Memories of UCC (38)
Burmese typing, spelling, and word processing
During our lifetime, we have witnessed many examples of “Technical Obsolescence” and “Disruptive Technologies”.
Remington produced typewriters for English. There are other typewriter manufacturers, but Remington typewriters were widely used in Burma. Sholes designed the QWERTY keyboard. The two most common letters in the English alphabet are “e” (for vowel) and “t” (for consonant). The frequency distribution of the characters in a given language is used to break “simple substitution” codes in that language. Several people “complained’ that the QWERTY keyboard is not ergonomic, because it requires one to use the left hand (the “weaker” hand for most people) and to move the finger up to type “e” and “t”. Some, however, believe that Sholes “deliberately placed “e” and “t” so that they “minimize” the chance of “keys being stuck” (when one hits keys in rapid succession). The alternate Keyboard designs (Dvorak …) did not have much support. The key issue is the retraining cost of typists.
Olympia was commissioned to produce typewriters for Burmese. The characters in the Burmese alphabet are non-linear. A Burmese word often has ascenders and descenders.
The keys for the Burmese typewriter fall into two categories : red and black. The red keys are used to type vowels; the carriage is prevented from going forward. The black keys are used to type consonants. Backspacing for half a step is necessary on the “standard” edition to type “tha gyee”. Manual dexterity is needed to type some “pa sint” characters. the “office” edition has extra keys.
In my younger days, we had an “old” Remington typewriter for typing English documents. My parents gave me a “brand new” portable Olympic typewriter for typing Burmese documents. I could do “touch typing”.
Evolution of Typewriters and Word Processors
IBM produced Selectric typewriters. Golf ball-like character sets had to be installed and/or replaced. Hence, a variety of characters (including APL, a language developed by Kenneth Iverson and uses Mathematical Symbols). Iverson is the thesis supervisor of Brooks, Architect for S/360 and OS/360. He described APL in a book, and explained the use with examples. IBM implemented APL/360 on the System S/360.
Wang Computers provided word processors for various languages. Ko Htay Aung worked at Wang for a while on the Burmese language project. He migrated to Australia.
Burma Research Society (BRS) used transliteration for its publications. For example, “k-o-l” combination represents “ko”. The scheme was used on Macintosh.
I joined BRS as a student member. I received the BRS journals. Sad to say, BRS was “shut down” in the Ma Sa La era. John O’Kell (student of Saya Dr. Hla Pe and later Professor at the School of Asian and Oriental Studies) and team used the “BRS Transliteration Style” to implement a Burmese Word Processor on the Macintosh.
There are various ways to implement characters of non-English languages.
Chinese characters were input on the early systems using (a) large tablets (b) three corner method (c) Romaji, …
UCC had projects to do Burmese word processing. Saya Myo supervised a project for Ma San Yu Hlaing for “collation” (needed for sorting). Saya TAG and his team (Ko Htay Aung, Ko Soe Myint, …) worked on Cromenco System Three for printing and processing. An EPROM (Erasable Programmable Read Only Memory) was “burned/programmed” to support the Burmese Character Set. U Soe Win and team worked on Calcomp graph plotter to “draw” Burmese characters on the plotter.
The evolution of Word Processing Systems has seen the proliferation of typeface/font families, keyboard layouts, and Unicode support. We miss the days when we had type “perfectly” or “reasonably well” on typewriters using “messy” carbons. Also, planning to cyclostyle double-sided printing (odd numbered pages first, then repeat with even-numbered pages) was a skill.
Changes to Burmese Spelling
Burmese Language Commission “bowed” to higher authorities to “revise” the spelling at least two times.
TIT versus TA
Grapevine says that the then Number One sent a message to China when Chou En Lai passed away. The message had “TIT” instead of the more commonly used “TA”. In English, “TIT” corresponds to one and “TA” corresponds to the indefinite article “a” (before a consonant) and “an” (before a vowel). The higher authorities “deemed” that “TIT” must be used all the time, and not “TA”. Fines were “imposed” on authors and publishers spelling the “established” way. (e.g. “ta”) instead of the “preferred” way (e.g. “tit”) despite the scholars pointing out the old inscriptions at “Bo ta htaung” (not “Bo tit htaung”) pagoda. CTK (Children’s Treasury of Knowledge) project was “delayed” to “correct” the spellings.
It was not easy to write in those days without facing “censorship”. I was requested to contribute a poem or article for the Special Issue of SarSoDaw Nay (Day honoring Poets and Writers). The editor showed me a “block” (type set of my work), but sadly my work did not appear in the Special Issue. The editor said that some one above “ruled” that my work quoted “Dhammata” poem (by Ananda Thuriya [A man of infinite valor]). It was a taboo. It was a crime to write about the setting sun or to use “ambiguous” terms and references, MMT (Maung Myint Thein) was the pen name of U Myint Thein (Former Chief Justice of the Union of Burma). His poem was censored, because it had a bird beside a river gazing afar. The higher authorities thought that there was a hidden meaning.
