Sidebar 3: Recollections of CSIRO Computing staff members

By Robert Bell March 17th, 2020

 

Last updated: 6 Jul 2022.
Robert C. Bell
Status: Added recollections from Kitty Muntz and Nigel Williams.
Added information about the Csironet demise.
Added information about word games.
Added notes about Mike Dallwitz and TED.
Added more about Henry Hudson and TED.

previous chapter — contents — next chapter

 

I have been in contact with Peter Hanlon (commenced 23 May 1966 Melbourne), Peter Heweston (1972-73 Canberra), John O’Callaghan (24 Oct 1968 Canberra), Jan Lee (1969-70 Sydney), Brian Savvas (29 Dec 1966 Adelaide), Joan Hayhurst (21 Oct 1965 Sydney), Marilyn Keys (c. 1970 Sydney, Townsville and Adelaide), Peter Milne, Kitty Muntz and Nigel Williams (Hobart branch), and have collected some of their recollections, which I plan to include.

I sent the following to several people, to guide their responses.

Below is a set of questions to prompt the memories of the pioneers, and I would be grateful for any responses please.  Since the task might seem daunting, I’d encourage the pioneers to start by sending me partial responses to the easy questions, and adding more information progressively.

Please pass this on to other pioneers who I don’t have contact with yet.

Questions

    1. Where were you born, where did you spend your early life, who was in your family?
    2. Can you remember a special teacher at school who influenced your career path?
    3. Did you go to university, and if so, what did you study, and did this lead to your career?
    4. When and where did you start at CSIRO? How did this come about?
    5. What was your first role at CSIRO?
    6. Who did you first work with? Please tell us about some of these people.
    7. Would you care to contrast computing facilities and services from the early days with today’s ubiquitous devices and services?
    8. Would you please recall the major achievements from your career?
    9. What were the major advances in CSIRO computing during your career?
    10. What were some of the big issues in CSIRO computing during your career?
    11. What were your memories of the privatisation era? Would you like to comment on the rapid disappearance of Csironet?
    12. Would you like to pay tribute to someone who was a mentor, guider, special colleague, or achiever?

With Thanks

Rob. Bell, who was a grateful user of the services the pioneers provided.

Early memories – Peter Hanlon, George Karoly

On 18/12/19, 08:26, “Peter Hanlon” <hanlonpp@bigpond.net.au> wrote:
Like Jan, I also date from these days, joining in May 66 in Melbourne, moved to Canberra Aug 66, with Assembly language skills from similar Melbourne machine CDC3400 and an M Sc.
Peter Hanlon
On 23 Dec 2019, at 11:54 am, Bell, Robert (IM&T, Clayton) <Robert.Bell@csiro.au> wrote:
Peter,
So, was the CDC 3400 at Defence?  I wrote my first program in 1965, and it was run on a CDC 3400 at Defence that was undergoing acceptance testing.  My brother Alan worked there.
Rob.
On 23/12/19, 12:09, “Peter Hanlon” <hanlonpp@bigpond.net.au> wrote:
Yes, I worked on 3400 under one Alan Powell Bell. I chucked in the Powell just to underscore that my memory is decent. I was involved in the acceptance testing.
I wrote my first program at WRE at Christmas 1960, and they had a pretty decent service operating on an IBM7090.

In the Terry Holden collection, there is a document entitled “Notes on Programming the 3447-405 and 3649-405 Card Reader.pdf”.  This was written by George Karoly of CDA, and dated 5th December 1964.  I contacted Professor David Karoly.

On 24/1/20, 23:27, “Karoly, David (O&A, Aspendale)” <David.Karoly@csiro.au> wrote:

    Hi Rob,

Thanks for your email. My father is still alive, 95 years old, and living in a residential care home in Brighton Beach.
He started on computers at the University of New South Wales, in electrical engineering in 1955, then joined Control Data in 1963, spent 6 months in California in Mountain View with CDC in 1964, returned to work in Canberra still with Control Data, and then moved to Melbourne for Control Data at the end of 1966, where he stayed for many years in several different positions.
Best wishes,  David
On 29/1/20, 14:50, “Peter Hanlon” <hanlonpp@bigpond.net.au> wrote:
    Rob,
    I went to Godfrey Lance’s funeral in Bermagui last week. There was a sprinkling of DCR people there.

