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Here's one for the older stackoverflow participants (are there any? you don't have to admit it ;-) ) or for computer history buffs.

When I was in school in the '70s, where I went to school we had a big gym, lots of sports fields, but very few computers. For a while we had a teletype to some time-sharing system, and later, a Wang 2200S. What I want to ask about, though, is another computer that we had on loan for a while. I've never been able to find anyone who remembers it, and I can only describe it, as follows.

It was a digital computer of sorts -- not an analog computer. It was about 6 feet tall and 6 feet wide. (OK, I was much shorter then, so maybe I remember it larger than it was.) Its output display was two rows of red lights horizontally across the front of the machine near the top. Below that was its input interface, a patch panel, I think two rows (maybe more) of sockets. And of course it came with a collection of patch cords that you would plug in in different patterns to "program" the machine. "Applications" were limited to causing the display to show different moving patterns of the lights. Like getting a vertical pattern of lights, like a colon ':' to move from left to right across the display of lights. Or in reverse. Or oscillate -- start at the left, move to the right, and then turn around and come back. All by which patch cords you hooked up.

The school looked for a little-used room with enough space, and the ability to support the user traffic, which was about 1 or 2 kids out of a school of several hundred. They ended up putting it in the gym teacher's office off the gym, which was not occupied full time by any means, and was just a few steps away from the math room.

The computer stayed on loan to us for a number of months, and I programmed the heck out of it at any free moment. Then it was given back and I never heard from it again, nor anyone who had seen anything by that description.

Have you? If you have, who was the manufacturer? Model numbers? Links to images? Anything ...

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migrated from stackoverflow.com Dec 30 '09 at 21:52

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Edit it to community wiki, I doubt that there it'd have more users :> –  Kornel Kisielewicz Dec 30 '09 at 21:50
2  
I believe that's a WOPR. –  Will Dec 30 '09 at 22:09

4 Answers 4

Some modular data acquisition systems (NIM) used in nuclear and particle physics are patch panel computers. They can have both analog and digital parts, but the usual goal is to get to digital as soon as possible.

This system was in widespread use in large installation into the nineties, and is still used in small installations (because the CAMAC and VME systems that replaced NIM are more expensive, and NIM crates and modules can be scrounged in many places).

Since these are modular tools that come in standard 19" racks, it is almost certainly not what you recall.

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It may have been an ICL product - they had large machines with patch panels used in companies to processing billing etc.

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Hmm. I remember two.

My first programming job after getting out of Sheffield Polytechnic (UK) in the 1970's was for a software house in Bradford. One of our clients was Nixdorf. Once he application was developed and debugged the code was sent to Nixdorf where it was hardwired into the customer's machine. If I recall correctly, it was actually wired and not burned into an EPROM chip or ULA (uncommitted Logic array). So that is not exactly what I think you are asking about. .

I saw another machine at a firm called Cambrian Electronics (I think) in England's Peak District. This machine was programmed using a patch board; as I recall the machine instructions ranged down the left side of the board, and the address location ranged across the top of the board. When it was done it looked like an oriental carpet woven by someone on crack. .

I do not recall who made the machine, but ICT/ICL, Marconi (Marconi myriad), Plessy, Ferranti and GEC, to name a few, were making machines around this time in the UK.

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Was this a computer (i.e. could it be used to do any computations?) or was it more a logic training device? I'm thinking that it might have been someone's idea of a 'teaching' computer, that wasn't really good for anything, and which the school (and possibly the rest of the world) declined to buy.

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Indeed it wasn't really intended to do computations. Just move patterns of the rows of lights back and forth. –  talkaboutquality Nov 25 '13 at 22:06

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