101 the speaker actually seems to say "M. I. T.'s"
105 Picture shows the lights blinking. To me, the blink pattern looks authentic, and different from the blinking lights of a Hollywood prop "computer"
107 This might be Jay Forrester himself?
109 This is a Friden Flexowriter, a commercial machine based on an IBM electric typewriter mechanism. Not a "golfball" Selectric, but an earlier design with typebars. It was equipped with a mechanical paper tape punch and reader. Its intended commercial use was for repetitive typing and primitive word processing (the term "word processing" was not used at the time). It was easily adapted for computer use and was a popular I/O device. Slow (10 character/second) but very reliable, capable of printing both upper- and lower-case with what would later be called "true letter-quality" output. It could print in both red and black.
110 Punched tape comparator (verifier), shown and explained later in the film
111 Photoelectric paper tape reader. The shot actually shows the light coming on, synchronized with a dramatic sort of chime effect in the music. Hollywood movies and documentaries of the sixties showing computer centers usually would feature a cut to a card sorter, which was the visually interesting cinematic icon for "computer;" the tape reader is used in this film in much the same way.
113 Accompanied by raucous noise, probably from a speaker connected to an accumulator bit, this shows, in real-time, the display of a page of bit-mapped characters on the circular CRT. As mentioned later in the film, Whirlwind plotted 200 characters per second, ten seconds for a full page, so the text was not really legible on direct viewing of the CRT.
119 Is this route 128 near Needham?
127 The instrument shown here, being used by the ophhthalmogist, is a Schepens binocular ophthalmoscope. (Dr. Charles L. Schepens was the founder of the "Retina Foundation," now the Schepens Eye Research Institute, mentioned elsewhere in the film).
222 The reels turn slowly and steadily, like the reels on an audio tape recorder--cinematically boring. These were not like the vacuum-column IBM tape drives of the sixties, familiar from many movie shots which featured reels that spun rapidly and unevenly, with dramatic starts and stops and the left and right reels turning at different times.
231 The announcer's tone of voice, here and later, make it clear that 200 characters per second is supposed to be impressively fast. For straight character output, the technique--completely with conventional photography of the CRT screen and 8 by 10 glossies of the results--seems oddly crude, but I am not sure what other high-speed printing technologies would have been available in 1953.
233 The announcer pronounces the word "tubes" with a slight diphthong-u, almost as "tyoobs."
234 Although this technique was designed for tubes, it was also used in the core memory circuits of the commercial PDP-1. It is a crying shame that the microcomputer subculture did not either inherit this technique or reinvent an equivalent. Modern PCs provide no means for evaluating whether a component is close to failure. There is no warning until it actually fails. Of course, circuits on the edge of failure fail intermittent in ways that are difficult to diagnose.
302 The text on this page reads: "PROGRAMMING: Statement; Mathematical Analysis; Flow Diagram; Code; Tape Preparation; Computing; Debugging; Interpreting Results."
Note the use of the word "debugging." Obviously this was a normal computer programming term when the film was made. Oddly, however, this word is never used in the soundtrack. Maybe they thought it sounded too frivolous?
303 Note the use of the phrase "flow diagram." The actual contents of the boxes is not quite legible in the video transfer. However, it is obvious that all of the boxes are rectangular--and the lower right-hand box is obviously a conditional, with two exit paths plainly labelled "yes" and "no." Apparently diamond-shaped decision symbol emerged later.
"Flow charts"--drawn with the approved symbols--were, of course, the methodological snake-oil of the sixties, whose proper use was claimed to make programs bug-free, maintainable, and understandable.
304 The instructor appears to be a woman. Judging by hairstyle, the eight students visible in the picture include seven men and one woman.
307 Three voices are heard in the soundtrack of this film; the narrator, the physicist, and this woman. She is not given any name or title in the film. I have invented the title "tape supervisor" in order to have some way to refer to her.
Could her comment mean that the film is not really representative of normal Whirlwind operating procedure and that the scientist-attending-the-4-a.m. run was dramatic license? Or was there, in fact, tension between administrators who would prefer to do batch runs with the users absent and out of their way, and users that wanted to run hands-on, pseudo-interactively? The presence of a "night typist," portrayed later in the film, suggests that there must in fact have been considerable demand for late-night program modifications.
According to Douglas T. Ross's memoir, there was no direct Flexowriter keyboard input to Whirlwind until it was added in 1956.
308 She used the word "girl," not me...
This Flexowriter has a wide carriage and is typing on wide paper, maybe the 14-7/8" width that was later standard in data processing. It looks like plain white paper, not greenbar. Flexowriters ran at about ten characters per second, both when typing and when duplicating tapes.
309 Yes, that's right--she is taking a short piece of paper tape out of a drawer and copying it inline into the program. In the mid-sixties, the "subroutine library" for the PDP-1 in MIT room building 26 was used in exactly the same way. Many, many clones of Eric Jensen's decimal print routine were incorporated into other paper tapes.
It would be interesting to know just which were the "frequently used routines" kept on the drum and magnetic tape, and how they were invoked.
310 And I imagine this is also why the ASCII delete code is 0x7F.
The legends on the four keys read: "7th hole; tape feed; code delete; stop code." When reading in paper tape, the stop code caused the Flexowriter to stop. Thus the Flexowriter could be used to produce personalized form letter by inserting stop codes at appropriate points and manually typing in individualized insertions.
312 She pronounces the word "com-puh-RAY-tor," with the accent on the third syllable.
314 Throughout the film, we see people loosely folding wide printouts and stuffing them into standard manilla envelopes with loosely wound hanks of paper tape. I wonder if this was really standard procedure and whether it didn't lead to a lot of torn and damaged media.
318 "arithmetic" is here pronounced as the adjective, ar-ith-MET-ic, accent on the third syllable.
321 Calendar pages read as follows
July 31 Days, 14, TUESDAY, 195-170, 1953;
July 31 Days, 15, WEDNESDAY, 196-169, 1953;
July 31 Days, 16, THURSDAY, 197-168, 1953;
July 31 Days, 17, FRIDAY, 198-167, 1953;
The MIT Museum lists the film as having been made in 1953, but according to Michael Yeats, they don't really know when it was made. No date is shown in the main credits, and apart from these calendar pages, no year is mentioned anywhere in the film.
326 The point here may be to contrast Whirlwind with the "analog computers" of the day, in which each problem had to set up by wiring a set of patchcord connections specific to the problem.
In the fifties and sixties discussions of computers often compared analog and digital computers. Analog computers were often described as being cheaper and easier to use than digital computers. The narrator here may be making the point that, because of rapid setup, Whirlwind may be more cost-effective in relation to analog computers than its capital cost would suggest.
328 The music gets faster, louder; this particular portion reminds me a bit of Dukas' "The Sorceror's Apprentice.
334 Hmmm... no attempt is made to estimate the total human work time which went into preparing Whirlwind for those "few hours." If you include the time spend by the physicist himself and all of the Whirlwind support people, I'd think the total would be at least a work-month. If so, Whirlwind provided a factor of twenty savings in human work-- undeniably impressive, but much less than the factor of 10,000 implicitly claimed by the narrator.
335 Music crescendoes to a Mahler-like climax.