On 30/1/20, 16:50, “Peter Hanlon” <hanlonpp@bigpond.net.au> wrote:

    Charges for Computing Services

    The new rates from 1st July 1968 caused consternation amongst the Research staff who managed the accounting processes as a sideline. Until that time there was an integer relationship between CPU seconds and the billing rate, and this departure caused some fundamental change.

    Telex Facility   

    A later development popular in Queensland provided job submission on Telex tape!

    DiscDocs

    The disc in question (CDC813) consisted of 2 stacks of 18 platters about 600mm in diameter. 64 of the platter surfaces were used for storage totalling 100 million 6-bit characters. Every weekend it was buffed and polished by CDC engineering staff in readiness for the next week. The disc occupied a box about 1800L X 900W X1700H with a separate box of electronics.

    The disc control statements (DRCOPDF etc) were prompted by a source/action/destination mentality, with DFDEL having a particular air of finality.   

    Peter

After reviewing some of chapter 3:

On 31/1/20, 15:56, “Peter Hanlon” <hanlonpp@bigpond.net.au> wrote :

    The references to W. Cumpston and P Buscombe might be a trifle overstated. Both were vac students, the former working for Jack Palmer and the latter Geoff Shearing. Geoff came via Manchester Uni, and it is not surprising that he might give a little talk on the differences.

    It would be nice to work in a few user references on novel uses of the facilities.

    Dr Alan Head from CSIRO Tribophysics (at Melb uni) invented a half-tone photography scheme of crystal diffraction patterns using overprinting of lines on a line printer.

    Mr A (Tony) Bomford of the Commonwealth Division of National Mapping made very innovative forays into early mapping of the continent.

    Various groups from the Bureau of Mineral Resources (John Brown, Roy Whitworth) analysed magnetic anomalies from air and sea surveys.

    The Commonwealth Department of Works (Hans Kardon) used plotter facilities for cut-and-fill depictions of major roadworks.

    The reference to rewriting Plot and Text was a major effort and a short-term necessity. The plotters were using disproportionate amounts of storage for spooling, resulting in frequent ‘drum overflows’. RH Hudson and I invented a packing algorithm which resulted in an average 16 times reduction in file size.

    The Facom stuff was actually a golden era, and deserves a lot more press.

 

I also enquired who was the person shown on the cover of the DCR Annual report for 1968-69.

On 3/2/20, 13:17, “Peter Hanlon” <hanlonpp@bigpond.net.au> wrote:
    I think that it looks more like the Education Officer John Drabble rather than Henry.
    Henry incidentally had a heart attack and died at work.
On 3 Feb 2020, at 1:27 pm, Bell, Robert (IM&T, Clayton) <Robert.Bell@csiro.au> wrote:
I remember John Drabble, and I don’t think it is he.  It could be a CDA staff member.
Incidentally, I’ve been in touch with David Karoly (now at CSIRO Aspendale), who told me his Father George is living in Brighton Vic – George worked for CDA and was one of the co-writers of DAD I believe.
Yes, I heard about Henry’s passing at work.
John Morrissey (ex-Csironet) has just retired from CSIRO – he has a couple of modules from the Cyber 76 processor – pictures are in my artefacts section.
Thanks
Rob.

