The Best of Creative Computing Volume 2 (published 1977)

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Russian Computing - One Man's View (Exhibition of Economic Achievement of the U.S.S.R. in April 1974, M4030 timesharing system, Russian Teletype)
by David H. Ahl

graphic of page

David H. Ahl
On a trip to Russia in April 1974, I took the opportunity to visit the
Exhibition of Economic Achievement of the U.S.S.R. Occupying 550 acres, it is
similar to a small world's fair. It encompasses some 80 large pavilions each
devoted to a different branch of agriculture, industry, or science. It also
includes a circular cinema, open-air stadium, and many restaurants, few of which
were open during our visit in early April. There was still a fair amount of snow
on the ground and what wasn't snow was mud so it was hardly ideal weather for
tramping around an outdoor exhibition.

There are pavilions devoted to atomic energy, physics, chemistry, civil
architecture, culture, printing, fur breeding, education, public health, radio,
space exploration, and many other areas. I visited several of these briefly and
found, somewhat to my dismay, that often the three story front facade stood in
front of a small one story, 2 or 3 room display. Impressive from the outside,
but not much depth.

One pavilion I did visit at some length was the computer pavilion. There were no
signs in English, nor could any of the guides inside speak English, hence my
account is based strictly on personal observation. There were two large
computers in operation, one a batch system (EC-1020) that looked like a cross
between a 1401 and 360/30 or 40. The peripherals looked decidedly vintage,
particularly the card reader and tape drives. The other system (M-4030) was a
time-sharing system with a front panel that reminded me of a flattened PDP-15;
the rocker switches were identical. It appeared to use a 32-bit work length.
Most of the terminals on the timesharing system were CRTs with quite large
screens (12" or more). The terminals were bulky and gave a strong impression of
functional utility. The Russian equivalent to our Teletype looks very much like
an ASR-37 except the tape reader and punch are nicely recessed to the right of
the keyboard. Their 2781 equivalent looks something like an IBM Model B electric
typewriter, moving carriage and all. Keypunches look like carbon copies of the

A nice young girl tried to explain text editing to me with much gesturing and
pointing. The terminal had almost all the capability of the Dataspeed 40 -
scrolling, line insertion, line deletion, etc. When you get your copy OK on the
CRT, you press a button and it types out on the attached (local) printer. The
major differences between it and the Dataspeed 40 are that intelligence is in
the CPU, not the terminal, and the hefty, ungainly size of the unit.

I saw much other hardware, both operational and some just on display. (Most of
the center was fully in use-the Russians don't leave expensive hardware unused.)
 Throughout the display, I saw no signs of any minicomputers or microprocessors.
Nor, in my entire trip, did I see a single pocket calculator, not even in GUM,
the largest store in Moscow.

I asked one of our guides, a graduate of the University of Moscow, about the use
of computers in schools. College students, particularly in mathematics and
science, are exposed to them although apparently to a lesser degree than in the
United States. High School students do not use computers. Our guide, who had a
wonderful sense of humor, told us of an experimental computers system to
translate one language to another. When given the English phrase "Out of sight,
out of mind" it translated it into Russian as a "blind idiot." Think about it!

Instructor points to register of Russian M4030 timesharing system.

Russian version of the Teletype.


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