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Issue No 1, QMC
The Computer Board purchased PERQ systems for installation in universities and arranged a support centre at Queen Mary College, London.
- Bulk Purchase Arrangements and Role of QMC
- Introduction to the PERQ System
- Applications Software
- Connection of Peripherals
- SWURCC PERQ Public Domain Software Distribution Project
- Error Reporting
- ICL Documents
- PERQ User Group Meeting
- SERC Common Base Policy
- The PERQ Goes Sailing
- Appendix 1 - List of Computer Board Sites and Contacts
This newsletter is produced on an ICL 7700 Information Processing System and printed by the Computer Centre Reprographics Unit.
Editor: Mohammed Huq
Typist: Deborah Rodrigues
Articles and correspondence for publication are always welcome and should be addressed to:
The PERQ Newsletter Editor
Queen Mary College
Mile End Road,
London E1 4NS.
Why QMC? The slightly facetious answer is that London University was one of the few able to pass an order for £555000 of PERQs through to final payment within a few days. The more satisfying answer is that QMC already has a well established national role (the DAP service) and strong links with ICL. My own reason for accepting the 1ead site task is that the PERQ, being the host for the proposed mini-DAP, is an important extension of our DAP work.
Why the PERQ? Single user systems of the capabilities of the PERQ are the personal computer for the serious researcher. They seem to me to be one of the inevitable trends in computing. The PERQ is (probably) the world leader at present. I am very grateful that the Computer Board has made it possible for my Centre to become involved in this trend. (Or, in other words, to jump on the band wagon!). We already support the systems and users on equipment we operate, and our local users on remote services; now we are to extend our function by supporting the systems and users on their own equipment, a change begun with microprocessors.
Why the Common Base? The SERC have already seen the economics of limiting the range of single user systems hardware and software that has to be supported. Indeed without a limit the task would be impossible. I believe it makes sense for the policy to be applied across all single user systems in universities that are to receive any support at all from the local computing service. I expect the base will need widening to take account of the needs of users who are not scientists or engineers.
Why me? I have been appointed the Computer Board representative on the SERC's Single User Systems Steering Group. Through that body I am seeking collaborative arrangements for support of single user systems (initially PERQs) by university computing services however the systems are funded. Such arrangements have to be to the mutual advantage of all parties, and primarily must benefit the users.
Jeremy Brandon Director
BULK PURCHASE ARRANGEMENTS AND ROLE OF QMC
At their September meeting the Computer Board for Universities and Research Councils accepted an offer from ICL of 50 PERQ workstations at a considerably reduced price. The initial 30 workstations have already been delivered to university computing centres. The PERQs have been provided so that in a university where PERQs are purchased, or provided by the SERC, the computing service is able to supply support services for networking, programmming advice and assistance, co-ordination of software development and co-ordination of a library of available software, and so that a PERQ is available to potential users in academic departments for assessment and development of applications.
ICL have also agreed to permit universities and polytechnics to purchase PERQ workstations for academic departments at the discounted rate, until 31st March 1983, when they will review the situation and reserve the right to modify the terms.
Queen Mary College holds the contract for the purchase, delivery and installation of 30 PERQs and the primary software licences for the PERQ Operating System (PQOS) and the Pascal and Fortran 77 compilers. It has also been asked to act as a focus for the exchange of information between the universities concerned and ICL. The other university sites have their own maintenance contracts and secondary software licences; the distribution of the contractual software is via QMC as primary licence holder. The initial software has now been distributed.
At QMC, various staff in the Computer Centre have been assigned responsibilities in the project, and all other sites have been asked to nominate a member of staff to act as a contact point for PERQ correspondence. The people at QMC who are associated with the PERQ project are:
|PERQ project co-ordinator||Dr. Heather Liddell||616|
|Error reporting||Ms. Kate Gross||742|
|User support||Mr. Parv Nobar||585|
|Operations Support and software distribution||Mr. Malcolm Nurse||582|
|Distribution and documentation||Mr. Mohammed Huq||623|
Information on the availability of other software and the possibility of bulk purchase deals is being gathered; all sites have been asked to send a list of the software they might be interested in having, with an indication of priority. Preliminary discussions with the SERC have been held prior to establishing a collaborative arrangement between the SERC and the Computer Board sites.
A meeting of representatives from the PERQ sites was held in the DAPSU seminar room at QMC on Tuesday 2nd November. Dr. Ken Robinson, the SERC PERQ project manager and Mr. Bob Saunders from ICL took part in that meeting. A report is included elsewhere in this newsletter. The PERQ newsletter will be produced at regular intervals and will include details of the arrangements for further support and items of interest to the university PERQ community. It will be circulated to both SERC and Computer Board PERQ sites. We would welcome articles from other PERQ users - please send contributions to Mohammed Huq.