On 3/2/20, 15:32, “Peter Hanlon” <hanlonpp@bigpond.net.au> wrote:

Yes I remember George Karoly too. Control Data did most of the early work on the ‘Displays’ aspect, including Dave and Mabel. Ian Wadham, Mark Westcott were involved too. Brian Austin is best to ask about any of these details. The CIDER editor was largely CDA, and was in the vein of IBM TSO
It still looks like John Drabble to me. Jan Lee might be better at processing faces from 50-years ago.
The Cyber 205 was delivered on Anzac Day 1984. I had a ute, and got a great heap of the packing plywood because of the holiday and my official reception status. It was decommissioned at $600/tonne scrap in 1989 or thereabouts. I was still using the plywood years later.

The start of the on-line network

I asked Peter Hanlon:
Peter,
One unanswered question is whether the Csironet network existing before DARPANET!
In the 1967-1968 Annual Report, one of the teleprinters is reported to have been set up at the Division of Land Research.
I’ve asked a general CSIRO enquiries line whether that would have been at Black Mountain or elsewhere, but you might know please?
Rob.
On 3/2/20, 16:30, “Peter Hanlon” <hanlonpp@bigpond.net.au> wrote:
    Hi Rob,
    
    There was a teletype (ASR33 probably) set up at the Division of Land Research on the Black Mountain campus which ran by cable along the Botanic Gardens fence into a DEC PDP8 thence into the CDC3600.
    
    It operated for several weeks or months until lightning intervened, frying parts in the PDP8 before damaging the CDC3600.
    
    Control Data generously fixed the machine out of spares, rumoured to be $80K-120K. DCR then considered optical isolators.
    
    Peter

The jobstack process

This allowed jobs submitted remotely to be processed in Canberra on the CDC 3600.  I wrote to Peter Hanlon:

I have a question about job stack, which copied card decks to tape at branches for air-freight to Canberra.
Do you know or remember whether job printout was printed in Canberra, or were the output files copied to tape and air-freighted back to the branches for printing: or maybe both?
Thanks
Rob.
On 11/3/20, 12:55, “Peter Hanlon” <hanlonpp@bigpond.net.au> wrote:
    Pretty much printed in Canberra and air-freighted back. The tapes (1200ft reels rather than full 2400ft) arrived early evening, were processed in the 2nd and 3rd operations shifts, and left Canberra on the early planes.
    
    I found a listing of the first process which backed up the 813 discs each weekend and restored them. Internally these processes were named DISCLOSE/DISCOPEN, and I wrote them. Later, Henry Hudson rewrote the close process as a ‘physical’ rather than ‘logical’ copy for improved speed/reliability, producing dual magnetic tapes at full writing speed. I then rewrote the restore process, and scored each tape record pair for sequence/software checksum/hardware parity, giving a 0 (all good) to 31(something not kosher) response. We were amazed at the number of unlikely error situations that arose. (Tape A record seemingly good but checksum error, tape B parity error but the preferred copy etc)  
    
    Jan was at Sydney branch during the job stacking process and might have better feel.
Sent: Friday, March 13, 2020 6:21 AM
To: ‘Bell, Robert (IM&T, Clayton)’; Brian Savvas
Cc: ‘Peter Hanlon’
Subject: RE: Job stack
Hi Rob,
Peter knows more about it than I do. I’m sure he’s right through – the printouts were flown back to the branches from Canberra. We didn’t mount tapes and print them locally. We wouldn’t have had capacity to do that.
Tapes were included in the jobstack to Canberra but my memory is that these contained  the programs to be run and any data necessary for input to the programs. I don’t think we shipped card decks to Canberra.
We must have copied cards to the tapes every day. It’s a long time ago so perhaps I’m imagining how it must have worked rather than remembering how it did work.
Joan Hayhurst was also there so I can ask her – I will be seeing her on Saturday.
Hi Brian,
Do you remember how the jobstack worked?
Cheers,
Jan

 

On 13/3/20, 13:49 , “Brian Savvas” <brian.savvas@bigpond.com> wrote:
I started with DCR in January 1967. That month, the University of Adelaide installed a CDC6600 [6400 – ed.]. Although the CSIRO’s CDC3200 was in the Engineering building, it no longer had university users. CSIRO users were small in number so the Adelaide 3200 could cope with the load. Hence, off-loading to Canberra was not required. We used the jobstack primarily for correspondence.
    Hope that helps.
    Brian Savvas

