Skip to main content

Kimberly Blessing

Programming, Old-School Style

2 min read

I have a fascination with old computers. Growing up, I heard stories of archaic devices used by my grandfather and his colleagues to accomplish their math and engineering work. Then I went through a few machines myself: the stand-alone Pong console, various TRS-80s, an Atari 2600, multiple Commodore 64s and a 128, finally making it into the x86 line. When I got a new computer, the old one didn't become obsolete trash; it gained a sort of revered status. I'd leave it hooked up, always at the ready, and occasionally I'd take a trip down memory lane and load up some old programs, tinker with something new, or perhaps just bask in the glow of the TV screen/monochrome monitor. Yes, I'm a strange girl.

A DEC PDP-11 Ever since my first visit to the Computer History Museum, I've been fascinated by the DEC PDP-11. The PDP-11 was a series of 16-bit minicomputers which were programmed with toggles. Their design was strangely attractive. I saw plenty of PDP-11 parts for sale on eBay and wondered what it would take to build one. I figured there had to be an emulator out there, but I didn't take much time to look around.

Well, it turns out there is. And there are instructions! Inspired by DePauw University's (slightly cheesy, but fun) videos on programming the PDP-11, lab[oratory] is posting detailed instructions on using the SIMH simulator to program a simulated PDP-11! So join along in the play and experimentation, and program your very own PDP-11. It may not be as cool as handling those purple toggles, but it's still fun.