Unobsolete Technology

I’ve had a really crazy, busy and fun day today. There’s way too much going on for July. Part of the entertainment is an ongoing project of cleaning out a storage room in Abercrombie, which I should get finished sometime this week. Because my schedule is so erratic and the room is so far away from the department’s office, I went and got a key so I can come and go at will. Here is Erin getting it for me:

Watching her do this triggered a memory of a photo that I had scanned some time ago believing it to show obsolete technology (which I still think it does). But I realized that it also contains the same unobsolete technology that lets me in and out of places all over campus:

Why does he have so many keys?

Also I love the poster (or whatever it is) on the window.

Bonus: I really covered a lot of ground today. I saw this in the Shepherd School this morning—a rainbow of ladders!

And because you’ve all been so good here’s a tantalizing glimpse of a future video:

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27 Responses to Unobsolete Technology

  1. Don Johnson says:

    But what is he doing on his “obsolete” calculator? In the tray on his desk is a card deck (remember the card readers?) and he is staring ate line printer output (print-out from the computer). He is checking his results for a few examples, trying to figure out if he has a bug. What is obsolete is NOT having an interactive system for finding bugs!

    • Melissa Kean says:

      Yes, that’s what I meant of course.


      • Philip Walters says:

        I just wonder where on earth you found this photo?

        • Melissa Kean says:

          It was in a folder in the archives called “Students, 70s-80s.” In other words, a grab bag of miscellany dated largely by haircuts.

          If I keep this blog going after the centennial, it will be in order to get help from people like you to get our photo archives squared away.

  2. I thought, “That looks a lot like Phil Walters” then I noticed a name written on the edge of the book laying on the desk and that looks like it says “WALTERS”. That could be a room in Sid Rich looking out over the commons. Love the Ray-o-Vac trash can and the mug labelled “Polluted Water”.

  3. For extra credit, what does “BUGM” stand for?

  4. Grungy says:

    It’s definitely Phil.
    Does it say “BUGM” in the picture?
    Of course, there was no need for that string of keys if he had a BUGM, or a BUGC, for that matter.
    Was Phil a student housing rep for Sid?
    Then again, if he didn’t have a BUGM, he might have needed that string for his duties at KTRU engineering manager/director.

    • Melissa Kean says:

      Explain please. I’m lost.

      • Deborah Gronke Bennett says:

        I’m reading between the lines here (knowing Walter and Grungy quite well). I suspect that BUGM and BUGC were the codes on master keys. So if he had a BUGM, he wouldn’t need a string of keys, since the BUGM would open everything.

  5. Melissa Kean says:


    I was about to ask why he would need to open so much, but I realize that doesn’t make much sense. It’s a big campus. Even I need to open a lot.

  6. Philip Walters says:

    Yep, that is me. I was the Buildings and Grounds rep one year for Sid Rich, but I think the keys were blanks mostly that a friend gave me to pass on to a friend who had a key machine. And yes, BUGM opened all the non-residential building locks and a BUGC was the control key that allowed you to pull the core from the door. Trivia- not all non-residential building doors opened on BUGM, but BUGC would pull the core. Having just been through a wildfire induced power failure, where the same wildfire knocked out the Cell towers, I’d challenge POTS being described as obsolete. It was the only thing that still worked.

    • Mark Linimon says:

      I wouldn’t be shocked to find that SR still had that horrible furniture. “Colors not found in Nature”

      • Philip Walters says:

        Mark, I dunno about the beds and drawer units (“dresser” is too kind of a word) but a Steelcase desk is forever.

        A number of folks have asked about the hairbrush being on the desk. Two reasons: 1) the desk and bed were as close to a personal space as we had, sleeping on a hairbrush is not good, and I had just not put it in the desk drawer. 2) I had hair then.

  7. “BUGM” was slang for “Buildings and grounds University Grand Master”, a key which would open nearly any door on campus.

    And Phil also says it is him, over on facebook.

