PhD Computer Nerdism in 1969

“Syllabi and qualifying examinations for the Ph. D. in computer science at Stanford University” from 1969 (uncovered while doing a prior art search on a patent case):

What are the modern equivalents? A thorough knowledge of JavaScript?

Another barn find… “The debugging system AIDS” (1970):

The object of the AIDS project has been to provide a debugging system for FORTRAN and assembly language code on the Control Data 6600 … The story of AIDS may be traced back to early 1965… AIDS, the All-purpose Interactive Debugging Sys-tem, is a main program with three input files… In evaluating the results of the AIDS project, it is necessary to ask two separate questions: Is such a powerful debugging system worthwhile? and Has this implementation been successful… Thus the fundamental question is, does AIDS save the programmer time in debugging?

8 thoughts on “PhD Computer Nerdism in 1969

  1. 1970: people get AIDS to engage in bug-chasing

    2020: people engage in bug-chasing to get AIDS

    The more things change, the more they stay…umm, never mind.

  2. Remember Ayds Reducing Plan Candy, which was sold for weight loss in the late 70s/early 80s?

  3. If you follow one of the links at the AIDS paper, you get to:

    “AFIPS ’70 (Spring): Proceedings of the May 5-7, 1970, spring joint computer conference” and another paper about:

    “An algorithm for producing half-tone computer graphics presentations with shadows and movable light sources.”

    It’s astonishing to realize that only since the early 1970s have people been able to waste time by drawing pictures with computers!

    The abstract for that paper mentions SKETCHPAD, which was the first GUI program / system. I say system because it ran exclusively on the Lincoln TX-2 computer at MIT (in batch mode!). Designing with vector graphics!

    “Sketchpad ran on the Lincoln TX-2 (1958) computer at MIT, which had 64k of 36-bit words. The user drew on the screen with the recently invented light pen. Of the 36 bits available to store each display spot in the display file, 20 gave the coordinates of that spot for the display system and the remaining 16 gave the address of the n-component element responsible for adding that spot to display.”

    “In 1963, most computers ran jobs in batch job mode only, using punched cards or magnetic tape reels submitted by professional programmers or engineering students. A considerable amount of work was required to make the TX-2 operate in interactive mode with a large CRT screen. When Sutherland had finished with it, it had to be reconverted to run in batch mode again.”

    Watch a man draw vectors on a computer screen!:

    The Lincoln TX-2:

    They did more than draw pictures with it: “Dr. Leonard Kleinrock developed the mathematical theory of packet networks which he successfully simulated on the TX-2 computer at Lincoln Lab.”

  4. Hey Beavis, that guy said AIDS.

    I remember doing some upgrades on my parents’ (r.i.p.) computer about fifteen years ago. I asked my mother if she had backed up all their important files and emails. She showed me her file cabinets. Every time there was an important email or document, she printed them out. This era will be seen by future historians as a black hole — all digital content will be lost.

    Frank Herbert was prescient in predicting, in Dune, that thinking machines will be forbidden in the future, replaced by specially trained and bred thinking men. Computers as tools of mass communication have induced mass psychosis. Computer models as policy-making tools have led to terrible policies. Computers as co-pilots crash airplanes. Computers as recreational gaming devices have led to obesity and social isolation.

    A handful (maybe even just one) of smartphones of today are more powerful than all the computers of 1970 combined. Yet in 1970 computers were more useful to society, largely due to their limited use.

  5. I cannot answer your question of “What are the modern equivalents?” but I can tell you this.

    I have interviewed several college students over the past 5 years. I interviewed at all levels, from those with MS in computer science to those for internships. What a disappointment.

    I simply cannot understand what they are teaching in college those days. Most lack basic understanding of coding or a programming language even though they would list it as their main language. Even worse, most will fail basic data structure questions and will not be able to explain, even at a high level, how any sort algorithm would work. Bubble sort? Forget it. FIFO/LIFO? Forget it. Stack vs. Heap? Forget it. I can go on and on.

    The very few that made it are either international students or a non-color-guy who has been hacking computers on his own.

    Compare that to what I had to learn back in the 1990’s. I had to write a parser in LISP to parse a program. Write Quick Sort in C. Write packet code to exchange messages between a client / server application. And this is a small sample. And almost none were group project.

    To tap it off, when I went for my first job interview, I was given code on paper to explain what it was doing and find issues with it. And of course, I had to explain computer science algorithms. And if that wasn’t enough, I had to explain hardware too such as CPU registry, expanded / extended memory, virtual vs. real memory. Should I go on?

    My mangers (yes I have more than one) and co-workers will say “But those are still students”. My answer is, “Sure, but I’m not going to be their teacher, you be if you want to hire them”.

    • Amazing and very sad. And there are so many resources available!

      I wrote my first program on a TRS-80 Model I with 4K of RAM when I was more toddler than child. The big facilitator was the friendly and easy-to-read bound manual that came with Radio Shack Level I/II BASIC, from which you could learn about shell sorts, memory maps, interpreted vs. compiled languages, and even basic optimization techniques. I’m sure a lot of people my age learned most of the topics you mention on similar machines. Later on you do Macro Assembler on something like an early IBM PC, and then Philippe Kahn comes up with Turbo Pascal…which sold for $49.95 and became my first love.

      Young kids who want to learn to program shouldn’t start with a modern computer system — they should begin on something very rudimentary like a TRS-80 Model I. If they can spend two weeks with that, they’ll actually know something, and then they can go to the next level, and the next…and the next. You shouldn’t use graphics until you can write a program to draw them at a relatively low level, close to the hardware.



  6. George A. : it’s not just programmers, I was hiring aviation mechanics way back in the 90’s, and the quality of applicants was dismal. This was a big airline and the applications had already been vetted by HR at perhaps 100:1. We interviewed about 1 of 100 that reached us, and always found enough to fill the vacancies, but our best source was a few of the community college or vocational schools with a national reputation. Military applicants were better than the general population, but I think the military constrains the scope of work in narrow MOS categories that limit initiative. A cockpit furnishings specialist is not great training for meeting a multi-engine airliner arriving at a gate for one to four hours, prepared for any squawk the crew has encountered. This requires the intelligence to navigate the manuals of multiple manufacturers and the company, and then actually do the work, from changing huge wheels to diagnosing and replacing delicate avionics.

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