The Paleoferrosaurus Page


What is A Paleoferrosaurus?

The word paleoferrosaurus is a neologism based on the Greek root word saura meaning lizard; the prefix paleo meaning old; and the prefix ferro meaning iron. Thus, a paleoferrosaurus is literally an "old iron lizard." Since the term "old iron" is used to refer to "vintage" computer equipment and mainframe people are often called "dinosaurs", I felt such a term was necessary to describe our species in a consise fashion.

As to the practice of creating such a neologism, a "friend" points out the following entry from Wikipedia:

"In psychiatry, the term is used to describe the creation of words which only have meaning to the person who uses them. It is considered normal in children, but a symptom of thought disorder indicative of a psychotic mental illness such as schizophrenia in adults. Usage of neologisms may also be related to aphasia acquired after brain damage resulting from a stroke or head injury."

Actually, that would explain a lot!

Okay, Who is the Author of this Page?

The author of this page is Micheal H. McCabe.

I'm not a computer expert by any stretch of the imagination. I did manage to attend some computer science classes at Edinboro State College (Now Edinboro University of Pa) back in the early 1980's. I even passed the classes and I was very happy to get one of the few "A" grades in both the "impossible" CS courses including Assembly Language Programming and Advanced Systems. Thus, I'm qualified to punch holes in cards and speak to an extinct species of mainframe computer (the Univac 90/60) in its native language. If you're looking for somebody to fix the registry errors on your Wintel machine, my best advice is to "buy a Mac."

Before falling madly in love with large, obscure, third-generation mainframe computers from the early 1970's I was happy to be hacking a variety of small computers that found their way into my clutches at Northwestern School District in Albion, Pennsylvania. These machines included the Wang 2200, IBM 5100, Apple ][, and TRS-80. Along the way I also did some serious playing with the Commodore PET, TI-99/4A, and an HP-3000. Little computers were like nice Tonka toys, but the Univac was like a REAL bulldozer.

Naturally, a mainframe-oriented computer science major was actually pretty useless in the real world of the 1980's. There weren't any Univac mainframes out there that needed systems programmers when I got out of school. My first "real" job was shooting videotape (and occasionally FILM) as a TV news stringer. I spent several years as a photographer for WICU-TV in Erie, Pa. After doing some freelance work for the county fire school, I got shanghaied into the Cranesville Volunteer Fire Department as the official "fire photographer." Pretty soon, I was running calls as an actual firefighter instead of just taking pictures. In 1987, I became certified as an EMT and also started working as a 911 dispatcher.

In 1992, I completed paramedic training and have been running rural "paramedic intercept" calls ever since. This isn't "ambulance work" for the most part, it's more like the TV show Emergency: you respond to the scene of an emergency in a specialized ALS (that's Advanced Life Support) response unit, assess the patient, assist the fire department in providing care on-scene, and, if necessary accompany the patient to the hospital aboard the ambulance. In simpler terms, I'm a "county medic" and don't have to run a lot of routine transports. It's easier on the back.

I've had a few sideline jobs over the years that included teaching at a technical school (Allied Health / Nursing Program), programming computers (mostly embedded in medical devices and communications hardware), setting up conventional radio and satellite communications systems. I even manage to do a little bit of rough carpentry, wiring, and plumbing on occassion. The phrase "jack of all trades, master of none" is probably a pretty good description.

The Computer Collection:

My collection is now pretty stable in terms of size. I really don't have the time, money, or energy to acquire more of the big iron and the little stuff just doesn't interest me. My intention is to focus on the existing systems; get them operational and make sure they're well documented.

Digital Equipment Corporation - PDP 11/03)

I have several example of the pdp-11. All are variations of the lsi-11/2 and lsi-11/23. I haven't been luck enough to find a unibus machine with actual blinkenlights just yet. The first 11/03-l came from Lord Corporation in Saegertown, Pa. where it was part of a color matching system used in the production of dye, paint, and plastic pellets. They sold me everything but the actual color scanner for the princely sum of $100. This particular example has 32K of memory, the extended instruction set (EIS) option, dual RX02 disk drives, an LA-120 Decwriter, and a VT-100 CRT. The system runs RT-11 version 04.00C (single job version) and includes the Fortran compiler and MACRO-11.

