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Thread: Alpha Micro goes gopher

  1. #1

    Talking Alpha Micro goes gopher

    If you'd like a longer story version, I posted this in long-form with some pictures: https://oldvcr.blogspot.com/2020/09/...pha-micro.html

    I've hacked up a Gopher client into the Alpha Micro. It requires AMOS 2.3A and either AlphaTCP 1.3C or 1.5A, and is written in both assembly (using a hacked version of the AlphaTCP finger client) and AlphaBASIC.

    gopher://gopher.floodgap.com/1/archi...a-micro/gopher

    And why would I do this, other than the fact I like Gopherspace? Because I've also uploaded the Alpha Micro Users' Society Network Library to the Floodgap gopher server, with oodles of free binaries and source code lovingly preserved in their original PPNs.

    gopher://gopher.floodgap.com/1/archive/alpha-micro/amus

    (No Gopher client? Visit https://gopher.floodgap.com/overbite/ to download one, or view it on the proxy: https://gopher.floodgap.com/gopher/g...ve/alpha-micro )

    And, if you want to know more about Alpha Microsystems and these unusual blue-collar computers, the Alpha Micro Phun Machine has been updated as well: http://ampm.floodgap.com/
    I use my C128 because I am an ornery, stubborn, retro grouch. -- Bob Masse
    Various projects and oddities: http://oldvcr.blogspot.com/
    Machine room: http://www.floodgap.com/etc/machines.html

  2. #2

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    This is great.

    I worked with the Alpha Micro for around 7 years or so. Writing vertical applications.

    I never got in to doing assembly, or even the deeper system stuff. The BASIC applications were able to take us as far as we needed to go.

    We never got ethernet nor TCP on our systems, but we did have a thing called "AlphaNET" (I think), which basically let you transfer files serially between machines and, if I recall, execute remote programs. We leveraged that in one of our installations integrating a AM2000 to the master AM3000 with a nightly batch update.

    We had a custom application on the 2000 that drove 2 terminals on each of the operators desks, and also a wall of monitors, all connected to PCs which had a custom program written for them to interpret the data stream from the host. The wall of monitors displayed job statuses for the week. It was a pretty cool system.

    The AMs were simple, but with that simplicity came speed. The AM3000 we had supported 150 users. Not too shabby for a 33MHz 68030.

    Since BASIC was the lingua franca of the day, and BASIC is ostensibly a memory safe language, all of the memory shenanigans and protections were mostly unnecessary. When everything is "well behaved" the you need less protection.

    We also did a lot of work for the Salvation Army. I used Census TIGER files for raw street map data to route SA trucks for donation pickup. (Yes, in BASIC.) SA was very forward thinking on leveraging things like GPS, even back when GPS coverage wasn't 24x7 yet.

  3. #3

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    Yup, AlphaNET's a thing. I haven't used it much myself but I know shops that did. The Salvation Army corps my folks and I attended had a terminal in every office (AM-65 in amber, I remember it well) and an AM-2000 in the back. I remember being flabbergasted it backed up to VCR tape. It used a menu program for local management; did you do any work on that? After church services I was allowed to use one of the terminals which I wrote AlphaBASIC programs on and learned how to dial out to the local university terminal server.

    I like AlphaBASIC a lot, but I have to say for the fast processing tasks this required, assembly really made it shine. And I got to sink my teeth into all those lovely M68 macros on this project. Having only dabbled in it before, programming in assembly on the Alpha Micro turns out to be a real pleasure!
    I use my C128 because I am an ornery, stubborn, retro grouch. -- Bob Masse
    Various projects and oddities: http://oldvcr.blogspot.com/
    Machine room: http://www.floodgap.com/etc/machines.html

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by ClassicHasClass View Post
    Yup, AlphaNET's a thing. I haven't used it much myself but I know shops that did. The Salvation Army corps my folks and I attended had a terminal in every office (AM-65 in amber, I remember it well) and an AM-2000 in the back. I remember being flabbergasted it backed up to VCR tape. It used a menu program for local management; did you do any work on that?
    No, but another system we worked on, speaking of terminals, I don't recall the terminal they had, but they managed to modify them, to use touch screens.

    So, we wrote a system using that to let them classify incoming clothing using the terminals touch screen interface.

    I was curious how well that aged, I always felt it was more work for the worker to use the touch screen (since they had to move their entire arm), but perhaps the simplicity of hitting "big buttons" made up for it all.

  5. #5

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    About when was that?
    I use my C128 because I am an ornery, stubborn, retro grouch. -- Bob Masse
    Various projects and oddities: http://oldvcr.blogspot.com/
    Machine room: http://www.floodgap.com/etc/machines.html

  6. #6

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    Early 90's. Pre-94 I would think.

    The clothes sorting thing was in the Los Angeles center, so was the truck routing system. There were others I think doing other work with the SA that I wasn't involved with.

    The AM world was pretty small, and SA was a large consumer of services, plus they had their own dedicated staff down in Palos Verdes. I think that was more their central IT area for at least So Cal. We worked with a fellow that worked across the different SA organizations nationwide (I don't know quite know how they're all organized, I imagine there's some independence among them).

    But I know I visited the downtown LA location, and once we visited San Diego.

    It wasn't long after that that our company moved away from the AM and on to a Unix based solution.

  7. #7

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    Then it's possible they had it then, since this would have been around 1993. Rancho Palos Verdes is where most of their western territorial administrative offices are. The SA is pretty hierarchical; there's not a great deal of daylight between territories and divisions.

    Thanks for shedding a little light on it. It really was quite an experience with me to learn from.
    I use my C128 because I am an ornery, stubborn, retro grouch. -- Bob Masse
    Various projects and oddities: http://oldvcr.blogspot.com/
    Machine room: http://www.floodgap.com/etc/machines.html

  8. #8

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    Yea, nice to know my memory isn't an utter basket case.

    The routing project was a lot of fun, but I don't think it got adopted. It was definitely cutting edge, and certainly not something you'd think someone would be banging out on a machine like the AM in BASIC.

    We had a viewer tool to show the map areas that I wrote for the PC, to show the roadways and such. I remember cutting the data up in to 64K chunks to fit in to a memory segment for rendering.

    Reverse geocoding is certainly a challenge, parsing addresses. My code was imperfect, but we made do. I was not looking forward to Salt Lake City, their residential addresses are essentially coordinates and unlike most other street addresses.

    One of the most interesting limitations of the system was how much time I had for routing. I asked if I could run the routing job over night, make it more detailed, and they said no.

    The reason they said no is that the routing depended on the number of trucks going out, and the number of trucks going out depended on the drivers. Since the drivers were part of their internal recovery program, there was simply no guarantee who would actually show up in the morning. It was quite possible for the driver to have a set back and not make it in. So, I had to have the routing run in 20 minutes in the morning. Quite the different challenge.

    But we pulled it off. LA was running several trucks and had 500-600 pick ups scheduled per day.

    I know at the time they were looking to try and roll this out to other areas, we just never made it that far.

    We interacted with a couple of guys from the RPV place, I don't know if I'd recognize their names if I heard them. Maybe, as I said it was a small community.

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