1979-84: SLAC Fastbus Controller

My first hardware design was to make a processor for the new Fastbus Standard, The SLAC Fastbus Controller (SLAC – Stanford Linear Accelerator Center).  I instead made a whole family of controllers by designing a Fastbus interface for any Multibus plug in processor card.  I tested it with 3 different CPUs: an Intel 8086 board, a FermiLab 68000 board, and a SUN Workstation 68000 board.  The SUN board was loaned to me by Andreas Bechtolsheim.  He was a graduate student working with Forrest Baskett on Campus at Stanford on a project they called the Stanford University Network Workstation (‘SUN’).  He helped me quite a bit to understand fast bit-mapped graphics methods as I was also doing some workstation design of my own on the side for CAI.   You probably know Andy better from the fact that he went on to co-found SUN Microsystems with Bill Joy.   I interviewed there once.  When their Manager asked me if I wanted a big salary or stock options, I gave the wrong answer, “Both.”  Here is what the SFC looked like as a single width Fastbus crate controller – huge.The SLAC Fastbus Controller using a SUN Multibus CPUIf you ever read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, you may remember the part where he repaired his handelbars with a beer can pop top using it for a shim.  I read that book many times and maybe that is why I designed a card guide for inserting the Multibus cpu using layers of aluminum, and fiberglass all shimmed together.  It worked well, and was still single wide.Plug and Play the FASTBUS wayThis board has lots of MSI parts because that is all we had for 10K ECL logic level translators.  Having more software background then, I used over a dozen ‘cutting edge’ MMI PALs to do all the protocol translation using their AND/OR logic arrays.  SFC was prototyped first in wire-wrap form.

Other than this board, I contributed a recursive system initialization procedure to the Fastbus standard effort.  I developed that using UCSD PASCAL on an LSI 11.   Ken Bowles would have been proud had we kept in touch after I left UCSD in 1976.  At SLAC I worked with Dr. Ray Larson, Dr. Leo Paffrath, and Dr. David Gustavson among many others.  When I left I was a newbie Project Engineer for the SLD detector, but Texas Instruments woo’d me away to management.

One other thing I did at SLAC as a side project was design a graphics workstation on paper.  It was to have an MC6800 with 640×480 RGB display and all electronics inside the keyboard.  I had the other Fastbus controller project that needed to be finished, and this was not a priority.  As it turned out Atari came out with the model 400 game machine before I could get to this, and Apple already had their albatross 6502 based systems.  A headhunter contacted me and said Apple wanted to interview me.  But they wanted a software person, not a hardware person.  I passed it up.  Not long after Apple announced the short-lived Lisa system that led finally to the Macintosh smash hit.  My interest in building my own CAI workstation soon faded.