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History of Computing at CSUN

October 18, 2012

Video Transcript

This is Steven Stepanek, and I'm gonna do about a four minute brief history of the computing at California State University, Northridge.

From when the campus was first founded as San Fernando Valley State College in 1958, there was almost immediate need to have some sort of computing apparatus to assist both in the administration of the campus, for research purposes, and of course, the time also for just general student classroom use.

The first computer the campus had was an LGB30. It was manufactured approximately 1959, and it would fill this particular room, but it was a single user computer. It had a very small amount of memory, it was a very actually slow device. Your average laptop these days has more computing power than that particular machine did, but for that particular time period it was state of the art, and it cost the campus approximately fifty thousand dollars to purchase.

The next machine that was purchased was in 1964, and it was made by a little known manufacturer called, General Electric. Yes. They used to make computers, and it was their model 225 machine. It was a tape-based machine. If you've ever seen some of the old science fiction movies that always like to show tapes spinning back and forth, well you had it, because it only had eight K of actual real memory. So you can't do too much with eight K. So there was a lot of stuff that would have to be stored on the mag tapes. And it was punch card-based, so people would submit punch card stacks, and it would come back after several hours to get their output which would be printed out. So that was the first real multi-user type machine that we had.

In 1965 we got our next machine, which was another GE machine, it was a 415 machine, later upgraded to a 435. And this really started to kick off the ability for students and faculty to be able to run various jobs, whether statistical analysis or in the case of engineering structural analysis, and be able to get some sort of results back. It also was the very beginning of time sharing, not only at California State University Northridge, but for the entire CSU. That particular machine at one point, the GE 435 was literally a statewide time sharing system. There was approximately three to six computer terminals located on each of the campuses that existed at that time, people would sign up for like a half hour slot to be able to use that terminal device.

The next computers we got was 1970, and we switched to Control Data Corporation. It was a CDC3170. We initially got one, and a couple years later we got a second one. Now the interesting thing for these machines was they could either run in a batch mode, which again meant that you were dealing with punch cards, or they could run in the time sharing mode. We were still the statewide time sharing center at that particular time, and what would happen is that for most of the day one of the machines would be running in time sharing mode, and one of the other machine, cause we got two of them, would be running in the batch mode. In the evening what would happen is the time sharing would be brought down, and both machines would work together at the same time on the very large batch jobs, and that's when a lot of the administrative operations in that batch would be performed.

The first use of what I'm going to call an interactive educational-based technology was in 1974, when we had several what we referred to as CDC Plato terminals on the campus. These were state of the art plasma screens, back in 1974, and they were touch screens also, and they had a very limited graphic capability, and there was a lot of computer aided instructional type programs that were written for these particular machines.

The next thing we got was in 1975, which was our first digital PVP1145, it was running an operating system called Rispus. This was the beginning of twenty-four hour a day time sharing operation, especially in the offices, and for certain student use, and it involved a basic programming language, and was also used for email within that one system. The idea of the internet, we were still not connected. And it was also used for being able to share files, and for word processing. Speaking of the internet, in 1975, we were connected to something called UU-NET, which is kind of a precursor to the current internet. And what it did is use telephone lines to allow for email conversations to occur between computers and different sites.

Then what happened in nineteen, approximately 1987-88 is when we got our first internet connection and went live, that we didn't have to use telephone lines any more to be able to send mail back and forth.
As you know, 1994 was the Northridge earthquake, and that made a drastic change in terms of the computing on this particular campus, cause it literally wiped out the main computer center, and a lot of the other computing labs. So it was an incredible opportunity for the campus to upgrade. As a result of the earthquake, we suddenly went from other operating systems, such as EMS and what not to the latest in terms of the Unix environment for email. And we also got new equipment in that we're currently using for also the administrative use. Originally it was an IBM mainframe, and later it's a much more distributed sort of environment at this particular time.

On the desk, just for some of you to be able to reflect a little bit on the past, believe it or not, computers, including some of them on this campus, used to have components like this that actually had tubes. These are vacuum tubes, they actually say IBM on them. Some of the early equipment we also had on this particular campus, when dealing with punch cards was programmable. And the way it was programmed is, somebody would sit down and wire a thing like this, which is called a plug board. Plugs came out on the back, and this was inserted in the machine, and it controlled the machine in terms how it dealt with the cards. Okay, so if you've never seen a punch card, or for some of you who've been around for a while you might recognize these, especially these cards here. Anyone remember from the CDC and the GE days, the blue, green, red cards? Well, they're still alive and well.

But we have also right here from the early 1960s is the first user guide from the computer center that talks about how to use the LGE and LGB machines, and gives detailed operational aspects in terms of how to put your decks and everything together.

So there's a lot of computing history that's going on in Northridge. And one of the things I'm planning to do as we get closer to the fiftieth celebration is to put together a little bit bigger display that's going to illustrate some of these things, both in terms of hardware and the developments.

Thank you.