My Home Page Wolter Smit  


My Work

  • Quality control at Electrofact.

  • Maintenance at CERN.

  • Systems engineer at CERN.

  • The Control Data 7600.

  • System analyst at l'EPFL, Lausanne.

  • The beginning of Personnel Computing.

The Control Data Crew

  Quality control at Electrofact.

As strange as it may sound, in the beginning I did not want to start “working with computers” as we used to call this in our region at that time.    Anyway we know all what followed !

It was by chance that the local unemployment office has sent me a message that there was a job available in “Amersfoort” in which I could possibly be interested.    So I did go there to present myself, and I finished by signing a work contract for a job as QA controller for “Control Data” products at one of their production sites, “Electrofact” which they bought just a little time before that.

The main part of this quality control job was to do final control and verifying of tape drive units.    On the picture shown aside we can see the carrying out a read-head adjustment procedure.

The job was rather hard, then on the backside of the chassis, which is visible on the picture, were a thousand interconnection wires.    This wiring was plugged in by the production crew and even then when they did their best, dozens of unavoidable wiring errors of any kind were left in the machines which each delivery to our QA workshop.

In order to do this control, we had to follow a specially for this purpose established checklist, try to find and fix all the wiring bugs and other errors, make all the necessary adjustments, and last but not least run a final check on a for that time (1969 - 1971) already little old computer.

On the Electrofact list where also other equipment's, such as punched card readers, for the ones who came to computing only recently, it is the device you can see on the foreground of the second picture shown aside.

The model on the picture was able to read about 1'200 cards in a minute, or 20 cards a second if you want, so imagine cards stuffing up inside at this speed.    It is like toady's laser printers, you say some unprintable words; open the thing up and then try to get all stuff out again.

  Maintenance at CERN.

It was at the end of the month of June 1971 that I have arrived at the Geneva railway station Cornavin.    After having spent the night in a hotel, a Control Data manager came to pick me up in order to go to C.E.R.N., where I had started a job as Customer Engineer.

The initial duration off the contract was fixed for two years, but I finished by staying in Switzerland from 1971 up to 1995, which makes up a total of nearly twenty four years instead of the initial two years.

My job at the C.E.R.N. site was about the same as it was at Electrofact, with the only difference that here it was rather preventive maintenance on all sorts of peripheral equipment's, like the card readers, the card punches, tape drives, printers and other maintenance tasks.

The computer center was just aside the administrative building, but moving was planned into a brand-new building elsewhere on the site.

The photographs shown here display the C.E.R.N. computer site of that time.

The first picture shows the section where the mainframes themselves were installed, the second shows some of the Control Data crew occupied with a preventive maintenance task, and the last picture shows the section where the tape drive units were installed.

Ok what me concerned, I as in the beginning not in charge of the mainframes, therefore we had our specialists.    But after some time time it has become clear that this task should be spread over several people, then as this was the use at that time, we had a so called “on Call” service, and thereby a morning and an evening crew.    As result a to limited mainframe specialist crew, was that those who were specialist were called out to often.

First my colleagues and me we have learned the first notions of fixing, identification and repairing of the problems with the so called “Front-Ends”, the first tasks were to identify memory problem and to replace the possibly defective modules.

After a while, the more and more we have got involved with more important tasks, like installing so called “Field Change Orders”, this were corrections done to the hardware wiring, what Control Data usually installed afterwards.    First you should take out exiting wires.    This sounds more simple as it was, then you should imagine that the wiring map was usually a dozen centimeters thick ore more.    Under this conditions it was not very easy to take out, p.e. a wire from module K18 pin 22, especially when this one is below a dozen centimeters of tight wiring, and also attention has to be paid to that you should not take out the wire aside.

After this more or less introduction period, my collages and me have been sent for further training in Paris where Control Data had a training center, for training on the “Control Data 7600”, which was the most powerful computer at that time.

  Systems engineer at CERN.

Once back from our Paris training we had to practice what we learned over there, and now we had also some more rights, in other words the right to called out at night like the others.

That what you are seeing on the first image aside, is not a piece belonging to the mainframe or any other processor or so, no it is a 600 Mo disk drive, which needed also maintenance so one in a while.    For example cleaning the heads and disk platters, also head replacement had to be done if they became to weak, verify the hydraulic circuit used for head positioning, and others...

The second picture shows a session of controlling the coherence of the machines internal signals.    Then in case of a to big shift between two signals, one should either try to replace the module, or as alternative change the wire-length, as anybody knows, electricity travels at light speed, and about 30 cm of wire make up one nano (10 -9) second.    Very often a wire length change in order of a meter cleared the problem.

The harder fixing of all of them was the Control Data 7600 (Photo below), then this one was a RISC type conception, and was be able to execute several instruction at the same time, who of course is not not an advantage for problem diagnosis.

Not only that the 7600 could execute several instruction at same time, most of them were treated by separate execution units.    This is maybe very good for the execution speed, but an absolute disaster when you try fix the thing.

  The Control Data 7600.

