Sunday, January 31, 2010

Pascal on the PDP-11

When I was a junior I transferred from Xaverian Brothers High School to Needham High School. One of the great things that NHS had was a DEC PDP-11/40, and there were several classes you could take in order to access this minicomputer. I enrolled in the APP Computer Science class, which was essentially a course in Pascal programming.

I'm guessing there were at least a dozen terminals on the school property. I remember four Lear Sieglar ADM-3 terminals and two DECWriter dot matrix terminals in the room where we studied Pascal. I'm sure there were a bunch more in other locations, but I never saw them. I never saw the PDP-11 either, but I'm pretty sure it was there. ;-)

The experience was pretty sluggish. To compile a very short Pascal program took 15 seconds at least. If you made a mistake in your code it would give you a cascade of error messages. It took some practice to figure out what the errors meant. The computer system was so slow we didn't actually get to be very good at Pascal because the maintenance guy would kick us out of the building just 20 minutes after the end of the school day and before anything interesting could get done. Ah well, I had a good time.

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