Olivetti/Programma 101/Revive/LetterThorkilNaur 20120712 0825

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Re: Olivetti Programma 101

Dear Mr Graciotti,

Thank you for your generous response. This is quite a distance beyond my wildest hopes: To have the actual designers of the Programma 101 offering their assistence to restore our P 101 to life is, well, an indescribable experience.

With respect to computer proficiency and economical problems, I am afraid that Denmark is not on a healthy track: At the latest general assembly of the society (Dansk Datahistorisk Forening), a member, Gerd Belhage, described how she, in the 1970's and 1980's, had worked with an arrangement where Olivetti Programma 101 machines (5 of them) were circulated among primary schools in Copenhagen, to be used by the pupils to gain familiarity with this technology. This she considered extremely important. I am not familiar with the details, but I believe that attempts were made in Denmark, in the 1970's and 1980's, to establish computer science as an independent subject, including exposure to programming, at the primary school level.

That approach was unfortunately abandoned, possibly based on the view that is also often expressed presently: That it is a waste of time to expose children to programming, because the swift development will make any competency gained worthless by the time "real" work life starts. Computer proficiency is seen as equivalent to familiarity with Microsoft products, Word, Powerpoint, etc., a most misguided and harmful point of view.

But getting down to business, I am actually quite happy that you are, as I understand, more or less off-line for a couple of months, since vacation-time is dominant in these parts in any case and not much is going to happen before August or even September.

Nevertheless, a few things can be said.

My plan (not prophecy) is to expand and maintain the Wiki site


with the proceedings, what goes on, how to do certain things, take the P 101 apart, clean, replace parts, whatever is going to happen. With a bit of luck, we will end up with something that may even be useful for someone else to follow in our tracks.

In that connection, I need to ask you, whether you would accept our mutual communication, such as your letter and this response, to be exposed on our Wiki? The contents of that Wiki is, essentially, public for everybody to see. My plan is to summarize in any case, but quoting the actual correspondence would seem to be valuable.

What we have done so far is: A few months ago, I managed to take the lid off our P101, exposing the inner parts which, as you would have expected, included several, deteriorated, transmission belts: Some of them lay in a strange, almost melted, stage in the bottom of the enclosing structure. They definitely need to be replaced. We will look into that. Your comments on "belts with a non standard step" are noted, we will have that in mind.

There is also the ribbon that needs maintenance: Wiser people than I assured me that, at worst, we should be able to hand-wind our own spools: The GIER needs fresh ribbons and the same supplier that supplies GIER ribbons is perhaps able to supply P101 ribbons as well.

Then there are the magnetic cards, a prominent feature of the P101. This is again way beyond my experience, nevertheless, competent members of the society indicate that it may not be entirely impossible to produce such cards ourselves. Your comments to that plan would be most appreciated.

Getting to the part of the story that definitely matters, similar to what our experts did for the GIER

 (or http://datamuseum.dk/wiki/GIER/Kørende)

we need to be very careful when we apply power to the P101 initially. Again this is outside my direct experience, but a similar process that was carried out on our GIER to, initially, determine the state of the various capacitors and other components that make up the power supply, then gradually increasing the power supply, to reduce the risk of blue sparks and smoke, until a fully powered state is reached, would seem appropriate for the P101 as well.

I will leave it at that for now and just express my gratitude again, that you are willing to go into this matter with us. I am very much looking forward to the coming months.

The very best regards Thorkil Naur