Summer 1977: I was a Multics Intern

By Ken Horton

In the summer of 1977, I worked for Honeywell as a Multics Intern. But first a little background information.

My college years were interrupted from 1972 to 1975 with an Air Force enlistment. After I was discharge I was looking for a college to use the GI Bill. I planned to major in computer science. A high school buddy suggested the University of Southwestern Louisiana in Lafayette (USL). The fact that Playboy ranked them the No. 1 party campus the previous year had absolutely no affect on my decision.

In the spring of 1975 I took a road trip to check out the academics and campus environment of USL. I spoke with someone from the CS department. She informed me that the school would be getting a new computer in the fall. A Honeywell Multics. I enrolled for the summer semester.

I took a PL/I course that summer using punched cards while the Multics was being installed. My instructor was Joe Urban, a young energetic graduate student from Iowa who would get his Ph.D. and become renown in IEEE circles. I think he came to USL primarily because of Multics.

USL began using Multics for courses as well as administrative functions in fall of 1975. The only punched cards I used after that were for course registration. My term project was a Pac-Man-like game. I used TTY characters to create a maze on the Delta Data terminal then traversed through it like a rat to find the solution. I learned the nuances of Multics stream output and Delta Data cursor positioning.

USL ID was a punch card created by Multics.

In the summer of 1976 I help an Electrical Engineering senior named Johnny LeBlanc with a PL/I program. We met in the EE digital lab where he was working on his senior project: a digital logic circuit with blinking LED's. Electronic hardware seemed more interesting than software. I don't know if I ever thanked him for changing my life.

Although I changed my major to EE (with a Computer Design Option), I continued to take a CS or EE programming class every semester. I was privileged to have had Bruce Shriver and Joe Urban as professors and mentors.

In the last week of the 1977 spring semester Honeywell interviewed on campus for full time summer employment. The task was to convert programs from a 32 bit IBM architecture to a 36 bit Multics system for the Puerto Rican Highway Authority (PRHA).

Summer break in the Caribbean! Fantasy Island? Well, not quite. Five students were hired. We went to the Honeywell Information Systems facility in Phoenix (Camelback Road) initially because the contract had yet to be finalized. We spent the whole summer there.

We interacted with the Multics hardware and software engineering group, sales, and some others from MIT. Because of my engineering background I was also tasked with testing COGO, a coordinate geometry program that is used by civil engineers in the design of highway curves and bank angles. After all, this was for the highway authority.

On the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

During our three months in Phoenix we took several road trips: Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Slippery Rock, tubing, and a surfing water park to name a few.

One weekend there was a volleyball/pool party at the home of one of the Multics developers. See photo. I am in the back row second from the left. Bill Tims, also of USL, is on the back row fifth from left. If you are in the picture please identify yourself.

We had two Chevrolet Chevettes between the five of us. We were housed in Granada Royale Hometels (motel with a kitchen, continental breakfast and free evening cocktail hour!)

On August 16, 1977 after celebrating my birthday at a luncheon with co-workers we returned to Camelback to hear that Elvis Presley had died. That evening, a couple who tended bar at the Granada invited me to their home for a home-cooked dinner (and cocktails). I crashed on their sofa.

The following morning while en route back to the Granada for the car pool to Camelback, our car was involved in a head on collision. The car was totaled but no one was seriously injured. I told everyone I almost joined Elvis.

As the days became shorter and summer drew to a close the PRHA contract was finally signed. Only one of the USL crew stayed on and went to Puerto Rico during the fall semester. That fall it was hard returning to USL college life. It was even harder trying to explain to friends how my summer employment in Puerto Rico went only as far as Phoenix.

Such was my summer job as a Multics intern.

I graduated in 1978 and moved to Florida in 1980. I have worked on applications in petrochemical, power generation, aerospace, communication, water and wastewater.

I have programmed TI DX10, Z80 CP/M, DOS, Harris/8, DEC VAX/VMS, Unix, and MS Windows. Now I work with almost exclusively with Linux on Intel processors. And it all started with Multics.

I still have a Multics artifact: Multics Pocket Guide to Commands and Active Functions. It's my portal to a previous life - a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

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Ken Horton
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