In March 2020, I asked the former staff members how the job stack process worked, which allowed jobs to be submitted in Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney, and run on the 3600 in Canberra.  Jan Lee had lunch with Joan Hayhurst on 14th March, and reported:

Hi Rob,
Today I asked Joan Hayhurst about Jobstack Sydney – Canberra.
Her memory is the same a Peter’s and mine.
Card decks were loaded to tape in the afternoon is Sydney, the tapes were collected by courier and taken to Mascot airport to be flown to Canberra. I think the pickup from DCR Sydney was at about 4.00pm.
The jobs on the tapes were run overnight in Canberra and the output was  flown back to Sydney in the morning. Output was in the form of paper listings which were included in the returning jobstack cases together with the tapes to be used for the next Sydney to Canberra  run.
The courier delivered them to the Sydney Branch of DCR which was located at National Measurement labs at Sydney University where the operators (or whoever was on deck) separated the listings into individual job outputs which were placed in the collection boxes for the various Sydney CSIRO Divisions.
The CSIRO Divisions used to send card decks to the Sydney Branch and retrieve the listing output using a daily courier run similar to the daily Sydney-Canberra jobstack run but the only tapes involved were tapes containing data. Code was always on cards.
Cheers,
Jan
I tried to visualise the process with the following picture (which contains some anachronisms):

Peter Heweston

Peter conducted an interview with me, but we have a recording of only his audio.

On 7th April 2020, Peter reported that an operator spilled coffee on the IBM Selectric console for the 3600, and the system was off air for a fair while.

Marilyn Keys

On 24 August 2020, Marilyn Keys-Aston wrote:
Hi Robert,
Brian Savvas from Intran gave me your email address.    I transferred from CSIRONET in Townsville to be the Manager of CSIRONET Adelaide, looking after the Node and Modems and Customers.  This was during the time the VLSI Program was there.  I was present
until the Intran frachise took over.  I joined Motor Registration computer operations.  I was Marilyn Keys at the time.
John Paine, Terry Holden and Peter Claringbold were all nice guys, I’m sorry to hear they’re not here anymore.
Regards, Marilyn Keys-Aston.
and
Hi Rob,
Thanks for your mail. I forgot to say that I transferred to Adelaide in 1980 until Intran franchised.

Godfrey Lance was a nice guy as well. I remember taking Peter Claringbold out in a friends yacht when he was visiting Townsville.
Regards, Marilyn.
Thanks for doing a good job.
(Marilyn Keys CSIRO DCR, Sydney, was featured in DCR Newsletter 61, September 1970.)
Here’s an extract from the DCR Newsletter 128 from August 1976, showing the Csironet T-shirts.

Terry Holden

Peter Thorne, in a conversation in November 2019, recalled that Terry Holden had been working for months at CSIRO Building Research at Highett on a problem concerned with heat conduction into buildings, and found that the stronger the heating outside, the cooler the building became inside – there was a sign error in the formulation!  Faced with having to repeat the months of hand calculation, Terry heard from someone about a machine at the University of Melbourne (CSIRAC) which could help, and Terry became a user, and thus set the course of his career in CSIRO Computing.

Peter Milne

Peter provided the following information on 2 Nov 2020.

