UCC Memories

SP : MASTAA Interview

U Soe Paing

Note : Comments in italics are provided by Hla Min.

  • I have written many articles on the History of Computerization in Myanmar.
    Most can be read from SCRIB-D.
  • However many people have not read them.
    MASTAA has requested me do an interview.
    It is tentatively planned for July 19, 2020 (at 10 PM. EST). It will be morning in Yangon, Myanmar.
  • Facts are very important because there are some people who want to twist them to their advantage.
    Especially since the project was very successful in introducing computers and computer education in the country.
  • I was with the project right from its inception.
    Sad to report that Saya Dr. Chit Swe and U Ko Ko Lay have passed away.
  • I would like to go over the facts.

When and how I got involved in UCC Computer project

  • Took programming and DP courses at Stanford University.
  • Around 1962, there was no CS Department or CS courses.
    Professor George Forsythe later founded and Chaired the CS Department at Standford.
  • Computer programming was given by Mathematics Department as part of Numerical Analysis
  • Introduction to Dat Processing was given by Industrial Enineering Dept
  • Worked as part time computer operator for the Stanford Computation Center.
  • Joined Electrical Engineering Department, RIT as Assistant Lecturer in January 1964,
    RIT was closed.
    As part of the staff development program, I gave lectures to Elect Engg staff on computers and programming.
  • Ko Nyi Nyi (Instructor in Elect Eng Dept) told Dr Chit Swe, Head of Math Dept at the Institute of Economics who was preparing to start a project with the assistance of the UN to install a computer.
  • Dr Chit Swe and U Hla Myint (Math Dept) came to recruit me to assist them in the computer project.
  • Immediately agreed and joined the project preparation team.
  • Ko Nyi Nyi and Dr Than Htaik (Chem Eng Dept) also joined the team.
  • At that time Unit Record Machines using punched cards (both IBM and ICL) were used in Burma by the Railways, Central Economics and Statistics Department (CSED), Records Office Burma Army.
  • At one point all the Unit Record Machines were centralized in one place (Burma Machines Corporation??) and then decentralized again.
    Per U Thein Han, IBM unit record machines were used in the first Demonatization. The machines were set up in Rangoon University (e.g. Convocation Hall).
  • Burma Railways wanted to replace their Unit Record Machines with a computer and was requesting funds from the government.
    However, the nationalization followed by tight control of foreign exchange caused the request to be denied.

Preparation for the UCC project (1965-70)

  • The UNDP in Yangon and the Goverment agreed to explore the possibility of having a UNDP funded UNESCO executed project of installing a computer at the Institute of Economics.
  • In 1965 Dr Abou Taleb from Egypt visited Burma at the Institute of Economics for one month as a UNESCO consultant on the formulation of the project.
    He had discussions with the project team, the concerned persons at the Directorate of Higher Education and other government departments, UNDP personnel and managers of IBM (U Aung Khin) and ICL (U Kyaw Tha).
  • Dr Abou Taleb prepared a report that was submitted to the UNESCO and UNDP.
  • Around 1968 UNDP mission composed of Professor Owens of Columbia University and Mr Talbot of UNDP HQs came to Burma (Institute of Economics) to write a project proposal for the UNDP/UNESCO Computer Project.
    The mission had discussions with the project team, the concerned persons at Higher Education and other government departments, UNDP personnel and managers of IBM and ICL.
  • The report and the project proposal were submitted to UNDP, UNESCO and the Government.
  • It was agreed to implement the UNDP funded, UNESCO executed Computer project.
  • The project document for the UNDP/UNESCO Universities’ Computer Center Project was signed in 1970.

