Ye Olde Student Life: Pomona In Computer Age With Newest IBM Monster

A 1965 issue of The Student Life reported on Pomona College's “third generation” computer.
The Sept. 1965 image, complete with pseudo-German caption.

Eminent futurist Ray Kurzweil predicted massive technological advances in the coming decades during his talk at Pomona College’s Bridges Auditorium on Feb. 7. Looking at how far we’ve come since we reported on one of our early computers in this front-page article from our Sept. 30, 1965 issue, it’s easy to see why he’s so optimistic about the future. Pomona purchased its first computer—a Bendix G-15—when the original Millikan Laboratory was opened in 1958.

Pomona In Computer Age With Newest IBM Monster

By Hank Becker

Early this month Pomona College became one of the nation’s first recipients of a “third generation” computer, the IBM System/360 Model 40.

The computer, whose purchase for $250,000 was made possible through the generosity of the late Frank R. Seaver ‘05, is housed in a glass-cased room in second floor Milliken [sic]. Its operation will be under the direction of Miss Joan Bardez, ‘63.

Because of the newness of the Model 40, the Pomona computer is still in a mechanical “debugging” stage, and IBM technicians can still be seen surveying and manipulating the machine’s micro-miniature components. However, the machine is already being used by students and by Donald McIntyre, professor of geology. McIntyre is chairman of the interdepartmental Computer Committee which has administrative responsibility for the operation of the Computer Center.

Jim Butler, junior physics major, is currently at work developing a translator which produces machine instructions for the 360 Computer from programs written for the old Bendix G-15 computer owned by the physics department. McIntyre is helping Honnold library automate its book purchase and inventory control procedures.

By the end of the year it is expected that nearly all mechanical problems will have been solved and that the computer will be fully operable in all of its functions. Most of the computer time will be split between aiding in student and faculty research in the sciences and general education in computer fundamentals and programming for interested students.

Major use of the computer next spring will be made by the numerical analysis class. Faculty and students of the physics, math, geology, psychology, economics, and chemistry departments are also planning to make use of the machine’s ability to perform statistical and numerical calculations at lightning speeds. Hans Palmer, assistant professor of economics, for example, is counting on the 360 to aid him in analyzing data on the economic and demographic aspects of Italian emigration to the U.S.

In addition, research under Miss Bardez, Computer Center Director, will be directed at learning the capabilities of the machine and attempting to get the most out of its presence. This might include developing special programs which would act as controls on the flow of machine operations and provide for error-correction aids to the programmer to help him spot his error. (The machine rarely errs.)

Other possible applications for the more distant future include providing extensive data processing services to college administrators, programming for outside private contractors, and such research studies as comparative linguistic analysis and textual analysis of writers’ styles and use of words.

The System/360 is in the forefront of the computer world today. It will replace, or at least outdate, most of the IBM computers presently in use. Compared to the “second generation” computers first marketed seven years ago, the System/360 out ranks all in speed, compactness and flexibility.

The speed at which Pomona’s new computer can process data is, according to McIntyre, striking. By far the greatest amount of processing time is spent in reading IBM cards into the computer and in printing the output on the printer. Card reading takes place at speeds up to 400 cards per minute, and printing is done at the rate of 240 lines (not words) per minute.

The actual processing time is infinitesimal. For example, to compute the trigonometric sine of an angle to 7 decimal places by an algebraic expansion, the Model 40 in Millikan requires but 1/500th of a second.

In terms of size, the entire memory of 131,072 “bits” is contained within the volume of a good-sized cigar box. Eight of these bits, or one “byte” can contain one alphabetic character or two decimal digits. Two bytes can contain a number as large as 65,535. With the installation next month of a large capacity (14.2 million decimal digit) “disk” storage unit, Pomona’s basic installation will be complete. The disk will provide semi-permanent magnetic storage of all forms of data, from statistics of Italian emigration (for Palmer) to an inventory of Honnold Library’s outstanding book orders.

Future additions to the Computer Center may include doubling the amount of internal memory, adding magnetic tape storage capabilities, and the installation of an automatic graph potter. The Pomona College Development Office is currently looking for donors to make such additions possible.

At the moment, programming for the System/360 computer is done with the Assembler language, a basic translation of actual machine-language instructions. However, by January it is expected that a great majority of the programming will be done in FORTRAN, a widely popularized computer language and one relatively easy to learn.

Instructional manuals on FORTRAN will soon be available on campus. Classes in FORTRAN programming may be given this winter. For those students interested in learning Assembler language, Miss Bardez has prepared a booklet of demonstration programs. Also, limited copies of the Assembler manual put out by IBM are available in Miss Bardez’ office in Millikan 211. All potential System/360 programmers are welcome any time, according to Miss Bardez.

A computer club has recently been formed for The Claremont Colleges mainly through the efforts of some Harvey Mudd College students. Pomona students are invited to contact John Halperin, HMC, at 2080, for details about this year’s activities.

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