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TELEVAC 86000 / CENTAURI-68000, South Carolina State Fair: 2012   38 comments

Posted at 11:32 pm in Uncategorized




Once upon a time, computers were magical devices, "Electronic Brains", spoken of with tinges of awe and fear. See for instance the classic Hepburn / Tracy movie Desk Set. Nobody, in their day-to-day lives would expect to see a computer, and few people had any idea what they actually looked like. Everybody was sure, however, that they involved lots of blinking lights (and tape drives moving forever back and forth).

That first actually wasn't far from the truth. Early computers did have many lights, often signifying bits in various registers and program counters. They also had toggle switches (like the much missed computer in the old Columbia Science Museum) for setting all those bits.

The illuminated front panels of early computers loomed large enough in techie culture that you often found variations of the following sign posted in a computer room:


and the portmanteau word blinkenlights permanently entered the hacker lexicon.

So people were interested, a bit awed and a bit scared by the idea of computers, and had only a very general idea of what they could do and how they looked. Thus: The TELEVAC 86000.

This amiable faux computer has been making the rounds for as long as I can remember, which is to say, at least since 1965 or so, and probably prior to that. Every year, it would set up shop in the Steel Building or the Ruff Building and dazzle the passers by. How could you possibly doubt a handwriting analysis from the TELEVAC 86000? IT'S A COMPUTER! IT'S SCIENCE! IT HAS BLINKING LIGHTS!

While we never did spring for the analysis when my parents took us to the fair back in the day, I have the feeling that at the time, this wonder of technology dispensed pre-printed cards dissecting your penmanship -- certainly there were no portable printers available for such a travelling roadshow.

As the years went on, the TELEVAC did add a printer, and astrological predictions as well as handwriting analysis, but the basic blinkenlights front panel stayed fundamentally unaltered, even through the name change to the less antique sounding CENTAURI-68000.

By the time I actually dropped $3.00 in 2012, the whole concept was not too credible. Whereas in 1965, nobody had seen a computer, much less had a computer, and the blinkenlights represented (to this 5 year old anyway) the apex of science, by 2012 most everybody (including lots of the 5 year olds) had a computer, and everybody knew what one looked like.

Sad to say, the TELEVAC / CENTAURI did not make an appearance at the 2013 State Fair, and I'm afraid it is the end of an era.

Written by ted on October 21st, 2013

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38 Responses to 'TELEVAC 86000 / CENTAURI-68000, South Carolina State Fair: 2012'

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  1. I always got a kick out of these machines. Just a bunch of spare computer parts from lord knows what and when, stuck in and on a cabinet that contains who know what kind of processor. Where do they even find parts for these things anyway? I haven't seen a dot matrix printer in over 15 years!!! BTW Ted, I have some of the flashing light bars and panels from an IBM 370/168. I've got some coding coding forms, a flowcharting template, printer carriage tapes and a box of punch cards!!! I even made a bathroom fan out of one of the cooling fans out the the 168.

    What I'd like to see are some of the old fortune telling machines with the animated gypsy woman inside. Those things always creeped me out!!!!!


    22 Oct 13 at 12:41 am

  2. This seemed so cool to me as a kid, in a Lost in Space sort of way.

    Now, blinking lights, tractor feeds, and dot matrix printers have gone the way of the Apollo program.


    22 Oct 13 at 6:39 am

  3. I always thought the machine name corresponded to the Motorola 68000 microprocessor which became available in the late '70s. Possibly the original Televac went through an updated name change?


    22 Oct 13 at 8:16 am

  4. Tonkatoy, When I was a kid I thought Lost in Space was a really cool show. I caught an episode a few years ago and it seemed so dated, and the special effects were terrible. Boy how times change.

    Terry, I read how Motorola came up with it's name. Back when the hand cranked Victrola was popular, a new company came out with a motorized version. A Motorized Victrola. Combine the first part of Motorized and the last part of Victrola, and you have Motorola.


    22 Oct 13 at 10:58 am

  5. This sounds like a throwback to an era when computers were the size of full rooms #tt


    22 Oct 13 at 2:04 pm

  6. Hey Ted, you might want to check the HTML tags where it says "TELEVAC 86000? IT'S A COMPUTER! IT'S SCIENCE! IT HAS BLINKING LIGHTS!" in the third paragraph below the German blockquote you have as I think a couple of them aren't displaying the way I think you intended for them to...


