DELTA's Early History

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Author's note:

This document was originally an appendix to the "unofficial history" of DELTA that I wrote in the summer of 1980. As I was writing down my own memories, I realized that I knew very little of what had happened before I became involved in the project. So I did a bit of research, in which I obtained some records of Delta's earliest days from Teresa Green (then at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania) and from the DSAA. This paper, written in August 1980, is based largely on that documentary record. Because of that, it underplays the role of Mrs. Green, the founder, who was Delta to many people involved in those days, but who played down her personal role in her reports to DSAA.

The establishment of the Delta Web site and list server in 1998 prompted an outpouring of memories from many of DELTA's earliest veterans. It is my intention to draw on this material to supplement the history of DELTA in a future work. In addition, Mrs. Green is writing a memoir of her involvement with the project, which will stand by itself as a valuable part of the historical record.

Read it and remember.

Alan Flippen
New York, NY
May 7, 1998

This is a brief history of Project Delta from its conception in the mid-60s until the end of 1976. My sources for this are as follows:

In 1965, the Delaware School Auxiliary Association [Ed. - A charitable group funded mainly by du Pont family money] became interest in the subject of Computer Education. Its feeling was that in the years to come, computers were going to become increasingly important and that an effort should be made to educate high-school students in the basics of computing. Over the next three years (1966 through 1969), a trial project was instituted in several secondary schools in Delaware. Because the "state of the art" was the FORTRAN language and punched cards/batch processing at the time, that is how the students accessed the machine. This obviously presented problems because of the comparative difficulty of FORTRAN and the inconvenience of batch-oriented processing for students. However, the project was successful enough for the DSAA to consider expansion of the program to the entire state.

In 1969, a project was started with 20 schools and support from the University of Delaware's Computer Science and Education departments and the University of Delaware Computing Center (UDCC). Unlike the previous three-year program, this project was implemented on an IBM 1130 system with timesharing capabilities and the BASIC language. After the first year, a survey was made of those teachers and others who had been involved with the DSAA project. The survey results were inconclusive; the general feeling was that the project should continue but there were differing ideas on its usefulness and possibilities. During the fall of 1970, the University permitted the schools that had been participating in the DSAA project to access the Burroughs B5500 system while the future of the project was being decided. The main problems facing the project at this time were the high cost per student of the B5500 system, the general lack of computer science courses for teachers, especially non-math teachers, and the lack of knowledge of computer possibilities among non-math and science teachers.

In order to resolve these problems, DSAA revamped the project, which was renamed "Project DELTA" [Ed. - The name stood for DELaware's Total Approach to computing, according to Mrs. Green], and purchased a PDP-8L with the Edusystem-20 operating system. This machine was installed in February 1971 and all the schools were transferred to it. The Edusystem-20 supported timesharing and the BASIC language, and was somewhat similar to an experimental operating system then being developed for the PDP-11 by DEC, called "RSTS-11." DSAA purchased a PDP-11/20 with RK05 disk packs from DEC in the summer of 1971, and began running this machine that fall with the RSTS-11 (version 3) operating system.

The Delta system was run by high school students during its first few years. All students were volunteers who had attended a course given by Dr. David Robinson of the University's Electrical Engineering Department. For these students, the Delta experience was quite rewarding; some, such as Clark Baker, went on to study at MIT and other good schools. In the meantime, Delta was well served by these students, who could fix almost any software problem with the system. A system of "contact students" evolved: these were students who had the responsibility of coordinating computing activities at their high schools and who served as liaison between the high schools and Delta. During this period, Delta was one of the major users of RSTS in the country; its programs were in an early (circa 1973) DECUS RSTS library, and a Delta-written program (RESEQ, by Clark Baker) was even distributed nationally by DEC with a release of RSTS-11.

All this activity attracted the interest of the University's Electrical Engineering Department. During 1973, several students in the EE department became involved with Delta; chief among these was Dan Grim. This staff complemented the high school students involved with Delta. At the same time, Dr. Robinson proposed that Delta be continued for three years (until 1976) within the Electrical Engineering Department. In the fall of 1973, a PDP-11/50 system was obtained to replace the 11/20 then in use. This was installed and operations switched over to it. The 11/50 was located in room 360 DuPont Hall.

Over the next three years, Delta was used as a research tool in the EE department, as well as by its member schools. For three reasons, a group of four graduate students (Dan Grim, Eric Nystrom, Rick Burchnall and Joe Mattioni) undertook a project to implement a transparent network system on Delta as their master's and Ph.D. thesis projects.

During the last two years of the EE-sponsored project (1974-75 and 1975-76), development was done on this project. For the full description of the efforts and results of the network-operating-system project, see the these submitted by these four graduate students. [Ed. - I found versions of these theses on an old backup tape at DELTA and relied on them in writing this history. I hope their authors will make them accessible to DELTA fans and alumni somehow.]

In the meantime, interest in DELTA continued to expand. During the period 1973-1977, several high school students, who would subsequently become paid staff members, became interested and involved in Delta; these included Gary Luckenbaugh, Ron Dozier, Aron Insinga, Walt Mahla and Dave Haislett. In addition to the RSTS V06V operating system development, a few other programs were written as University-sponsored projects; among these were the ECPRESS statistical analysis program, by Clark Baker [Ed. - According to e-mail traffic among DELTA alumni in 1998, the program, modeled after Dartmouth's IMPRESS, was named after Clark and his brother Ed], and the Computer Managed Instruction project, known as CMI, written by Gary Luckenbaugh and funded by a Federal grant obtained by two professors in the College of Education - Nevin Frantz and Ed Boas. In addition, the tradition of Delta staff rewriting system utilities programs to improve their functionality became well established; Don Emerson, an EE student, and Dan Grim were among the most well-known of those who rewrote CUSPs.

After the spring of 1976, the Delta system began to undergo many changes. The group of graduate students who had done the research into networking split up; a prototype of the network system (RSTS V06V) was run in the fall of 1976 for a short time (the PDP 11/20 was moved to Dover and networked to the 11/50 as a multiplexor), but with the release by DEC of their DMC-11 device, which implemented machine-to-machine communications protocol in hardware (the V06V system did the same thing with software), the project was abandoned. Meanwhile, control of Project Delta was transferred to the Education Department.

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