better, faster drum-memory computer. Cores cost too much, and weren't here to stay, anyway.
(That's why you haven't heard of the company, or the computer.)

I had been hired to write a Fortran compiler for this new marvel and Mel was my guide to its wonders.
Mel didn't approve of compilers.

"If a program can't rewrite its own code," he asked, "what good is it?"

Mel had written, in hexadecimal, the most popular computer program the company owned. It ran on
the LGP-30 and played blackjack with potential customers at computer shows. Its effect packed every
show, and the IBM salesmen stood around talking to each other. Whether or not this actually sold
computers was a question we never discussed.

Mel's job was to re-write the blackjack program for the RPC-4000. (Port? What does that mean?)
The new computer had a one-plus-one addressing scheme, in which each machine instruction, in
addition to the operation code and the address of the needed operand, had a second address that
indicated where, on the revolving drum, the next instruction was located. In modern parlance, every
single instruction was followed by a GO TO! Put that in Pascal's pipe and smoke it.

Mel loved the RPC-4000 because he could optimize his code: that is, locate instructions on the drum so
that just as one finished its job, the next would be just arriving at the "read head" and available for
immediate execution. There was a program to do that job, an "optimizing assembler," but Mel refused
to use it.

"You never know where its going to put things," he explained, "so you'd have to use separate
constants."

It was a long time before I understood that remark. Since Mel knew the numerical value of every
operation code, and assigned his own drum addresses, every instruction he wrote could also be
considered a numerical constant. He could pick up an earlier "add" instruction, say, and multiply by it, if
it had the right numeric value. His code was not easy for someone else to modify.

I compared Mel's hand-optimized programs with the same code massaged by the optimizing assembler
program, and Mel's always ran faster. That was because the "top-down" method of program design
hadn't been invented yet, and Mel wouldn't have used it anyway. He wrote the innermost parts of his
program loops first, so they would get first choice of the optimum address locations on the drum. The
optimizing assembler wasn't smart enough to do it that way.

Mel never wrote time-delay loops, either, even when the balky Flexowriter required a delay between
output characters to work right. He just located instructions on the drum so each successive one was
just past the read head when it was needed; the drum had to execute another complete revolution to
find the next instruction. He coined an unforgettable term for this procedure. Although "optimum" is an
absolute term, like "unique," it became common verbal practice to make it relative: "not quite optimum"
or "less optimum" or "not very optimum". Mel called the maximum time-delay locations the "most
pessimum."

After he finished the blackjack program and got it to run, ("Even the initializer is optimized," he said
proudly) he got a Change Request from the sales department. The program used an elegant (optimized)
random number generator to shuffle the cards and deal from the "deck", and some of the salesmen felt it
was too fair, since sometimes the customers lost. They wanted Mel to modify the program so, at the
setting of a sense switch on the console, they could change the odds and let the customer win.

Mel balked. He felt this was patently dishonest, which it was, and that it impinged on his personal
integrity as a programmer, which it did, so he refused to do it. The Head Salesman talked to Mel, as
did the Big Boss and, at the boss's urging, a few Fellow Programmers. Mel finally gave in and wrote the
code, but got the test backwards, and when the sense switch was turned on, the program would cheat,
winning every time. Mel was delighted with this, claiming his subconscious was uncontrollably ethical,
and adamantly refused to fix it.

Alter Mel had left the company for greener pa$ture$, the Big Boss asked me to look at the code and
see if I could find the test and reverse it. Somewhat reluctantly, I agreed to look. Tracking Mel's code
was a real adventure.

I have often felt that programming is an art form, whose real value can only be appreciated by another
versed in the same arcane art; there are lovely gems and brilliant coups hidden from human view and
admiration, sometimes forever, by the very nature of the process. You can learn a lot about an
individual just by reading through his code, even in hexadecimal. Mel was, I think an unsung genius.

Perhaps my greatest shock came when I found an innocent loop that had no test in it. No test. None.
Common sense said it had to be a closed loop, where the program would circle, forever, endlessly.
Program control passed right through it, however, and safely out the other side. It took me two weeks
to figure it out.

The RPC-4000 computer had a really modern facility called an index register. It allowed the
programmer to write a program loop that used an indexed instruction inside; each time through, the
number in the index register was added to the address of that instruction, so it would refer to the next
datum in a series. He had only to increment the index register each time through. Mel never used it.

