Obsolete Computer Technology, no date

I love this picture–it looks like ancient history. I’m guessing, though, based only on the clothes and haircuts that it was taken in the mid to late ’80s. The machines are completely unknown to me so I can’t use them to date the image — but I’m confident that some of you can:


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23 Responses to Obsolete Computer Technology, no date

  1. “Ancient history” being a time well after I graduated. Even after I started my second post-Rice job.

    The Macintosh was first sold in January 1984. Somebody else can probably ID the exact Mac model here.

    I believe the intro programming course switched to Mac Pascal at one point. If they used Apple compilers, Macintosh Programmer’s Workbench 1.0 was released in September 1986, which was too late for a course that fall. The earliest course use would seem to be fall 1987.


    Because there is a Thresher on the table (yay!) check the front page logo designs over the years to see if that narrows it down. The funky top on the TH is distinctive.

  2. Syd Polk says:

    OMG. This is the 1984-1985 school year. Those are original Macs. This is the Mudd building.
    There are four pairs of tables. The Visual 200 terminals on the first pair are conneted to mimas (VAX 11/750), the second pair is tethys (VAS-11/750), and the third hyperion (VAX 11.780). The dot matrix printer is gone, replace by more rows of Macs. I recognize some of the faces, the man facing the camera sitting down next to the macs in the first pair of tables is Franz Weller, I think.

  3. grungy1973 says:

    First generation Macs – they have the RJ-11 coiled cord connecting the keyboard.
    I do like the skill-multiplier employed by the nearest operator, on the left side.
    Is that Ben Chase facing us, roughly in the center of the image?

  4. Don Johnson says:

    Of course, this picture was taken of the terminal room in the Mudd Building. The terminals are probably connected to the mainframe. Those are indeed early Macs, but I cannot tell if they are 128K or 512K machines.

    CS did NOT use the Mac Development Environment. I ran a Mac software development project over the summer of 84 and we used it then. ONLY available on Lisas. The students did know Pascal, probably taught using the mainframe.

    Date is probably 1985, maybe a little later.

  5. Paula Desel ‘81 says:

    The complete absence of women should also be a clue!

  6. Annette Tarver says:

    The student facing the camera and wearing a color-block shirt (second person seated from the right) is Aaron Joseph. He graduated in 1986.

  7. effegee says:

    West wing of Mudd Lab first floor looking south toward Herman Brown Hall (visible through arched windows). The Mudd help desk was at that time located in the area at left with the rectangular windows.

    There are two possible versions of Macintosh computers:

    A very limited number of 128KB main memory (yes, Kilobytes!) original Macintoshes started becoming available after the Mac was introduced Superbowl weekend of 1984 (“1984 won’t seem like 1984…” commercial). In addition to the tiny monitor and keyboard, they have a single single-sided diskette. No hard disk, lots of diskette swapping.

    Given the quantity of Macs (more of them in the background near the big windows), it is more likely that they are 512KB Macs with single double-sided diskette. The Macintosh 512K was introduced in September 1984.

    The backside of the Macs in the foreground lack networking cabling. Apple’s network system (proprietary, non-Ethernet) was introduced in early 1985, but most of Mudd Lab Macs would be networked using the Farallon PhoneNet system introduced in 1987.

    Given the delays in deploying new technology due to the lack of a consistent funding model for technology, the picture is from the fall 1984-1986 time frame.

    The Visual 210 terminals at the south end of the west wing were attached to serial ports on the Itel Corporation AS/9000 (an IBM “look alike”) mainframe computer on the second floor of the east wing. By the time of this picture, they were able to run at 9.6Kb/s due to the use of an X.25 multiplexor. Asynchronous terminals attached to an 8-port multiplexor; each multiplexor attached to the IBM 3705 communications controller by a single HDLC port. A third-party software modification to the 3705 allowed it to “speak” X.25.

    If the camera were turned 180 degrees to look north, another bank of Visual 210 terminals were attached to the Digital Equipment Corporation VAX/750 computers used for undergraduate computer science lab courses. The Vax computers ran the Berkeley Software Distribution of Unix. At the far north end of the room was an area behind a wood and glass screen (for noise control) that contained user-accessible line printers for both the mainframe and the Vaxes.

