That is the question that one of the blowers in the base of KATIA, our 1967 PDP10-KA was apparently asking itself a couple of weeks ago.
KATIA had been running happily for a couple of months, and when I came in one day, she wasn’t. I tried rebooting her a couple of times, without any luck. With my usual collection of tasty puzzle morsels on my plate, it took me a few days to get around to poor KATIA. It was Friday when I started running diagnostics, and they all passed till it got down to one of the last ones: DAKCB.
DAKCB would fail while trying to test the FDVL instruction: Double precision Floating Point Divide. This was at the end of the day, so since I was scheduled to work half a day Saturday, I could work on it then. That might incite interesting conversations with the Museum Visitors.
After going to my 6:30AM Saturday morning WW meeting, Studying for a test for a while, then taking the test for the highest class Amateur Radio Operator license, and passing, I managed to stagger into work a little after 1PM.
I was assisted by Leda, our Post-Grad Ethnography student, who is trying to figure out why Grown Adults would want to spend their time playing with these ancient computers.
While looking at the machine when it failed DAKCB, we had noticed a couple of things: it had stopped, as in the PC wasn’t changing, but the RUN light was still on! This is a symptom of losing a pulse! In Asynchronous machines like the KA and KI, there is no clock that times the instructions. When you poke the start button, a single pulse is launched into a bunch of logic and delay lines. The little pulses and logic fetch the instruction, examine it to figure out what instruction it is, and wiggle all the logic at the correct time to do whatever that instruction is supposed to do. When it is done doing one instruction, and the RUN light is still on, it will take the pulse coming out of the end of the logic, and put it back in the front, starting the next instruction.
In my Zeal and Enthusiasm, I conned Leda into running the oscilloscope probe for me as we tried to follow this tiny pulse all the way through the logic till it disappeared. Normal trouble shooting practice would be to see the pulse at the beginning, look at the end and not see it, then look somewhere in the middle. We call this a binary search, and it is the fastest way to do this.
Unfortunately I am not sure where the end is, and I certainly don’t know where the middle of this process would be, so we started at the beginning and followed each step till we got to a pulse amplifier at 1F19: we could see the pulse go in, but it didn’t come out! We can just change the module, right?
I did that, and then noticed that the module I had taken out was REALLY warm in my hand, not so hot it burned me, but it shouldn’t have been that hot. Why? Being as how this is an updraft machine, I put my hand above the card cage, and it was nice and toasty warm up there. Where is all the air like is coming out of Bay 2’s cage, keeping all those cards cool? Going back around to the front of the machine, I notice that the blower in the bottom of Bay 1 was not turning, and shut the machine off. Now we know why it quit working!
This is not going to be pretty! Leda and I went down to the basement, and stole a blower from one of the other KA’s we have down there, and installed it. Of course the freight elevator had gotten its tail tied in a knot on Friday and was on strike for better working conditions, so I carried the 30lb awkward thing up the stairs, and managed to get it installed around 5:30PM. We turned on the machine, and luckily this blower was not having an existential crisis, and so it was blowing precious cooling air all through the cards in Bay 1: Yay!
Since we figured that it was probably bad bearings, David took the blower apart to change the bearings, and here is a picture of it sitting on a 2 foot by 3 foot cart:
Looking at the stator of the motor a little closer:
Those wires should not be black! I’m afraid this motor is toast!
I have so far spent about a week trying to get basic instructions to work on KATIA, without a lot of success. What I know so far, is that if I try to run out of fast memory, the ACs that live inside the processor, it REALLY doesn’t work. At a guess, I suspect that the logic receives all zeros for the second instruction. If I disable fast memory, or run in main memory, things work better, but some very simple things don’t work. It will add a constant to an accumulator, but it won’t load a constant into an accumulator. This reduces its usefulness as a computer a little. It is still pretty good as a room heater.
I will try to blog more frequently so you can follow along as we discover what else is wrong with KATIA.