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– Harlan Andrews' BTI Stories

My name is Harlan Andrews. I worked at BTI between 1974 and 1982. Believe it or not, I just recently found this website when I was looking to contact Steve Porter. The website and associated articles are extremely fascinating and bring back many fond memories (and some not so fond).

I worked in Hardware, initially on the BTI 5000 system and later on the BTI 8000 system. On the BTI 5000 system I was lead designer on the project to re-implement HP's CPU. I had previously designed the HP2114 system which used the same instruction set as the HP2100 used in the BTI5000 system.

When work began on the BTI8000 system, I worked primarily on the Backplane system which made it possible to scale the system simply by adding additional processor boards to the system and rebooting.

Here are a few interesting tidbits which might not be well known:

I remember we had a messaging system in the company long before those systems became commonplace. This allowed convenient secure communication between employees. Of course email serves this function now, but remember this was before the time of email.

I seem to remember that a young kid contracted to write a Cobol language compiler for the system. I think his name was Bill Gates. Remember, this was also before the time of Microsoft.

When starting work on the BTI8000 there was some discussion about what the CPU design should look like. Some were advocating use of the newly released Motorola 68000 microprocessor. Eventually, it was decided to implement the BTI8000 system from scratch.

Ron Crandall's description of the "deadbeat customers" was kind of interesting. One such customer was particularly unsavory. His credit was so bad that BTI insisted on payment prior to shipment. So the customer wrote a check ( intending to get BTI to ship the system and then stop payment on the check). The check was written on an East Coast bank. The "deadbeat customer" was counting on a delay in cashing the check which would give him time to stop payment. However, BTI used their company plane to arrive at the bank when it opened the next day to cash the check before it could be stopped. The customer was quite upset that BTI had actually received payment for the system.

One of the less pleasant memories was of the "Dayton Plague". The auto dealerships had a very large data base which was updated monthly. To perform the update, the removable hard disk packs were shipped to each customer monthly. The old packs were shipped back as the new packs were delivered. BTI maintained a duplication center to place the database on the new packs each month. The packs were to be exchanged in the dealerships at midnight on the last day of each month. Remember, in those days the disk packs consisted of a stack of ten 14 inch disks and were rather fragile. One of the packs being returned from Dayton Ohio was damaged in such a way that it would damage the bottom head on any disk drive it was inserted into. Then, the damaged head would damage any pack inserted into that drive. Then any pack inserted into the newly damaged drives would also be damaged. This did not become apparent until about 9:00 pm on the last day of a month at which time BTI's remote service group started fielding service calls from the East Coast. At about 10:00 pm they started receiving calls from the next timezone. At that time it became apparent that there was a serious problem and all customers were instructed NOT to exchange the packs. This was too late, however, and to fix the problem, ALL hard drives and ALL packs had to be thoroughly inspected for damage. It was a nightmare.

In April of 1982 I left BTI to join a young company named Apple Computer, Inc. Turned out to be one of my better decisions and I spent the next 25 years happily employed there until I retired.


Harlan Andrews

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