As you sow so shall you reap

The effort in creating this weblog was quickly rewarded in the form of comments and email from readers. First Micah Nutt, son of Roy Nutt, commented that his family has possession of Roy’s collection of business documents and memorabilia, including some Fortran-related microfiche mentioned by Daniel N. Leeson. Micah told me:

The fiche I have is most likely the same as the set my father donated to the IBM library in 1982 for the 25th anniversary of FORTRAN. The contents appear to be the specifications, flowcharts, mathematical analysis and source code for FORTRAN along with (at least part of) the user’s manual. The documents are a mix of hand written and machine based (some with hand written edits and notes). There are 23 micro fiche with 50 pages per (most are full). I actually have two identical sets.

I plan on investigating preserving these originals and also obtaining them in digital form.

I’m hoping Micah will post an article about his father, who, among other things, created the SAP assembler for the IBM 704, participated in the original Fortran team while on loan to IBM from United Aircraft Corporation, and co-founded Computer Sciences Corporation.

After further discussion with Alicia Cutler at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, it turns out that while her institution does not have the resources to scan the Fortran II listing, it is possible to set up an intermuseum loan with the Computer History Museum, so we will be able to digitize the listings here in Mountain View, California. Alicia sent me photocopies of a few sample pages, which I scanned and OCR’ed. The accuracy was not very encouraging; it’s going to take a lot of work to get a machine readable version.

Tom Van Vleck recently attended a Multics Reunion and Dinner honoring Professor Fernando J. Corbató; he came back with suggestions for more people to talk to and some software preservation gossip. In particular, the history of early operating systems deserves its own thread, which I hope to start soon.

Last but not least, Leif Harcke got in touch with me after seeing this weblog, and has passed along many useful facts as well as impressing me with his enthusiasm for software history. In particular, he commented:

The microfilm in Micah’s possession probably contains the source to the Fortran I compiler. IBM and SHARE distributed most of their detailed software documentation on microfilm back in the day. Norm Hardy refers to the Fortran I source on microfilm in his essay Fortran at Livermore.

Regarding the Fortran II listing at the Smithsonian, he said:

Fortran II was a strange beast; it ran under the Fortran Monitor System (FMS). FMS could either run the machine stand-alone, or it could run under IBSYS. Fortran II was link-compatible with the FAP assembler, the IBM product which superseded UA-SAP. You can get the Fortran II operator’s guide from Al Kossow’s Bitsavers site:

I’m not sure the compiler itself will be of any use without the FMS monitor and the FAP assembler.

Leif has written a disassembler for the IBM 704, and helped me get started decoding the mysteries of Paul Pierce‘s SHARE tapes. I will post more about that soon.

Updated 23 March 2006: Leif Harcke’s URL changed.

Paul Pierce

Dick Gabriel, another member of the Software Collection Committee at the Computer History Museum, mentioned Paul Pierce’s impressive computer collection, which includes an IBM 709 and an IBM 7094. I decided to send Paul an email asking if he’d run across the IBM 704 source code or the “Tome”. He replied:

I did not end up with a copy of the “Tome”. If you can find someone to really research this, I would start with a list of original IBM 704 customers, from the IBM archives or from Weik’s. I would start with every university to see if anyone knows anyone who was there at the time, who might have kept it.

I do have a lot of fairly early FORTRAN stuff in my collection and will read & scan it all over time and put it up in the library section of my website.

For the Smithsonian what you need to do is travel to D.C. and visit the archives at the American History Museum. Thats where a lot of the computer related ephemera is kept. Definitely worth putting together a list of what they have.

Another very important early bit of software is the MockDonald system, which evolved into SOS, then IBSYS, and was a big influence on OS/360. This is commonly considered the first operating system. I have SOS documentation that I’ve scanned and will put up some time this year, but it would be another good research project to pull together a proper history of it. It might be possible to locate the original source in some of the SHARE tapes I’ve already read or on other tapes I hope to borrow from the same place.

At my request, he explained the reference to Weik:

Martin Weik did several surveys of computers in the early days of computing. I have “A Third Survey of Domestic Electronic Digital Computing Systems”, US Department of Commerce Office of Technical Services, 1961. I’m pretty sure the CHM has one or more of these, as Gwen Bell once mentioned to me that they are full of errors. Find a copy and you will see how it might be useful in guiding this kind of research.

It turns out Ed Thelen has scanned the CHM copy of Weik’s Third Survey; here is the 704 chapter!

I mentioned to Paul, “I had not heard the name MockDonald before. I just did a Google search, and can only find one relevant hit: a 1997 alt.folklore.computers posting by Adam J. Thornton, who was apparently a Princeton graduate student at the time.”

Paul replied:

I had a request quite a while ago for the SOS material from a grad student doing research on the early systems. I’ll find that email and put up the SOS scans so far and email you both when its done.

All the early SHARE software is potentially interesting. SHARE is the IBM user group, the first of its kind. I’ve already found and read one set of SHARE tapes that seem to contain most of the earliest submittals, and I have access to the printed documentation that I will borrow and scan some time in (hopefully) the next year or so. I also have my own poor copy of the printed documentation, its all very old stuff going back to the 704. SHARE seemed to originally only encompass the scientific computer line (704-709-709x…), but I also have some IBM 650 software and documentation (don’t know how extensive that is yet) and the complete program libraries for the Royal McBee LGP-30, RPC-4000(?) and Bendix G-15.

A bit later, Paul added:

I’ve put up the SHARE and SOS scans that I have so far in the library section of my web site –
Look for SHARE under Documentation/Abstracts and Writeup.

Jim King

I was chatting with Jim King at lunch about John Backus and the Fortran compiler (Jim worked at IBM Research for many years). Jim used Fortran (II?) and Fortran Monitor System on an IBM 709 in college in the early 1960s, and had some interesting anecdotes (e.g., the compiler turned on a front panel indicator lamp once it determined there were no syntax errors, …) — I can see that getting oral histories of users/developers will be interesting.

Jim suggested IBM’s SHARE user group library as a potentially interesting source of material. (And perhaps there were similar user groups for a few of the other companies?) Also, he worked for Boeing in Seattle in the 1960s, and said they had an extensive 7090 program library, with detailed requirements for documentation. It could be another interesting source, although he doesn’t have any current contacts into Boeing.