Sidebar 3: Recollections of CSIRO Computing staff members
Last updated: 17 Aug 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.
Added Brian Savvas’ and Peter Hanlon’s recollections of Henry Hudson, and link to KWIKTRAN manual.
Added DAD manual extract on WORDPLAY.
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.
- Where were you born, where did you spend your early life, who was in your family?
- Can you remember a special teacher at school who influenced your career path?
- Did you go to university, and if so, what did you study, and did this lead to your career?
- When and where did you start at CSIRO? How did this come about?
- What was your first role at CSIRO?
- Who did you first work with? Please tell us about some of these people.
- Would you care to contrast computing facilities and services from the early days with today’s ubiquitous devices and services?
- Would you please recall the major achievements from your career?
- What were the major advances in CSIRO computing during your career?
- What were some of the big issues in CSIRO computing during your career?
- What were your memories of the privatisation era? Would you like to comment on the rapid disappearance of Csironet?
- Would you like to pay tribute to someone who was a mentor, guider, special colleague, or achiever?
Rob. Bell, who was a grateful user of the services the pioneers provided.
Early memories – Peter Hanlon, George Karoly
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:
On 30/1/20, 16:50, “Peter Hanlon” <email@example.com> 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.
A later development popular in Queensland provided job submission on Telex tape!
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.
After reviewing some of chapter 3:
On 31/1/20, 15:56, “Peter Hanlon” <firstname.lastname@example.org> 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, 15:32, “Peter Hanlon” <email@example.com> wrote:
The start of the on-line network
The jobstack process
This allowed jobs submitted remotely to be processed in Canberra on the CDC 3600. I wrote to Peter Hanlon:
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:
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.
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.
Thanks for doing a good job.
Peter provided the following information on 2 Nov 2020.
On 23 Nov 2020 Peter wrote:
Kitty Muntz – DCR/Csironet 1972 to 1981
- 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)
- 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
- 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
- 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.
- 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,
- 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.
- 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.
- What were the major advances in CSIRO computing during your career? The rapidly improving power of computers, leading to purchase of the Cray supercomputer
- 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.
Very glad to see your efforts to document CSIRO computing history.
One part caught my eye on this page:
There is reference to CNFX, the CSIRONET file transfer application.
There is a writeup for the AUUGN here:
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).
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:
- The rise of PCs and minicomputers
- The charging policy
- The rise of UNIX
- The decline of Control Data
- The fashion for privatisation
- The difficulties for the CSIRO Executive in dealing with Csironet
- The incompatibility of running a service operation within a research-oriented organisation
- The growth in networking capabilities of small systems
- 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”.
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.
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:
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.
On 6 July 2022 Brian Savvas wrote a tribute to Henry in an e-mail to Harris, and attached his copy of the Ed command summary.
I was in DCR/Csironet from 1967 to 1979.
Although I was in the Adelaide branch, I visited Canberra on many occasions over those years, talking with your father often.
I remember Henry giving a seminar in Adelaide, from memory about 1977. He came to my home for dinner, a pleasant occasion.
Henry was always very approachable. I am sure he was liked by everyone.
I have attached a copy of Henry’s ED command structure which I have retained all these years. The paper is now brown but the text is still readable. Perhaps it is a collector’s item.
As Rob Bell wrote, ED was fundamental to hundreds of Csironet users every day.
In the 1980s I was a software subcontractor to a mining company. Their minerals exploration division often bulk loaded data from sources around the world. Formats, codes, language and many other matters were always difficult to deal with. I used some ED-like editing features to convert data in real time as it was being loaded into the exploration databases.
I hope this adds to your memories and understanding of your father Henry Hudson. He was a fine man.
Best wishes to you and family,
On 7 July 2022, Peter Hanlon wrote:
One thing specifically about Henry:-