    22 Oct 13 at 7:25 pm

  7. I always have trouble deciding between bold & italic..

    The robot is what made "Lost In Space".


    22 Oct 13 at 7:27 pm

  8. I read an article that said that the flashing light panels and tape drives that you saw on all of the Irwin Allen TV shows were actually parts of old Burrough's mainframes.


    22 Oct 13 at 7:50 pm

  9. @Andrew - Sort of like
    this ?????


    22 Oct 13 at 8:15 pm

  10. That's a 370-168MP system with a bank of 3330 disk drives, one 2305 fixed-head disk drive, 3420 tape drives, a 3505 card reader, a 3525 card punch, 2 1403-N1 printers and a 3211 printer. You can tell it's a 168MP because they have 2 3066 Operator Console units. In the back are the Multiplexor, Selector, and Block Multiplexor channel units.


    22 Oct 13 at 9:33 pm

  11. Dang Mike you know your old iron!!!! We used to have one of these old boat anchors at PMSC until the late 80's.....


    22 Oct 13 at 10:35 pm

  12. @Mike -- And the ladies' names and phone numbers?


    23 Oct 13 at 12:06 am

  13. I learned chip programming (hexidecimal) on a Motorola 6808 (I think) chip back in 1987.

    I still have a stack of Hollerith cards (punched and unpunched) somewhere.


    23 Oct 13 at 7:00 am

  14. The reason behind the Televac and other venders not at The State Fair this year was because of the massive price increase to venders. A 10 x 10 booth last year cost less than $1,000, this year the exact same booth was $3,200. (double booth for $5k) The State Fair tried to charge the local police dept $10,000 for 4 booths, they rebuffed and received their free booths as usual. Did you see a name on the Rocket this year? Nope, because they tried to get $100k from Time Warner this year (paid $40k last year), they told them to kiss their backside. Just a month before the fair they were scrambling to fill the buildings, dropping prices and giving free booths away.


    25 Oct 13 at 5:33 pm

  15. I think Televac used 3 booths ..... that would have cost them around $8,000 (booth fee plus liability insurance plus admission and parking)


    25 Oct 13 at 5:38 pm

  16. What was the reason behind such a massive fee hike? I can understand rising costs and whatnot, but doubling or tripling fees year to year sounds very strange.


    25 Oct 13 at 5:54 pm

  17. Very Simple Jason.... a guy came in from NY last year and promised the State Fair a ton of money if they let him take over the buildings. I talked with this snake oil salesman more than once. He first started off trying to require us venders to sign a 5 year contract. Then it was we had to sign a contract to do multiple fairs. The majority of us stood our ground. Even after he dropped the multi year/fair contract, most still refused. About 3 months before the start of the fair he started scrambling just to have any venders, the majority told him to go screw himself. He went as far to give booths away if you rented one. Did any of you notice how spread out the venders were this year? Did any of you notice, no one was giving out free stuff except for the Bibles? I know for a fact what went on this year because I am an ex vender at the SC State Fair.


    27 Oct 13 at 5:47 pm

  18. I was kind of bummed the dairy folks weren't giving away free pints of milk, but didn't really think much of it. Only freebie I got was a tote bag from the good people at Chevy.

    Man, that sounds like an awful development for the fair. Adding another layer of profit between people and services never works out well for the people or the services. Is he a permanent addition or a soon-to-be-remedied mistake?


    27 Oct 13 at 8:56 pm

  19. I hope he is not a permanent addition, maybe he will get run out like he has at other fairs across the country.


    28 Oct 13 at 3:25 am

  20. HAHAHAHA...a tale of greed gone wild at The State Fair.

    Guess he didn't "Find his Happy" (which, no lie, has to be one of the worst state fair themes ever).


    28 Oct 13 at 6:58 am

  21. I don’t have any inside insight, but my opinion: Before we heap all the blame on ‘the guy from New York,’ remember that Gary Goodman is still the head honcho of the SC State Fair. If GFNY got into his ear about how he could make more money, it would have had to happen with Goodman’s approval. My question is how it came about. Possibly a cold sales pitch? A “Fair Managers” conference? Or maybe Goodman thought that his costs had gone up enough that he had to find a way to increase revenue.


