Tuesday, December 18, 2007

My second computer

The second computer I worked with was the Olivetti-Underwood Programa 101.

It was about the size of a very large typewriter. The big selling point was that this actually had memory: five memory banks that would hold up to 22 characters (all numbers plus a decimal). You could split the memory in half -- ten banks of 11 characters.

This wasn't where you'd assign a variable; you had to remember which memory location you saved a file. So you'd enter, say, 10, and then put it into the "A" memory bank. If you needed it back, you'd have to bring it back from "A" -- and if you forgot and brought it back from "A/" (called "A split"), you'd get a different number.

The calculations showed up on a paper calculator tape. After you were done, you saved the program on a magnetic card.

The calculator could add, subtract, multiply, or divide. No square root key -- I worked up a program to calculate them via Newton's Method as one of my assignments (it was solely used for math class).

It was a useful teaching tool. When I took computer courses in college (BASIC and FORTRAN, the programming was much easier not having to remember the exact memory location where the data was being stored.

Our high school spent $2000 to get it for the students in 1969. Today, you can get better functionality (except for the programming aspect) with a $5 pocket calculator.