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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Thu, 12 Nov 2015

Me and Unix and the '80s

That's me on an ADM-3A terminal at UC Santa Cruz some time in the late '80s. I'm using whatever version of Unix the university had at the time. I can see from the screen that I'm running the talk program with one of my friends on UCSC's Unix B system.

Unlike the other Unix machines (all named with various letters), Unix B was open to anybody who wanted to start an account.

With the help of a photocopied manual called "Unix for Luddites,"available for a couple bucks at the campus' Bay Tree Bookstore, you could learn vi for writing, nroff for formatting and a smattering of shell commands to get your papers printed on a mysterious, before-its-time laser printer somewhere deep in the campus computer center. Your work would eventually end up in cubby holes for later pickup.

While the ADM-3A was the coolest, most retro-looking terminal, even back then you were a little lucky if a DEC VT100 (or similar) was available. Its screen was green and clearer, its keyboard less mushy.

You were really lucky if one of the even-newer Wyse (unsure of model numbers) terminals was in your college's computer room (or the college next to yours; though a Porter student, I gravitated toward Kresge's much better computer lab/room). The Wyse terminals had amber screens that were even clearer than those of the DECs and (more importantly) featured nice, clicky keyboards.

But for sheer design, the ADM-3A was (and is) a classic.