Olivetti Programma 101 article (In Italian)
jws at jwsss.com
Tue May 19 19:09:29 CDT 2015
There is a museum in Ivrea with the Programma 101 on display. I think
some of the photos from modern times were from there.
This article is related to a maker fair in Trieste. Please visit the
page for pictures and to give them page clicks, since I am archiving the
info here for the list.
Google translated from article:
The engineer of the legendary P101: "Here are the secrets of the first
Pc of history"
The Mini Maker Faire Trieste meeting with the engineer De Sandre, one of
the creators of the program 101 Olivetti: the first personal computer
will be among the stars of the show to Make In italy Expo (from May 18).
Last October, in the Maker Faire Rome , was presented the exhibition "50
years of Italian innovations: from P101 to the first espresso machine
space". An exhibition, organized by the Foundation Make in Italy , which
now arrives in Milan Expo 2015. From today, in fact, can be seen, in an
expanded version of the original, in two locations in which it was
divided: Telecom Italian pavilion within the exhibition center in Rho
and the National Museum of Science and Technology of the Lombard capital.
The prototype of the P101 ( Program 101 ), recognized as the first
desktop computers in history, made his international debut at the
World Exhibition in Paris in 1965. The team, led by Pier Giorgio
Perotto, devised an instrument that had some features that still they
form the basis of any personal computer: CPU with discrete components,
RAM (magnetostrictive delay line), mass storage (magnetic card) and
serial printer to impact.
Within the team of Perotto was a young engineer, Giovanni De Sandre.
Matthew Troìa met him at the second edition of the Mini Maker Faire
Trieste to talk with him about the success of the P101 (and many other
How did your story with Olivetti?
I entered into Olivetti April 1, 1960, after the previous talks that had
established my eligibility in that company. I even received the head of
the laboratory at the time, the engineer Mario Tchu , who was the son of
a Chinese ambassador to Vatican. Tchu had specialized in the United
States, and this greatly pleased to Adriano Olivetti , who cast him in
his team. That time I had just graduated, fresh from Politecnico di
Milano, and you think, now my degree is equivalent to a degree in
electrical engineering, but at the time did not exist in this
formulation, so I got a degree in electrical engineering with a
"certificate studies of electronics. "
So she was received by engineer Tchu, who then assumed?
The engineer Tchu was a very friendly, helpful and friendly. He
explained all the activities of the laboratories, mostrandomeli one by
one and explaining with great patience and care that what took place in
those places. In the end I remember that I said, "then engineer, she is
interested in what more? One thing in production or in the project? "And
I said a little 'afraid' to me honestly like to work on projects ...".
Tchu then he asked again, "but she would like to work on the evolution
and improvement of our existing products or instead of entirely new
products?" And then I said that without wishing to presumptuous, I would
have loved work on projects entirely new.
The engineer Tchu picked up the phone, called the engineer Perotto and
said "dear engineer, I have here a person that suits her." That phrase
always decided for my professional future. I went well in the working
group of engineer Perotto, who was my direct responsibility even though
he was only a few years older than me. Perotto was a nice person, of
great culture and technical ability. He had a spontaneous orientation
toward the concrete. I was very lucky because I was thrust into an
almost idyllic. In the Olivetti corporate hierarchy was not seen as an
imposition, not weighed. The leaders were, but they respected because it
was natural respect. People were so influential that respect for them
was spontaneous. I found an atmosphere of great freedom, but also of
great involvement. If I had a problem it was enough to ask for help and
I was listening. My problems and my gaps I filled asking. I learned a
lot while I worked.
What he is initially occupied?
The first thing I worked were checks magnetic, which still bear the
bottom two spaces wider than three a little 'closer. The location of
these areas determines the reading code. The machine that read these
codes had designed Perotto and I was in charge of setting up, checking
its operation, and connecting it to an existing machine Olivetti. Within
six months I had accomplished something.
And then the P101 ...
Work began on the P101 with a deep study of the feasibility of the
product, initially purely theoretical. We wanted to create a car that
was not limited only to make four simple steps that already did with the
mechanical machines. Then produce mechanical machines cost 39,000 lire,
but then were sold to 390 thousand pounds. For Olivetti invest in this
product would not bring the expected revenue. We had to do something to
level a little 'higher. So we started working on the prototype of the P101.