INTRODUCTION TO THE PERQ SYSTEM
PERQ is a relatively powerful computer but is small enough to be installed at a desk. The PERQ features a high resolution graphics display, a versatile input device, a large main store with supporting backing store, a fast dedicated processor, and straightforward communication with the operating system and between similar computers.
The PERQ is designed for specialists, but not necessarily those with computing experience. They could be engineers, sales managers, architects, physicists, chemists, typesetters and so on. High quality graphics is achieved through the 1024 horizontal lines each of 768 picture elements, which can be black or white enabling successful shading. The display is presented in A4 format, with 75 lines of 85 characters in a usable area of approximately 275mm × 210mm. Together with a standard keyboard, the graphics tablet and its pointing device provide versatility of input. By moving this pointing device over the tablet, any part of the screen may be highlighted and manipulated as required. The pointer may also be used to construct diagrams. The high performance of the graphics is produced by additional hardware instructions (RasterOp).
The main storage consists of 1Mb of randomly accessible store and is supported by a 14in Winchester disc with a capacity of 24Mb. To increase the flexibility of secondary store a floppy disc drive is incorporated which is IBM-compatible using 8" discs with a formatted capacity of O.5Mb to 1Mb. This drive is used for the receipt and exchange of software.
The microprogrammed processor with a microcycle time of 170ns and 256 general purpose registers provides fast and flexible processing.
For communication purpose a standard RS232C interface to which various devices such as printers or plotters can be attached is incorporated. This interface, together with appropriate hardware, can also be used to link one PERQ with another.
PERQ has a general purpose instrumentation bus (GPIB) to which suitably designed instruments and controls can be attached, so that the instruments can be read and adjusted directly, according to the criterion built by the user into the program.
ICL PQOS is the operating system currently available. This includes the basic operating system, shell command interpreter, 44 general purpose utilities, file system, text editor and user-accessible operating system interfaces.
There are three compilers available at present - Pascal, Fortran 77 and BCPL. The version of Pascal available is an upward-compatible extension of the programming language defined in "Pascal User Manual and Report", Jensen and Wirth 1974. The Fortran 77 is to ANS1 X3.9 standards with the exception of double precision and related functions which should be available shortly. The BCPL compiler has been mounted on PERQ by the University of Bath and is currently available direct from the University.
Pre-release versions of the microcoded UNIX will be sent to a number of sites during November 1982. These pre-release versions will not include 'window manager' or virtual memory. The first release, planned for January 1983, will include these features, together with a FORTRAN 77 compiler. The first Pascal compiler available under UNIX is expected in April 1983.
Microcoded UNIX is to be the SERC recommended version. An ACCENT/UNIX is also being developed which is expected to have some advantages over microcoded UNIX. This will be compatible with microcoded UNIX for all user applications. It is expected that most university sites will want to change to the UNIX operating system when it is available, in line with the SERC Common Base policy and a case for a bulk purchase arrangement will be put to the Computer Board. SERC have sent a letter to all their PERQ users informing them about this development.
The following items of software are either currently available or on pre-release under the PQOS operating system (the list is in an approximate priority order):
- Pre-release versions are now being tested. This will be available from ICL.
- Pre-release versions are being tested. This will be available from ICL.
- TRUST USER LIBRARY
- Will either be available from ICL at nominal cost, or distributed by SWURCC with other 'public domain' software. (See article in this newsletter).
- A draughting and design package written by Pafec Ltd. Alpa have implemented it under PQOS, but Pafec Ltd will probably do the UNIX implementation. (Commercial cost about £12000).
- A drawing package. It is being rewritten and incorporated into a bigger package by Carnegie Mellon and ICL. Current version may be made available at nominal cost.
- Very large scale integrated circuit design package written by Ian Page at QMC. Marketing rights are under negotiation.
- Molecule display package - available from ICL at nominal cost.
- Econometric analysis package - arrangements for distribution not yet known.
- Available from Bradford University Research Ltd. (Commercial cost about at1000; special arrangements for educational establishments).
- An advanced computer graphics system available from Ove Arup and Partners. (Commercial cost about £7600; special arrangements for educational establishments).
The following software is either under development or planned for implementation in the near future:
- NAG FORTRAN LIBRARY
- To be implemented by NAG Ltd. It should be available early in the new year.
- GLIM II
- To be implemented by NAG Ltd., after the NAG library.
