Anatoly Slyusar: “The period of the EU computer allowed us to train system and applied programmers”
Anatoly Slyusar began his career working on an EC-1022 computer at the computer center of the Leningrad Regional Committee of the CPSU (Leningrad Branch of the Scientific Research Institute of Automatic Equipment, hereinafter - LF Scientific Research Institute "Sunrise"). In an interview, he recalls how the programmers of the 1980s – 1990s worked and gives an assessment of a single series. According to Anatoly Vladimirovich, it was on these machines that the first mass generation of Russian programmers grew up and successful experience in localizing foreign software was acquired.
- I became interested in mathematics in my school years. In the 38th physics and mathematics school, which shared the best laurels in Leningrad with the “thirty” laurels, there were very good teachers. There were no questions about where to go next — either for a mockery or for a physics faculty of Leningrad State University. I chose a mummy.
At first, computer technology did not interest me much. I was engaged in mathematical analysis and seemed to have to go to graduate school. But in the fifth year I got to practice in a computer center, and I liked everything. I agreed with them this way: you pay me the salary of the laboratory assistant, and I will come to you for this for distribution. It turned out that I feel good, and the office did not fail.
- That is, your acquaintance with computer technology actually took place already in the computer center itself?
- Yes. I came to practice, but it turned out that this is work for life.
Anatoly Vladimirovich Slyusar, the end of the 1970s.
Computing center of the regional party committee
- The computer center in question was solving problems for the Leningrad Regional Party Committee. It was equipped very well. By the time I went to work (I graduated from Leningrad State University in 1978), the EU-1022 was already working there. It is clear that at first I was not allowed into the machine room. Machine time in Soviet times was more expensive than the time of programmers and other employees and was strictly divided between directions. Electronic engineers - those who tuned iron - usually did this closer to night. System programmers tuned the operating system in the evenings. The working day itself was divided between the departments of programmers. There were many departments, programmers too, but the machine worked in single-user mode. Therefore, at each particular moment, one person was engaged in it. Machine time was strictly distributed between experienced employees - 10-15 minutes each,
Programmers LF Research Institute "Sunrise", 1980
- How did you program?
- Now it is difficult to imagine. You are sitting, writing a program on paper. You draw flowcharts, in parallel you draw up some kind of documentation. Having written the program, you begin to debug it on paper, many times going through the text, correcting, supplementing, changing. Finally, it is ready for debugging by machine.
Now we were not familiar with input devices. You could enter the program either with punch cards or with punched tapes. We practically did not work with punched tapes, because they are gentle enough, and it is inconvenient to fix the program code on them. It was possible to record a completely debugged program on a punched tape. I did this later when we programmed for numerically controlled machines.
Putting punched tape into the machine itself is a bewitching sight. The device reads it quickly enough, and at the exit it starts to fit nicely into the basket - like the girls from rhythmic gymnastics.
But that was later, and when I first arrived, we filled programs on punch cards. Standard punch card, 80 positions. Accordingly, no more than 80 characters per line. At first I wrote in PL / I, then, when the tasks changed, I began to work more in Assembler.
St. Petersburg, Moskovsky Prospekt, 108. Here, in the building of the former Chubykinsk almshouse, there was a computer center of the Leningrad Regional Committee of the CPSU. Now he is occupied by a music school
- How did programs get stuffed?
- On a special device. It was very noisy, standing in a separate room. Each line of the program was printed on a separate punch card. Since the characters that were punched were not imprinted on top, the punched card codes of each character had to be memorized - otherwise there would be no error. If the punch card error is small, we sealed these holes and interrupted. But, of course, more often had to re-interrupt the entire card.
Imagine: a 500-line program, a large deck of punch cards. God forbid her stuffed, accidentally sprinkle. Then not collect. We had masters who knew how to read punch cards, and in the end everyone had to learn to do it in order to sort it correctly later. Even if you have numbered the deck, the numbering changes when you change the algorithm, rearrange the blocks ...
- When the program was full, did it start debugging?
- Yes. You come to the machine room, insert the deck into the card reader, it is “choo-choo-chooh” - it is read and, if there were no reading errors, processing starts. On the EC, there was a Job Control Language (JCL), which made it possible to arrange a compiler call for the program introduced. The second step is to connect other called system or application programs to your program. In modern language, specify the libraries of the connected programs, after which the executable code starts working.
The EU computer had a console — a typewriter such that it allowed us to control the process by entering commands and answering system questions. And the main result was displayed on the ADCU - alphanumeric printing device. You cannot call it a printer, because there were only alphanumeric characters. The result was obtained on folding paper perforated on both sides, then we went to deal with what we had.
The EC-7033 alphanumeric printing device was part of the BESM-6 computer and the EC computer. The
paper was folded from the back of the ADCU, it had to be corrected — it didn’t always fit into the pack — and the accumulated static electricity pulled it well. Then grounded metal chains appeared, which lay along the paper.