One of the deep underlying issues was that back then CSIRO Divisions were pretty well all about research.  The two exceptions were the National  Measurement Laboratory (NML ) in Ryde and DCR.  Originally DCR was CRS, Computing Research Section, so it wasn’t even a Division.
NML and CRS/DCR were different, they were service divisions and the CSIRO Executive by its own admission had difficulties over the years dealing with this.  Unlike the research divisions, DCR needed large amounts of cash from time to time to upgrade computers, it had Government Departments who were paying customers, it needed to sign large commercial contracts (eg CDC), and it occasionally needed permission/delegation to do partnership deals with industry players.
I recall a CSIRO Chairman telling DCR Staff that the CSIRO Executive spent 25% of its time managing one CSIRO Division – DCR!  This was  due to all the non-research issues that it continually threw up.
There was also a problem that wasn’t realised until around the time of the commercialisation.  For years DCR had been charging Defence and other Govt departments for using their computers.  Apparently this was most likely illegal under the Science and Industry Act that CSIRO operates under.
The commercialisation of CSIRONET was seen as a way of solving this possible illegality problem and also of unburdening the CSIRO Executive from having to grapple with service related management issues rather than the research related management issues they were more comfortable with.
Yet another tension came from the total power DCR had been given over computing matters in CSIRO.  CSIRO Divisions had no other choice but to use it for their computing.  Initially they had pretend money computing quotas, but later they had to pay for their computing with real money from their Divisional budgets.  DCR took a hard line against Divisions wanting to acquire HP Instrumentation Computers etc especially if they had card readers and compilers as this was seen as allowing Divisions to avoid using DCR.  Things went from bad to worse as tensions escalated when more and more Divisions, starved of money in their computing budgets, were blocked by DCR from buying VAXs etc.  Eventually the Divisions won, but the whole issue of DCR’s monopoly over matters computing in CSIRO caused a lot of ill will and tension.
Back then CSIRO Chiefs wielded considerable power and were not appointed for any any specified term, they were effectively Chiefs for Life.  Godfrey Lance was initially a Head of Section and then became Chief of Division.  When CRS was being setup Trevor Pearcey, Peter Claringbold, and I think Maston Beard all applied unsuccessfully to lead it.  Rumour had it that Claringbold was determined one day to replace Godfrey.
During the Fraser Government there was a hiring freeze on the Public Service and CSIRO.  ….. a few sentences omitted …..
The Fernbach Report essentially was in agreement with Godfrey that he was being asked to provide increasing services but, due to the staff freeze and spending restraints, was being denied the resources necessary to do the job.  The report sketched out the resources realistically needed to do the job ignoring the freeze that was in place.  The one major criticism of Godfrey was that management was too hierarchical in DCR.
Undaunted by the report, the CSIRO Executive claimed that it supported that there were unreconcilable differences between them and Dr Lance, and that Dr Lance would move to head a new Numerical Taxonomy Section to be established in the Division of Entomology.  Peter Claringbold then became Chief.  My memory is a bit vague, but I think that at some point Maston Beard had a role in managing DCR too, maybe as an interim Chief before Claringbold arrived to replace Godfrey.
In the event, Godfrey didn’t stick around for long and moved to a position at Bristol University in the UK.  When he eventually retired he returned to Australia to Bermagui on the NSW South Coast.
Hope you find this useful …
Cheers
    Peter

On 23 Nov 2020 Peter wrote:

