[TUHS] Corbato dead

Clem Cole clemc at ccc.com
Tue May 9 04:46:35 AEST 2023

Indeed -- and the sounds it made were distinct.   Different from ASRxx or

For the younger crew, this made the light and >>so much quieter<< TI Silent
700 of 10 years later such a marvel:

On Mon, May 8, 2023 at 12:12 PM ron minnich <rminnich at gmail.com> wrote:

> ah, the flexowriter, for those who never saw it, was literally a
> typewriter with solenoids at the bottom. I owned one, it was a miracle to
> behold.
> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friden_Flexowriter#/media/File:Flexowriter_2201_Programatic.jpg
> On Mon, May 8, 2023 at 7:19 AM Douglas McIlroy <
> douglas.mcilroy at dartmouth.edu> wrote:
>> Although it dates from four years ago, MIT's obituary for Corbató was
>> still interesting to reread. It couldn't bring itself to mention
>> Unix--only the latecomer Linux. It also peddled some mythology about
>> Whirlwind from the decade before timesharing.
>> "Whirlwind was ... a rather clunky machine. Researchers often had
>> trouble getting much work done on it, since they had to take turns
>> using it for half-hour chunks of time. (Corbató said that it had a
>> habit of crashing every 20 minutes or so.)"
>> "Clunky" perhaps refers to Whirlwind's physical size. It occupied two
>> stories of the Barta Building, not counting the rotating AC/DC
>> motor-generators in the basement. But it was not ponderous; its clean
>> architecture prefigured "RISC" by two decades.
>> Only a few favored people got "chunks" of (night) time on Whirlwind
>> for interactive use. In normal business hours it was run by dedicated
>> operators, who fed it user-submitted code on punched paper tape.
>> Turnaround time was often as short as an hour--including the
>> development of microfilm, the main output medium. Hardware crashes
>> were rare--much rarer than experience with vacuum-tube radios would
>> lead one to expect--thanks to "marginal testing", in which voltages
>> were ramped up and down once a day to smoke out failing tubes before
>> they could affect real computing. My recollection is that crashes
>> happened on a time scale of days, not minutes.
>> "Clunky" would better describe the interface of the IBM 704, which
>> displaced Whirlwind in about 1956. How backward the 60-year-old
>> uppercase-only Hollerith card technology seemed, after the humane full
>> Flexowriter font we had enjoyed on Whirlwind. But the 704 had the
>> enormous advantages of native floating-point (almost all computing was
>> floating-point in those days) and FORTRAN. (Damn those capital
>> letters!)
>> Doug
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