The Control Data 7600, shown on the picture here is the machine on which I have spent most of my time in my last year at the C.E.R.N. site.

In the beginning I have done the same type of work as the others of the crew, e.g. maintenance, fixing of problems and the “On Call” service.    But after a while it became the more and more necessary to familiarize a person of the technical crew with the internals of the operating system.    So it came that I have spent some time in Frankfort to learn more about system analysis, system programming and installation.

The Control Data 7600 was a machine in conception very close to what is today better known as a RISC processor (Reduced Instruction Set Computer).    The 7600 was in fact able to start a new instruction every clock cycle (27 nano-seconds).    The main processing unit was split up into several separate units who could each operate in a individual manner, and some even could handle several operands in a row.    The memory had an access time of less then 80 nano-seconds, e.g. the data was available at the third clock cycle (27 nano-seconds) or in other words between 54 and 81 nano-seconds, thereafter a wait of 270 nano-seconds the memory section was again available.    The 7600 had 32 of this memory sections organized in a stripping manner as we do find today with RAID 0 disk dives.    The memory bus itself had a transfer capacity of 270 Mo / sec.    Whereby the I/O was not done by the main processor, but the 7600 had ten specialized processors fro that task, it was up to them to struggle with I/O stuff.

  System analyst at EPFL, Lausanne.

Little by little I have made myself more familiar with operating systems, but also with programming, even when the programming languages used where not at all the same as the ones commonly used in business.    Then the system itself was entirely written in a Control Data assembly language and had no structure in common with the languages used in business.    The second language I have learned that time, is Fortran, but that was to make various utilities any kind, but was not at system level.

It was somewhere in the middle of the 80's when I have been affected to the E.P.F.L. site in Lausanne as systems analyst, when this position became available.

My initial assignment was to backup the systems analyst already in place and do compilations and assembly's of the customers operating system, give follow up on software problems (or bugs if you want) and other problems.    We had also to adapt the operating system to the customers needs with every release, verify and add in the local modifications, as well recompile all customer specific plug-ins.    An other task was to analyze the so called “Dump” ,that were memory listings which occurred when a important system error occurred.    Sometime we could identify the problem, and the case of a hardware problem caused always a problem with some of our technicians who systematically disagreed, however in the other case I had to send the tape the support center in the U.S.A.

As mentioned above, in the beginning I have backed up the systems analyst already in place, who was doing also the customer support part of the job, but when he left the company, it was up to me to take this over with the help of the software specialist of the Zurich office.

Towards the end of my “Lausanne” time I have started to investigate in Micro processor techniques of that time.    There were already some of my colleagues who did have their own Micro Computer, but what I needed most was something what could do the communication tasks and what would allow me to download systems corrective code and small electronic documents.    The method used by my college analyst was to list everything on a terminal, record it onto a tape, then switch from an external connection to the internal mainframe and play back the tape instead of typing it on the keyboard.    In order to automate this type of operation, I had bought myself an small machine equipped with CPM 80 and a Z80 processor. (yes in that time we still could choose different systems as Intel-Microsoft). It was this little machine who was next programmed to do this kind of tasks, it was faster, more reliable and a lot easier.    Thereafter my little machine has largely been used to do this type of data transfer, but I used it also to edit text and programs in “Off-Line” mode, that means that we create or modify the texts on the local machine and as following transfer the whole to the mainframe for processing.

But before all this I had to create the connect scripts and the data transfer programs for this machine and other utilities.    It has been those operations who have largely contributed to my actual knowledge of the 'C' programming luggage.

  The beginning of Micro Computing.

It was after Control Data closed down his offices in Suisse-Romande that I have become an independent technician, and have started thereby investigate more seriously in the subject Micro-Computing.    In fact I could already quickly start to collaborate with an technical consulting office active in the construction domain in Wallis where I lived at that time.    I had to update and keep up to date their programs, create new ones, or even refurbish exiting programs (rewrite them), and following that prepare the installation procedures.    Thereafter I had to do the install at their customers.    Included in this was also the final user support.    There were other obvious things like follow up of problems.    The other thing which was coming up at that time was final customer support, repair and general support of MS-DOS systems (some called it MESS-DOS!), what was not a luxury those days.

After a certain time had to go on with training in order to get further on professionally, the course chosen was a project management training who contained all the necessary elements for business computing and the handling of projects.    After this training I have followed a complementary training for the Microsoft Windows environment, and the programming of it.

It was finally during the period from end 1993 up to beginning 1995 that I have continued my professional training in the UNIX - ORACLE - NETWORK direction, on which I can add as of the last years LINUX in self training.

It was during the year 1994 that I have preferred to continue my activity in France rather as in Switzerland.    Just think, the Paris region has twice as much industries and inhabitants as whole Switzerland add-up, and 55 times the region of “Walis” where I used to live.    And that was a to important difference.

Wolter Smit, Freelance Computer Engeneer
15 Rue du 13 Août 1944
27940 Courcelles Sur Seine - FRANCE