Instead, he would pull the instruction into a machine register, add one to its address, and store it back.
He would then execute the modified instruction right from the register. The loop was written so this
additional execution time was taken into account -- just as this instruction finished, the next one was
right under the drum's read head, ready to go. But the loop had no test in it.

The vital clue came when I noticed the index register bit, the bit that lay between the address and the
operation code in the instruction word, was turned on--yet Mel never used the index register, leaving it
zero all the time. When the light went on it nearly blinded me.

He had located the data he was working on near the top of memory -- the largest locations the
instructions could address -- so, after the last datum was handled, incrementing the instruction address
would make it overflow. The carry would add one to the operation code, changing it to the next one in
the instruction set: a jump instruction. Sure enough, the next program instruction was in address location
zero, and the program went happily on its way.

I haven't kept it touch with Mel, so I don't know if he ever gave in to the flood of changes that has
washed over programming techniques since those long-gone days. I like to think he didn't. In any event,
I was impressed enough that I quit looking for the offending test, telling the big Boss I couldn't find it.
He didn't seem surprised.

When I left the company, the blackjack program would still cheat if you turned on the right sense
switch, and I think that's how it should be. I didn't feel comfortable hacking up the code of a "Real
Programmer."

 

Blasts from the Past

By Dick Estel

Recently I had occasion to try and contact several Commodore users that I’ve known and exchanged email with in the past. Their replies give a hint as to the state of Commodore today.

From Dick to Roger Long: I notice that your list of active Commodore clubs is long out of date, and assume you are probably no longer maintaining it. If you are, Fresno Commodore User Group has a new address.

Roger: I really haven't done anything with the list for many years now, but have plans to move it over to a wiki so that everyone can help keep it up to date.

 

From Dick to Rob Snyder: Fresno Commodore Group is putting together a new, updated list of active Commodore clubs. As you can imagine, it's a sadly brief list. Is "Meeting C64/128 Users through the Mail" still active? I see that the link I have no longer works. If it is still active, here's what we wrote about it last year so you can let me know anything that's changed (followed by the update Rob provided in 2012).

Rob: Sorry, our MUTTM club closed down after 2012. I asked for a new president and editor and as nobody stepped up I told the members the club was closing as of the end of 2012. The leftover funds were sent to several commodore organizations such as CommodoreFree, CCCC, and the Fresno Commodore User Group (for CommVEx). 

The Commodore Computer Club of Toledo, CCCT, of which I was the president, also folded then, as the other longtime member Frank Kaspitzke, passed away. (The January 2001 issue is on line here as a PDF File.)

 

From Dick to Rolf Miller (of Ventura and Oxnard clubs): Hi Rolf, are you still out there?

Is UCUGA (United Commodore User Groups Association) still active?

Fresno Commodore User Group has put together a new (very short) list of active Commodore Clubs.

Rolf: Yes, I am still here, but my Commodore use has dropped to near zero.

No, UCUGA is not active -- hasn't been for years.

I appreciate the info -- I get requests for info from time to time.  And it is good to know you guys are still active.

Roger ’s List (interesting from a historical point of view)

FCUG’s new up to date list

  finding    

Finding a Long Lost Relative and a Commodore User

By Dick Estel

Back in the late 20th century or early 21st I was looking through a newsletter that we received from the Commodore Computer Club of Toledo. It was a typical Commodore newsletter of the time, but what caught my attention was the return address.

First, it was P.O. Box 64 , which was nice, but of greater interest was that the town was Metamora OH, a small village near the Michigan border where my late mother grew up. Since everyone around there knew each other, I started emailing the editor, Rob Snyder, asking who his family was, his wife’s family, etc.

After several exchanges back and forth, I finally received information that Rob’s wife Annette was "descended from the Smiths of Raab’s Corners." I asked Mother if she knew this family, and she said that we are distantly related.

Additional inquiries revealed that my mother and Annette are both descended from Gardner B. Mason (1829 – 1897). Gardner’s first wife died shortly after giving birth to their only child. This child grew up, married Sylvester Smith, and started a long and widespread family of descendents, of which Annette is one.

Gardner remarried, and had several more children, one of whom was my great grandfather. My genealogy program says that Annette and I are half 3rd cousin once removed.

It also turned out that Annette’s grandmother, Meredith Kline Gillen, went to school with my dad, and my parents had visited her on some of their Ohio trips, but were not aware of the relationship.

