[TUHS] Non-US Unix Activities

George Ross gdmr at inf.ed.ac.uk
Sat Apr 8 00:36:53 AEST 2017

(I'm from the Computer Science side of things.  We (CS), AI and CogSci were 
joined together to form Informatics not very long before the fire, so I was 
often in the building but only familiar with parts of it.  I got to know 
Forrest Hill *much* better.)

> Sometime after I had left (I was there from 1989 to 1999 on and off), on
> 7th December 2002, the building burned down due I think to a fire which
> started in the club below it.  I am not sure if the fire spread up the lift
> shaft (which didn't go down below the machine room level).

My understanding is that it wasn't the lift shaft's fault.  There were other 
vertical shafts through the building, and it was one of those which spread 
the fire.  Apparently the fireman who opened it up got quite a surprise.

> The thing which was lost which *actually* mattered was the AI library ...

Yes, that was a real shame.

> I believe (this may not be true and if it is not then I apologise in case
> anyone who was involved reads it) that the AI department was making backups
> but *not* taking them off-site (SB ones to FH & the other way around) at the
> time of the fire.  They *were* putting them in the fire safe though.  The
> fire safe (which wasn't in the machine room as it was absurdly heavy so it
> sat in the back entranceway of the building) fell through the floor, *but
> survived intact*.  So they were lucky.

That's a pretty reasonable summary, and we were indeed, mostly.  And the
firesafe was at the other end of the building from the worst of the fire.
There were a few people, though, who were taking personal backups and
keeping them safely locked up in their desk drawers.  We learned a lot from 
that experience!  (Now we don't even consider Appleton Tower and the 
Informatics Forum, just across the street from each other, to be 
sufficiently far apart, so we mirror everything off-site to KB a couple of 
miles up the road.)

Incidentally, <http://history.dcs.ed.ac.uk/> has a rather unstructured
collection of historical Edinburgh computing stuff, though it is a bit
skewed by where the contributors were originally based.  The CAAD people
were into UNIX quite early IIRC, but we don't have much from that side.

Dragging us back onto list-topic, we were pretty much entirely a Sun site 
at that point.  We (CS) used to do our own thing hardware- and systems-wise, 
but eventually UNIX boxes of various kinds started to appear.  Initially it 
was a VAX 11/750 running 4.2BSD, which I mostly managed, then a Pyramid, a 
Gould (shared with AI and EE), then lots of Suns.  It was economies of 
scale, really: they could sell us stuff cheaper than we could build it 
ourselves.  Now we're mostly Linux on PCs, though with a motley collection 
of other odds and ends hung off.

So I'm mostly an interested listener on this list!
George D M Ross MSc PhD CEng MBCS CITP, University of Edinburgh,
School of Informatics, 10 Crichton Street, Edinburgh, Scotland, EH8 9AB
Mail: gdmr at inf.ed.ac.uk   Voice: 0131 650 5147   Fax: 0131 650 6899
PGP: 1024D/AD758CC5  B91E D430 1E0D 5883 EF6A  426C B676 5C2B AD75 8CC5

The University of Edinburgh is a charitable body, registered in
Scotland, with registration number SC005336.

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