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.
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. ®
Huge PDP-11 in a lorry: How I drove computers into schools
I've still got the punched cards today - I learned nothing from the experience (except that computers were really disappointing - Yep I got the "Syntax error" too often as well) Luckily my old man worked for Plessey and the computing nerds there convinced him that the BBC B was the way forward - they were right ! Suddenly you could see the possibilities from these computer things. Kept me in work for 20 plus years so far.
Today I look at the homework my kids do on "how to write a letter in Word" or some other such nonsense and wonder how it is that UK education can be so clueless with IT for so long.
A title is optional
I've actually owned two PDP-11s, an 11/03 and an 11/24, both of which I found for $25 at a Goodwill store. I was going to school at the time, and remember taking them both back to my dorm room, setting them up, connecting an antique VT-52 terminal that had thoughtfully been included with one of them, powering them on...
...and watching them just sit there.
When my girlfriend dropped by for a visit, she mentioned that her uncle had worked with a whole host of PDPs back in the day. I gave him a call, and he had me toggle in the bootstrap sequence for each of them on the front panels (from memory!) One of them had a series of little flip switches, the other had an octal keypad--a rather strange thing to see. We were able to get them up and running, and for a while I explored RT-11 and the wonders of PDP-11 assembly and TECO, which is easily The Single Worst Piece Of Software I Have Ever Used, and possibly The Single Worst Piece Of Software Ever Written.
The 11/24 was accidentally destroyed a few weeks later when the same girlfriend came for a visit and made the mistake of trying to cook us breakfast with an electric frying pan, tripping the circuit breaker and causing the disk drive to eat itself. Part of the 11/24 lived on for quite some time afterward; a friend of mine disassembled it and used parts of the chassis to make a (very heavy) coffee table and a night stand.
I kept the 11/03 for a number of years, before finally giving it away when I moved and couldn't find a reasonable way to take it with me.
VMS - still my first love
"those were the days. Gosh, can anyone explain why we had to mount the backup tape as foreign ?"
The /FOREIGN option was used to mount devices with a file structure other than Files-11. It tells the operating system to make no assumptions as to the file structure on the device.
Sounds like the Director was a boss of the pointy-haired variety ...
First and last Apple product we had.
it eventually spent most of its time running CP/M on 1Mbyte 8" floppies using a Z80 card. A Research Machine 380Z or S100 system would have worked out cheaper.
The next computer was an ACT Sirius 1 (Victor 9000). Then PCs. It took 4 years for the PC to catch up with Sirius 1.
We got a contract service/maintaining TRS80, BBC Micros, Apple II, Research Machine 380z etc in schools. Most of the computers in Schools in early 1980s a sheer waste of money. They should have bought the teacher one for home first.
Even in the mid 1990s teaching trainee secretaries about PCs, Computer Filing, Word-processing and Spreadsheets the easiest ones to teach and best students came from schools with no computers.
Computers in schools could have achieved so much more. Even today the "tool" is badly taught and under utilised.