These alphanumeric printing devices were very limited in graphic terms, but there were craftsmen who were able, with the help of symbols, to print on them, say, Mona Lisa. Looking from a distance, it looked very believable.
Behind the back of the heroine of Leah Akhedzhakova one of such reproductions. Office Romance, 1977
- Were there such specialists at your center?
- No, but we talked with other organizations. The exchange of information took place through magnetic tapes. They were either large - they were usually supplied with operating system distributions or compilers for the languages PL / 1, COBOL, FORTRAN - or smaller coils. Of course, we used small ones for exchange. They could be shoved under trousers and taken out of the organization in order to exchange information with someone. We exchanged these pictures and books. The Strugatsky novels, verses by Vysotsky, Okudzhava, and Galich were printed. Having saved paper, everyone could print out to himself what he is interested in reading. Samizdat, of course, was strictly punished, but this did not stop anyone.
- What tasks were set for you?
- Since the computer center oversaw the regional party committee, the tasks were solved for them. Elections, registration of communists in Leningrad, holding meetings ... We even had a remote workplace. There was a telegraph apparatus in the regional committee, and the EU computer had an interface for interacting via telegraph communication channels with this remote terminal. That is, we could output some important indicators there, and from there take some commands. It was necessary to service the computer center itself: its economic activities, staff salaries, personnel records.
The regional committee of the CPSU used statistical data, including for agitation
- You are the first time to practice in a computer center. Come into the engine room. How was it?
- Delight! The room is clean, bright, spacious. Cabinets with tape drives, drives. The raised floor is quite high because air ducts were laid under it, cables - interface and electrical.
The car was located on the third floor - the highest. By the way, everywhere I worked, they tried to raise her higher. I think this is because of rodents. The higher you place, the less chance of damage to the equipment with any mice.
Excerpt from the "Instructions for the design of buildings and premises for electronic computers" , 1979
We enjoyed our work. The presence of the console also helped. On older machines, you had to press a lot of buttons on the remote control, but here, roughly speaking, only “start” and “pause”. Commands were entered already from the console. Then we got the first display complexes.
- EU-1022 - the basic model. Was there enough power for the needs of a computer center?
- Yes, although, for example, she had only 256 kilobytes of RAM. Modern programmers, of course, do not understand how you can write a fairly serious program that will work with such a small amount. The first disks were seven with a small MB - plates such. Then came the large magnetic disk drives with a capacity of 29 MB. They weighed more than six kilograms. Such a disk had to be raised, put on the spindle ...
Tape-pulling mechanisms, like the tapes themselves, turned out to be centenarians. Even on the following IBM models - AS / 400 - you could work with them. The tapes were rewound regularly because during storage they accumulated static electricity. If you do not twist back and forth for a long time, then it may fail. Well, the load on the tape drive mechanism was such that the nodes had to be wiped with alcohol. Alcohol then turned out to be good - a three-liter can per quarter. Received his electronics, but we could attend!
- The staff of the data center was very good. About a hundred people - many young people of the older generations are also interesting. We organized joint events, constantly went out of town.
The electronics team had a large team - there specialists were required for various devices. Someone was engaged in tape drives. Someone - memory, processor, card readers, which are often clogged. System programmers updated the operating system and system software. Well, most of all there were applied programmers - about 30 people. Heads of departments received tasks and distributed them among subordinates. We made programs that later had to be combined, combined. There were also small programs that I developed, brought to the final result and handed over one person.
- How was admission to the engine room?
- By a special badge in the pass, which was very similar to a horse. In Soviet organizations, badges determined the level of access to different rooms. But it didn’t always help. Your work on the machine could be interrupted, for example, by system engineers, if they urgently needed something. Once I even composed a song on this subject:
I have a horse on the pass, I
grab a pack of punch cards quickly.
Scheduled time with me,
Employees look enviously.
But Dadon reigns in the car.
And the elbows are leaning on the display,
“Well, maybe I'll be lucky tomorrow,”
I thought, returning to the place.
Dadon is the last name of the chief of the system.
- How much did you work in the regional committee?
- Four years. Then, after his boss, he moved to the LNPO Vektor of the USSR Ministry of Radio Industry. There was an EU-1033, but I already worked more as a system programmer. I took the machine, installed the operating system on it, the distribution of which was delivered in assembly code in the source code. When installing the operating system, it was first necessary to translate most of the programs, and then it was tuned to the specific configuration of the EC computer: its peripheral devices and memory. And on these source codes of the programs received from IBM through NITSEVT (research center for electronic computing technology), we learned to program.
St. Petersburg, Kantemirovskaya street, 10. The building of the LNPO "Vector"
- In your opinion, is the introduction of EU computers the right direction for the development of electronic computers in the USSR?
