The W.N.M.U. Computer Symposia

When I was a kid, Western New Mexico University in beautiful Silver City, NM hosted an annual affair they called the Computer Symposium.  It was open to middle schoolers (7th & up) with kids from El Paso, Albuquerque, Tuscon, and other random western towns.  The core of the symposium was a programming contest with winners in a couple of divisions. I think it was held in spring, so my first one would have been when I was finishing up 7th grade in 1969.

Maker:L,Date:2017-9-6,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-YBy 1969 I had been messing around with FORTRAN IV on the CDC 3100 for about a year, so I had a bit of an advantage.  I took second place in the beginners’ division.  Next year, I took first place in the advanced division, and then the next year they didn’t want me to compete so I got to attend as a teacher’s assistant.

Us kids stayed at a big and somewhat run down hotel. My third year there was an incident in which a bunch of us got stuck in the elevator as it slowly sank to below basement level.  Unfortunately, one guy was severely claustrophobic and had a dramatic panic attack. It only lasted 10 minutes or so but all the kids were traumatized.

Years later, working at the Princeton Computer Center Clinic, I was relating this tale. Imagine my surprise when John Sacha said “Hey! I was in that elevator too!”  He was from Tucson.

The first 2 years they hosted the programming on an IBM 1130, by the third year they had upgraded(?) to an NCR 315 machine. What I remember most about the NCR is that the console bell sounded just like a cash register!ComputerSymposium1970

My brothers Dick, Jim, and Bob all also went for various years. Dick reminded me that some of the programming was also done in assembly language for SIMOAC – Simulated One Address Computer. SIMOAC was a hypothetical computer not unlike Knuth’s MIX. I wish I could find a manual for it.

ps. I found a newspaper article from the “Pecos Enterprise” here, which is from 1973 and states that local kids are going to the 5th annual Computer Symposium.  So the one I started at in 1969 must have been the first.  Organizer is stated as Dr. David M Dennis, Director of Research and the Computer Center at WNMU.  Amazon lists him as author of the book “Programming in SIMOAC III: (Simulated one address computer)”

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