  8. Keith Cooper says:

    And I was hoping one of you would interpret the holes on the top card of the punch card deck.

  9. Philip Walters says:

    Guaranteed, the top card on the deck was JCL (Job Control Language) for the IBM370/155. Was probably orange to make it easy to pick out when the operator pulled it out of the reader.

    • Philip Walters says:

      Ok, looking again, the top card is NOT a JCL card. My note on it with an underscored “6” was my way of noting the beginning of a PL1 procedure I reused a lot. If I recall, one of the lists I kept taped to the wall was an inxed into my “library” of reusable code.

      I hated keypunches, but Mosley, Sisson and I had an old surplus one in our apartment so we could avaiod the wait at ICSA for a free punch. No printhead in it though, so you had to be a good keypunch operator. Does anyone remember if we sold the keypunch and verifier, or did we just abandon it and leave it to the landlord to dispose of?

      • Philip Walters says:

        And my typing should make it obvious why I hated a keypunch that was missing the printhead.

      • Wow, another keypunch hacker. Bob Puckette somehow found an 026 (BCD-only) punch and rewired it to punch the additional columns for EBCDIC, something that the 029 keypunch did natively. Later, we found out that there were two-character BCD equivalents for the EBCDIC-only characters, like “$(” for “{“, so we could have used it unmodified. But Bob had fun figuring out relay logic. It is rather different from semiconductor logic. He had to find a really old book to explain the fine points.

        We did ditch the modified 026 when we moved out, tipping it into a dumpster. Those things were heavy. We’d carried it up to our second floor apartment to begin with, then we had to haul it back down and lift it above our heads to get it into the dumpster.

  10. Grungy says:

    Okay, Melissa, in case it isn’t entirely clear…
    Many of the buildings on campus used the Best locks and keys.
    They were pretty much all the same blank – the shape you would see if you looked at it from the business end. So those keys would at least fit into the locks in most places.
    Best locks were seven-pin units – there were seven places that the key was ground to a specific amount (call it 0 through 9).
    The locks worked by aligning little cylinders of brass within the core for each of those places on the key, so that the core would turn.
    By using a stack of different-height brass cylinders inside of each of the seven places, you could make it so that keys with different cuts could open the same lock.
    So a key might be something like 4-3-1-6-4-4-2.
    There could be a key that would only open one door.
    There could be a key that would open a small set of doors (an office manager’s key might open all of the doors in one office). 4-3-1-6-4-4-4
    Then there was the BGM (we called it a BUG-M, phonetically), which could open almost everything. 2-3-1-4-4-4-1.
    And if that wasn’t enough, there was the BGC (BUG-C). The C stood for “Control” or “Core”.
    That key was set up so that inserting it would allow the user to completely remove the lock core from the knob or lock. It couldn’t turn the locked knob, but it would remove the core. Then you just inserted a core that you had a key to, and you were in.
    This is how we visited Sump Pump 10 in the sub-basement of Sewall Hall.
    Mr. Sisson was so alarmed at how many BGCs were running around on campus (and how insecure things were becoming) that he made an appointment to visit Russ Pittman, and gave him a demonstration of what students could access.

  11. Bill Allison says:

    Melissa, I want to put in a plea to keep the blog, going as I have become addicted to it! It never occurred to me this was only a Centennial project. Your many fans will be bereft.

  12. I thought you would keep doing it because you thrive on our witty banter. You don’t know arcane until you have heard late-70s early-80s Rice arcane.

  13. Kathy says:

    PLEASE don’t stop writing the blog! I’m addicted, like Bill. It’s really made me feel re-connected to Rice, and has brought back many happy memories previously lost in the mists of time…

  14. Deborah Gronke Bennett says:

    I agree with Bill, Marty and Kathy. I do hope you will continue this blog, or one like it where we discuss Rice Arcana from the past. As I’ve mentioned before, this is my favorite blog, and the first one I visit when I read them.

    Where else can I learn about the intricacies of pin-tumbler locks?

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