Carriage Return, Line Feed

Reading this interesting article about the ‘cents’ symbol [pointer from Ian], I remembered that the first printer I ever owned — it came used, from Langford’s Drug Store — did underlining by printing the characters to be underlined, doing a carriage return (but no line feed), and then running underscore symbols along the same line, where underlining was required. It was an amazing dance to watch.

Which reminds me that for a time, if you wanted to check your email at Trent, there was an unlocked room in the basement of the Science Complex that contained an old DEC line printer connected to the network. You could login to your UNIX account, and use mail to read email, everthing printing out on paper as you typed. Somewhat cumbersome (especially if you ran out of paper), but a handy printed record of all your correspondence was a useful byproduct.

Kids I knew in Hamilton who were two or three years ahead of me in school used to do their high school computer programming assignments by filling out punch cards and sending them to City Hall for processing.

Ironic that now that almost all the physicality of computing has been removed, we see more physical problems resulting from data processing than ever before.


Steven Garrity's picture
Steven Garrity on July 6, 2003 - 17:02 Permalink

A wonderful physical dance from computing to watch is a drafting plotter print. To draw a circle, the ‘pen’ moves back and forth a long a line in one direction while the paper moves back and forth in the parallel direction. It’s poetic.

Alan's picture
Alan on July 6, 2003 - 19:08 Permalink

In around 1980, we were in Dad’s hometown of Greenock Scotland and, during a visit to a shipyard pal of Dad’s, saw a similar device cutting sheet metal plates for the boats off of a plan. The machine’s footprint was about the size of a house.

Wayne's picture
Wayne on July 6, 2003 - 20:53 Permalink

I was one of those older felows who were first exposed to computers thru punch cards at UPEI…a simple math expression printout would be returned to our wooden locker-type outboxes a week later, and if we made a small, small error, had to do all the cards over again and resubmit them.

I remember looking thru the glass partition into the high security mainframe room with its flashing lights and whirling tape drives with wonder and amazement. Some guy in a black suit and tie walked back and forth, looking awfully important to us freshmen. No wonder it all seemed so scary a science…I imagined that our cards were probably being read by the CIA before being processed in case some commie spies were infiltrating our computer room.

Back when computing was fun, eh?

Dave's picture
Dave on July 6, 2003 - 23:16 Permalink

The computes in the equipment room have many fewer lights and whirling tape drives these days. We do have networks running at speeds of a billion bits per second and now everyone has video cards with more memory than the Digital PDP-11/45 that used to live in UPEI’s machine room (256K if I remember).

Justin's picture
Justin on July 7, 2003 - 01:06 Permalink

Dave, I thought it was 64K, but you’d know better. What ever happened to it? I heard a local businessman did a repair of sorts on it within recent ‘memory’, say, 5 or so years ago. Any truth to that? BTW, I still have an old Radio Shack plotter for 4-1/2” paper! Dunno where to source pens.

Dave's picture
Dave on July 7, 2003 - 17:12 Permalink


Long gone… it left the campus around 1983. I know of at least three more PDPs in the Charlottetown area but how they ended up. We started with 16K core memory and moved to a larger memory footprint. I still have a paper-tape based fortran complier and some other system utilities kicking around on a shelf.

Did the RS plotter have a cover over the pens or were they in ‘the open’? A buddy and I actually made some holders for bic (TM) pen refills ‘way back when’ for one of our plotters. You may be able to do something creative with the old dry pens, if you still have them.

Wayne's picture
Wayne on July 7, 2003 - 18:00 Permalink

Dave…were you the very serious-looking guy in the black suit and tie that looked like a CIA agent? Do you remember the computer game that asked for your favourite number? I forget how the game went, but a buddy of mine decided to input his favourite number…a long 10 digit one. The lights really started flashing, the tape drives picked up speed and poof…everything went dark. I will keep his name secret.

Justin's picture
Justin on July 8, 2003 - 04:17 Permalink

Dave: the plotter has a cover. I may have to switch to NCR paper!!!

I can vouch for Dave… he never had a black suit and I’ll bet he still don’t wear ties. :)

I guess it was prolly an old Vax my acquaintance had his hands in. He’s a young chap doing sub-contract maintenance for NCR et al. among other things. He was telling me about a fix on something about as old as the Rosetta Stone, and about as pertinent.

Hmm, I just noticed… NCR=no carbon required & NCR=National Cash Register. I gotta get out more…

Jeff's picture
Jeff on July 8, 2003 - 17:17 Permalink

I believe that very serious looking guy in the dark suit and tie would have been Jim Hancock who was the Director of Computer Services at UPEI before Dave Cairns.