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Hit Counter    07/03/03

The following e-mail was received from former IMS Associates programmer Doug Earp on June 18, 2002.  In it, we get a glimpse of Bill Millard's organization, the early locations, and Joe Killian's work on the first version of the IMSAI 8080.  An added bonus is a dated mention of the origin of the IMSAI name (which stands for "Information Management Science(s) Associates, Incorporated)

Doug Earp's account of the earliest IMSAI

Doug's first e-mail hit me between the eyes:

"You have a number of your "facts" wrong about the development of the IMSAI.  I was a programmer with IMS Associates in the summer of '74 (business application modifications) and worked on the IMSAI 108 project, doing the first version of the host interface layer of processors.

"Joe's team was Joe.  He had the proto built and looking much like the kitted version by the end of that summer, before there was any other hardware techies around. -Doug"

After disarming Doug with a speedy, but reassuring reply, he graciously offered the following:

"I worked for Bill's company during the summers of '74 and '75 (if I recall correctly). In '74 it was just Bill, Joe and a third hardware guy that I didn't deal with.  Bill, Joe and I (mainly Joe and I) worked modifying business software as a subcontractor to Singer Systems [Note 1].  Joe also worked with the other hardware guy part time.  We were in an office suite (three rooms) on Estudillo and E. 14th in San Leandro.

"The next summer I worked for Bruce on the 108.  That was in the building on Republic.  By then they had changed the name to IMSAI.  Bill liked the way it sounded - vaguely oriental or something [Note 3].  Then the company was Bill, Joe, Bruce and the three summer interns working for Bruce coding the 108.

"At the time I remember Bruce talking about the hypercube but the way I remember it it was more his idea from before IMSAI.  But it was more an idea than a project at the time.  Joe worked in the back that summer drafting the board layout for the IMSAI.  I got to see it when he first installed the CPU chip.  Really exciting times!

"The 108 project that summer was broken down into three parts; the host interface layer, the database internals layer, and the disk interface layer.  Ed coded the disk interface which was fraught with timing issues. The other student (don't remember his name) worked on the database layer and I did the host communications.

"It was pretty weird programming at the time!  Each layer was written to run on n processors, where n could be configured to handle to load as required.  It was the first time I had to deal with multi-processor problems.  It seems common now but there weren't many people for years that understood what problems we where dealing with.

"Unfortunately the summer ended and most of our work wasn't completed.  Bruce and Bill where very disappointed with our lack of progress and let two of us go, keeping Ed for the disk interface layer.  I'm certain our code was deleted.

"Program development was a nightmare.  Bruce got the PL/1 compiler but we didn't have a machine that could run it.  Somehow we managed to get time on CAL's CDC.  We struggled for days to get it to compile.  Programming was a matter of editing our code to diskette using a simple text editor.  We worked on CRTs and Ed had rigged up a floppy unit.  Then we'd dial in [Note 2] to the CDC, submit our deck (the source code and job JCL to run the PL/1 compiler).  Latter we'd dial back to see the results.  If we had minor changes we could just [edit] the on-line CDC "Card editor" to change the deck and resubmit without retransmitting.  Once we got a clean compile we downloaded the 8080 code and loaded it on the Intel 8080 box we had where we could test.  I remember getting so mad at all the things that could go wrong, including having several floppies go bad every day, that I'd leave the building screaming.

"Hope this fills in some of the gaps for you.  All the other names you refer to came latter.  Its been fun reminiscing. 

Note 1:  Singer Systems was a major player in the calculator and systems arena, and was a major employer in the San Leandro, California region.  They had acquired the Frieden Calculator Company in the early 1960's and utilized those facilities for the emerging Data Processing technology market.  Old man Frieden, flush with a sizeable fortune, retired and  bought extensive property in Scott Valley, west of Yreka, California where he and his equally sizeable family grew hay and alfalfa, ranched, and raised beef in the best and proud traditions of good Mormons.  I passed by his refurbished farmhouse many times during my days of prospecting in Northern California in the mid to late Sixties.  I pilfered corn from his fields during the late Summers, too... nothing tasted better than purloined corn cooked out in the open!

Note 2:  Timesharing gets little mention these days, but back then, a teletype or dumb terminal with printer, an acoustic coupler and a rather expensive dialup account bought you time on a DEC PDP-11 or better.  And, if you were lucky, you had access to compilers, Inventory Management software, and many other pre-written business and utility programs at your disposal at no additional charge.

Note 3:  When Charles Tandy visited us at IMSAI in early 1976, a deal was reached whereby he would sell IMSAI computers through his Allied Electronics division.  One minor detail though; he felt that "IMSAI" sounded too "Japanese"!  This was a source of much merriment and laughter as word of this judgment filtered down the ranks of this proud little company.  The result of Tandy's decision is revealed in these scans from the  "1977 Allied Electronics Engineering Manual & Purchasing Guide No. 770" (dated July 1976).  I don't believe any actual Tandy orders came from this effort, but recall 3 or so "IMSAC" front panel masks floating around the IMSAI engineering area for a while afterwards.

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