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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Historical Overview

Welcome to the COREDUMP.COM historical site
maintained by Dr. Flywheel

The world of collaborative computing was once a clean and naive environment. Hackers were the good guys who always try to think outside of the box, attempting their best to advance the art and function of computing through far reaching collaboration. We all reached into our own pockets to develop and build a better collaborative platform that would enable all participants to exchange ideas and discuss all issues freely and (seemingly) at no cost.

This domain was established in the Summer of 1985 during the pre-Internet era and before Networks Solution Inc. received their mandate from IANA to rip us off by charging money for domain name registration. The domain name was inspired by term coredump, a procedure that was frequently used by computer programmers to debug computer software behavior, off-line, before much more effective, on-line diagnostic tools were developed and deployed.

Above: Photograph of a typical magnetic core memory module. A full size memory board would consist of many of these modules connected to electronic drivers and sense amplifiers to form a complete (and non-volatile) memory system for computer use

The early version of computer hardware that we used on this Internet Node was powered by an 80386 CPU manufactured by AMD. The motherboard was an early prototype with the CPU running at a clock frequency of measly 5 MHz. On top of this hardware we managed to trim the software to the minimum necessary to execute a very slim version of the BSD386 operating system. Eventually, this hardware was adapted to become a dedicated, stand-alone, floppy-disk based IP Edge Router (gateway), appropriately named GATEWAY.COREDUMP.COM. Amazingly, this piece of computer hardware served as our network gateway, over the next 10 years, non-stop around the clock (24/7),with very few service interruptions. Try to beat this record with any of today's electronic products...

Computer payload traffic in the 1980's was rather limited in content types. Most traffic consisted of email and Usenet interest-based group discussions. Occasionally we used Telnet to help each other solve technical problems, remotely. Those were the days when trust and cooperation served as the basis for advancing the art and engineering of computing. What drove most of us was the sense of community and the spirit of participating in a shared goal that exceeded what each of us could achieve on our own. This collaboration would eventually lead to technological advancements that exceeded our wildest expectations.

In 1986 I started working at the National Semiconductors Portland Development Center (PDC) as a senior systems developer. Consequently, the next hardware powering COREDUMP.COM became a one-of a kind engineering prototype of a 32-bit computer, using a National Semiconductor Corp. NS-32032 as the application processor and NS-32016 as the I/O processor.

National Semiconductor NS 32032 Silicon
The hardware platform was given the code name was "ORCA". Since I could not control my urges to "mod" the computer, I ended up overclocking the main processor to a whooping 13.56 MHz... :) (up from the nominal frequency of 10 MHz). To achieve this "unbelievable" performance gain I actually used a Radio Shack crystal that was originally meant to be used for CB Channel-5 (27.015 MHz). The system's main clock generator was modified to provide a stable waveform at the desired new master clock frequency. To mark the successful performance upgrade, I renamed the new computer node:

The operating system used by this "beefy" new system was Genix, a customized version of Bell Labs UNIX System 5 Version 4, otherwise known as SVR4 that was ported to run on NS32 hardware.
National Semiconductor NS 32032 CPU Package
(Note the "-10" designation for a 10 MHz system clock specification)

Communication with other participating computing nodes on our improvised communication network was achieved using dial-up lines with standard telephone-based modems. We started with 1200 baud modems and soon upgraded to 9600 baud. When modem technology improved, we upgraded to 14,400 baud and eventually to 56k Baud. Due to to the fact that most of our collaborators lived in the Pacific Northwest our volunteer based networks was appropriately named RAIN.NET

Without a doubt, the person that we all owe thanks for in facilitating our volunteer based computer network in later years, is Alan Batie. Alan volunteered to provide a stable base in Portland, Oregon that would serve as a communication hub for the rest of us, computer hackers.

See Alan's historical web site at: https://alan.batie.org/.

The Next Generation

The ICM-332 Industrial Computer Module:
Original Advertising Picture of the ICM-332 Genix (UNIX SVR4) Based Embedded Computer
(click on image to enlarge detail)
Below is the description of the ICM-332 capabilities from the advertising brochure. Among other things NSC provided an optimizing 'C' compiler, a debugger and a variety of diagnostic and development tools to its OEM customers.
(click on image to enlarge detail)

To be continued...