We did not know that the machine had to create, in the sense that there
was still nothing like it on the market. However for me the bonds were
crystal clear: it had to be easy to use, accessible to a
non-professional user. Accessibility was to be the characteristic trait.
In the second place it had to be reduced in size. Finally it would cost
as little as possible. Led by engineer Perotto, then, we started working
on this electronic project. So the first thing to do was to decide the
type of memory to be installed in the machine. Of course we had the
opportunity to go to the store and choose from dozens of memories at our
disposal. In those years there were very few memories. In particular
there was the core memory , but was not good for the small size of our
future machine. The engineer Perotto I knew immediately, I'm a bit
'after. (Laughs) After a study of the type of memory to choose from we
focused on a type of memory of the past generation, which had been
abandoned by now (working memory was a magnetostrictive delay line ).
The technology of the time gave us memories that were not going to
respect the constraints that we had set, so we used the components of
the past, to make the "car of the future".
The revolutionary products as was the P101, they appreciate when they
are ready. Behind their implementation but there is always a big job.
How much have you been working on this project?
We got to work with his head down, day and night, often without
realizing that had arrived the weekend. In some periods there was no
agreement on Sunday as a day of rest. There were no arrears with whom to
spend the afternoon. All this does not remember it as a burden, but as
the most exciting period of my life. We had to finish first. I think
that needs to come first in some things, that does not mean overdoing
it, but engage and expend maximum to achieve their goals. Running behind
is far worse than through the air.
He never felt the weight of fatigue in what he did?
There was no concept of fatigue for us. It was completely overcome by
the interest that was for what we were doing. We felt a bit 'pioneers in
a world where we often designed parts of electronic circuits, but never
a car full. We proceeded by trial and error, but they hand it proceeded
What about her?
Innovation has to have some unmet need. To return to my story, I believe
that the fact of working at P101, was not immediately something
innovative. For me initially was mainly a strong need. If I think back
to when the University did the calculations with the ruler with which
often was wrong, the idea that you could create a machine that would
help me with extreme speed and precision to make those calculations, for
me was the solution to my real need . Need to be put together with some
technical expertise required to carry out in practice his idea.
Innovation means want to go into the unexplored wilderness, hoping to
find an oasis, a solution but we were not ready, but we have done us.
Italy is a country still able to accept the technology?
When there is something really innovative, I do not know if Italy is the
best country in which to tell this innovation. From this point of view,
perhaps the United States is a country more ready mentally, more
pragmatic and more accustomed to understand the news. But this happens
only in the initial phase. Olivetti also initially was little more than
an island than the rest of the country. A lot of people did not even
know that there was this company.
But I believe that the issue on which we must reason is as follows.
Today the world has certainly changed and we are used to accept anything
new very easily. The challenge is to understand what, in this chaos of
new, really creates innovation, understood as making something useful
for our lives. What really affects our lives? That is, if what we invent
or we make an impact in a way that is not obvious, trivial, obvious,
then maybe other countries are more receptive, but Italy certainly not
least, because of quality products makes many as he wants. The important
thing, as I said, you know what, among the many new features, it's
really helpful to improve their lives.
He would redo everything you did?
Yes absolutely. Though I speak with hindsight. One can not always
project her life and does not know what may happen in the future.
Certainly more than the experience in Olivetti itself, I would like to
relive the spirit of those years, that basically was a spirit extremely
positive, optimistic, enthusiastic. From my experience I have learned
that critical is the commitment and self-criticism, that a little
'lacking nowadays. Innovation also means being confident, determined and
feed their inner spring. It helps a lot to be introduced in the
technology world, especially now that has become pervasive. Everything
comes from a right balance between a strong driving force and a large
capacity that criticism must regulate itself within us.
What did you learn from your experience?
That we must never stand still. But think of Steve Jobs! What has to do
what he did? It's not that he invented something. What made the
difference, however, was its continuity, his desire to fight, his steely
character, which allowed him to transform a company that was going to
fail in company we know today. What did Jobs? In fact did what many
others did, but of course with an attention to detail and some aspects
that have allowed him to make a difference. Today, companies ride the
wave for a couple of years and when they feel it is necessary to
reinvent itself give up and sit down. Steve Jobs? More than sitting!
That one had the pins under the seat which put him constantly on the
move. He never lies and never gave up, and certainly helped him a lot of
his character. Today we have to stay on the move, never sit down,
because innovation is moving.
Matthew Troìa & Alessandro Frau
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