In 2002 my parents and I visited the Snyders in Metamora, enjoying a nice dinner and getting to know them and their three delightful kids. At the time I wrote the following in my report of my trip: “Today we visited Rob and Annette, and their three children. They proved to be the kind of people you are glad to discover are related to you; nice and friendly and helpful in filling in blanks in the genealogical record. The kids are cute, smart and polite. We had dinner there, watched Helena (age 7) and Jacob (age 3) set up their model zoo, and enjoyed seeing 1 year old Catherine try to take a few steps.

“Rob ’s Commodore set-up includes a C128-D, two 1581’s, two 1571’s, hard drive, CD-ROM player, and a C64 that can be switched in. He also has an Amiga and an SX64. Annette has an Apple laptop to round out the collection.”

Then in 2004 my grandson Mikie and I again paid the family a visit, this time at a rural home complete with pond near the town of Delta. By this time there was a new addition to the family, and as of another visit in 2014, the Snyder kids now number six.

Rob eventually became the president and editor of Meeting Commodore Users through the Mail, an international organization that finally closed down barely a year ago. He also had the sad duty of being the final president of the Toledo club.

We have stayed in touch over the years, and I have Commodore to thank for bringing me together with some “long lost” relatives whose existence was previously unknown to me.

 

The Rough Road to Commodore Meetings

by Robert Bernardo

Not again! I was stuck at the top of a mountain, miles and hours away from the Commodore meeting I was to attend... with no help in sight.

The things I do for Commodore! For years I’ve traveled to club meetings, whether it is 50 miles for the monthly Fresno Commodore User Group meeting or three hours for the monthly The Other Group of Amigoids (TOGA) meeting or three hours for the bi-monthly Southern California Commodore & Amiga Network (SCCAN). It is inevitable that I’d run into auto troubles after all that mileage on the road.

In the early 2000’s one of my cars was a 1991 Honda Accord station wagon –
supposedly a reliable car. It was a hand-me-down from my brother-in-law, and it had over 100,000 miles on the odometer. This supposedly reliable car was a money pit. I’d throw money at it, and then something else would break down.

One time a friend and I drove to the Saturday TOGA meeting in San Jose . The three hour drive to San Jose was no problem; it was the drive back that was eventful. We had to cross over the coastal mountains back into the valley. The climb over those mountains was fairly steep. As the Honda climbed, I felt the car shudder. An unnatural shudder. A mechanical shudder. The car continued the climb at 65 miles per hour. A few minutes later I started losing speed. I shifted down the manual transmission, thinking that I was losing speed due to the steep climb. I still lost speed. No matter how much I pushed on the accelerator, the car lost speed. Then another lurch and the engine raced. I smelled a burning that emanated from under the car. No forward gear would work.

I pulled the car over to the side of the highway. It was night, and the highway was very dark. We were far from any city, and there was no cell phone coverage in the place where we had broken down. After a couple of hours, a California Highway Patrol car came up behind us. The officer got out of his car and walked over to us. After ascertaining our situation, he called for a tow truck. The tow truck rescued us after we had waited another hour. The driver brought us to the town of Los Banos 45 minutes away. He dropped off our broken car at the Best Western Hotel, and we got a room. The car would not be repaired until Monday. I was supposed to bring my friend to the Sunday FCUG meeting, but we were stuck miles away from Fresno . Early Sunday morning I called a FCUG member and told her that the meeting was canceled, that she should tell that news to any members who showed up at the meeting site, and that she should post a note on the door saying that the meeting was canceled.

Monday I had the car towed to the local mechanics, and they determined that the clutch had self-destructed. Repair bill -- $600. Two days later I was back on the road, the Honda running with a new clutch.

Fast forward to 2013. I had to go and preside over the May SCCAN meeting in Northridge , California . After work finished on Friday, I drove the 1990 Ford Crown Vic to Bakersfield , about a third of the way to Northridge. The Crown Vic was my daily driver. It had just reached 400,000 miles on the odometer, and I had regularly maintained it. Packed in the Crown Vic was my usual complement of Commodore and Amiga hardware and software for the meeting. I spent the night at the Knights Inn, and all seemed normal. I had made this run many times before… drive to Bakersfield, spend the night there, and cross the mountains the next morning in order to get to Northridge.

