my 1984 desk (small)

My 1984 Desk

I try not to spend much time talking about ye olde timey computing that I lived through, because it quickly becomes boring to all but those who were there, and the future is so much more exciting. But in looking up evidence I had of Tektronix having Ethernet (and Internet connectivity before that), I found a photo of my olde timey Tektronix office desk, and couldn’t resist cataloging how office computing has changed.

It’s October 1984. The original Mac was announced in January. I’ve been working at Tektronix in Beaverton, Oregon for 6 years. On a whim, I took a picture of my office desk.

My 1984 desk
My 1984 desk

If you squint, it looks something like a desk today, but being part of the last century, it has some important differences.

an Ann Arbor serial terminal
an Ann Arbor serial terminal

Notice this computer has no mouse. It isn’t even a computer. It’s an Ann Arbor Smart Terminal, connected via a serial cable to a Dec Vax time-sharing mainframe. I vaguely recall using Vi on this terminal as a really-cool editor, because you could see what you were editing – in contrast to line-oriented editors, which were like having a one-line window into your file. You can see why Vi was so exciting.

If you look closely, you can see the serial cable connected to the terminal, and you can see it running up to the ceiling… held by cable ties.

the serial connector to the terminal
the serial connector to the terminal
Cable-tied serial cable going directly to a port on the mainframe
Cable-tied serial cable going directly to a port on the mainframe

One thing hasn’t changed: having a reference book at hand for the latest programming language.

Kernighan and Richie, 1978 edition
Kernighan and Richie, 1978 edition

Yup, that’s “The C Programming Language“, published 6 years earlier. C was such a cool language, compared to the Pascal and Assembly Language I’d been using a little earlier.

Word Finder - a spelling dictionary
Word Finder – a spelling dictionary

We didn’t have sophisticated spell checkers (and I still cared about spelling correctly) back then, so the book I kept closest to me was a simple spelling dictionary, that showed correct spelling and hyphenation for most words.

Inter-Office Memo envelopes
Inter-Office Memo envelopes

Although we had engineer-to-engineer email as early as 1982, most official communications happened through inter-office paper mail, just as office workers had for ages. Every few years I need to remind myself that one big pitch for the Mac was that you could write memos without a typing pool (!) – at least we didn’t have a typing pool.

Magnetic tapes
Magnetic tapes

If you look closely in the upper-left shelf, you can see three magnetic tape reels. Frankly I don’t remember what I was using mag tape for in 1984, but there they are.

Birthday pink flamingos
Birthday pink flamingos

One thing that hasn’t changed much is birthday celebrations: these pink lawn flamingos would be at home in any 2017 office.

Yes, it's October 1984
Yes, it’s October 1984

Just in case you didn’t believe, you can see the October 1984 calendar on the bulletin-board wall. It looks like it’s between October 5 and October 8.

For those of you familiar with fiscal calendars, you might enjoy seeing a little of what Tektronix’ fiscal calendar looked like in 1984:

Tek fiscal calendar 500
Tek fiscal calendar 500

At that time, Tek’s calendar was very odd: 13 months of 4 weeks each, with a 5-week first month about once every 6 years to keep it from drifting away from the Gregorian calendar. I worked for years at Tek before I found someone who could explain the rules around when that leap-week, as it was called, was inserted. At any rate, I had both the Gregorian calendar and the Tek Fiscal calendar on my desk so I could translate between the two so I didn’t accidentally commit to a major milestone that turned out to be Thanksgiving weekend.

I have another photo, of my desk in 1990 – just 6 years later. It’s surprisingly modern:

My 1990 office desk
My 1990 office desk

It’s July 1990 at Tektronix. I have a modern, mouse-driven Sun Sparc workstation on my desk, networked to everybody else via Ethernet. Civilization… except you can still see an inter-office memo envelope. It is after all, still over 27 years ago.