System number two is a lone CPU, I presently have it hooked up to a DEC PC 486 that provides TTY emulation, a cross-assembler and facilities for loading and saving programs as core images. It’s an exercise in “bare knuckles” computing with no operating system per se, but programming in pdp-11 assembly language, or even raw machine language, isn't as bad as you might think. I actually like to use this system as my testbed -- if I can write a program for this machine (sans peripherals and operating system) I can usually get the same program to run on the other systems.

System number three is a pdp-11/23+ that I acquired via an ebay auction. I actually got three CPU's that were once used to control a General Electric trunked radio system. Since I was rapidly running out of space in my workroom, I donated two of these to a worthy cause and kept the third for my own amusement. I really don't like the memory management on this system since it seems like such work. I run an ancient version of Unix here and it reminds me why I never liked Unix to begin with!

(IBM System/36 -- Model 5360 System Unit)

Some people might call this one a mainframe -- IBM officially calls it a “midrange” system. I’m going to call it a “minicomputer” based on its lineage, its 16 bit word-size, and the fact that it fits in my living room. Right now, the system powers up and halts with a “console check.” That might have something to do with the fact, that I don’t have a console for it. Both the CSP and MSP appear to be executing instructions. The main storage works and the hard disk is able to spin-up and seek. According to my personal standards, that means that it still works. I’m still looking for some peripherals for it and I hope to have it 100% operational in fairly short order.

My system was owned by the Masonic Home of Utica, New York. It appears to have been built in 1985 and was retired in 1989 when they replaced it with an early AS/400 system. The system was stored in a warehouse until March 2002 when I was able to purchase it via an eBay auction.

(Digital Equipment Corporation -- Vax 6000 Model 510)

Despite its heritage as a minicomputer, (sometimes called a “super mini”) this particular Vax cluster counts as a mainframe in my book: Dual 6510 Processors, 128 megabytes of memory per CPU, 20 large capacity disk drives, two HSC control units (each of which is a computer in its own right), a 9 channel tape drive, a big-honkin’ line printer, and literally tons of cables, documents, and software. It didn’t fit in my living room. I stored the 18,000 lbs worth of computer for six months inside a storage container in my side yard. Then, unfortunately, circumstances forced me to find a new home for the Vax.

(Standard 80 Column Punch Card)

The standard IBM “Tab Card”: Once upon a time, it was the single most common artifact representing the information age. Punch cards are an icon of automated data processing that dates back to the 1890 census. Nowdays, the punch card is probably most known as part of the “punch line” in jokes about the presidential election of 2000. Still, no computer collection could ever be complete without this ubiquitous archetype of late 19th century technology. Just like the telegraph, the steam engine, and the Colt 45, the punch card is part of our culture and heritage as Americans. Its influence on our society will be felt long after the last card crumbles to dust.

(IBM Model 024 Card Punch)

Like the punched card itself, the Card Punch is an American Classic. Early Hollerith Cards were punched by hand using standard ticket-punching apparatus just like the railroad conductors used. Later, coded punches were constructed that could record numerical or alphabetic information in the cards. By the 1930’s, an entire range of ADP equipment was built around the punched card: punches, verifiers, sorters, calculators, printers, and accounting machines. A specific machine was available to do almost any data processing task -- general purpose computers would later make these dedicated machines obsolete, but it would take the next 30 years to make computers as economical as these “tab shops.”

(Teletype Model 33 ASR)

When interactive computing became a reality, first on time-shared mainframes and later on smaller minicomputers, the user typically interacted with the system via a hard-copy terminal like the Teletype shown here. Even later, when microcomputers like the Altair appeared, the Teletype gave you an input device, an output device, and mass-storage in one neat (and fairly inexpensive) package.

(Commodore KIM-1 Single Board Computer)

Well, this is definately a microcomputer: 6502 microprocessor, 1024 bytes of MOS RAM, 1 Mhz clock, 6 digit LED display, a hexadecimal keypad, and a 20ma current loop interface for the teletype. Not much to look at, but you wouldn’t believe what it could actually do! MOS Technology built it to demonstrate the 6502 MPU. When Commodore bought MOS, this became the very first “Commodore” computer and started a line that would produce the PET, VIC-20, C-64, C-128, and eventually the Amiga. A very proud lineage for a very humble machine.

This page last revised on December 8, 2007 by Micheal H. McCabe