BHP Corporate Data Processing
Data General Nova minicomputer and
Calcomp 936 plotter in the foreground
I came to Melbourne to begin work at BHP Corporate Data Processing
(CDP) in January
1977 as a Trainee Programmer. The first week was spent
learning the ropes as an operator in the computer centre.
On the first day of the second week, I was given a book "Introduction to
COBOL Programming" and told to read it. On day two I
made people aware that I already had some experience at programming in
BASIC. Thus I was assigned to work as a Trainee Technical
Programmer on the Mine Planning system,
using Data General multi-user BASIC on the RDOS operating
system. The mine planning system was used to investigate the
optimal way to mine ore bodies at various BHP mines around
Australia using data from minerals exploration and mining
engineers in working mines.
Dr Joss Xipell, Dr
and Lloyd Borrett check the
computed diagram of a bone slide.
Later that year I volunteered to help out on a research
project in to bone disease in kidney patients for Dr Joss
Xipell and Dr Doug Brown from the Austin Hospital. Dr
Richard Hume of BHP CDP wrote a digitising program for the
project. I supervised the work in the evenings and weekends
that Joss and Doug came in from the Austin to use the program
over a period of more than a year. [
Late in 1977 I was assigned to the Oil & Gas team to
create a series of digitising programs using a Tektronix
4051 system. This was an early Motorola 6800 microprocessor based system
which had an internal 1/4-inch tape drive. We used tape cartridges to store programs and data.
The digitising tablet was hooked up via a serial interface. The digitised data was sent through another
to the Data General Nova minicomputer (pictured above) and submitted in the
form of pseudo punched cards to BHP's seismic exploration
system running on a Control Data mainframe.
Moving a new
computer in through a
window opening to the
at 140 William Street, Melbourne!
In 1978, the Oil and Gas team, then Peter McLure, Roy
Anderson and myself, were given the go ahead to create a new
seismic exploration system for BHP's Oil and Gas division.
I worked on the digitising and data input programs. I also
created a Survey Data Reduction system to convert surveyors
field notes in to system data. We were using a new Data
General Eclipse S130 minicomputer running multi-user AOS with 192 Kb
of memory, a 92 Mb hard disk drive and four Data General
terminals. Total hardware cost of approximately A$1 million.
Most of this new system was written in FORTRAN V, which I
had to learn. In the process I created an extensive library
of FORTRAN subroutines for data input, string processing, report
writing etc. which was later adopted widely within BHP. I
also took on the role of systems programmer for the new DG
Advanced Operating System (AOS). Ours was one of the first systems in
Australia running AOS.
Installing MAGIC at
The seismic exploration system was given the name MAGIC (Mapping And
Geophysical Interpretation by Computer)
and went straight in to production use on the South China Seas project
before we'd really finished it. MAGIC was a very successful
system and eventually sold to other companies such as
Woodside Petroleum and Western Mining. The Oil & Gas
team expanded and we purchased newer and faster DG
BHP Oil and Gas
Data General minicomputers
Amongst other things, I worked at porting a griding and contouring system
developed by Tony Cramm at Earth Computer Sciences in Bowral NSW, to the Data General platform
for use with the MAGIC system and BHP's minerals exploration
system. We also interfaced a CAD program called AutoDraft for
use with MAGIC. However, transferring the digitising programs
from the Tektronix microprocessor systems to DG MP200 microprocessor
based systems running MP/OS was not one of our better ideas.
Ian Baker and some
of the IT team
at the Groote Island, NT mine
By this time the BHP group of companies were using Data
General based systems quite extensively in head office and
the minerals division. Indeed, BHP was then DG's fourth
largest customer worldwide.
In December 1980 I became a Systems Programmer working on
support of the various DG minis running technical systems at
BHP. In August 1981 I was promoted to Senior Systems Programmer
and given responsibility for a team supporting more than 50 DG
minicomputers at many sites around the country. I put in
place a policy of using high-level languages as much as
possible for systems programming work instead of the more
common use of assembler languages. This resulted in
utilities and services that were cheaper to create, easier
to maintain, and had a longer life.
Highlights of this period included the introduction of an
X.25 based computer network, the move to Data General's AOS/VS
32-bit virtual operating system, and a term as President of
the Data General Users Group. (A good insight in to the
state of the minicomputer industry at that time can be
gained by reading the 1982 Pulitzer Prize winning book "The
Soul of a New Machine" by Tracy Kidder. It
documents the adventures of the team designing a new Data
General MV-8000 minicomputer.)
Personal Computer Coordinator
BHP IT (May 1984)
In March 1983, I took on the role of Personal Computer
Coordinator for BHP. It was forward thinking on the part of
Peter Littlejohn, then head of BHP IT. With almost no PCs in use
within the company and the IBM PC only just released in Australia, we were
proactive in setting policies and guidelines for the
introduction of PCs. The IT departments of many other organisations ended up
getting involved with PCs far too late which saw them playing
catch in the minds of their internal clients for years.
I set up a Personal Computing Support Centre at BHP's
Head Office which had direct responsibility for the support of
personal computing in Melbourne. I also performed a
coordination/advisory role elsewhere in the BHP group.
I had a
research budget that enabled me to bring in products from
the USA and evaluate them. I chose MultiMate as BHP's word
processing standard, as it was written to be similar to the
Wang word processing systems then in wide use within the company.
I also chose Lotus 1-2-3 as BHP's spreadsheet standard at a
time when everyone was predicting Microsoft Multiplan would
be the next big thing.
Saturday, 21 January 2006