The Tektronix Storage Tube was a cathode ray screen across which a beam of electrons could be swept directed, leaving a trail behind it rather like the plume behind an aircraft (technology note
). The technology was developed further to allow the picture generated to be held on the screen for quite a long period, and with various electronics, an RS232 interface and a keyboard, the whole combination formed the major product range in Tek's IDG (Information Display Group) / IDD (Information Display Division) in the 1970s. In those days, fast computer memory was very expensive and products such as the 4014 gave the first practical graphics terminals, addressable to a very high 4000 x 3000 resolution.
One of the problems, though, was how to get rid of the image ... and it had to be done by erasing the entire image and recreating a new one - a "redraw". For some applications this was a big issue (comment here
), but not for others where a series of pages being displayed one after another worked very well indeed.
I was reminded of this yesterday with a parallel being drawn between Python's Tuples (which have to be rebuilt from scratch if they need modification) and the storage tube, contrasting to Python's lists, which can be modified element by element like a modern raster scan device refreshed from memory 30 or 60 times a second. And like the storage tube, the tuple does have its ideal uses but (let's be frank!) we do need more dynamic devices and lists too.
I joined Tektronix in 1976 as the UK's Technical support specialist for these devices, and formed a fondness for them. Built like tanks, priced at a level where they weren't exactly a consumer product (over 10000 pounds for some terminals!) , they were an ideal solution for many interesting research and development projects ranging from the geothermal energy project through to nuclear research, defense, and the design of the stopping patterns for lifts!
Researching last night to find information about the old "tek" products online I found very little and found myself recalling numbers and models. So for no particular reason (other than that other Tektronix oldtimers may be here too!) I give you the list of some that I recall
The early models
(superseded before I joined)
The main product range
4010 11" Storage tube terminal
11" Storage tube terminal with ability to read back screen for printed copy
4012 12" Storage tube, with readback for print
4013 12" Storage tube, with APL keyboard and readback for print
19" storage rube terminal
4014-1 19" Storage tube terminal with ability to read back screen for printed copy
4015 19", APL keyboard
4015-1 19", APL keyboard, readback
4016 25" storage tube terminal
also the 4006 - a desktop version of the 4010 introduced a little later as electronic shrunk and got lower cost
The 4112 and 4114 were a next generation storage tube terminal with much enhanced electronics - didn't do very well in the market which had moved on with cheap memory for raster devices and PCs
The 4020 series
were (hiss, hiss!) raster graphics terminals.
4023 early Alpha terminal
4024 and 4025 introduced after the hayday of the 4010 series (4024 alpha, 4025 graphics)
4027 Colour Raster Graphics - the first such product from Tektronix
4051 11" Screen with a basic interpreter, tape drive and motorola 6800 chip
4052 11" Screen with a basic interpreter, tape drive and bit slice processors - MUCH faster!
4054 19" Screen, basic, tape, bit slice.
The 4050 series was 8k up to 32k (4051) and 32k up to 54k (4052 and 4054) and you could add an 8" disc drive, model 4907.
4081 Fortran based 19" storage tube workstation.
4601, 4631, 4611 Printers - three generations - for copying storage tubes. The 4601 and 4631 were photographic and the 4611 was thermal
4632, 4634, 4612 Also printers - for video screens via a video out, NOT for the storage tubes
4662 A3 flatbed plotter
4663 A2 (? A1) flatbed plotter
4923 and 4924 Cartridge tape drives with RS232 (4923) and GPIB (IEEE 488) interfaces (4924)
4953 and 4954 Digitisers (graphics tablets) for use with 4010 series
4956 graphics tablet for use with 4050 series
4911 and 4912 - Paper Tape and Cassette tape
These were the pieces of code that it was my role to get running on any computer from a Perkin Elmer to a PDP 11, via a Norsk Data box, a system running RSX11M and an ICL 1905.
