Not Quite My Era

The First Digit Computer

Here is an interesting look back at the first digital computers we used for computation. It is a lovely BBC video about a restored system from days of old.

The 'Witch'
The ‘Witch’ – the first digital computer runs again after rebuild


Programming was limited as old systems had 90 bytes of memory, not 900, not 9000 not 90,000, not 900,000 or 9 meg, etc. – just 90 bytes !! A real challenge for the programmers of that era.

Burroughs Advertising, circa 1967
Burroughs Advertising Video, circa 1967


Pay particular attention to the punched paper tape descriptions in that BBC video. This was the “I/O” of the day. Fortunately for me, my then employer Burroughs Federal Systems Division of McLean, Virginia, (mid-1970’s) had the latest kit from our factory in Paoli, Pennsylvannia. Our division of Burroughs sold kit to the US government federal departments, like US Army, US Navy, US Air Force, Dept of The Treasury, Dept. of Labor, Architect of The US Capitol and the government of the District of Columbia. We always had the latest kit as a foundation for our demos to many US agencies and departments.

Control Panel for Burroughs B-2500/B-3500 Computer
Control Panel for Burroughs B-2500/B-3500 Computer

Kit and Coding

We had a Burroughs B-3500 with a cobol compiler and it could generate machine code for the striped-ledger accounting machines that Burroughs sold to many banks. The L-5000, L-6500 and L-8000 systems were programmed via punched-paper tape. To make it easier to program the L-series, our B-3500 system had a version of cobol known as L-Cobol, presumably for ‘Little’-Cobol and we also had a paper-tape punch machine to output machine code from the L-Cobol compiler. Paper tape was fragile, so for more robust storage we might use paper-tape composed of a more fiberous version known as Mylar. The photo right shows a sample. Note there are 5 channels or tracks of holes, may be wrong on this but the encoding was the baudot format rather than later ascii format used when 7 channel tape became available.5 Channel Punch-Paper Tape


The work flow was : 1) write cobol statements on coding sheets of paper, 2) use 80 column card punch to turn code from your coding sheets into a deck of several thousand 80 colum cards, 3) go to B-3500 4) place deck into 80 column card reader, 4) go to B-3500 control control – the ‘SPO’ – for system print-out, 5) put in a command to the MCP – the Master Control Program, 6) wait for the L-Cobol compiler to run thus producing a compiler listing on our 132 column printers, and if no errors, the generated machine code was punched out on the paper-tape punch, 7) carefully transport paper-tape to your target L-series system, 8) power-on and reboot that system, 9) invoke load command so  L-system would read it’s ‘new’ program from the paper-tape, 10) test, 11) a bug ? Drat !!, do steps 1 thru 11 until success

While my earliest experiences were with ibm 1401 and ibm 1620 computers, these products had moved on to the point where we could use 80 column punched cards rather than plug-boards as a programming tool. We still needed to program the IBM 704 punch-card systems with telephone-exchange-style plug-boards buts that another story for another day. 🙂

Huawei E160 3G Dongle

While looking for ways to connect to the internet while on the move, i remembered that i had an old 3G dongle i bought some time ago. It was for the O2 network in the UK. When plugged in, the dongle has logic within it to self-install the driver and connection manager needed by my Apple MacBook. This setup my system to be able to handle any connect that can be gained from the dongle.

Part two of the problem is that the dongle will only ‘talk’ on certain frequencies and at different speeds, or rates of transmissions. OK, that means this dongle will only talk to some networks and not others. Still, the dongle is technically able to converse with a variety of networks. It is down to the dongle providers as to which networks the dongle will ‘talk’ to. My dongle is sold by the O2 network and as you would expect, it will only converse with that network. This is a form of vendor lock-in where the vendor can fleece you for extra dosh at rates that may/maynot be the lowest. So this part of the problem is down to the hardware and something that’s set at the factory and which we cannot change. Buy another dongle if you want to use different networks. BUT there is a SIM card inside the dongle that governs which networks can be seen. You can ‘break’ out of this straight-jacket by ‘unlocking’ your SIM card in the same way we do for some mobile phones. Look at and their other pages to see which networks you can escape from.

Part three of the problem, assuming you have loaded the connection manager, the hardware driver and you know the dongle is working, is to gain access to the network your dongle talks to. This means you need to buy a plan from the network provider. For a payment to them, they will allow your dongle to send data up to their satellite and bring data down to your dongle from their satellite connection. Speeds vary and there is a noticable delay when using the 3G dongle as each email, mouse-click or browse on your system requires the request to go up to the satellite, down to their base station, into the internet backbone, to the destination, and any reply would arrive in your system via the same route. All this too-ing and fro-ing takes time, hence the slower speeds of service.

Newer 3G dongles have transmission rates approaching 20MB/second. This rate is possible but may bankrupt your account rather quickly unless you have an unlimited plan.

My thanks to Sam Moffatt at : If you go to the bother, you will be able to see folders like this :


Following his directions, i was able to setup my Macbook to use my old O2 dongle. As i am in France, i will need to visit the local Orange France Telecom office to buy a plan. More anon.

To get around problems with this WordPress blog, i have uploaded the zip file you need here but i had to change the end of the file name to add .JPG at the end of it. If you choose to download this zip file, you must remove the .jpg from the end of the filename so that the file will be seen as a typical .ZIP file and can be opened/installed as normal.

Click here to download 3UK Connection Zip File

Also if you have an Apple, here is a great link to understanding mac apps, packages and bundles :