    • Syd Polk says:

      You are right, of course. I tried to make the picture match the other side of Mudd. I did not spend any time on the west wing of Mudd. My first clue is that looking from the same vantage point, the Macs should have been on the left!

  8. effegee says:

    A further note about the terminals: The keyboards on both the Visual 200 and Visual 210 terminals were labelled “Visual 200” by the manufacturer. The difference in the two models was in the logic board in the CRT unit.

  9. Randall Foster says:

    Macs went into the Mudd Lab in the fall of ‘84, right? It was truly a life-changing experience to put my fingers on the keyboard one of those for the first time. During my freshman year, I wrote on my papers on a typewriter. My sophomore papers, written during in all-nighters in Mudd, were the first I’d ever written on a word processing program. Glorious!

    • Syd Polk says:

      Spring of 1984. Right after the Super Bowl commercial.

      • Randall Foster says:

        Thanks, Syd. You CompSci types no doubt knew that. An Academ like me didn’t become aware of them until the following semester, when somebody pointed out that there were computers I could actually write my papers on available in the Mudd Lab. Make sense you guys would know about them six months before the rest of us!

        • Syd Polk says:

          We were grumpy because they pulled out terminals we were using for our work to install those things, which meant tighter scheduling of terminal time.

  10. Randy Wile '83 says:

    Not many (ANY) women in the picture! Geez!

  11. loki_the_bubba says:

    I had not heard the term X.25 in many years. I spent a good while in my career going down that dead-end with Motorola and then NCR.

    • effegee says:

      Yes, thankfully GOSIP fell flat and TCP/IP prevailed. GOSIP would have built the Internet on the international standard “OSI” protocols that were loved by the governments that are members of the International Telecommunications Union and their telecomm monopolies. (If you love paying for telephone calls by the second, you would have loved GOSIP.)

      However, X.25 had a few useful years at Rice from the late 1970’s through much of the 1980’s.

      ICSA (the computer center) had a connection to the Telenet network to the mainframe starting in the late 1970’s which, in time, was upgraded to an X.25 connection. The upgrade to the communications controller that enabled the X.25 Telenet connection would later prove useful to allow “dumb terminals” like the Visual 210’s to be connected at higher speeds than would have been possible with the mainframe’s asynchronous ports. Those connections served for years after the mainframe Telenet connection was cancelled. TCP/IP-based terminal servers and personal computers would render obsolete the X.25 multiplexors and terminals.

      X.25 also enabled Rice’s first Internet connection via NSF’s CSnet project in the developing Computer Science department. It used a separate X.25 connection to the Telenet network to interconnect with the ARPANET. Unfortunately, with CSnet built on top of a commercial packet switching network that charged to connect and for traffic, it rang up some painful monthly bills that constrained usage. After Rice was granted access to NSFNET Phase 1, a connection was set up to the ARPANET “IMP” at UT’s Balcones Research Center in Austin. After that connection stabilized, the CSnet connection to Telenet eventually became history. In turn, the ARPANET connection went away after the “real” NSFNET became active and connected to the Rice-led SESQUINET regional network.

  12. Joe Graves says:

    The two cubish white boxes in the lower right are Apple McIntoshes, the first graphical interface or WIMP computer, which were first available in early 1984. I wasn’t at Rice during the 1980s, so I never saw this scene. The other (more numerous) devices are probably so-called “smart terminals” connected to a main frame. Note the white data cable emerging from the back of the unit and disappearing down towards the floor in the middle of the table on which the devices are sitting. They don’t seem to match any of the early PCs that I recall and smart terminals, which had some limited computing power, were common in the 1980s.

  13. effegee says:

    The left-hand Macintosh facing away from the camera in the foreground appears to be an original Macintosh based on the label in the upper left on back side. Compare to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macintosh_128K#/media/File:AnOriginalMacintoshBackCaseUNALTEREDMACINTOSH.jpg

    Compare to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macintosh_128K#/media/File:Mac128K_Badge.JPG and note the absence of “128K” added at the introduction of the 512K in September.

    Compare to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macintosh_512K#/media/File:Mac512k-rear.jpg and note the absence of the “512K” in the name tag at upper left of the back.

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