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Friday 1 September 2023

VAXen

New Month Old Post: First posted 15th April, 2018


VAXen. It’s the plural of VAX. It used to say so in the DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) computer manuals in the nineteen-eighties. VAX computers could be run as clusters of VAXen. Most universities had them.

A DEC 'dumb terminal'

So I was delighted to see some of these iconic machines again in Jim Austin’s Computer Collection at Fimber near Fridaythorpe in the East Riding. By “again” I really mean for the first time. Hardly anyone got near them in the nineteen-eighties. The privileged might be allowed to look through the glass of their air-conditioned rooms, but ‘users’ were never allowed in. Their only contact with the computers was through remote ‘dumb terminals’. At Fimber you can touch the machines and even open their cabinets and take the boards out. Of course, they are not switched on now.

He even has the first computer I used, the Elliott 903, not just any Elliott 903 but the very same one from the psychology department at Hull University. You really had to keep your fingers out of the way when the punched paper tape was flying through. What a sorry state it is in now. For a moment I imagined myself volunteering and getting it working again. 

The Elliott 903 from Hull University, a punched paper tape computer

I returned home fizzing with enthusiasm, thinking of the blog posts I could write. My wife was not impressed.

“Great! A barn full of old grey metal cabinets. Fascinating!”

“Well, some of them are black. And you can open the doors and look inside.”

I babbled on excitedly about all the machines I had known so well: the Elliott 903, IBMs, ICLs, PDP-8s and PDP-11s, SWTPC minis, LSI-11s, Sun microsystems, Silicon Graphics, VAXen …

"Vaxen!" My wife ran out of patience.

“Did they come in boxen? Ordered by Faxen? Is our fridge Electroluxen? Cooling the milk for your Weetabixen? Vaxen makes them sound like little animals, or the name of one of Santa’s reindeers.”

“Reindeer(s?)”

Now, there’s another plural to conjure with.

18 comments:

  1. Vaxen sounds like a foxy lady of a computer Tasker.

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    1. I've heard of bugs in computers, but never Foxen.

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  2. Lol. I think I would like your wife very much. What a hoot!

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    1. The art of the disparaging put-down. I can imagine you talking to Tim in a similar way.

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    2. We once went to Washington D.C. What did my husband fixate on? Bricks! My sympathies lie with Mrs D on this one.

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    3. "My husband now claims to have Aspergers Syndrome! High functioning, of course."

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  3. That was interesting, you waxen' about Vaxen.

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  4. Your wife has a lovely sense of fun and she is quite right of course who wants a barn full of old computers.

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    1. Quite mistaken. They even have the Cray that was used for weather forecasting. It is as big as a delivery van.

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  5. The weetabixen had me in stitches!
    I love old office equipment. When I see electric (or even electronic!) typewriters and yellowing computer keyboards and box-shaped computer screens, I go all nostalgic and remember the days when I started out at Librarain School and working at the library. Oh to be 18 again! (Actually, not really. I am well and happy at 55.)

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    1. There is something very German about that plural. The only real one that comes to mind is oxen.
      Jim was a computer professor at York. He now suffers from severe Parkinsons, so I am not sure if the collection is still open to visitors. But the web pages are worth a browse.

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  6. I look at the stuff we have now - laptops, tablets and this Dell P.C. in front of me. I guess that there will come a day when they will seem peculiarly antiquated - resigned to Fimber near Fridaythorpe where geeks not yet born will pore over them, trembling with excitement... unless of course a multitude of pressures cause the world as we know it to cave in.

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    1. You might be right on that last point. The Fimber collection is specialist rather than domestic, and few will be familiar with it at all. I wonder what will happen to it. It takes up a large amount of space and must cost a lot to look after it. Jim has been trying for years to permanently re-home it. It would be a pity if it all went for scrap.

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    2. I wonder which pretentious twerp at DEC came up with "Vaxen".

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  7. Oh I DO like the sound of your wife!

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    1. She is wonderful. Are you as much of a handful, too?

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