I thought I’d pass on the following observation:
In November 1966, when I joined CRS (later DCR, CSIRONET) one couldn’t do a computer science course at university, there was no such discipline!
The people who programmed scientific computers back then were mainly mainly self-taught and were seduced into becoming programmers from other disciplines, eg atomic physics and numerical analysis.
Most of the best programmers I encountered in my computing career were ’naturals’ (eg Brian Austin, Henry Hudson, John Paine), self-taught programmers who never formally studied programming/computing.
One consequence of this was that the early staff at CRS/DCR contained a lot of interesting characters from many different backgrounds and disciplines, and this diversity led to a particularly interesting and stimulating workplace.
Trevor Pearcey, whose background was in physics and mathematics, was involved in RADAR development during the war and later constructed CSIRAC.  Brian Austin did his Phd in solid state physics.  Henry Hudson worked at JPL.  Godfrey Lance supervised teams doing calculations on mechanical calculators during WWII.  Wally Wallington worked in meteorology. Mark Pallandri came from CERN.  Etc
By the later part of my career computing had matured as a discipline in its own right.  More people had qualifications in computer science, and there was less background diversity.
I remember attending a lecture Grace Hopper (she of US Navy and COBOL fame) gave to the Canberra Computer Society where she observed that in aviation terms her career in computing had spanned from the Wright Brothers to the era of the 747.
I think that sums it up pretty well.  I am happy I was around during this interesting period!
Cheers
    Peter
On 27 Nov 2020, Peter wrote:
I know that you are particularly interested in recording the innovative things DCR/CSIRONET did, so I will send some thoughts on this then.
I had the good fortune to ‘move my office’ from CSIRONET to the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab (SAIL) in California for 9 months during 78-79 where I was a Stanford University Visiting Scholar.  SAIL was one of the first university sites on ARPANET and it was there that I first encountered email, TeX (Don Knuth was just down the hall from me developing TeX), and the XGP that was a xerographic precursor to today’s laser printers.  All these things had a mighty influence on me and it became my mission upon my return to make them available to CSIRONET users.  I succeeded on all counts.  I convinced Canon Japan to sell us first generation laser printers well before they were generally available.  CILES were able to use their laser printer to locally print quick proofs of the scientific journals they published prior to producing final camera-ready copy on the Comp80.  I also helped arrange for Bob McKay to visit Stanford and join the team working to produce a portable version of TeX.  Bob later was able to make TeX available on CSIRONET.
I proposed creating a mail system (modelled on the SAIL one) for CSIRONET in a DAD paper I wrote with Henry Hudson.  John Paine improved my proposal by suggesting that the Mail System sit at the network level rather than on a single host (eg Cyber76).  Whenever a user attempted to log onto any CSIRONET host the network alerted the Mail System then told the user if they had any new mail before logging them to the host .  Henry wrote a portable operating environment to support the mail system, and I wrote all the mail system code.  Henry unfortunately died (at his desk) a bit before *MAIL went live.  Bernie Munter and I then continued to support *MAIL and its development.  *MAIL was written in Pascal and the initial development was done on the M190.  Then a pair of dedicated Wicat (Motorola 68000 based Unix-like systems) were purchased to provide production and development environments.  When a CSIRONET network was successfully sold to the SA Justice and Information Service (JIS) *MAIL was successfully ported to DEC’s VAX architecture where it supported police and other users on the JIS network.
Initially *MAIL on CSIRONET was free, but with the privatisation, management decided to charge for its use.  In its heyday it had thousands of users but with the introduction of charging and the general decline of CSIRONET users the number of users dwindled.
Around this time I made an in-person pitch to the CSIRO Executive trying to convince them of the importance of email, its benefits etc, and that CSIRO should generally adopt *MAIL.  I still have the text of my unsuccessful pitch to them.  It makes amusing reading in hindsight!   I’ll try and dig out my copy and send it to you.
Cheers
    Peter