Saturday morning I woke up, took a shower, had the small continental breakfast the hotel offered, packed up the car, and checked under the car’s hood. I looked at the drive belts, observed the coolant in the radiator, noted the fluid in the brake master cylinder, glanced at the water pump hoses, and pulled the engine oil dipstick. A quart low on oil. The nearest O’Reillys Auto Parts store was just a mile away. I drove there, bought a quart of synthetic motor oil, and put it into the engine.

The day was hot… around 100 degrees F. However, I wasn’t worried. Though the air-conditioner was on, the Crown Vic had enough power to climb the 4,000 foot high mountains that stood in the way of getting to Northridge. The car cruised along at 73 miles per hour. Traffic on the freeway wasn’t bad. The car started its climb. I lowered its speed to just over 65 miles per hour, in accordance to the posted speed limits.

Hmm, the needle on the coolant temperature gauge had risen a bit. Well, it was hot outside, and the car was climbing, so I thought that the gauge measured the added load on the engine. The temperature continued to rise. Hmm, was the strain on the engine showing? The temp still was going up. O.K., this was not normal. I turned off the air-conditioning so that there would be less load on the engine. Temp still rising. I looked at the hood... no escaping steam coming out of the engine compartment. I looked through the rear view mirror... no escaping steam pouring from the rear of the car. But the temperature continued to rise. I looked for an escape off the highway. I pulled to the far right lane, but there was no off-ramp for a few miles. Could the car survive two more miles? After what seemed to be a long couple of minutes, I saw the exit for the state of California rest stop.

The temperature gauge was all the way to the right… hot, hot, hot. I saw the off-ramp and turned the car onto it. The Ford LTD Crown Victoria decelerated. I didn’t touch the accelerator; I let the car coast. My heart was beating hard. I spotted a parking place under the shade of the trees and aimed the car for it. Don’t touch the brake. Let the car slow itself. Could I make it to the parking slot? Finally, I was lined up. I touched the brake gently. The engine started clanking and then it quit. Without the engine running, I had lost power steering and power brakes. I gripped the steering wheel and applied firm pressure to the brakes. The car stopped, and I let out a sigh of relief. I was stuck at the top of the mountain, miles and miles away from any tow truck and still hours from the SCCAN meeting in Northridge.

The SCCAN meeting was to start at 2 p.m. If I didn't show up, the members would just disperse. My cell phone was working in this area, but there was no one to call; I didn't know the phone numbers of the other members nor did I know who would appear at the meeting. It was now 11:45 , and it would take me another two hours to get to Northridge.

I opened up the hood of the car and tried to find out what had happened to the engine. I couldn't see any engine fault. I pulled the engine oil dipstick. The oil was sizzling on the dipstick! I had never seen engine oil so hot that it bubbled on metal. There was some oil sitting on the engine block near the water pump. It, too, was sizzling. For engine oil to sizzle, I guessed that its temperature had be more than 300 degrees. Thank goodness that I was using synthetic oil with its greater tolerance for high temperatures. The dipstick also showed no whitish scum on it; that meant no coolant had entered the crankcase through a cracked engine block or cylinder head. I was lucky. The engine may have survived.

I didn't dare open the radiator cap; the chance of steam blowing out of it was too great. I looked at the coolant recovery tank; no coolant showed through its translucent plastic.

Being at a state rest stop, the facilities were civilized. There were shade trees, picnic tables, men's and women's restrooms, candy and soda machines, and a couple of drinking water fountains. If I had lost all my radiator coolant, I would have to get water from the drinking fountain. I only had a 16-ounce iced tea bottle. I drank the last of the tea and walked over to the nearest water fountain which was near the candy machines. If the Crown Vic cooling system held 12 quarts and I only had the 16-ounce bottle, it would take many trips to and from the fountain in order to fill the system. I filled up the bottle with water and walked back to the Crown Vic.

Then I waited for the engine to cool. It had been half an hour since the car had stalled to a stop. I chanced opening the radiator cap. I twisted the cap to its first detent and pulled my hand back quickly just in case steam and coolant were to spurt out. Nothing...no steam...no coolant erupting out. I twisted the cap fully open and looked inside the radiator. Even when I shone a flashlight into it, I could see no coolant. It seemed totally empty!