- It seems to me correct. Before the advent of EU computers in the USSR, there were a lot of all kinds of machines. They did not fit together either in data storage methods or in algorithms. Sharing programs was difficult with so much diversity. We could develop our own, but then we would lag further and further. Here we received samples of equipment. It is clear that because of the embargo on the supply of finished machines, they had to be assembled in the USSR. But no one forbade us to buy components. IBM did not patent the architecture and operating system; they too could be bought, processed, used. There was a single architecture, scalability, more powerful processors, more memory. They were all compatible - by operating system, by data storage methods, by software. I think this was the right period of our development,
- Echoes of "accept - do not accept the EU" from the 1960s came to you?
- I was young then and, of course, did not think about it. When I arrived at the computer center, the EC computer had already started working there. Minsk-32 stood nearby in the next hall, and there was no doubt that it was necessary to transfer everything that had been accumulated and worked on it to the EU. And that this car is better than that, it was also obvious.
- In addition to the operating system distribution, have you had to work with American programs?
- Not. The application software was everything. Probably, the systems for managing some industries could be taken from the Americans as a model, but our tasks were quite specific. This is the center of the regional committee. Therefore, I got acquainted with the originals of only the operating system, compilers from programming languages.
- What happened after the LNPO Vector?
“I went back to where I started.” They were already called the Research Institute of Software, and it was possible to solve more interesting problems that were not tied to the general committee. In particular, I was developing a debugger of specialized operating systems for EC computers. EC-1033 was produced in the version for ships. Operational systems were put on the ship’s vehicles, which controlled the entire economy of the ship, maybe shooting, something else. They had to be developed and debugged. I created the debugger of these systems.
During debugging, it was necessary to interpret the execution of each command, and with good speed. When the result was obtained, in addition to debugging the operating system, I ran through this program, for example, the PL / 1 language compiler. I understood the principles of the compiler, which made it possible to optimize the resulting code in terms of volume and speed.
Programmers at the Research Institute of Software, 1987
This was an interesting work, and we did it for a Moscow organization. I often had to travel to Moscow, take, receive assignments. But only we finished this development, the negative consequences of perestroika began to affect, and within literally two years (1988–1989) everything began to be curtailed. Funding fell sharply, no one knew what to do, and much that had been accumulated began to disappear.
Then, when personal computers already appeared, they remembered the legacy of the EU computer and made emulators for staff to run its programs. The same Pentium -166 perfectly emulated the EU-1033 and ran its programs with the same speed.
- When did other computers appear in your field of vision?
- In the late 1980s. I already worked part time in a co-op. Despite the fact that there was the main work, we took orders for the development of programs for other computers. When the co-op bought the personal computers, I met them. True, I no longer programmed for them. Organized the operation of some programs, prepared the data. Then from the cooperative I got to the Industrial and Construction Bank (St. Petersburg). They just bought AS / 400 there, and the personal computers were just like workstations connected with this machine. I started organizing the operation and the same system work on the AS / 400 - installing the operating system, the programs we purchased. We bought a German system for automating banking, but it didn’t. I had to redo everything and develop my system on AS / 400. Then the bank already bought finished products from developers.
IBM AS / 400 Series Server, Established in 1988
- What computers did you have at home?
- First, “Spectrum”, but did not manage to dock it with the TV (we had a TV without the necessary unit). Then came the "Vector". In the early 1990s, he was given to his wife at work to design programs. I bought the first staff when I started working at the bank - money appeared only then.
Computer "Vector-06C", model of 1986
- What was the "Vector"?
- It seems that it was created on the basis of the same processor as the Spectrum. The display is already graphic, keyboard. I remember that my wife was developing a training program for a ten-fingered set of texts. The keyboard was displayed on the screen, the key that had to be pressed lit up, and a bomb fell from above. We had to have time to press before the bomb explodes. At first, two-key bombs, then on 4, 5, 6, 8. Finally, the entire keyboard was connected. It was necessary to manage to press the necessary key without looking. This game is for learning.
- Do you remember other games?
- I remember the games only on the first staffs - the EU-1840, EU-1841 (our analogues of the IBM PC). They were wearing tetris, three-dimensional tetris. Later, I fell in love with Doom.
- Did you help your wife in her homework with Vektor?
- Once she received a task, and there was little time for writing and debugging the program. And at that time I still had access to EU computers. Therefore, he developed for the EU computers a compiler of the source code of vector programs into machine code and an interface for transferring this data to a standard tape audio cassette. At work, he broadcast, recorded, at home we could debug and watch how the program works on the "Vector". All this is due to the fact that I already practically had no work on the EU computer. The car was idle, and no one bothered me.
- Do not regret that the cars are different now, otherwise the process is built?
- Of course not. Modern computers are much more interesting, young people are engaged in projects that I can’t even understand. Lectures, conferences with a huge number of people.
In our time, this was not.