Kitty Muntz – DCR/Csironet 1972 to 1981

Here are Kitty’s recollections.
    1. Where were you born, where did you spend your early life, who was in your family?  Born in Melbourne in 1951 to Polish parents who survived the holocaust (but their families didn’t)
    2. Can you remember a special teacher at school who influenced your career path?  Ian Grandy, the chemistry teacher at Brighton High School.  I was going to major in Chemistry until Computing excited me instead
    3. Did you go to university, and if so, what did you study, and did this lead to your career?  Science Hons degree at Monash university, majoring in Maths and Information Science.  This led directly to my job with CSIRO Division of Computing Research
    4. When and where did you start at CSIRO? How did this come about? December, 1972 – at the end of the Hons year at Monash Uni.  I applied for an advertised Experimental Officer position.
    5. Who did you first work with? Please tell us about some of these people. The Melbourne division of Computing Research was very small with about 5 professional staff and a similar number of operators for the equipment. Anton Cooke was in charge when I started.  After he left to move to Canberra, Clive Edington took over briefly until Warwick Ford arrived.  Other professional staff were Ian Pollard, Graeme Scarlett (who became my husband in 1982; he sadly died in July 2017), Tony Broderick, and Murray Wilson.  Operators included Brian Clancy, Helen Doble, Kaye Challis,
    6. Would you care to contrast computing facilities and services from the early days with today’s ubiquitous devices and services?  Ha ha!  Such a contrast.  I remember when we got 2 or 3 new disk drives, each the size of a front loading washing machine.  They could each store 20mb and we wondered how on earth we would ever need so much storage space! And then of course there was magnetic tape, paper tape, punched cards.
    7. Would you please recall the major achievements from your career?    I programmed in assembly, Algol, Fortran and also Simula.  Simula may well have been the first object-oriented language and it was very exciting to be using it.
    8. What were the major advances in CSIRO computing during your career? The rapidly improving power of computers, leading to purchase of the Cray supercomputer
    9. Would you like to pay tribute to someone who was a mentor, guider, special colleague, or achiever? Not really, though John Paine’s work has to be admired, especially knowing he did not have tertiary qualifications.  If you’re after something light-hearted my colleague Graeme Scarlett (later my husband)  used to play tricks on me.  I remember when he hacked my login to one of the accounts, so that if I tried to log in I got a message “A woman’s place is in the home – go home”.  It was funny at the time, but today he would be in very serious trouble for behaviour like this.

I’m sorry I can’t be of more help, but this was 40 to 50 years ago.  You may be interested to know that we often spent our free time playing Adventure https://www.historyofinformation.com/detail.php?id=2020. Very tame by today’s standards but we loved it.

Kitty

Nigel WIlliams

Hi Rob,

Very glad to see your efforts to document CSIRO computing history.

One part caught my eye on this page:

https://csiropedia.csiro.au/csiro-computing-history-4/

There is reference to CNFX, the CSIRONET file transfer application.

There is a writeup for the AUUGN here:

https://www.tuhs.org/Archive/Documentation/AUUGN/AUUGN-V06.5.pdf

My part in this is I did the port of CNFX to Apple Macintosh in September 1986. I used a commercial Macintosh C compiler and mapped the various UNIX aspects to Macintosh and provided a basic graphic user interface to use utility. It was amazing to see it work given all the mangling it had to do to the bit-stream to traverse CSIRONET in a robust way (If I recall correctly on some paths, it only allowed a specific 7-bit format).

Jeremy Firth was the manager of the CSIRONET Hobart office and Jennifer Hudson was a programmer at that office, both later moved to University of Tasmania (where I went too eventually).

cheers,

nigel.

 

Csironet demise

In preparation for a talk at C3DIS 2021 (http://www.c3dis.com/), I e-mailed my Csironet staff contacts.

 

What happened to Csironet, and why?

 

By the mid-1980s, Csironet had a staff of 150 and provided access to 53 host computers and services through a network with 150 basic nodes across and outside Australia.  In 1984, it acquired one of the leading supercomputers of its day, and was facilitating CSIRO’s computational science and providing services to several government departments.

 

By the early 1990s, it had all gone.

 

This talk will outline some of the key steps in the demise, and some of the key lessons for other computing service providers.

 

I have some ideas for the answers, but wonder if anyone wants to contribute or become a co-author?

I guess some factors were:

  1. The rise of PCs and minicomputers
  2. The charging policy
  3. The rise of UNIX
  4. The decline of Control Data
  5. The fashion for privatisation
  6. The difficulties for the CSIRO Executive in dealing with Csironet
  7. The incompatibility of running a service operation within a research-oriented organisation
  8. The growth in networking capabilities of small systems
  9. The coming of the internet to Australia.

I received extensive responses from Peter Hanlon and Rob Hurle.  These are kept in the off-line document

“CSIRO Computing history.Unused_items.docx”.

Word Games

On 14th January 20222, I e-mailed the Csironet alumin:

You may have heard from the younger generation of a new word game being played – Wordle.

