Blog Pile

1983 Flashback: The Mother of COBOL Visits Maricopa

Okay, it is less than an hour before I leave for time Spring Break R&R and a box full of precious archives lands in our office- brochures, posters, memos from the last 2)+ years of our Maricopa Community College Honors Forums. Among this is a March 1983 visit :

1982-1983 HONORS FORUM
“Technology: Its Impact on the Individual and Society”
Captain Grace Murray Hopper, USNR
“Mother of COBOL:, Computer Expert

U.S. Naval Captain Grace Murray Hopper has spent more than 30 years working closely with the development of computers and computer languages… As a senior programmer for Sperry, she worked on the development of Univac I, Her interest in computer language sent her to the first meeting of CODASYL, with a strong interest in the developemnt of COBOL. She has served on the ANSI X3.4 committee on the standardization of computer languages.”

Also in the box id a thick yellow handout of computer articles and resources from the early 1980s that apparently were provided at Hopper’s presentations here. Among the gems:

Navy Regional Data Automation Center

Norfolk, Virgnina


(But didn’t know who to ask)

ETC Leland W. Slater
Microsystems Evaluator
Micro/Mini Evaluation Team

1 June 1982

So you’re off to select and buy your command’s computer, You’ve been thoroughly amazed at what computers can do. You’ve seen them calculate formulas, balance checkbooks, predict trends, perhaps you’ve even seen a date management system in use. With all of these capabilities available on most micors, you can’t really make a wrong selection, can you?

…. Because this is an article and not a book, let me eliminate a few “sticky” areas first. A small percentage of users want an inexpensive system to use for games, as a “desktop secretary”, for plotting stock trends, Computer Assisted Instruction (CAI), and other “consumer” type activities. Today’s Personal Computers (PCs) excel in this types of areas, and I would refer you to your local computer store to look at the Apple, Atari, IBM, Radio Shack, Commodore, and similar machines….

Eventually we get to some specs:

The heart of any computer, from the user’s standpoint, is the “operating System”, or OS. Remembering we are talking about SERIOUS applications and speed, we shall modify that phrase do “Disk Operating System” or DOS…. A DOS, for our purposes, should have the maximum amount of SERIOUS business software available, so that we may choose from the broadest range of products. The DOS should run on a variety of hardware– NOT just that of a particular manufacturer. It should also provide a common exchange format, so that the application or database you develop can be transferred between manufacturers conveniently and reliably. Naturally, the DOS should be versatile, well tested, bug free, inexpensive, and widely accepted by the industry.

Have we gotten there yet?

CP/M (read “CP/M compatible operating system”) can run on any machine which has, or can emulate, the instruction set of the 8080 microprocesor. These include the popular Z-80 and 8085 processors, both of which are supersets of the 8080… Remember, however, you probably DON’T really need a 16 bit processor for your requirements. A dual processor, while better than a 16 bit alone, willa dd cost and complexity to your system…

… RAM is ridiculously cheap nowadays, and there is no reason why every CP/M machine can’t have a full 64k of RAM….

Before we move on to things which are “nice to have” for various reasons, let’s touch on one more item considered standard in the serious business software community. The video display terminal, referred to as the “CRT”, is the primary method for operator control and interaction. Virtually all CP/M software expects an 80 character by 24 line CRT as a minimum…

Up until now we have given requirements which allow virtually all CP/M manufacturers to bid, and recommendations which, if all are specified, will allow perhaps 85% to participate, Now, sadly we come to an item that some manufacturers have used to isolate themselves from everyone else.

Disk drives are used to hold programs, databases, and documents. They are used as working storage during sorts and merges, and for data archiving. But perhaps the most important use, for the Navy in particular, is for transferring data and program between systems…

And it goes on to recommend a dual 8 inch disk drive capable of holding 2 Mb of data.

A communications capability is available on nearly all CP/M based machines. You may wish to use this capability, so that documents, databases or other information may be easily transferred to another location. There are many times when you will wish to exchange information, programs, or data with your counterparts on other areas of the country (or world), or even people you don;t know right now. This capability also allows you to sue the information and conferencing facilitiies on the dial-up Navy Bulletin Board System (NBBS).

There are many different communication protocols available under CP/M… The “standard” CP/M protocol uses a public domain (free) program called “MODEM”, and normally uses a 300 baud dial-up modem…

This is just a skim, there are great parts about Environmental Considerations, Maintenance, and Training.

Sales people, well meaning though they may be, will often attempt to sell things which are really not in your best interest… different machines exist to serve different needs. You don;t use a row boat to go water skiing, even if the rowboat salesman tells you its no problem to add a large engine, steering mechanism and a reinforced transom. On the other hand, a ski boat is a costly investment if all you want to do is fish.

And with that, I am off to fish. The blog house will be quiet for the next 4 or 5 days while we go and take a nap.

Profile Picture for Alan Levine aka CogDog
An early 90s builder of the web and blogging Alan Levine barks at on web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), photography, bending WordPress, and serendipity in the infinite internet river. He thinks it's weird to write about himself in the third person.