Thursday, January 11, 2018

My First Data Migration - Terry Winter - Part 1

One of my early customers was a company called Terry Winter Christian Communication.  Terry Winter was a televangelist, similar to Billy Graham, who had a TV show in Canada and did crusades, focused on smaller Canadian cities.  When I first got to know him, his company, and his family, they were looking to replace the system they used for tracking donations and providing tax receipts and reports to what was then called Revenue Canada with something a bit newer and capable of better functionality.

Their system at the time was an MAI Basic Four system that did not have a hard drive, but used a bank of 4 7 1/2 inch floppy drives for data. They organized each letter of the alphabet on its own drive. They had recently run out of room on their "F" drive, in part due to the large number of Mennonite donors across Canada, and the fact that the surname "Friesen" was very prevalent in that community, so they were now having to work through 2 floppies for the letter "F".

To print off receipts and reports, they used a serial printer called a Diablo. They referred to the MAI system as a Sol (can't find any references to it on the Internet) and this was a bit of a joke, as a Christian organization's computer Sol (soul) was connected to Diablo (Spanish for "devil").

Printing from the Basic Four to the Diablo was really interesting in that it would print a line of text, then send a line feed, then if the next line was longer you'd space out to where the last of the text would have been. Then you sent a code to tell the printer to print backwards and you'd send the next line of text in reverse. The printer would print it backwards to the start of the line! You'd send another line feed and a code to put the next line back into forward printing mode. This is important in the data migration stage.

The system they were going to go to was a Microdata Reality system with 48 K of RAM, 4 terminals, and a 10 MB hard disk. It used 9-track tape for backup and was the size of a refrigerator, but unlike the PBD system, the hard drive was inside the system unit. That 10 MB hard drive was as large as a big desktop computer is today.

We had 2 simple tasks:

1. Transfer the data to the new computer.
2. Design as system that let them take donations, and print receipts and Revenue Canada's annual reports.

After that we'd add additional functionality.

In order to do the transfer, they brought in the first ever IBM PC bought in the Vancouver area.  It was bought by Chris Graham of Synex Systems as an IBM PC 5150 with 256 KB of memory, the maximum it could hold at that time. It had 5 1/4 inch floppy drives and no hard disk.  As soon as the PC XT chip came out, he upgraded it added a 10 MB external hard drive.  Some time later he upgraded it to bump the memory to 640 KB.  This was the configuration that they used to do the data transfer with.

The recession was in full swing by this time, so Toga came up with a deal where Terry Winter got me full time for just a bit more than what I cost, so I'd be paid and Toga would not be out of pocket for my salary.

Next post we'll talk about the data migration itself.

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