Each day, a new five letter word becomes available, and you have to guess the word by entering possibilities for the five letters.  The game indicates whether each letter is chosen is in the right place, or is in the word but not in the right place.  It’s like the game ‘Mastermind’ which arose in the 1970s which used coloured pegs.  It’s also like the old game ‘hangman’.

In DCR News no. 46, June 1969 (attached), there is an article on pages 5-6 about the “Console Program Library”.  One of the programs available is WORDPLAY, and I think this is a version of hangman.

Does anyone remember it?

I don’t, but then I never used the consoles on the 3600, being a remote user. I think there was a later version available on networked consoles. I do remember that a user discovered that if you searched the binary, you could find a list of all the ‘rude’ words the program would not accept!

So, it seems Wordle is another case of recycling old ideas!

(On another tack, for an open day at Aspendale in 1976, we were trying to demonstrate how people used computers, and I wrote an Ed box program to play mastermind!)

Peter Hanlon responded:

I was the author of WORDPLAY. Player and Computer attempted to guess the other’s 4-letter word. It used a list of 4-letter words (about 2000) obtained by perusing an Oxford dictionary over several nights. The alphabetic list was then reordered to optimise the computer search according to positional letter frequency probabilities. The feedback to the user was the number of positional letters correct, together with the computer’s guess. There was no naughty word list!

It was very popular and its single line in and out worked well in the teletype environment.

I authored an earlier game PONTOON in 1967 which had double up and double back provisions, and it had solid use to the extent that players taught themselves on the computer, and then entered confidently into Card Nights and casinos. Unfortunately it needed the 25X40 display.

In the late 80’s, I built XWORD for PC. It used a comprehensive list of words from the Macquarie dictionary, with the whole database stored on a single 5 inch disk (360000 bytes). The difference between one word and the next was stored. It solved crossword queries with wildcards such as —SOL— (ABSOLUTE).  The late Peter Ewens took my work and extended it, and various Windows offshoots eventuated.

Peter incidentally was the author of TELEDAY which in today’s parlance was a library assisting people to write console programs in higher level languages such as FORTRAN rather than esoteric ASSEMBLER.

and later:

I was often the bunny selected to tour visitors around our computer facilities. “ But what can it DO”, they would say. The games helped enormously…
I posted some of the discussion on the CSIRO-staff-only Yammer page, and subsequently there was a posting on social media – https://twitter.com/CSIRO/status/1486519334944059392?s=20&t=Akjy-zsfcZ04IzktS0Ti-w

Mike Dallwitz

MIke worked for CSIRO Entomology, and produced some useful software; items including a utility, AUD, to provide an audit of Cyber 76 permanent files (which I subsequently maintained, and produced a Cyber205 version, VAUD), TYPSET – a typesetting package to use the COMp80 facilities, a useful set of TED/Ed box programs (U;CETXXX;[/U/$ ) and software to support taxonomy.

Mike wrote in 2021:

You can find my CV and publications at https://www.delta-intkey.com/contact/dallwitz.htm

“The DELTA format (DEscription Language for TAxonomy) is a flexible method for encoding taxonomic descriptions for computer processing. DELTA-format data can be used to produce natural-language descriptions, conventional or interactive keys, cladistic or phenetic classifications, and information-retrieval systems.”

Surprisingly, the Delta package includes a version of the TED editor (running on 32-bit Windows); presumably this is derived from the version written (in Fortran) by Don Fraser for the PDP-11s, of which I have a copy.

 

R H Hudson (Henry)

Henry Hudson was the author of FRED, TED and Ed, the series editors written for the DCR/Csironet systems.  As well, he contributed greatly to the Csironet *Mail system, as noted by Peter Milne above.

I have been contacted by Harris Hudson, one of Henry’s sons.  Henry unfortunately died at his desk at an early age.

Brian Savvas wrote a tribute to Henry in an e-mail to Harris, and attached his copy of the Ed command summary.