Plot 10 TCS (Terminal Control System) Fortran Driver Routines
Plot 10 AGII (Advanced Graphing II) Additional Fortran routines to add graphing capability
Other Plot-10 software (utilities mainly) and Plot-50 software for the 4050 series
Where are YOU now?
... former colleagues such as Brock Wadsley, Allen Mathhews, George Wreford, Brian Burke, Steve Boniwell, John Thomspon, Lorraine Perrott, Colin Eddy, Alan Mawdsley, Peter Wilde, Val Hill, Bob Shaw, Jim Rew, Paula Lumby / MacMillan, Ian Bilsland, Mike Bundred, Les Goss, Mike Crowley, Dave Brackenridge, Bob Wakefield, Howard Rippiner, Peter Still, Tony Tuck, Jim Longmead, Bob Wainwright, Nigel Payne, Peter Craven, Jenny Seaman, Carla Dearing, Rodger Alexander, ...
Update - 16th July 2008.
I've heard from David Browne - who took over in Scotland from Dave Brackenridge, and a whole host of other names who brought back memories on the "T&M" or Test and Measurement side, in addition to the IDD / IDG folks listed above (and he's reminded me of a name or two I have added!).
Update - 23rd August 2009
. In touch with Steve, Paula and Howard too. Howard is living in Devon. He tells me that John T passed away a couple of years ago, as did Keith Retallick, the one time senior manager / director (time fuzzies!) in the UK.
Update - 12th April 2010
. Jim Rew writes "In 1988 we moved to Spain where I now just sit in the sun. Though retired I'm still into tech stuff, especially Linux."
Update - 30th June 2010
. Lunch with Paula, in Melksham. Paula lives in Canada, but was visiting her daughter in Bath and it was great to catch up. [article]
. Picture - at lunch that day at Lee's Palace in Melksham.
Update - November 8th 2011
Sad news; I hear that Peter Still passed away about 10 days ago, after "a long fight with cancer". Peter and I were more that just Tektronix; it was also Compugrafic Design Ltd., Megatek and Connectware. See [here]
Update - June 12 2015
Email from Nigel Payne ... who writes "You may remember that I ran the Graphic System Group under John Thompson and the team included Paula Lumby, Peter Wood, Bob Shaw, Marion Hewitt and others. We were based in Harpenden and Stockport. Our products were based on the 4081 which was initially marketed as an intelligent terminal." .... [snip personal career details] ... and Nigel tells me he's now retired, and may look us up some time as he travels to visit relatives.
Links to some of those I still have contact with - see my linkedin profile and connections
(Also updated August 2009). Connections not specifically mentioned above include Peter Still, Martin Jowett, Phil Joisce, Sean Gallagher. There's also a page where I remember another former colleague - Jim Longmead
who is no longer with us.
And does anyone have
... a copy of the source of TCS. (written 2008-05-13, updated 2015-06-13)
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Python - extend v append on a list - (2006-10-20) 
Python collections - mutable and imutable - (2006-11-29) 
for loop - how it works (Perl, PHP, Java, C, etc) - (2007-06-06) 
Looking for a value in a list - Python - (2008-09-08) 
Creating and iterating through Python lists - (2009-07-12) 
Strings as collections in Python - (2009-07-12) 
Python - fresh examples of all the fundamentals - (2009-08-20) 
Traffic lights in Python - (2010-04-13) 
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Arrays of arrays - or 2D arrays. How to program tables. - (2011-01-02) 
Beware - a=a+b and a+=b are different - Python - (2011-02-23) 
All possible combinations from a list (Python) or array (Ruby) - (2011-04-23) 
List slices in Python - 2 and 3 values forms, with an uplifting example - (2011-07-06) 
Stepping through a list (or an array) in reverse order - (2012-03-23) 
Spike solutions and refactoring - a Python example - (2012-06-13) 
Collections in Python - list tuple dict and string. - (2013-03-04) 
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