- To be implemented by NAG Ltd.
- Will be implemented under UNIX by Pafec Ltd., but will not be available before April 1983.
- Will probably be implemented by Logica Ltd.
- Being implemented at a University site.
- Various implementations may be available.
Many of the packages included in the above lists will be made available under UNIX once the latter is available for testing the implementations. Bulk purchase arrangements will be negotiated for GINO-F, GRAFIKS, NAG, GLIM, PAFEC, and any other items of general interest.
(The above information represents the state of our current knowledge of the applications software availability - further information from PERQ users would be welcomed).
CONNECTION OF PERIPHERALS
ICL have been asked to provide information about the availability of printers and hard copy devices suitable for the PERQ. Provided a printer has an RS232 interface it can be used with a direct connection line - the busy line must be attached to pin 5 on the PERQ end of the cable. A new PERQ User Manual is scheduled to be available in January which will include an appendix on connections. An 'Optional Peripherals' manual is also being written.
SWURCC PERQ PUBLIC DOMAIN SOFTWARE DISTRIBUTION PROJECT
The Microsystems Software Unit at SWURCC is acting as a focus for distribution of public domain software for the PERQ nationally to UK universities. They already distribute UCSD Pascal and Unix based software, and where appropriate will be distributing this software for the PERQ.
They have identified the following software which is available in the public domain for educational usage:
- The SWURCC UCSD p-system Unix Subsystem.
- Other Unix based software tools.
- The Kernigan and Plauger Software Tools in Ratfor.
- Pascal Software Tools.
- The French SOL Project software: this is a Unix system rewrite in Pascal which they are planning to put on the PERQ.
- The SPICE Project software from Carnegie Mellon University in the USA. This is a research project concerned with constructing a Scientific Personal Integrated Computing Environment.
- Trust Library Software - this unsupported software is available to PERQ sites from Three Rivers/ICL.
- Other software developed in the UK which is contributed to us for distribution.
They hope eventually to distribute software over public networks to which universities have access e.g. PSS, but in the short term will be using 9 track magnetic tape with portable Pascal transfer software to run on university mainframes and the PERQ where appropriate. Tapes will be in three formats - ICL, IBM, and Unix; they anticipate this will cater for most requirements. To a lesser extent they will consider using floppy discs for transfer.
They have said they will be happy to hear from anyone wishing to contribute software for the distribution project and further news of the project will be announced in the appropriate newsletters: ICL Scientific User Group, later editions of QMC PERQ News and SWURCC Microprocessor Software Quarterly.
The person in charge of the PERQ Software Distribution Project is
Perq Software Distribution
Microsystems Software Unit
University of Bath
Bath BA2 7AY.
Hardware Faults should be reported by telephone to your nearest ICL Customer Service desk, quoting your site code and name. You will be given a reference number for the fault which you can use in further correspondence. When reporting a fault do try and give the Service Desk as much information as possible e.g. which component is at fault (use the digital display system and software reference manual), whether the fault is intermittent or continuous and the effect on your PERQ service, etc.
Software faults/bugs should be reported to your local Customer Service Desk, but if you are uncertain if your problem is really a bug then please contact us and we will try to help. 'Bug report' forms will be sent out to all sites as soon as they are available with instructions on how to fill them in. The completed form should be sent to the Service Desk together with appropriate evidence, once you have decided that your problem is a software bug.
As part of our lead site responsibilities we would like to be informed of all software faults/problems and therefore ask that you send us a copy of each bug report sent to ICL, and also a copy of the response received in answer to the bug. This will enable us to co-ordinate software fault reporting and circulate details of problems and available fixes to all sites.
A list of ICL Customer Service Desks is appended to this Newsletter.
At present, the full list of ICL documents available for the PERQ is as follows:
- RP 10100
- Introduction to PERQ (price £2.00) A description of the PERQ hardware and its use with the PERQ Operating System (PQOS)
- System Software Reference (price £14.50) Gives full details of how to use the software issued in the PQOS set.
- Installation Guide (price £1.00)
- User Guide (Test Software) (price £2.00) Explains how to use Release 2 of PERQ confidence test software in order to test certain hardware functions. The document describes how to load and run the tests and the results to expect. Contrary to the title, the manual is really only suitable for system engineers.
- Pascal Guide (price £2.00) Describes the use of Pascal software which is available as an option with the PERQ system running under PQOS. It details the PERQ extensions made to the Pascal programming language to support the construction of large systems programs.