    28 Oct 13 at 8:30 am

  22. It was fun to always get FREE stuff at the Fair in the 60's on back.. Now things have changed and people have gotten to money hungry and no FREE give-a-ways, no FREE Rulers, NO FREE anything. It's all about the money now. The only GOOD thing is that the higher ups that run the State Fair have a "dress-code" so people have to look and dress half way decent instead of lookin like a Hobo, or some drug dealing gang member. It's about time they raised the standards some out there.


    28 Oct 13 at 6:07 pm

  23. @CayceKid - in the old days you could get freebies at just about any show at the fairgrounds. I used to go with my Dad to the car shows, boat shows, home shows, etc. and walk away with a bag full of goodies.


    28 Oct 13 at 8:14 pm

  24. I can remember a lot of that.. being in my mid 50's, there are a lot of things I remember, then there's a lot I don't remember anymore.


    28 Oct 13 at 10:03 pm

  25. The thing that used to drive my grandmother crazy (back in the 90s) was that people would fight for the yardsticks she used to give away at the fair and that type of mentality turned her off to crowds in general...


    28 Oct 13 at 10:11 pm

  26. I remember too when computers were the size of a small "Titanic", and had those reels of tape. I think they were the ones used on Lost In Space, Time Tunnel, The Land of The Giants and other "Irwin Allen" shows of the time. I'm sure Blue Sky used those when he worked at Colonial Life Insurance on Marion St.


    28 Oct 13 at 10:11 pm

  27. @CayceKid - I started my career on those machines back in '78. A room full of equipment with less computing power than a dumb cell phone. Working in a room chilled to arctic temperatures just to keep the machines from melting down before your eyes. Look at the pic I posted on Oct 22nd. I still work on mainframes but the technology has change so much over the years. The Irwin Allen computer systems were mostly just a bunch of flashing light panels, but some of the hardware were from actual systems in use at the time.


    28 Oct 13 at 11:05 pm

  28. @Andrew - when I would go to the shows with my Dad he was all about anything that was free. I guess that's what growing up during the depression instilled in a person. Get anything for the cheapest price you can, only buy something when you need it and such. I guess that's why he and my Mom never grossed over $50K between the two of them but they have more money squirreled away a lot of people in my generation.


    28 Oct 13 at 11:08 pm

  29. Here's a whole list of LIS computer props still around (for the most part) today.


    29 Oct 13 at 6:42 am

  30. My Dad would always tell us to get the freebiew before we went home, so we wouldn't have to lug them around the whole time. In retrospect, I think he was trying to get us to forget about them, which, I have to admit, we did most of the time.

    Smart man, my Dad!


    29 Oct 13 at 6:44 am

  31. Cool pics, tonka!!


    29 Oct 13 at 10:39 pm

  32. Homer: Are you still at CSC, formerly PMSC? I assume that you still work on Series II or the Life 70 system.


    20 Nov 13 at 10:14 pm

  33. @joelc - I've been at BlueCross since '97. I'm a mainframe security analyst. Sorry, but I can't recall a joelc. Give me a hint....


    21 Nov 13 at 1:36 am

  34. Homer, while I probably don't know you in real life, there's a pretty good chance that you and I have worked with some of the same people over time.


    21 Nov 13 at 7:03 am

  35. @badger - could be. I've been in IT since '78. Worked at South Carolina National Bank, Colonial Life, PMSC, and BCBSSC.


    22 Nov 13 at 12:28 am

  36. I've also been in IT since '78. Worked with employees from all those locations, as well as SCANA, Bankers Trust, C&S, and numerous consulting groups like TM Floyd, TSI, and a whole slough of others that I can't recall. One guy referred to Colonial (Unum) as the "Soviet Unum."


    22 Nov 13 at 10:38 am

  37. I'm glad I left Colonial well before Unum took over. It was a great place to work in the beginning!! I'll be we know a bunch of the same people!!!


    23 Nov 13 at 12:30 am

  38. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I've truly enjoyed browsing your blog posts. After all I'll be subscribing on your rss feed and I am hoping you write again soon!|

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