Computer Science and Word Processing: 1984 - 1994
In addition to his work with The Mechanical Bride, Professor Ted Thiesmeyer was also integral to implementing word processing at the Colleges.
In 1982, the Colleges began purchasing TRS-80 microcomputers for administrative word processing. Thiesmeyer wrote an instruction manual and ran workshops to teach the college staff how to use them. He also created software programs to help the staff clean their disk drives, and developed a suit of programs called Editor to assist in word processing.
Thiesmeyer's work, and an increasing demand from faculty, inspired the Colleges to install a word processing lab in Williams Hall during the summer of 1984. It included TRS-80 word processors and printers. Thiesmeyer gave tours of the lab during Parents' Weekend in 1984.
Among the first students to use word processing were those in the Honors program, who used it to type their final papers in 1984. The Herald wrote, "Who wouldn't want a machine that would, at a touch, move a paragraph from one part of a paper to another, insert words without making it necessary to retype a page, flag misspellings - and do so tirelessly, unceasingly?"
Previously, students had used typewriters. In fact, when the library was built less than ten years prior, group study room 270 had been a designated typing space, in order to protect the other patrons from the noise of clacking keys.
The Writing Annex
In 1985, Beverly Ilacqua, the Director of Academic Secretarial Services, was made Director of Word Processing. She oversaw the lab and trained student monitors.
The Williams Hall lab was soon called the Writing Annex, and by early 1986, it had 31 TRS-80 microcomputers, a dot matrix printer, and a laser printer. The student monitor staff had recently been doubled to handle the increased use. There were also 4 computers in the Blackwell Room for Honors students to use.
During the summer of 1986, Gulick Hall was completely renovated and a second location for the Writing Annex was created. 24 new word processing computers were added, almost doubling the number of units available for students. In addition, the Writing Center staff offices were moved nearby. The offices included two computers with the ability to write in French, German, Spanish, Russian, and Hebrew.
The lab in Williams Hall was initially open to Freshmen only, as there were Freshman courses requiring greater use of computers, and Williams had 14 more available. Ilacqua was pleased with the expansion, and was quoted in the Herald as saying that "She expects the freshmen and the upperclassmen to use the word processors to type papers for all their courses."
In 1989, the Herald's guide for incoming Freshman wrote, "Today it is the 'in' thing to use the word processors where the paper is free and the machines are easy to use." It was also a "little known fact that it is the best place to meet members of the opposite sex."
The introduction of word processing brought all of the benefits and problems associated with new technology. Students lost parts of their papers due to improper disk handling, power outages, and other issues.
In April 1987, a Hobart student wrote to the Herald critiquing the quality of the computers, the software, and the student TA's. The "Trash-80" computers were "the worst on the market," the TA's were "clueless as to the reason why so many students lose their essays," and the software created by Professor Thiesmeyer "was poorly written." He also had heard that one of the computers had "played Pac-Man" with a student's paper by "sending a huge 'K' across the screen eating up each line of the document one by one."
A rebuttal from the head TA's of the Writing Annex appeared in the following issue of the Herald. In it they argued that the TRS-80s were durable and easy to use, the TA's were highly-trained, and that when papers were lost, it was the user's fault 99 out of 100 times. They were also vigorous in their defense of Professor Thiesmeyer, who they said was "renowned in his field of computer science," and that his program "is viewed by many in the field of computer technology as 'state of the art.'" As for the huge K eating a paper, that had been a malicious program created by another student.
They wrote that "On a weekly basis, the Annexes are occuppied by over half the student body." They also argued that "with greater use comes greater knowledge, in turn, less difficulties."
Renovations and Expansions
In 1990 Gulick Hall underwent major renovations, and the computers were moved to the third-floor greenhouse area of the library. This area was enclosed at the time, and had been previously used as a smoking lounge.
When the renovations were complete in 1991, the Colleges printed a guide to "Computer Facilities and Computing Services" which provides a detailed snapshot of what was available across campus at the time.
Academic Computer System
In Williams Hall, the PDP 11/40 had been replaced with a VAX 6000-510 super minicomputer. It ran the VMS operating system and included "laser printers, a line printer, a plotting and graphics system, and magnetic tape and disk storage."
