How I came to vintage computers
pontus at Update.UU.SE
Sat Feb 18 02:01:34 CST 2017
Fun read. I'd write my own story but it is much less exiting. Maybe
some day you'll tell us about kiel and the PDP-10.
On Tue, Feb 14, 2017 at 11:28:41PM +0100, Philipp Hachtmann wrote:
> Hey folks,
> after my OmniUSB-thread has gone down the teleprinter way... I'll start a
> new thread.
> Did you now how I came to vintage computers? How I became some kind of
> computer engineer? Probably not. It's so easy. Listen. Long story ahead.
> In 1999 I started to study computer science. Java and algorithms and all
> that clean stuff.
> One day in autumn 2000 I had that idea: I need a Fernschreiber
> (=teleprinter)! I had nothing to do with that stuff. And I did no know how
> it worked. I even did not remember having seen one. It was just that word
> in my head.
> So I bought my first Siemens T100 (still here in the house, two floors
> below me). It was a machine with strange connectors which made awful noise
> when connected to power.
> So I went to the library and found a good book from 1934. That told me how
> the teleprinter works.
> I then somehow soldered a simple interface to connect that beast to the
> parallel (!!!) port of my Linux server (the first hachti.de server was a
> mainboard and a harddisk in the corner of my student home where we had
> 10mbit LAN acess and fixed IP. I even did a DNS reverse mapping
> philipp.vorstrasse.uni-bremen.de for my IP).
> At that time all about programming I knew was Turbo Pascal, some Z80
> machine language (not assembly language, I programmed that beast in hex)
> and a bit Java. I didn't even know much about Linux. The server back then
> had been setup by someone else who was in need of a server. So he used it
> as well.
> I used the parallel port because I had an idea how to control the pins. I
> knew that there was something ugly called serial port but I had not yet
> made the connection that this was EXACTLY what I would have needed.
> To program that thing I needed some software. So I went to the bookstore at
> noon. Will never forget that. Bought the O'Reilly Linux Kernel drivers book
> (the one with the horse) and started to write my first C program ever. It
> was a kernel module. The Kernel must have been Linux 2.2. It was
> frustrating. But after a decent 30 hour nonstop session and hundreds of
> reboots (haha, of my web and mail server which was also running X from time
> to time) I really had some bitbang code which made the teleprinter say what
> I wanted it to say.
> I soon realised that with a multitasking OS like Linux I had the choice of
> outputting correct data using busy wait in Kernel or outputting a mess when
> the system gets under load. So I learned THAT lesson.
> I decided that I needed something else. Because I had heard of other people
> working with something called PIC Microcontroller, I bought one and a
> programmer. And a breadboard. That evil 16f84 was sitting there on my desk,
> naked, and did - nothing.
> Getting the PIC up and running was pure horror. The hardest architecture
> I've ever mastered. Since then I know: PIC is a load of complete shit! In
> the end I failed to create a RS232 (had learned that in the meantime) to
> teleprinter converter but had the idea to hook up two teleprinters using
> modems. TelexPhone was born. The project (telexphone.net) was eventually
> kind of stolen a few years later and continued to something still in
> existence called i-telex over internet. That was never what I wanted
> because the V21 modems (hard to find!!) are bit transparent. That means
> that the teleprinters on both sides of the wire run as synchronous as with
> a real wire between them. Very cool. The TelexPhone used a 16f876 with a
> approx 2k cooperative multitasking system written entirely in assembly. It
> was somehow modular. I managed to hook in modules with private main loop
> and init parts by writing an impressive linker script which automated that.
> Hey, I was 21 and did all that on my own! Please do NOT laugh!
> In the meantime someone somewhere invented something called eBay. And
> because It's always good to have several different devices of the same type
> and even better to have several examples of each those different devices, I
> had an eBay search for "Lochstreifen" which means punched paper tape. Paper
> tape for teleprinter, of course.
> One day I found an offer "Honeywell H316 minicomputer" which sounded
> interesting. With paper tape. And no pictures. In Switzerland. A quick
> search (probably already google? I used altavista.digital.com before) told
> me that this could be an interesting toy. So I bought it for the incredible
> amount of SFr 450.
> Borrowed a car and went there. What I found was some messy stuff somewhere
> on an uninsulated attic in Switzerland. Very dirty. I nearly turned down
> the deal because it all looked so crappy. The seller admitted that he had
> kept the stuff in that open attic since beginning of the 1980s.
> I took it home. Had to drive TWICE from Bremen to Switzerland to get it
> all. And it was a lucky buy.
> After fiddling and cleaning around some weeks (never seen a minicomputer
> before!) and reading the manuals, I found out that the PSU had a slight
> problem which lead to unjustified shutdown. After I had solved that by
> pulling out one of the security circuit card from the PSU, it powered up
> the computer. And it magically worked instantly exactly as the manual told
> me. That was in 2004. The H316 has never since then failed a single time.
> Only issue are some contact issues with some memory cabling which may
> happen after moving the machine.
> Since then I have never had to switch a chip or a lamp or whatever. No
> single failure. Not one failed CPU or memory test (except when I stress the
> cable's card edge connector). It's so amazing that it became boring.
> Programming in FORTRAN IV? Read the manual, punch tape, use the compiler,
> linking loader and libraries as described in the manual - works. No secret
> shit. And The machine came with all that software as nice source code
> listing and binary paper tapes.
> While still wandering around on my Olympus of quality, I got a call by a
> teleprinter friend who asked me if I would take a pdp8 computer. I thought
> that bit of that infamous DEC mess could be a good counter example for my
> H316's unlimited quality and went to pick up the pdp8. The day ended with
> my yellow car completely stuffed with rusty pdp8/l, and lots of other
> stuff. It were three machines. The tape drives and racks were fubar and
> went to scrap.
> That was the beginning of the end. It just happened. Later 8/e, lab8/e etc.
> And I had to admit that playing with Omnibus pdp8 is absolutely amazing!
> It's a great toy! I think the pdp8/e (not straight-8, 8/i, /s or whatever)
> is one of the greatest toys ever made. There are many games, it breaks
> regularly while still giving you a chance to be satisfied after fixing it.
> And it's so versatile!
> And digging through those blurry schematics is a game in its own right! For
> the Honeywell everything comes in high quality print, completely correct,
> no derivations and workarounds. With DEC it can be an adventure to get an
> overview over a hardware, its features, ECOs and FCOs and what else could
> Someday I also made a pdp8 in an FPGA. That was during the time I wanted to
> be a chip designer. But the only place where I could to ASIC design (I did
> my diploma thesis about a video generator FPGA design) was closed down
> instead of hiring me. Thank you, Silicon Image!
> Currently I'm working for a Bosch/Denso joint venture doing Linux security
> for car multimedia systems. In my free time I have just started to
> construct a Märklin model railroad digital decoder which I will try to sell
> commercially (the competition use closed source PIC stuff. I use GPLv3 AVR
> code). And I run a letterpress print shop with the biggest machine being
> over 5 metric tons.
> In the printshop there's also an 8/e. And I have inherited a forklift.
> Don't know why I wrote this... Just wanted to write it. The teleprinter
> discussion... It was the teleprinter discussion....
> I never learned to get that paper... I just had the right toys.
> That's it for now :-)
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