The computer that sang to its operators

Here's the story told to me by one who was "really there", about the computer that sang to its operators.

The story goes that the night shift of operators on an old Perkin-Elmer mainframe (we are talking late 70s or early 80s here) preferred to play cards than watch the console.

So one geek hooked a wire to the high-order bit on one of the main registers in the CPU (something that was indeed technically possible in the days before chip LSI - in fact some of the register busses may well have been accessible externally) or maybe it was that he got the P-E engineer to do it. They fed it through an amp to a speaker in the "smoko" room. [An Australian-ism for the staff break room.]

They would all sit in there playing cards while the speaker burbled away. It was wired with a switch to shut it up before the bosses arrived in the morning.

This is the days of batch processing at night, so the operators' key task was to ensure the right jobs kicked off in the right sequence.

Apparently they learnt to recognise the "signature" sound of each job. They could check their watch then go back to playing. They quickly recognised a high-pitched continuous tone as a CPU loop! And total silence was bad.

Credible? Just. True? Dunno.


I was there too

In the late 70s I worked with HP and we had punched tapes we could 'play' through what we called in these days a mini computer (acually it was a full size 19" rack) and pick up the signals on an FM radio. There were different tapes for different computers. I dont recall the specific tunes but hi-fi they were not. Early attempt at digital encoding I suppose.

Ian Whyte, Bishops Beech

National SCAMP

At least your punch tapes worked.
I once tried (in 1978) to program a SCAMP microprocessor (related to a z80) in assembler using a binary switch interface (pre hex digital keypad days) to modulate the serial output at a controlled rate, to make a music synthesizer.
In retrospect that might have been a slightly geeky form of amusement.

Programmers panel

We used the lights on our programmers panels, attached to the mini computers we were soak testing. Glancing up from our magazine you could see how much longer it was before you had to do some work. Much simpler times, minding machines at the weekend on double time. Eventually the machine clock speeds got to high and the lights were dim unless you were manualy stepping through the code.

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