Users accessed the computer via 70 terminals located in Williams, Lansing, Smith, Eaton, and Trinity Halls, as well as the Warren Hunting Smith Library.
Microcomputer Laboratory Facilities
- McClean Microcomputing Laboratory (Gulick Hall)
- 53 IBM PS/2 Model 25 computers, 1 MAC LC computer, 2 laser printers, 1 dot matrix printer, and 1 Laser-Writer IINT printer.
- Word processing.
- Microcomputing Classroom (Gulick Hall)
- 31 Gateway 386 computers networked to the VAX, 1 laser printer, and 1 dot matrix printer.
- Open to students when class was not in session.
- WHS Library
- 12 IBM PS/2 Model 25 computers.
- Honors Lab (Demarest Hall)
- 5 IBM PS/2 Model 286 computers and a laser printer.
- Open 24 hours.
- Mathematics Macintosh Laboratory (Lansing Hall)
- 16 Macintosh IIsi computers networked via a MAC SE30 file server and three dot matrix printers.
- No word processing. Math and computer science courses only.
The Colleges also had purchasing agreements with Apple, IBM, and Zenith allowing students to purchase their own microcomputers "at a substantial discount" through Beverly Ilacqua and the College Store.
In 1990 the Warren Hunting Smith library transferred their holdings from the old card catalog to the online MultiLis system. The MultiLis catalog was held on the VAX computer and patrons could access it and search for materials from any connected terminal.
In the fall of 1984, the Colleges first offered a major in Computer Science.
The curriculum consisted of "ten computer courses, plus four cognate courses in mathematics." The ten computer science courses were: Programming I & II, Assembler Language, Data Structures, Discrete Structures, Computer Graphics, Numerical Analysis, Program Translators, Analysis of Algorithms, and Automata Theory.
According the HWS Catalog, “The major in computer science has a theoretical emphasis after the introductory programming courses and is designed to provide the student with the conceptual basis for understanding the rapid changes occurring in the field. It also offers a strong preparation for those students wishing to do graduate work in computer science. Such areas as automata theory, computational complexity, algorithmic analysis, and language translators are emphasized, rather than business applications and information retrieval systems.”
With a computer science major in place, student activities involving computer science began to appear. The Hobart and William Smith Computer Science Programming Team, also known as the HWS Hackers, began in the late 1980s. They worked primarily with Prof. John Vaugh and competed in several competitions.
In September 1987, the Mathematics and Computer Science Department began publishing a newsletter called The Gradient. It contained deparment news, articles written by faculty and students, and letters from alumni and alumnae.
In 1991, sophomore Charles B. Rutstein published his book Computer Viruses: An Executives Guide through the National Computer Security Association (NCSA). The project had begun as a class project when Rutstein was a freshman. He was encouraged to turn the paper into a book by Dr. David Stang of the NCSA.
In November 1991, Rutstein was invited to speak at the First International Anti-Virus Developers Conference in Washington DC.
As microcomputers spread, offices began using them all over campus. Career Counceling obtained a Guidance Informations System in 1988 which had electronic data files on occupations, graduate schools, financial aid, and job postings.
The Herald frequently contained advertisements for personal computers, and display models were often set up in the bookstore. One promotion by the company Zenith offered a free bicycle with the purchase of a computer.
The Mind's Eye
In 1993, the films The Mind's Eye and Beyond the Mind's Eye were shown in Albright Auditorium as part of Folk Fest. The films were compilations of computer animated scenes set to music. Beyond the Mind's Eye featured music by Jan Hammer, who was famous for writing the theme to Miami Vice. Rob Morton wrote in the Herald, "The music works well with the groovy images which range from a landscape of computer flora to weird geometric M.C. Escher-esque constructions."
In 1995, The Film Society screened the third film in the series, The Gate to the Mind's Eye. The Herald wrote, "The Gate is the wave of the future. This cybertech fantasy features the most spectacular details, spellbinding 3-D, astounding imagery, and mesmerizing effects of any film to date."
All three films can be found on YouTube.
In the early 1990s, computers were integrated into the registration process. One student in 1991, who was stressed about getting into a class, was told by his adviser, "If the computer likes you today then you might get in." The student wrote in the Herald, "When I got to the computer, the man put in the codes of the classes I wanted and the reply for both was CLOSED. I guess the computer didn't like me that day."