I poured in the 16 ounces of water from the tea bottle. Steam immediately came out of the radiator throat, and I could hear hot metal creaking and groaning when hit by the cool water. Not only did steam come out of the radiator throat but also from the right side of the engine. Hey, steam was not supposed to come from the engine's right side! The engine was still hot. I retrieved more water from the fountain and poured in another
16 ounces into the radiator. Less steam and metal creaking this time. I checked the oil dipstick again. No water contamination on it. The iron block and cylinder head were holding together.

Back and forth I went with the tea bottle of water. I estimated I had put in about 3 to 4 quarts. I would take a long time to fill the radiator at the rate I was going. Thinking that the engine had cooled enough, I finally searched around the right side of the engine to find out where the steam had emanated earlier. I found it. On a heater hose, a plastic T-fitting for cooling system flushing had broken off cleanly. After a few years of being in the hot environment of the engine compartment, the plastic T-fitting had become so brittle that it crumbled when squeezed by hand. The open ¾-inch diameter heater hose had poured out all of coolant under pressure from the water pump. So now I had two halves of heater hose with nothing to connect them. What was I to do? I could pour more water into the radiator, but without the heater hose closed off, it would be a useless effort.

Well, I would cross that hurdle when I came to it. I continued the process of getting more water into the radiator. As I poured more water, I heard a man behind me say, “Do you need help?” I explained the problem to him. He and his wife and son had stopped at the rest stop and had seen me working on the car. He offered a gallon jug of antifreeze. I told him that I couldn't use up his antifreeze, but he said that it was just full of water. Grateful, I poured the water into the radiator, and then he told his pre-teen son to get more water. He asked what was wrong, and I showed him the sorry state of my heater hose with broken T-fitting. He then asked me what I needed to fix it. I said, “To connect the heater hoses, I need a straight fitting.” He responded, “I might be able to help you.”

He went to back of his late-model Chevrolet Surburban and brought back a box full of heater hoses and other parts. Wow, was I surprised! “Why do you have all these parts in your car?” I asked. He replied, “We were in Baja California in the middle of the desert. You have to be prepared when you are far away from help.” He dug through the box and found a straight metal fitting. He also got a screwdriver and undid the plastic T-fitting
for me, though I had tools in the back of my car. I slipped the straight metal fitting between the hoses and screwed down the clamps. With the radiator full of water and the coolant recovery tank filled up to level, I snapped back on their respective caps.

It was now the moment of truth. While he and his son stood by, I got back into the Crown Vic. What if the engine had frozen up? No amount of starter power would be able to turn it then. With trepidation, I turned the ignition switch on. The engine turned over and started! Success! My Sam aritan friend and I both breathed a sigh of relief. As the car idled, I got back out and looked under the open hood. No signs of coolant leakage. I checked the oil dipstick again. No signs of coolant contamination. I got back in the car and watched the temperature gauge. The real test would be get to get the car back on the highway and see if the car would maintain normal operating temperatures.

My friend agreed that he would follow me for a few miles as I drove on the highway, just to make sure that everything was all right. He, too, was heading to the Northridge area, and I invited him to the SCCAN meeting. He had to beg off, because the family had been on a long journey. I offered to pay him some money for his kindness, but he wouldn't think of it.

I shook his hand and got back into my car. I backed up the Crown Vic out of its parking slot and moved forward, slowly at first and then as the on-ramp onto the freeway came into view, I gingerly accelerated the car. The car held together. I brought it up to just under highway speed with the air-conditioner off. I watched the temperature gauge. It rose up to a bit over normal operating temperature as the thermostat opened up and any air pockets in the cooling system were filled. Then it settled down to normal. I listened to the engine, radio off. All was normal. No clanking or banging sounds from pistons or piston rods. It was as if nothing had happened to the engine.

True to his word, my new friend had followed me for a few miles and saw that I was cruising along without problem. Then he accelerated and passed me by, both of us waving to each other. Though it was hot outside, I didn't turn on the air-conditioner until miles later on the down-slope of the mountains, and even then, I was ready to turn it off immediately if something bad were to happen. However, nothing else happened.

I was going to be late for the SCCAN meeting. Fortunately, there was no traffic congestion on the freeways to Northridge. I arrived 20 minutes late to our meeting venue, Panera Bread Restaurant. As I walked to the front entrance to enter, I saw SCCAN member Richard G. walk up at the same time. None of the other members had shown up yet, and I was relieved. Boy, did I have a travel story to tell them as we sat among the Commodore and Amiga computers!

  
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Updated September 9, 2016