CELEBRATING 50 Years of Computing @ CERN

Punch card from a typical Fortran program.

Punch card from a typical Fortran program. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was the ‘nostalgia’ of English operators that set in motion last year what resulted in three reunions on Friday and Saturday:

  1. a visit to building 513 which was built for the CDC 7600 in 1972 and now houses a ‘farm’ of 9,000 servers – a few of us – guided by Frederic Hemmer – Head of the IT Department – the coverage in CERN’s weekly bulletin – showing me as the only woman invited…
  2. an evening cocktail in the VIP suite of the main canteen – another

    ‘Accelerating Science’ viewed from the canteen

    constellation of ‘oldies’ who had left or where still at CERN – operators and programmers in what used to be DD Division

  3. a whole day in a ‘salle communale’ in one of the French villages near CERN – with ‘everybody’.

When I got the phone call by the former boss of the Operations Group, Neil Spoonley, I was very excited, especially since it turned out to be a favour as not being directly connected to the Operations Group. Here’s Neil’s EXCELLENT recollection of Computer Operations at CERN: 1962 – 1970. Here’s how the current IT Department publishes the History of Computing at CERN.

Only yesterday did I learn about the historic milestones that led me to finding mistakes in FORTRAN programmes for Nobel prize winners like Georges Charpak, Carlo Rubbia and Jack Steinberger:

  • the computers that were at CERN before the IBM 7094 that I got to know at the German Computer Centre in Darmstadt where I had learned its machine language as well as FORTRAN
  • the operators who were sent to a whole bunch of places (incl. German Computer Centre Darmstadt) to process CERN jobs over the weekend – and their remarkable experiences on the borders
  • the photo on my application that apparently ‘did it’ – besides ticking all the boxes of requirements – to deliver a computer SERVICE to physicists as USERS
  • women were not allowed to become operators because they had to work shifts, but they were allowed as programmers and analysts
  • the unorthodoxy with which Computing became the completely indispensable service for physicists to pursue their research
  • the history of the CERN – Berkeley exchanges that I was privileged to benefit from – unfortunately with the result of falling off freeway 101, because Arnold Staude had fallen asleep on the steering wheel, after he had given a talk at CALTECH; he was going to drop me off in Berkeley, but  that’s how 40 years of chronic pain began…
  • however, it was this pain that led me to create software lenses as new instruments of investigation – in the spirit of Humboldtian science!

Thanks to the generosity of Pierre Bénassi, I am staying in a wonderful home. Thanks to Dave Underhill, Henk Slettenhaar, Neil Spoonley, Eric Macintosh and Ben Segal I was NOT forgotten and felt really at home!

Here are three historic videos produced by Henk Slettenhaar:


And now our visit to the Computer Centre:

Here’s the report of the local paper:

13 05 13 Samedi 27 avril

And here some photos of this ‘reunion of souvenirs’:


About Sabine Kurjo McNeill

I'm a mathematician and system analyst formerly at CERN in Geneva and became an event organiser, software designer, independent web publisher and online promoter of Open Justice. My most significant scientific contribution is www.smartknowledge.space
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14 Responses to CELEBRATING 50 Years of Computing @ CERN

  1. flyingbinary says:

    Hello CERN from the data scientists in Tech City at the pilot event for “Data Volunteering”.
    We hope you have had a great weekend exploring memories and changes since you were all last together. We would like to recognise your efforts which have led to us all today doing what we are doing to build out the next innovations in Web Science.

  2. Many thanks, Jacqui et al!!!

    One of the best conversations I had was with long lost friend BEN SEGAL who told me that he met his wife thanks to one of the workshops I used to organise after my accident…

    That’s how I learned about ‘data volunteering’ and ‘citizens cyberscience’ as another version of ‘data science’ and ‘web science’!…

    What a connectable world!

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  12. Deep thinking – adds a new dimension to it all.

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