School Computing


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These were the days of time-share terminals, PDPs of various flavors, and not much else in the way of digital technology in K-12s.

If anyone has solid memories of these days... the 1970s... please feel free to write up this history!

Memories from 1972-73Edit

I was a student at Concord Academy, graduating in 1973. As best I can remember it was fall of my senior year when we got access to a computer. We had one teletype connected to a timesharing service running on a PDP-8/I. I remember that the for-profit company providing the service had about twice as many schools connected to timesharing system as the system was supposed to accomodate. But remember we were communicating with the computer by a teletype--a large machine with a typewriter keyboard and a roll of paper. There was no screen of any kind--what you typed appeared on the roll of paper and then when you typed "run" the machine would type the results of your program onto the same roll of paper. There was a way to store your program, on paper tape with holes punched in it. A device on the side of the teletype punched this tape and also read it.

Since the interface was so slow the speed of the computer wasn't usually noticeable. But someone at another school wrote and shared a program to calculate pi to the limits of core memory, and that would slow the machine down noticeably. I remember the output of that program being maybe three feet of paper--the limits of core wasn't very much (online sources suggest it would have been 4 kilowords).

We learned to write programs in BASIC, which didn't seem very significant. A friend and I were the two people who hung around and played with the computer. The only next step we could figure out was to learn assembly language. We decided to try to write a lunar lander text-based game in assembly language. We got Miss Plumb, the Chemistry teacher, to let us do it as one of the units of a course in advanced biology and chemistry (in another unit we bred fruit flies). All the text that was going to appear in the game had to be translated into numeric form using ascii code--we hired a younger student to do that. But we never could get our program to work fully. I remember telling Miss Plumb that we hadn't solved all the problems yet and she said she had already submitted our grades. I still feel guilty that we didn't live up to her faith in us and finish it.

It didn't occur to me to take a computer course when I got to college; I was planning on majoring in astronomy and physics (I later ended up in history of science and technology). After my sophmore year of college I got a job working for an astronomer compiling some data and writing a program in Fortran to analyze it. I knew nothing about Fortran but I don't remember having any hesitation about going out and learning it on my own. That was batch processing--punch cards for input and then when the computer got to the job you had submitted the results would appear on a printer.


Time SharingEdit

The following text excerpts are from a 1974 letter to a school Headmaster from a newly formed time sharing service.

We are proud to announce the formation of a comprehensive computer time sharing service dedicated specifically to meeting the needs of the high schools and colleges in the Westchester area.
The widespread use of the computer for the solution of problems in mathematics, engineering, the natural and social sciences and other fields, makes it imperative that any school or college courses in these areas have access to the proper computer facilities.
...we will provide each of our affiliated schools with a new teletype terminal (model ASR 33) which would be located on your campus and connected via telephone line to our computer facility...
The cost of the service will be a flat rate charge of $3,000 for a 12 month contract for each terminal rented.
Each teletype comes equipped with a paper tape punch/reader.
We will be using a Data General Nova...with a core memory of 65,536 bytes...
We will have available the entire Dartmouth library of computer programs wirtten in BASIC.
Each user will entitled to a minimum of 32,00 bytes of disc storage for each terminal rented. Additional storage will be available at a modest fee. This storage may be read and/or write restricted to prevent "accidental" erasures and to protect privacy.

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