Ray Remembers When

Merlin at BNL / Les Solomon

Merlin was a one-of-a-kind. Just about every major lab built their own in those days. There were no Super Computers. The big Univac and IBM computers were not scientific computers, they were business computers. They were "character oriented," not "word oriented" and had small memories and lots of very expensive peripherals like card readers, and punches, line printers, strange magnetic tape systems (by the standards of the 1960s and later).

Trivia Question of the Day: Describe an Index Register. Who invented it and what computer first had one in it. Finally, what was it called? (Not an index register, I'll tell you that much). Answers in next email.

I saw the announcement of Les Solomon's death. I knew him well enough that he always remembered me when we met occasionally, usually at meetings, etc. A very nice man and a real character. I knew David Ahl of Creative Computing better. We had common ties back to his days at DEC. And of course Ted Nelson. Sometimes I think I'd like to get together with Mike Swaine and do a thing on "what ever happened to old ____________???" There are so many people I wonder about from the old days.

Oh yes, I meant to tell you one of the things done with Merlin. This was way, way ahead of its time and is not only awe inspiring, it demonstrates the kind of thinking that made our Computer Systems Group so successful a few years later. As I said, Merlin was a 48-bit machine. It had I/O facilities designed to take data as fast as possible, which no computer had been designed to do at that time. In 1958 a system was installed to allow direct connection between the big particle accelerator and the computer, a full 48 bits wide, via RG-58U coaxial cables run from the accelerator a half mile away. The digital data had to be deskewed at both ends and the drivers were vacuum tube circuits, as transistors were not in production yet. That, to me is very, very impressive.