How everything started – My way to the PDP-11 – MES021

PDP-11How everything started – My way to the PDP-11

Holy moly, seems I’m getting old. Two times in the last two weeks I was confronted with this fact. Things which are part of my experience are nostalgic for others. They have never seen or touched them.

What has happened? One day I saw an update in LinkedIn highlighting DEC’s PDP-11 as an old system. That’s nothing extraordinary. It is old. But one of my colleagues mentioned it as nostalgic. Bumm, right in the face.

Second, I got a mail by another colleague. In his signature he mentioned that this mail was written from his PDP-11. I doubted this, but he showed me a picture showing him from the backside (hopefully it is him) and a PDP-11 aside. That picture must be old. I do not consider that he really has a PDP-11 in his cellar.

But both moments let me think back into that time 30, 40 years ago. Computer Systems were different. Computer Science was slightly different. And of course the systems you own or you could directly touch were dramitically different. Compared with the systems available nowadays the are more like flintstones than real lighters.

And these thoughts created this episode. I wanted to go back with you showing some highlights in my computer-life. Not for nostalgic reasons, but to make you aware that things were really different at that time. And that it is of some benefit to know a little bit about it, to understand the situation we’re currently in.

Please pay special attention on this video showing the startup phase of the PDP-11.

Essential Answers Provided In This Episode For:


Why was the TI-59 hand calculator that desirable?

Together with its printer and its magnetic card it was – more or less – a fully equiped computer system. The price was horrible. But it still was only a fraction of a real computer system.

What should you take care for if you carry punching cards?

Punching CardAs each punching card is representing one line of your batch-job, you should take care that the order is not corrupted. Stumbling or shuffling has to be prevented at any price.

Why could the mounting of storage be embarrassing?

Mounting of devices at that time really meant that someone, the operator, physically lifted the storage into a storage-equipment. If you liked to mount some storage you do not have privileges for, the operator might come personally to your working place offending you as stupid moron.

How could the Atari ST have such a great success?

Atari STThe Atari ST was the first fully graphical desktop system. With its GEM Operating System it opened a whole new world. Out of the familiar character based limitation into the freedom of fully flexible presentation.

What was the most weirdest action you have to do with the PDP-11?

The PDP-11 has had to be started by using the front-panel in-line keys. These keys were set representing the address and the octal data to setup the boot-code.

Why should you know Assembler languages?

If you like to deal with computers on a more technical level you should know their very basic language. And assembler is mnemonized object-code. If you know assembler you are directly in touch with the bare metal. Mandatory if you need to know for sure what’s going on.

And much much more.


Selected Links and Resources From This Episode

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