Memories of UCC (39)
Over the years, I attended several mini-gatherings and gatherings hosted by UCC sayas and alumni. They took place in Yangon, Singapore, Australia, and the US.
Gatherings in Yangon Saya Paing and Sayagadaw regular hosts gatherings (usually dinner meeting) at their house in Yangon. Sayagadaw was my classmate at RIT. She is a Textile engineer, but she also drew the design for their house. She also attended CPC course. Ah Thay Lay, Ju Ju and several others help organize the gatherings. Ah Thay Lay, Htaw Kyin, Aung Aung (who worked for Microsoft in the US) and several others provide transportation to or from Saya Paing’s house.
Recently, KMD bosses (U Thaung Tin and Daw Tin Tin Aye) hosted a surprise gathering at MICT Park for UCC sayas, sayamas and alumni. I missed that event.
There was fun, laughter, songs and dances at UCC’s 40th Anniversary Gathering held a few years back. Saya DTM was represented by Sayagadaw and daughter. Da Ngwe Tin, Aye Aye Myint and sisters, … reminded us of the good old days at UCC.
On January 14, 2018, I attended the 5th UCSY Acariya Pu Zaw Pwe as “Generation Zero” representative and the “Most Senior” (not by age). Several attendees started their studies and/or careers at UCC. Glad to know Daw Mu Mu Myint is a “senior” (Shay Hmee Nauk Hmee) Professor at UCSY. Sad to know that she had a “senior” moment. When I visited UCSY on January 18, 2018 at the invitation of Bo Htay, Daw Mu Mu Myint told me that she did not have time at the Acariya Pu Zaw Pwe and felt sorry not to have taken a picture with me. She was surprised when I showed the picture of her, another sayama and me.
Gatherings in the US
Rafi, KZ, AMO, Bei Gyit, … hosted UCC gatherings (especially to welcome sayas and alumni visiting US). U Khin Maung Oo (Ivan, M69) hosts joint UCC & RIT Gatherings at his house in New Jersey, USA. He timed the gatherings to coincide with the visits by Saya Dr. Aung Gyi and Saya Paing to the East Coast of USA.
Gatherings in Singapore
In Singapore, Ko TAW, Ko Zaw Tun, Ma Pale … organized buffet gathering. Ko Aung Aung, Ma Kyin Mya … are regulars at the gatherings. Some (e.g. Daw Myint Myint Thein [Susan]) have moved back (temporarily or permanently) to Myanmar. Ko Win Latt hosted me while he was working in Singapore. He now lives in Bangkok and Yangon.
Gatherings in Australia
In Australia, Saya Zaw, Gary, Mu Mu, Ko Htay Aung, Tin Tin, … organized the gatherings.
I met TDH and “Pha Yaung Daing” (one of the Trio of Candles at UCC). Ko Sein Tin (who used to bring lunch not only for him but also for his UCC buddies) created a short music video during my visit to Sydney, Australia in 2006.
I belong to several circles. In addition to the UCC Gathering and mini-PZP (Pu Zaw Pwe for Saya Chit and Saya Ba Hli), I attended the RIT Alumni Annual Dinner and the Old Paulians Lunch Gathering in Olympic Park (used for the 2000 Summer Olympic Games) during my visit to Sydney, Australia in 2006.
Memories of UCC (40)
Saya Paing e-mailed me some photos of the “historic” ICL computer system and mentioned that Ah Thay Lay is willing to contribute [more] to “ICL Museum” project.
BCM and CHM At an ACM (Association of Computing Machinery) meeting in the Silicon Valley, I met Gwen Bell (spouse of Gordon Bell, VAX architect), who founded BCM (Boston Computer Museum).
Gordon brought back artifacts that he had collected while co-authoring the book “Computer Structures” with Alan Newell (known for his contributions to Multi-disciplinary research) during his sabbatical at CMU (Carnegie Mellon University). Gwen developed an exhibit at the DEC office in Boston, Massachusetts. It became known as BCM.
Gwen introduced me to Karen, then VP (Vice President) of CHM (Computer History Museum). I volunteered to be a Docent.
When Microsoft “bought” the division of DEC (where Gordon & his team worked), Gwen had to think fast. Only a limited number of artifacts were accepted for display at the Science Museum. The rest of the artifacts were air-freighted to Moffett Field in Mountain View, California with the hope that the “Computer Museum” will be revived. For several years, the artifacts were displayed at the makeshift Museum in Moffett Field. A group of enthusiasts bought a building on Shoreline Boulevard, Mountain View that was owned by SGI (Silicon Graphics Incorporated, which under-estimated the challenge of reasonably priced GPUs [Graphical Processing Units]) and offered it to be a permanent home for CHM. In the early days, only ten per cent or so of the artifacts could be displayed at a given time for public viewing. The display items had to be moved back from the Visible Storage to the storage house. As a Docent, I had to show the visitors and explain [if requested] about the artifacts displayed in Visible Storage. In those days, only ten percent (or so) could be displayed for a period before rolling them out. Thanks in part to the “Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation”, CHM could now exhibit 20 sections (from pre-computer era to the Internet age). In addition, there are special exhibits (e.g. autonomous vehicles, computer chess, Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine, …)
Retired engineers from IBM, DEC … worked on the “Restoration of Computers” Project.
