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– Steve Sowder's BTI Stories

Steve can be contacted via email or his web page:

I had some experience with BTI 3000, 4000 and 8000.

I was a partner and software developer of a company in Chattanooga, TN that Tom Poulter told us was the first BTI installation east of the Mississippi. He and a crew flew out in a Twin engine Cessna with a BTI-3000 and installed it in an office park near a shopping center. Eastgate Shopping Center.

We operated the BTI as a time sharing system and sold time on it to customers in the area. We had to create the software apps. Basic was the only language. Our biggest problem was convincing potential customers that you could use a computer over the phone. 300 baud phone lines and an acoustic modem. The year was about 1972. I will have to check an old resume for the exact dates.

After about a year I left the company and it declared bankruptcy about six months later.

In 1980 I became the Director of Info Systems at a small private college in Texas. They had a BTI-4000. On December 7, 1981 we took possession of a BTI-8000. We called it Trixie Pearl. It was system number 80108. Apparently the first customer of the 8000. (?) We used it to start a Computer Science Dept at the college but its primary use was for administrative computing needs.

My staff were all students. I taught them how to program and then hired the best.

The 8000 had Pascal, Basic, Fortran and Cobol. Pascal became our primary language since it was the most powerful. We taught Cobol to Business majors. We replaced old vendor admin software on the 4000 with a new redesign in Pascal. We did not really use Fortran. Eventually BTI asked us to give up Fortran. We did in exchange for some hardware.

For a couple of years we were the beta testers for BTI. Just before they released a software upgrade that would send us a tape to install the new software and all students available banged on it to get it to break. Sometimes we did. We did stop one major upgrade. I believe Fortran could not do floating point math.

BTI had 2 or 3 user conferences a couple were at the headquarters in Sunnyvale and one was in Treasure Island, Florida.

In the spring of 1992 we sold the 8000 to a company in New jersey and replaced it with a VAX.

Your website says that BTI had a big layoff in 1983. That was two years after we installed an 8000 in Texas. (Southwestern Union College in Keene, Texas. Now called Southwestern Adventist University.) We suspected that BTI was having problems but, of course, did not hear from BTI about it. WE saw some advertising. They used a picture of a couple of students and me in front of the 8000. (Think I have a copy of the photo somewhere. I will look for it.)

We installed the 8000 in a room dedicated to it. It was three 19" racks with two hard drives next to it. The hard drives were the size of washing machines and had removable platters that weighed about 30 lbs.

The system had about 18 fans that made quite a bit of noise. The system also generated a lot of heat. We air conditioned the room year round. We tired to keep the temperature to about 68. If the air conditioning failed the room would heat up to over 90 degrees in about ten minutes and the 8000 would shut itself down.

The old 4000 was in a room next to it and we kept it running until we had everything ready on the 8000. We turned off the 4000 in August of 1982. I think we gave it back to BTI.

Software for the 8000 was written in Pascal by the student employees. We had to write everything. That included Recruiting office; business office (payroll, general ledger, student accounts, financial aid); Admissions/Registrars office (grades, transcripts, registration); Alumni office records, and a library catalog system. Plus anything else the faculty and administrators wanted. And we had a lot of fun doing it.

There was another college with a BTI system.

The Illinois College of Optometry had an 8000. And may have a 3000/4000 before that. I should have remembered that because we sold them our Library Catalog software. We flew up with some mag tapes with the software on it and spent two days installing it. That was about 1988.

The IT manager that was there, John (don't recall his last name yet), may still be there. I last talked to him about 20 years ago. Previous to ICO John was with a company (don't recall the name) that sold and maintained school software on BTI systems. It was the same software that was in Texas on their 4000 when I moved there.

John, if he is still at ICO, may be able tell you about other schools that used BTI systems.

What follows is a small bit of Q & A:

Q: How reliable were the BTI systems for you?

It was very reliable. Downtime was very low.

Q: How many people were hosted on your machines?

Connections were via RS-232 twisted wire. Dumb terminals at first then micros with terminal emulation software. We basically used the phone wiring. We pretty much all faculty, admin offices, and terminals for students to use. Probably somewhere around a dozen or so terminals were in use plus about 6-8 that I added for student use.

When I started there with the BTI-4000 in place students generally were not allowed to use the system. The 4000 had just 49 meg of disk space and 42 of that was used by the administration.

As noted before they were running vendor software and were paying monthly fees for it. They were not using all of the vendor modules. In use were: student grades, transcripts, and payroll, student accounts in the finance office. There was also recruiting and alumni (and possibly other) packages but they had not been able to get them to work.

