Lloyd Robert Borrett

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BHP Days

BHP Corporate Data Processing
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.

Austin Hospital Project
Dr Joss Xipell, Dr Doug Brown
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. [ more... ]

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 serial interface 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 in a new computer
Moving a new computer in through a
window opening to the 6th Floor
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.

Woodside Petroleum
Installing MAGIC at Woodside Petroleum,
Perth, WA

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 minicomputers.

Oil and Gas DG minicomputers
BHP Oil and Gas division
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.

Groote Island
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.)

Lloyd Borrett -- Personal Computer Specialist
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.

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Last modified: Saturday, 21 January 2006


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