Pat's Log
Sat, 28 Jan 2006

Ye Olde Computor
20060127 Earlier this week I got an interesting piece of eMail from a local Adobe employee regarding some of the code in my fourth year project from last year. One thing led to another, and this morning I visited the Adobe Ottawa building to see their Linux operations. Apparently, a large portion of the building is devoted to this. They do a lot of work in Java.

Being in the vicinity of Carleton I decided to stop by and talk to people who I hadn't seen in nearly a year. It wasn't the best day for that, as many people are away on Friday. Still, I spent over two hours there catching up with people.

In particular, on my way out, I bumped into Phil, who let me see how his work on Carleton Engineering's old PDP-8 is progressing. He got permission to attempt to activate the unit after it's been on display, non-functioning for approximately my entire lifetime. I'm told it is a very rare unit.

Suffice it to say that I was immediately captivated by the project. I scanned in a very badly faded photo that shows the original setup at Carleton. Gimp automatically fixed the contrast. It was neat finding the exact corner where that unit stood over twenty years ago. I opened up one of the massive hard drives and played with a platter nearly 1cm thick. I fiddled with the optical paper tape reader until its locking mechanism worked as it should (a spring had fallen off). My father tells me this is the ├╝ber-advanced unit: the one he had used had mechanical pin sensors. It was amazing how by staring at the controller board, seeing eight identical rows of resistors and transistors, plus one slightly different arrangement (for parity), makes it blatantly obvious how the unit works. I imagine fixing these things can be done with the simplest of electronics tools.

Speaking of fixing things, the unit it missing significant portions of the various boards it needs to function. On the bright side, it seems that at least one of each board exists. Further, the boards are, for the most part, dead simple, with as few as a half-dozen components. They can probably be built from scratch. The more complex units could probably be emulated with the cheapest of Atmel microcontrollers to perform the tasks of components no longer available. The hard part is figuring out what all of the components do.

This old computer can turn out to be either a wonderful learning experience or fantastic waste of time. Exciting!


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