Posted by: doctornuke | December 18, 2010

A Half-Century of Technology – part 3

Alright, so I was wrong about color monitors, external hard drives, and HTML. However, having worked extensively with both Macs and PCs in graduate school, I became a strong advocate for the Macintosh, and held every version of Windows in contempt. History has proven me more right than wrong in this vein. So I didn’t completely miss the boat.

In 1989, I began my first full time professional job at the Westinghouse Savannah River Company. The company was heavily Mac based, even using Macs for data acquisition in their state of the art thermal hydraulics laboratory. This was the time when Apple had forced Steve Jobs out of the company and he went off and developed the NeXT computer – grandfather if not father of the current Mac OS X. Still, IMHO, a man ahead of his time. At the same time, Apple seemed to have lost a lot of the focus they had under Jobs – there we so many different Mac models continuously rolling out. Apple’s strength (and weakness, some would say) was a limited set of designs. I think I started on a Macintosh IIci, and had at least three different machines in my four years at WSRC. But I remember the plethora of models that rolled out in that time period: the IIfx, IIsi, the IIv and I think there was a IIvx all descendants of the Mac II. Then in the old Mac/Mac+ form factor there came the SE and the SE/30, and the Color Classic, followed by lower-end LC and LC-II models, all targeted more for the home users. Near the end of my time at WSRC the released a new series of computers name Quadra. I saw the Quadra 700 and Quadra 950 during my time there, but never had one.

I’m a little fuzzier on the chipsets they used. I think the original Macs used the Motorola 68000 series chips; the Mac II series started with the 68020. I don’t remember there ever being a 68010 chip – it must have been superseded by the 68020. The IIx, my IIci, and in the all-in-one designs, the SE/30 all contained the newer, faster, higher power 68030. The Quadras were released with 25 MHz 68040 chips. I remember discussion at the time that computers were rapidly approaching a hard limit on clock speeds. Although I’m not sure what the basis for that was – I know the Cray supercomputers I worked on in graduate school had a whopping 85MHz clock speed (although they required extensive cooling hardware). But at the time, the Quadras were the be all and end all of Mac computers. I’m not really aware of what was going on in the PC world at the time – I know they had been also advancing on the 80×86 chipset. They were probably better hardware than Apple was using, but they were limited to Windows 3.1 at best – a poor imitation of Mac OS, lacking many of the capabilities that Apples were offering.

When I first started at SRS, I was actually able to get a computer to take home. They weren’t about to give me something that someone would be able to use at work, so I was able to borrow an old Lisa. A machine that filled the gap between the Apple II and the first Mac. More like the Mac, with a basic Mac-like GUI. Not the best machine in the world, but I could use it for word processing, and to modem into work. I was up to a blazing 1200 bps by then. After a couple of years, we bought our first computer – the Color Classic. Not the best computer, but it met our needs, and we were able to use it to “get online” with first Prodigy, then America Online. And I got a 2400 bps modem to go with it, had real color screen, and the real Mac OS. Bringing files home from work was simple. And for the first time I started doing taxes on a computer.

In around 1991 I started working on my dissertation. The home machine was great for writing, and I did a lot of the computing work at work (my dissertation research was not formally part of my job, but was supported by SRS at it would fill one of their needs). I had taught myself the C programming language, and was doing code development in C. For reasons I don’t want to get into here, C was vastly superior to Fortran 77, still the current engineering standard at that time. The code I developed to demonstrate the methods derived in my research was named CENTAUR, and was written in C. And most of it was written during a week when I was able to attend a workshop in Atlanta. I was able to finagle one of the company’s few Apple Portables to take with me on the trip. I sat in the workshop during the day, and wrote and tested code evenings in my room on the Portable. That was quite a machine – a predecessor to the laptop, it was too big and heavy to sit comfortably on your lap. It used an active matrix LCD screen, which way vastly superior to that available on PCs at the time, but it was not backlit. That meant you had to be in a well-lit area to see it. But still, it was easier to move around than my Color Classic, and could run for a couple of hours on a battery alone.

I’ve written quite a bit, but am still at SRS. Next installment I’ll talk more about the introduction of RS/6000 workstations at SRS, then my move to ORNL (along with a temporary computing capability downgrade).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: