Work experience BITD - claims to fame, and infamy

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BigEd
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Work experience BITD - claims to fame, and infamy

Postby BigEd » Fri Nov 10, 2017 12:13 pm

I just came across a thread where people said they'd worked in the past for Watford, or Technomatic, and I'm sure I've seen people here say they worked for Acorn or the BBC... so, let's hear your stories, or at least your hints at stories! (Anyone ex-Solidisk?)

(For myself, I didn't work for any 8-bit names, although I did work on transputers at Inmos, back when they were The Future, or actually just after their heyday.)

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Re: Work experience BITD - claims to fame, and infamy

Postby davidb » Mon Nov 20, 2017 12:45 am

I only did some summer work for Logotron in the 32-bit era and didn't get any juicy stories out of it, though it was interesting to see behind the scenes there.

But you're being too modest, BigEd! We want to hear your Inmos stories! :) (Incidentally, have you seen this site about Transputers?)

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Re: Work experience BITD - claims to fame, and infamy

Postby BigEd » Mon Nov 20, 2017 8:34 am

Thanks - that site is new to me, although I've certainly seen some of the sites it links to. I did write a bit of a rant about Inmos, specifically about the T9000. See here and for a followup see here - links there to Iann Barron's interesting retrospective, from the time before my time. Some more snippets might be found here.

I felt Inmos (Bristol) was a bit like a university - lots of people learnt a lot there, but the commercial outcomes were patchy in my day. When I joined, the induction included a week on chip design and Occam, and IIRC every new engineer went through that course, regardless of which department they were headed for. I think the atmosphere at the Newport site might have been different: that's where they made the chips, and were, I hope, a lot more focused on practical outcomes. Despite good intentions, I don't think communication between the two sites was as good as it might have been. But then, I joined after the first wave had started the company, designed and sold products, and moved on - mine was a different Inmos.

The Transputer test machines used transputers - TTTE was the name, where one or two T's were Transputers, but the machines were referred to as Thomas the Tank Engine. By some. The chip design stations (FEPs) also used transputers, to simulate and to run the layout software, and the design checking software. At one point I would marshal some 30 or 40 machines to run the design rule checking and layout vs schematic checking, which would take some days to run. Lots of dependent jobs, of different lengths and sizes, had to be run in some order on some specific classes of machines. The machines with largest RAM had circuit boards which didn't even fit in the VME racks we had - they stuck out a few inches. There were four microvaxes behind that network of parallel machines, and one or two larger vaxes elsewhere in the building. Later on, we got Sun workstations (one per office) and eventually maybe almost one each. And then we got a bunch of MIPS machines, some deal done at corporate level, which ran barely any of our software. Because a Unixy computer is a unixy computer, right? They are all the same.

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Re: Work experience BITD - claims to fame, and infamy

Postby cmjones01 » Mon Nov 20, 2017 2:34 pm

It's ages since I've logged in here, and I only came to look up some Teletext stuff, but this thread caught my eye.

Regarding work experience, I went to school in Cambridge, just round the corner from the Acorn offices, and there seemed to be a long-standing relationship with the company: there was a computer room full of rather early BBC Micros on with a level 1 (yes) Econet file server. During the late 1980s a group of us pupils who were enthusiastic about computers got roped in to work at the computer shows helping to demonstrate the Archimedes machines. I remember almost losing my voice telling show visitors about the sheer wonderfulness of the A3000. It was a great experience in how the computer industry worked, and we got to play with the latest products, too, which was almost unimaginably cool for a techie teenager at the time.

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Re: Work experience BITD - claims to fame, and infamy

Postby crj » Mon Nov 20, 2017 3:00 pm

BigEd wrote:I felt Inmos (Bristol) was a bit like a university - lots of people learnt a lot there, but the commercial outcomes were patchy in my day.

I worked for ARM, but left before they became famous.

It sounds like you and I should have traded jobs! I felt ARM was completely focused on commercial outcome and interested in the technology exclusively as something to sell. In a commercial sense, that plainly worked for them, but it bears mentioning that until 1998 ARM hadn't succeeded in designing a CPU: StrongARM was designed by DEC, ARM6 and ARM7 were ARM2/3 in a fedora and dark glasses, ARM8 was a mess. In effect, they spent the first eight years of their existence selling what Acorn had designed before they span off.

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Re: Work experience BITD - claims to fame, and infamy

Postby paulb » Mon Nov 20, 2017 3:22 pm

crj wrote:In a commercial sense, that plainly worked for them, but it bears mentioning that until 1998 ARM hadn't succeeded in designing a CPU: StrongARM was designed by DEC, ARM6 and ARM7 were ARM2/3 in a fedora and dark glasses, ARM8 was a mess. In effect, they spent the first eight years of their existence selling what Acorn had designed before they span off.


I've heard someone else mention that early ARM designs weren't particularly nice (where "nice" perhaps means that the designs were not elegant or might not have been a basis for further development or evolution) and that it was another design house that brought the offerings up to scratch, although they didn't mention StrongARM or DEC which would have been an obvious thing to mention, so maybe they were a bit off, or perhaps there were separate evolutionary paths and they were referring to the other path.