- Modifying the Microcode (price £2.00) Describes the facilities of the PERQ microprogrammed processor to enable users to modify the microcode to suit specific requirements. It is a reference document intended for experienced programmers which assumes users have detailed knowledge of the PERQ system and are familiar with microprogramming techniques.
- RP 10108
- Fortran 77 (price £8.00) A description of the Fortran 77 language available for use with the PERQ operating system. It is a reference publication primarily intended for users with previous experience of Fortran programming.
- PERQ GRAFIKS Reference Manual (price £10.00) Gives a list and specifications of all the routines in the GRAFIKS system together with examples and possible error messages. There is also a summary of the resources of GRAFIKS, details of the program modules that contain the procedures, and of the fonts being made available with GRAFIKS.
- User Notes For The CADCAM Demonstration Problems (Price £2.00)
- PERQ Simpleplot User Guide (price £13.00)
Copies of Introduction to PERQ, System Software Reference, Modifying the Microcode and Installation Guide should have been sent with the PERQs and all sites should already have received or be about to receive these. Further copies of all the above documents can be ordered from U.K. Software & Literature Distribution Centre, 60 Portman Road, Reading, RG3 1NR (Tel. (0734) 595711).
The following documents are in preparation at the moment:
- Guide to PNX (PERQ Unix)
- Unix Programmer's Manual (3 volumes)
- Revised PERQ User's Manual
- Optional Peripherals Manual.
PERQ USER GROUP MEETING
On Tuesday 2nd November 1982, the first PERQ User Group Meeting was held at the DAP Support Unit at QMC. Representatives from most of the Computer Board sites were present and the speakers included Dr. Ken Robinson, the SERC PERQ project manager, Cornelia Boldyreff from SWURCC and Mr. Bob Saunders from ICL. Topics discussed at the meeting included the purchase arrangements for the Computer Board PERQs, the role of QMC as the lead site, software availability, public domain software and proposals for the SERC Common Base Policy. There are separate articles on these subjects elsewhere in the Newsletter.
Collaboration was a key word at the meeting. There was talk of SERC cooperating with the universities with possible areas being the Common Base Policy itself, providing good user documentation for all, holding joint courses for the education of users etc. These were merely suggestions and it was pointed out that further discussions would be required to decide the level of collaboration if users felt that such co-operation would be a good idea. There was mixed reaction to this with some representatives being sceptical. However, the overall feeling was that such a policy was a good goal for which to aim. There was also talk of possible collaboration with ICL over some projects.
The meeting was asked whether it felt that such gatherings were useful for exchanging ideas and for airing problems and whether they should be held regularly. In the end it was decided to hold them at intervals of approximately 3 months.
Jeremy Brandon closed a lively meeting by thanking the speakers and everyone else who took part.
SERC COMMON BASE POLICY
The emergence of cheap high powered single user computer systems with good interactive capabilities and a standard communications interface heralds a completely new way for many research workers to achieve the major part of their computing requirements.
Within the next few years, many such systems will be available from different manufacturers. Consequently there is a danger of a variety of machines being employed in academic research, many of which are likely to have inadequate and incompatible systems software, leading to a dissipation of resources and considerable duplication of basic software development.
SERC sees a need for a coordinated plan to ensure that the academic community makes the best use of the resources available to it, especially its limited manpower. The Council has therefore decided on a policy of creating a common hardware and software base to act as a nucleus for future developments in single user workstation practice. Initially, the common software base will be Pascal, FORTRAN, GKS and the NAG Library running under the Unix operating system implemented on the common hardware base of PERQ single user computers, linked locally by Cambridge Rings and nationally by the X-25 wide-area computer network. The PERQ will be joined by other machines as new products become available.
To assist in the implementation of this policy a small support team has been formed at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory whose role is to ensure that the systems software provided on the chosen machine types is satisfactory and to encourage the development of applications software through arrangements analogous to those of the ICF's Special Interest Groups. SERC's Boards and committees will consider grant applications involving requests for single user computers in the normal way. If the scientific programme is approved, the application will be referred to the support team who will arrange the supply of a machine to the applicant. All purchases will come from Board or committee funds but the single point of procurement will enable bulk orders to be placed so that discounts and reductions in delivery times can be obtained.
The whole academic community, not just computer science interests, is a major user and developer of software. The ease with which software can be developed and the extent to which it is easily interchangeable between machines can have a significant effect, therefore, on scientific productivity. The SERC believes that the programme it has initiated for single user machines will provide a way of removing many constraints on research output. Computing resources will be available locally with much greater freedom of access. Person to person and computer to computer links will be easier to establish and the prospects for collaboration and coordination improved. Commonality of hardware and software will maximise the opportunities for co-operation. A framework will be created in which software skills can be exploited, information on tools and techniques disseminated, and software made available in forms which can readily be adopted by the widest possible spectrum of users.