When I started (in Oct 1980) I allowed student accounts and set up terminals in a room of of the IT offices for students to use. I tried to maintain the vendor software but it was awkward and the database behind it was also awkward. No info from the vendor was available. What we discovered in the database was found by hacking it. I wrote some software to provide some functions. A part of that was a text editor called TWP (Texas Word Processor). We taught this to students, faculty, and staff. Many student term papers as well as administrative letters were printed from TWP. Printing was done on a "Diablo" (?) with a "Daisywheel".

This was all in Basic on the 4000.

On the 8000 we had close to 40-60 terminals or so. We had several R-232 boards plugged into the back of the 8000.

We also created a room full of terminals (20?) for students to use. It had an outside door. The room was open 24/6. Opened Saturday night about an hour after sunset and close on Friday night about an hour before sunset.

Data lines were all over the campus of several acres. If a lightning storm passed overhead a bolt could induce voltage on the data lines and could damage terminals and ports on the BTI interface card.

We trained everyone to unplug their terminals from the power and the data at the end of each day. Our student workers were trained to go to the computer room and unplug all data lines that went out of the building from the back of the BTI whenever they hear thunder. Some former students said they felt that same urge when hearing thunder years after graduation.

Q: Do you recall how many CPU were in your 8000, how many MB of RAM, etc?

We had multiple CPU boards and Memory boards. I am not we started with one and one. But over time we added to it. Not sure we had the suggestion of two memory board for each CPU. We could have. I don't recall how many. I noted in a previous message that we did beta testing for BTI and we took payment for that with CPU, Memory boards, etc. We paid cost (or less) because of our beta testing.

Q: I know the 8000 had remote diagnostics capability ... was that ever used, or was it just a nice-sounding selling point?

Absolutely. It was great. We would call with a problem and they could log in remotely even when it appeared dead to us. Sometimes they would ask us to do something while they watched. Then typically they would say: a replacement part is on they way and it will be at air freight at DFW at a certain time. Sometimes they said: a man will be there tomorrow morning. And he was.

A couple of stories about service.

One day a student walked into my office and said she couldn't get her report off the printer. The printer was a line printer with 14" green bar paper that was known everywhere at the time. I checked and found that others were not having a problem but she gave the proper commands to get the job printed. But, no report in the queue. After thinking about it for a moment I called BTI.

BTI: Tech Support (or whatever they called it.)

Me: Steve at Southwestern.

B: Hi Steve. What's up.

M: The printer will not print a job for a young lady and I think I know why.

B: Why?

M: Her last name is more than eight characters.

Note: Printer jobs printed a banner page first which was the senders full name at the and bottom and a large banner of the last name. For SMITH it printed a large banner with the "S" made of the S's, M's for the "M" etc. There was no room for anything more than eight characters for the banner.

B: Is she cute?

M: (I looked at her and said) Yes.

B: Well, get her married to someone with a shorter name.

M: I think her boyfriends last name is also a long name. (She was looking at me with a funny look by now.)

M: Let me guess, no one at BTI has a last name longer than eight characters?

B: (Silence for moment then:) That's right.... It's going to take a while to fix this.

M: No it won't. Just truncate the last name to eight characters and proceed.

B: That's ok?

M: Sure. The full name is in the top and bottom line so it will be fine.

B: Ok. Sounds good. We will let you know.

About ten minutes later we got a call that the system was patched and we were good to go.

Accounts on the 8000 were in the form . so my login was

We had the 8000 for about year when it suddenly stopped. A day or two later it stopped again. A couple of days later it stopped again. We restarted it each time but could not find the any problems. BTI checked and could not find the problem either. The students that worked there were a pretty close group that had a larger group around them. And word got out about our strange problem.

Two or three days later a student called me and said that he thought he knew what was causing the problem. Some of my student workers were in my office and I think they arranged for this call to be made.

The problem was that if you log in in with space dot space (The space bar not the symbols shown for clarity.)

He was pretty sure. So, I logged off and then back in with space dot space and the 8000 instantly stopped.

Quick call to BTI.

BTI: Tech support (or whatever they said. I don't remember.)

Me: I know what is crashing our system.

B: What is it?

M: Try logging in with space dot space.

B: (He apparently tried it.) So it does.

M: We need that fixed.

B: Well, don't _do_ that.

M: You don't understand. I have a campus full of students that know how to crash the BTI.

B: Humm

M: By the way, What is the phone number to your test system? I have forgotten it. (I Used to have it but had not used it for a while.)

B: Why do you want that?

M: So, I crash _your_ system.

B: We can just restart it.

M: I bet I can crash it faster than you can restart it. And how about all the other BTI 8000's at customer sites. All I need is a phone number. _I don't even need an account_.

B: We will get back to you.

It was fixed very quickly.

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