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Another neat aspect of NJ computer history

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  • Evan Koblentz
    I learned something new about New Jersey s computer history tonight. Last weekend, InfoAge was visited by a man named John Strand. I wasn t there, but he told
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 9 12:06 AM
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      I learned something new about New Jersey's computer history tonight.

      Last weekend, InfoAge was visited by a man named John Strand. I wasn't there, but he told Jeff B. something about working on MOBIDIC, so Jeff passed the man's contact info to me. I emailed him, and heard back today.

      Here's the scoop. As you all (should!) know, the MOBIDIC was developed at Camp Evans starting in 1956, and was manufactured by Sylvania (in Massachusetts) during the next few years. They made five units. Sylvania in the early 1960s made a commercial version called the 9400. They sold two. Of those two, one was for the Pentagon's Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff (better known as just ACSI).

      Mr. Strand said he used that 9400. He was involved in developing software called ACSI-MATIC which was a text analysis system running on an RCA 501 (so of course I will check back with Ted Hurewitz, who was the VCF East 6.0 keynote speaker, because he worked on the 501 design team.)

      In Strand's own words:

      "I was working at RCA Astro-Electonics Div. in Hightstown. This was in 1961-63.  We wrote our own time-share OS, probably the 1st one. One of the people working on it was Alicia Nash, the wife of John "Beautiful Mind" Nash. She was a consultant with Applied Data Research and did a lot of the programming of the OS.  Although she was sociable and very easy to work with I dont remember her talking about her husband at all .. he was in the depths of his schizophrenia by then. There's quite a bit about Alicia on the web, but it all focuses on her relations with her husband.  Too bad .. she was a very creative and productive and worked on really pioneering computer science. (It wasnt called that back then, of course.)

      My role in ACSI-MATIC was on the applications side .. I designed/programmed algorithms that took (possibly conflicting) line-of-battle intelligence information and tried to work out the most likely (probabilistically) organization of the opposition.  Quite a challenge since we only had 32K words of memory and were writing in assembly language!  The time-sharing aspects made life difficult because the 9400 didnt have any hardware memory management capabilities that could keep one app from bombing another concurrently running app. This project was way ahead of its time but attracted a number of really good people, like Jack Minker (who basically started the U. of Maryland CS department)."

      Obviously I am excited about this information. I will ask Fred (and John Cervini, who runs InfoAge's electronic warfare exhibit and who has many connections in that realm) if they think Camp Evans might have had any involvement. Whether it did or didn't, it is still fascinating to know what the 9400 was used for, and that its use was right here in central New Jersey. (Although to be fair, I will ask Strand if the 9400 itself was in Hightstown, or if it was someplace else and just accessed via terminals.)

      Also: I don't know much about the history of timesharing, but Strand's comment that his team made "probably the 1st" is at least open for debate and interpretation. See similar claims here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time-sharing#Time-sharing.

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