They “restored” three old computers using the original specifications and genuine parts (as much as possible). They are on display in working order.
Having “ICL Museum” will be a significant step towards recording and preserving the History of IT (Information Technology).
Memories of UCC (41)
I am honored to learn that several people felt young and remembered the Good Old Days at UCC. Some read all my posts and even commented on some of them. I love history (History of Computing, History of University Engineering Education in Burma/Myanmar, …).
Professor Harry D. Huskey used as beta testers of his “draft” on the History of Computing. I became “hooked” and later volunteered as Docent at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, USA.
I volunteered as a member of the team that compiled and published “History of University Engineering Education in Burma/Myanmar” in December, 2012 just before the celebration of SPZP-2012. Ko Ohn Khine (M70) and I compiled a CD for the book supplement.
Why should we study History? Saya Dr. Than Tun said, “So that one would not be stupid or dumb.” There’s an old adage, “History repeats itself”. A historian presents “facts”. He should not give his opinion. The historian from Smithsonian said, “There is no single correct history. There are often multiple competing histories.”
Meeting Sayas and Librarians
I first met Saya Dr. Than Tun at the Recreation Center of Rangoon University. I was then still in High School, but my uncle (a Lecturer in Economics and the Librarian for Social Science Library) took me to the Main Campus many times. Daw Myint Myint Khin (Ma Hazel) was then an Assistant Librarian under my uncle. She later transferred to RIT as Librarian. Saya U Thaw Kaung, another Assistant Librarian, became the Chief Librarian of the Rangoon University Central Library (RUCL). The early librarians of RUCL include BBS U Khin Zaw (“K”, father of Ko Wint Khin Zaw) and U Thein Han (Saya Zaw Gyi, co-founder of “Khit Sann Sar Pay”). Sayagyi U Ba Than, Saya Paing, and Saya U Thaw Kaung supported the “History of UEE Project”.
I am grateful to my spouse, who said “You should pay back to your alma mater and your country.” Saya U Tin Maung Nyunt (M60) said that I should record my oral stories and put them to print for posterity. Sayamagyi Dr. Mie Mie Thet Thwin (Rector of UCSY) asked me if I could help for a commemorative issue of the 30th Anniversary of ICST/UCSY.
My beloved parents said, “Anything that’s worth doing is worth doing well”.
I hope that the readers can help “fill in the blanks” with details and correct errors and inconsistencies in my posts. Collectively, we can turn the posts into a reasonably good document worthy of printing (or at least publish as an eBook). The readers can suggest topics that I should add or elaborate.
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Computer Science and Technology is continually evolving. There are two (or more) early definitions of CS (Computer Science). (1) CS is the study of phenomena surrounding Computing. (2) CS is the study of Algorithms and Data Structures.
The first definition has the same flavor as a definition of Physics. It says, “Physics is the study of natural phenomena.” It is general. The second definition might sound restrictive, but it still covers a lot of topics and application.
There is a book called “Program = Algorithms + Data Structures”. Professor Donald Knuth (Stanford University) thought that he could finish his 7-volume book “The Art Of Computer Programming” in a couple of years. It was an underestimate of the growth of Computers, Computer Science and Applications. It took over two decades to complete and revise the first three volumes and part of the fourth volume. One reason was that his book contributed to the growth of the Design and Analysis of Algorithms.
I Am Imperfectly Perfect
I have covered some topics in the early days of Computing in general and UCC in particular. I missed out several people in my original posts. I have added names of the staff and students in my revised posts, but it would not be exhaustive. I did not cover in-depth the PDP-11 configuration and use, the introduction of PCs (e.g. Cromemco System Thee, IBM PCs, Osborne Portable Computer), and robots (e.g. Hero). It would take a long time and I would not be able to fill in all the blanks.
I believe an idea that characterizes Jules Verne. “If one can dream, others can fulfill” . I had a personal experience. In 1999, I started “RIT International Newsletter” and dreamed that Sayas and alumni will get reconnected electronically and physically. With the help of five Golden Sponsors, donors, volunteers, supporters and well-wishers, the First RIT Grand Reunion and SPZP (Saya Pu Zaw Pwe) was held in San Francisco in October 2000. The world-wide SPZPs were subsequently held in Singapore in 2002, 2007 and 2010, and in Yangon in 2004, 2012 and 2016. I had paid back to RIT . I now have a chance to pay back to UCC.
Thanks to my family members for supporting me in the endeavors to pay back to the institutions and my mentors that helped me develop to where I am today. I dream that sayas and alumni of UCC and ICST/UCSY will enhance my document into one that professional historians will envy.