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Re: Work experience BITD - claims to fame, and infamy

Postby crj » Mon Nov 20, 2017 3:37 pm

The ARM2 implementation was just fine. A lovely piece of work, in fact. The cache in the ARM3 was far less revolutionary or "clever", but it made sensible design decisions and was also OK. IOC and VIDC? Not a problem. MEMC was a bit cheesy, actually. Fine so far as it went, but relying entirely on integrated CAM meant you had that horrible tradeoff between amount of RAM, page size and the expense of adding extra MEMCs.

ARM, the company, in the 1990s mainly seemed to concentrate on bringing some of the sub-par aspects up to mediocrity rather than innovating. The ARM x00 MMU, fast multiply, debug capabilities, fine. I was a lot less happy with how the 26-bit to 32-bit migration, and the halfword/signed LOAD/STORE were added to the architecture. Don't get me started on Thumb, ARM 8 and StrongARM. Not here. In a pub some time, maybe.

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Re: Work experience BITD - claims to fame, and infamy

Postby BigEd » Mon Nov 20, 2017 4:10 pm

davidb wrote:I only did some summer work for Logotron...

Good to read about that - glad you wrote it up. These stories need to be told, the good and the bad.

crj wrote:...until 1998 ARM hadn't succeeded in designing a CPU...

Remarkable!

cmjones01 wrote:... During the late 1980s a group of us pupils who were enthusiastic about computers got roped in to work at the computer shows helping to demonstrate the Archimedes machines. I remember almost losing my voice telling show visitors about the sheer wonderfulness of the A3000...

Ah, the power of the unpaid intern! All good experience though - and even if it might have turned out that you didn't like it, at least you learnt that. Our school placed fifth years for a week somewhere local, so I was farmed out to Britannia building society, where they had big computers, out of sight, and complex text terminals where you could look up people's mortgages and savings. I'm not sure you were supposed to. Perhaps there were access controls.

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Re: Work experience BITD - claims to fame, and infamy

Postby davidb » Mon Nov 20, 2017 4:16 pm

crj wrote:ARM, the company, in the 1990s mainly seemed to concentrate on bringing some of the sub-par aspects up to mediocrity rather than innovating. The ARM x00 MMU, fast multiply, debug capabilities, fine. I was a lot less happy with how the 26-bit to 32-bit migration, and the halfword/signed LOAD/STORE were added to the architecture. Don't get me started on Thumb, ARM 8 and StrongARM. Not here. In a pub some time, maybe.

(Whispers, but loudly enough that helpful can hear): ROUGOL ;)

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davidb
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Re: Work experience BITD - claims to fame, and infamy

Postby davidb » Mon Nov 20, 2017 4:21 pm

BigEd wrote:Good to read about that - glad you wrote it up. These stories need to be told, the good and the bad.

Thanks. :) It was an interesting experience, though I probably worked a lot harder than I remember. I felt at the time that I only landed the position because it wasn't "cool" to write educational software, but I didn't care! That summer certainly wasn't cool in the meteorological sense - one of the people there spent a lot of time trying to get air conditioning installed in his car! :lol:

Acorn was preparing their StrongARM upgrade for launch while I was working in the office and one of my colleagues got to go and test bits of software on it. Apparently, she could whizz through all the tests really quickly, due partly to the CPU speed but also because she was so familiar with the software. :)

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Re: Work experience BITD - claims to fame, and infamy

Postby helpful » Tue Nov 21, 2017 4:19 am

davidb wrote:
crj wrote:Don't get me started on Thumb, ARM 8 and StrongARM. Not here. In a pub some time, maybe.

(Whispers, but loudly enough that helpful can hear): ROUGOL ;)

Ha, I was just about to suggest this pub on the 3rd Monday of the month, but you beat me to it :lol:
RISC OS User Group Of London - http://www.rougol.jellybaby.net/
RISC OS London Show - http://www.riscoslondonshow.co.uk/

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Re: Work experience BITD - claims to fame, and infamy

Postby kieranhj » Tue Nov 21, 2017 6:17 pm

crj wrote:I worked for ARM, but left before they became famous.

It sounds like you and I should have traded jobs! I felt ARM was completely focused on commercial outcome and interested in the technology exclusively as something to sell. In a commercial sense, that plainly worked for them, but it bears mentioning that until 1998 ARM hadn't succeeded in designing a CPU: StrongARM was designed by DEC, ARM6 and ARM7 were ARM2/3 in a fedora and dark glasses, ARM8 was a mess. In effect, they spent the first eight years of their existence selling what Acorn had designed before they span off.

This makes me think of a presentation I read online a few years ago from an engineer employee essentially giving a post-mortem of the early years at ARM and what a complete disaster it was. I'll be blasted if I can google it though - am I making this up or does anyone else recall?
Bitshifters Collective | Retro Code & Demos for BBC Micro & Acorn computers | https://bitshifters.github.io/


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