Feeds

Huge PDP-11 in a lorry: How I drove computers into schools

Mobile technology, the mainframe way

Reducing security risks from open source software

Tiring work - and that was just opening it up

The director wanted us to practice deploying the trailer, before the computer was installed. So occasionally we would visit the empty trailer, standing out in a snowy field in the freezing cold, open the wings to expand the room. Then we'd fold it back up. The wings expanded with a manual crank. It took considerable strength to turn the crank, none of us could work for more than a minute or so. It was exhausting.

The floors folded up and were retracted by an electric winch. The director wanted to show us that the winch had no automatic shutoff, so we had to be careful to manually stop it or it would snap the cable. I was watching from outside, underneath the floor, so I could see how this worked. Of course the director snapped the cable, dropping the heavy floor right over my head. A moment before, I was standing in the open floor area. I could have been killed.

In the spring (several months late) the PDP-11 arrived and was installed in the trailer. The minicomputer was installed by DEC engineers; they couldn't believe what they saw. The trailer was hooked up directly to an electric power pole, and grounded by a big copper stake hammered into the earth.

The power was too unstable to run a sensitive computer and engineers from the local power company had to come to fix it. Power grids in Iowa were notorious for voltage fluctuations; a typical 120V AC line could be anywhere from 100V to 130V. The 60Hz AC cycle could vary, disrupting the system clock.

More delays.

A Portable Computer: circa 1977

The computer finally became operational and more equipment was delivered. The PDP-11 occupied two full server racks, and had a removable disk pack so the delicate media could be dismounted during transport.

We received two terminals to join our DECWriter system console. I began working in the trailer, preparing the system for its first live test. I asked the Director when the other 14 terminals would arrive. He said this was it. The project had run over budget, now they didn't have enough money to buy more terminals.

I was scheduled to help deliver the trailer for its first run, but I could leave that to others. The director planned to make a big splash, delivering the high-tech truck to a small rural town. It would spend a week there and then move to another town every week. I visited the site during deployment. The electricians spent 3 days stabilising the power source. Now there were only two weekdays to finish the courses, and only two teachers could use it simultaneously.

After all this work to create and transport an enormous truck full of 16 terminals, and only deploying two, it seemed like we were transporting a huge room around with almost nothing in it. I had worked for nearly a year, to deliver almost nothing. My software job was done, so I moved on to another project. I never heard of the Mobile Instructional Classroom again.

New developments in microcomputers like the Apple II revolutionised educational computing overnight. The ambitious mobile classroom project was obsolete before it was even launched. But for a brief moment, it tried to raise the standard for computing in the classroom, at the same moment a new standard emerged. ®

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

More from The Register

next story
Report: American tech firms charge Britons a thumping nationality tax
Without representation, too. Time for a Boston (Lincs) Macbook Party?
Child diagnosed as allergic to iPad
Apple's fondleslab is the tablet dermatitis sufferers won't want to take
Microsoft takes on Chromebook with low-cost Windows laptops
Redmond's chief salesman: We're taking 'hard' decisions
For Lenovo US, 8-inch Windows tablets are DEAD – long live 8-inch Windows tablets
Reports it's killing off smaller slabs are greatly exaggerated
Cheer up, Nokia fans. It can start making mobes again in 18 months
The real winner of the Nokia sale is *drumroll* ... Nokia
Seventh-gen SPARC silicon will accelerate Oracle databases
Uncle Larry's mutually-optimised stack to become clearer in August
prev story

Whitepapers

Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.