PERQ, and the new departure it represents, provides the incentive for creating a common hardware and software base in which the best of the existing tools, packages and techniques will be brought together in an overall framework, the effectiveness of which will be much greater than the sum of the individual elements. Work will be required in universities and at RAL to move existing software into the common base which will be complemented by selective purchasing and, in due course, by the direct results of research projects using the common base equipment.
The strategy which SERC is intending to pursue in distributed interactive computing is more than just a mechanism for standardising on one or two machine types. Its feasibility and timeliness are intimately related to a number of contemporary developments in computing.
The widespread availability of networks make common access possible to special tools or facilities which can be provided only on a limited number of sites.
The pace of technological development means that over the next few years the cost of single user systems will diminish while their quality and capability will increase. Today's PERQ is therefore seen as only the first machine in the common hardware base.
(Reproduced with kind permission from SERC Bulletin Vol. 2 No.4)
THE PERQ GOES SAILING
Part of the preparations being made for the challenge for the America's Cup in 1983 by the Victory Syndicate - and for the first time by a British team _ involves the use of a computer for the analysis and evaluation of sailing performance.
The new 12 Metre yacht, 'Victory', built by the Syndicate has on board a microprocessor based instrument system. This takes information from wind and boat speed sensors and from electronic navigational instruments, does some calculations to find the real wind speed and direction, position, leeway etc., then distributes the data to digital displays placed at strategic positions throughout the boat. All of this information is also transmitted to the yacht's tender (a 43 ft motor boat) where it is run straight into an ICL PERQ computer via an RS232 interface. The data is displayed as graphs on the screen of the PERQ and is stored in a database later on it is retrieved and analysed.
This may be the first time that a computer with a hard disc has been placed in such a mobile environment. The unit containing the processor itself, the hard disc and the floppy disc drive is mounted in foam rubber in an aluminium box, the box being gimballed both fore and aft and athwartships in an aluminium frame which is itself mounted on foam rubber. The hard disc is mounted vertically in a fore and aft direction so that the relatively gentle rolling motion of the tender is the one which affects the heads most directly.
Testing of the mounting was approached with a good deal of trepidation. Initially use of the disc was confined to very mild sea conditions, but as it proved able to cope with progressively deteriorating seas so confidence in the disc and the mounting grew. It has now been operated in limit conditions - conditions in which, because of the fine engineering tolerances, it is not safe to sail a 12 Metre boat.
Programs for the system have been written with the aim of making the data, analysis and graphics accessible to the inexperienced user - program control and the selection of options is done almost entirely with the graphics pad and tablet; the keyboard is only used to enter program names, file names and number. In practice this approach has been highly successful. In a seaway it is difficult to type accurately with the boat rolling through forty degrees, but pointing with the tablets is easy. The Syndicate has been pleased with their choice of computer.
At the end of September the whole team moved down to Nassau in the Bahamas for the winter sailing programme. With the computer system fully functional and after the experience of the 1982 summer in Newport, the real work will begin in earnest. By the end of the winter the Victory Syndicate is hoping to know more about what makes a 12 Metre yacht go than anyone else in the competition - including the Americans.
(Article originally written by Dr. G.W. Winn and submitted by Mr. Reg Chamberlain, PERQ Marketing Manager, ICL).
Appendix 1: List of Computer Board Sites and Contacts
The following is a list of the universities which have been given PERQ computers by the Computer Board.
Aston Mr. P. Abbott Bath Prof. John Fitch Bristol Mr. A.M. Chambers Brunel P.F. Coates Cambridge Richard Stobbs Dundee Mr. H. Gall Durham Ken Middleton East Anglia K.L. Woods Edinburgh Jeff Phillips Exeter Helen Blackman Heriot-Watt A.J. McTernan Hull Mr. George Slater Leeds Dr. R.A. Earnshaw Kent Dr. M.A. Oliver Loughborough Richard Tallet Liverpool Mr. E.K. Sharman Nottingham Jim Garrett Queen Mary College Mr. Geoff Cooper Oxford Mr. Charles Curran Reading R.J. Sammons St. Andrews Mr. M. Piotrowicz Salford Chris Cartledge Sheffield Eliot Chiat Stirling Paul Roberts Southampton Mr. A. Schullkims Strathclyde Rod Williams SWURCC Andrew Johnson Warwick Mark Rafter UMRCC Dr. J.D. Rice UWIST Roger Williamson