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11:47am on Sunday, 10th December, 2006:

It's that Time of Year Again


It's that time of year again when old-time 1970s hackers look back wistfully at their favourite mainframe, the DECsystem-10 (aka DEC 10).

There were actually two machines in Essex University's Computer Science department that were regarded with some fondness, the other being a coffee vending machine. It did coffee that didn't taste of coffee, tea that didn't taste of tea, and hot chocolate that didn't taste of hot chocolate. Of the three, the hot chocolate that didn't taste of hot chocolate was the least repellent, so that was the hackers' drink of choice. Also, with something advertised as being hot chocolate you could at least persuade yourself that the brown sludge left over at the bottom of the plastic cup when you'd finished might be actual chocolate; it was harder to come up with of-course-it's-safe-to-drink explanations for the sludge left behind for tea or coffee.

The coffee machine was a Wittmatic, a brand name of which there appears to be no mention on the Internet. This gave it extra importance for we hackers, as of course Witt's End was the room in ADVENT in which you got that irritatingly hard-to-find missing last point.

The coffee machine's brown liquids cost 5 pence a cup (cheap even in those days — the other coffee machines we knew about all cost 10 pence a cup). Because our coffee machine was on floor 5A, right next to a sign saying 5A, we'd occasionally put some paper over the A with a p written on it. The longest this lasted before being removed was something like a week, during the summer vacation.

Another tradition was to put an OUT OF ORDER notice on the machine every April Fool's Day. Written on the back of the notice were the words, "April Fool". All the students and none of the lecturers knew we did this.

The DEC 10 was part of the Digital Equipment Corporation's PDP series. Another name for the DEC 10 was the PDP 10. Thus, it was natural that we called the coffee machine the PDP 5p.

Ah, happy days.

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Copyright © 2006 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).