Saturday 3 March 2007

Dave Blizzard e-mail

Dave Blizzard e-mail re the transition to electric typewriters and computer programming:

"The first round (of changes) for the Sun newsroom was to electric IBM Selectrics. I believe it was 1973 or so, in the fall. The first systems we installed were the ECRM scanners that OCRed paper stories typically written using the IBM Selectrics.

My first job, as well as being the offset camera man, was to operate and program these scanners in the basement at King Street West. The first actual computers given to editorial staff were the CSI green computers that were installed after we moved to the King Street East location.

I helped Al Jack and John Webb install the first camera and compugraphic typesetting equipment. Maggie Fowler was in charge of the proof readers and the ECRM OCR scanners. Those beasts required a manual toggle boot using binary switches on the front panel. The CPU was an old Digital equipment PDP-8E.

Wire service was received using paper tape punched on old teletype machines. You were hot if you could read the six-level paper tape directly and then roll up the tapes by hand. The tapes were managed using clothes pins on a clothes line.

Ads were typeset using machines that punched paper tape as well. The ad copy was run through the Compugraphic typesetters at blinding speed of a line a minute. Type fonts were changed by swapping glass grids that got you fired if you dropped too many.

When we installed the CSI system, all machines were proprietary devices using 8-bit Motorola CPUs. The green writers' terminals were called the CSI-105 and the bigger editors' terminals were called the CSI-103. These had a whopping 32k of memory and were managed by a pair of DEC PDP 11s that had, at first, 256 mb of disk for the whole system. Those drives were $50,000 each.

The first remote machines were Radio-Shack 100s that I wrote the "Send" program for remote filing. Photos were transmitted and received using the old CP fax drum scanners.

The next system was the P-Ink system of infamous stability that used exclusively Macs. The stock page system was programmed using software a friend of mine wrote that received daily summaries from the TSE on a Radio Shack computer with 8-inch floppies.

Lunch was always an event, with the entire Comp room vacating to the Domed Stadium bar and consuming as many beers as could be consumed in an hour.

There are still some of the old people around. A few from the Comp room came to the recent reunion party. Remember Gord Cook, aka Cookie? He used to sleep in the camera room and I tripped over him in the dark often. Plus Peter Simpson, Paul Kelly, Nancy Stewart, Pat Strain, Dan Degasperis. I recently found Ken Pratt playing guitar as a busker outside my local LCBO."


  1. Gord Cooke! I'm still tripping over him!

  2. dave: thanks for the chuckle. it's good to know my reputation preceeds me. I hope all is well with you and yours. cookie Ottawa Sun

  3. I stumbled over this blog and was surprised to see my name. Thanks for the memories. I still have a soft spot in my heart for all the comp room guys. Man, those were the days! I still wear the Sun ring that Doug Creighton gave me when I left. Alas, the Sun will never be the same. Currently I am the CEO of the Greater Vancouver Home Builders' Association. Keep in touch. Peter Simpson.