Preparation for the establishment of UCC

  • In 1969 the project preparation team office moved to the Mathematics Department, RASU. T
  • The Government decided to establish the Universities’ Computer Center directly under the Department of Higher Education.
  • A new building was to be constructed for the Center on the Hlaing Campus.
  • The project preparation team started to develop the organizational structure, budget, as well as the design for the building.
  • Ko Tun Aung Gyaw (UTAG) joined the project preparation team.
  • A temporary office/room was given to the project preparation team on the 3rd /top floor of the RASU Mathematics Dept.
    The Mathematics department still provided the logistics support.
    Saya U Maung Maung Tin of the RASU Mathematics Department was extremely helpful to the project preparation team.
  • The UCC organization structure consists of the Director at its head advised by the Board of Management.
    Under the Director are three technical divisions: Operations, Systems, Applications and an Administrative Support Section.
    One Manager heads each division.
  • Operations division consists of the Computer Operations section and the Data Preparation section.
  • Systems Division consists of the Systems Hardware section and the Systems Software section.
  • Applications Division consists of the Scientific Applications section and the Business Applications section.
  • The UCC organization structure was approved by the government and the Board of Management was formed.
  • Dr. Chit Swe was appointed Director of UCC in addition to his duties as Professor.
  • The Board of Management was formed with Dr Nyi Nyi, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Education as Chairman and Dr. Chit Swe as Secretary.
    The members include U Thet Tun, DG of CSED; U Win Pe, Research Dept, Planning; U Nyunt Maung, Dy Director, Finance; Dr Khin Maung Kyi, Inst of Economics, Dr Aung Gyi, RIT; etc
  • The UCC building on Hlaing Campus was to be designed and built by the Public Works Corporation.
    It was designed by the Chief Architect U Aung Myint. The team also met my high school and Stanford friend Ko Ko Lay who was a structural engineer there.
  • Ko Myo Min returned from the UK after studying as a Charted Accountant and working as Systems Analyst at IBM UK.
  • Ko Ko Lay, Ko Myo Min and other volunteers joined the project preparation team.
    The volunteers are Ko Win Myint (Gyi) etc.
  • The three managers were recruited.
  • I transferred to UCC from RIT as Systems Engineer/Manager of the Systems Division of UCC on April 1971.
  • Ko Ko Lay transferred from Public Works/Construction Corporation as Manager of the UCC Operations Division.
  • Ko Myo Min joined as Manager of the Applications Division.
  • 1 April 1971 is considered as the start of UCC.
  • The first batch of other staff were recruited and appointed.
    UTAG and Johnny Hla Min joined as Maintenance Engineers.
  • UCC was given a temporary office on the third floor of the Mandalay Hall.
  • The project preparation team organized courses in computers, programming and applications for the staff of Universities and government departments.

Choice of the computer

  • In October 1970, Dr Chit Swe went to UNESCO, Paris to participate in the selection of the computer for the project.
  • ICL 1900 series was chosen over IBM.
  • IBM was only willing to supply the IBM 360 and not the recently introduced IBM 370.
  • Dr Chit Swe then went on to London for discussions with ICL.
    ICL gave a more powerful version 1902S for the same price.

Installation of the Computer and start of UCC

  • In 1972 UCC moved to its new building on Thamaing Campus.
  • The site preparation for the computer and environmental equipment started.
  • A firm from the UK was subcontracted by ICL to do the site preparation.
  • The ICL 1902S computer was delivered and moved into the computer room to start the installation process.
  • ICL resident Maintenance Engineer Gaber Khalef (Egypt) and the ICL resident Software Expert Ian Shearer (UK) arrived and took up their responsibilities.
  • Acceptance trials for the ICL 1902S started on 25 February 1973, and formally completed on 8 March.
  • Professor Huskey arrived on 4 March and took part in the acceptance of the ICL 1902S.
  • The original UCC organization was meant to be minimal and mainly for a one shift per day start.
  • However due to the Census and more than expected use, volunters were paid minimum salary wages (which can be authorized by the Director) used to do the required support work.

Computer Use

  • The Board of Management decided to process the 1973 Population Census on the UCC computer.
  • Training of the Census Programmers conducted at UCC.
  • Alic Heinrici (UK, the ICL FILAN (ICL Census Tabulation system) expert came from September to November to train Census and UCC Programmers in FILAN to be used in Census Tabulation.
  • The processing of the Burma Population Census started in May 1974.
  • The data entry was done in the Census Dept (old Rowe Co. Building) with over 100 rented keypunches from IBM.
  • The morning shift (8:00am – 4:00pm) was reserved for UCC.
    The evening shift (4:00pm – 12:00am) and night shift (12:00am-8:00am) were reserved for Census processing.
    At the start the Census processing do not take the two shifts.
  • Saturdays were reserved for Maintenance and the center was closed on Sundays.
  • ICL experts and UCC senior staff designed the Census Processing System containing Sequence and Completeness check (PLAN), Consistency checks (FORTRAN), Tabulation (FILAN).
  • UCC staff also supervised the processing.
  • Burma Railways, Central Economics and Statistics Department (CSED)/(CSO), Records Office Burma Army (ROBA) convert some of their Unit Record Machines applications on to the computer.
    Railways passenger and goods statistics; CSED Health and Trade Statistics; ROBA Miltary records.
  • RIT final year students implemented projects.
    Civil Engg: Structural Engineering, Astronomical Calculations,
    Electrical: Power System Analysis, Electronic Circuit Analysis.

Computer Education

  • The project preparation team organized courses in computers, programming and applications for the staff of Universities and government departments.(1971).
  • Preparations start for the MSc Computer Science and Postgraduate Diploma in Automatic Computing(DAC) to be given under the Mathematics Department, RASU. (1973)
  • Start of the MSc Computer Science and DAC courses. (1974)
  • There were three options under the MSc course: Computer Systems, Computer Oriented Operations Research Techniques and Computational Mathematics.
    Coursework plus dissertation/thesis.
  • DAC course was 2 years part-time from 7:00 am to 9:00 am.
  • Entrance Aptitude Tests for all applicants meeting the University requirements for post graduate studies.
  • The six months part time course (the predecessor to the full time 4 months course ) was started for the staff of the government departments and universities in 1976.
    It consists of Introduction to Programming with FORTRAN, Mathematics and Statistics, COBOL Programming, Systems Analysis & Design.
  • The UCC Staff and visiting experts taught most of the courses.
    However Maths sayas helped out in the MSc and DAC courses. U Hla Myint and Dr Kyaw Nyunt in Computational Mathematics; U Soe Nyunt and Dr Pike Tin in OR courses.
  • Paid and unpaid volunteers were expected to attend the courses according to their ability and wishes.

Expert Services

  • The University of California at Santa Cruz(UCSC) was given the expert subcontract under the project.
    Professor Harry D. Huskey Chairman of the Department of Computer Science at UCSC and the well known pioneer in computers (in the development of the first electronic computer ENIAC at the University of Pennslyvania) was the coordinator of the contract.
    He co-authored the first Computer Handbook. His students include Nickaus Wirth (inventor of Pascal and Modula). He is a Past President of ACM and a Fellow of ACM, IEEE and CHM.
  • The UCSC expert subcontract was to provide four long term (4x12m) experts and a few short term (1m) experts, in addition to yearly visits by Professor Huskey.
  • Long Term Experts :
    Mr Sheldon Bachus (Systems Analysis & Design, 1973)
    Dr. Malcolm Atkinson (Computer Science Expert, 1974)
    Dr. Paul Keogh (Operations Research Expert, 1974)
    Mr. Bjorn Hustaad (Simulation, 1977)
  • Short Term Experts :
    World renowned people able to visit and give lectures for one month.
  • Professor Anthony Ralston Professor and Head of the Computer Science Department of the State University of New York (SUNY) in Buffalo, NY USA , and Past President of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) came as a one month short term expert in Computer Science. He introduced Structured Programming to UCC, Burma and even to the long term expert in Computer Science. (1975).
  • Professor Foreman Acton of Princeton University, Princeton NJ USA came as a one month short term expert in Numerical Analysis and conducted training courses .(1975)
  • Professor Peter Wegner of Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island came as a one month short term expert in Computer Science and conducted training courses in Automata Theory.(1975)
  • Professor Wilde of Stanford University, Operations Research (1976)
  • Professor Leon Lasdon of University of Michigan, Operations Research (1976).
  • Professor Michael Stonebraker, University of California (Berkeley), INGRES Relational Database, Database 1977)

UN Experts

  • Dr. Shafeek Saleeb(Egypt) arrived to take up his assignment as Chief Technical Adviser of the UCC project. (1974)
  • Mr. Jan Rademaker (Netherlands) arrived to take up his assignment as an associate expert in Computer Applications under the UCC project. (1975)

Further Development

  • More memory, 2 disk drives and card reader supplemented by the Census project.
  • For scientific and engineering applications a flat bed Calcomp plotter was acquired.
  • For teaching purposes Professor Huskey advised to get an on line time sharing mini computer system like most American Universities.
    A PDP-11/70 mini computer system was acquired.
  • Prof Huskey also lectured on micro processors and micro computers.
    UCC decided to get a microcomputer for trying out.
    Chose Cromemco System Three. Very good except for the 8” disk drive problems. A lot of experience gained.
  • Government relaxed on buying microcomputers for the govt departments. Many acquired Cromemco and started their applications on microcomputers.
  • Since UCC is to be used mainly for training the Board proposed the establishment of a National Computer Center for use by government departments.

Categories: UCC Memories

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