The PAFEC 10th anniversary brochure – August 1986

This is what a leading UK software company looked like 30 years ago. After thinking I’d lost this brochure for good, it eventually turned up at my late parent’s house while I was sorting through the last of bookshelves this afternoon. All six pages are available for download here (pdf).

PAFEC Employees 1986The photograph is from the back page and was taken on the lawn at Strelley Hall. It shows many of the 270 employees. I can remember quite a few of the people pictured (I’m in the background towards the left hand side), and it would be good to hear from you in the comments if you’re also featured in the picture. If anyone still happens to have the key to the people in the photograph (I remember it being displayed next to the copy of the picture hung by the staircase in the hall for many years), it would be even better to hear from you!

A simple user interface?

Here’s one final piece of PAFEC memorabilia for the time being – the DOGS 4.4 Option Selector from 1993.

Getting DOGS to do something involved selecting two items from an on screen (or on-tablet) menu. For example, to draw a single straight line, you selected the menu option LINE, followed by the menu option 2. This example was known as an ‘executing option’, as until another menu item was selected, indicating two more points in the drawing area would result in another straight line. You could also select menu options by using ‘typed input’ mode and typing its abbreviation – LIN2 in this case.

Versions of DOGS prior to the 4.1 release used two letter abbreviation codes for menu items which still worked of course, meaning that vast libraries of parametrics (the DOGS programming language used to create automated scripts based on sequences of commands) built since the first releases of the early 80s still worked. The move to three letter menu item codes became necessary as an increasing number of functions that had been added over time had ended up in some rather strange places on the menu.

Providing a printed card was an engineering solution to the graphics terminals of the day not having the space to display large amounts of text or graphics to describe the purpose of each option. The option selector therefore allowed the drawing area to be maximised.

The 4.4 option selector was double-sided, folded into thirds. It was introduced following research indicating that the earlier and larger menu cards designed to fit on a digitising tablet were seen as being too cumbersome. Customers who still wanted to use the menu card on a tablet were provided with a DOGS parametric that enabled one to be printed.

The last of the six images has an old (0602) Nottingham telephone and fax number on it, along with the PAFEC telex address. Company email addresses were probably still a year or two away for us at this point …

PAFEC – The DOGS 3.1 SCURS Comment Block

This comment block, from the SCURS subroutine of DOGS 3.1 should bring back memories for former colleagues. The copy I have in my possession runs to just over 14 pages and has my provisional edits (dated 24th October 1985) for DOGS on the Sun-2 workstation using a Bitpad 1 compatible tablet. Seeing the lines of code starting IF (ITYPE.EQ.111) GOTO 395 again certainly brings back memories.

The SCURS comment block from DOGS 3.1, October 1985.The aim of SCURS was simple, but because of the ever-growing number of different graphics terminals, workstations and input devices DOGS supported, it had started to become unwieldy and became almost indecipherable by the release of DOGS 3.2 in 1986. DOGS 4.1 replaced SCURS with a structured library known as PUGS (PAFEC Universal Graphics System) used by Tektronix, Westward, Sigma and other graphics terminals, with a variant called LIONS used on Sun, Apollo, HP and other 32-bit workstations.

 

PAFEC – Photographs of Strelley Hall, 1990

I have singularly failed so far to find my copy of the staff photograph from 1986, taken on the lawn at Strelley Hall to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the company. I’ll keep looking, but in the meantime, these are the photographs of the hall taken in 1990 by Derek Barley, who also provided the pictures of the Stapleford office for my earlier post.

The first picture is of the stables, with one of the PAFEC vans parked outside. I spent the first 18 months or so of my working life after university in the stables and I remember it being particularly cold during the winter of 1985/86, when my rear-wheel drive Skoda Rapid 120 was one of the few cars able to make it safely along Strelley Lane one snowy morning.

The stables at Strelley Hall, circa 1990. Image copyright Derek Barley. Used with permission.A couple of nice photographs of the main entrance to the Hall …

PAFEC, Strelley Hall, circa 1990. Image copyright Derek Barley. Used with permission.PAFEC, Strelley Hall, circa 1990. Image copyright Derek Barley. Used with permission.… and one taken from the terrace on the left-hand side of the main entrance, looking towards Strelley Church.

PAFEC, Strelley Hall, circa 1990. Image copyright Derek Barley. Used with permission.Finally, one of the resident chickens!

PAFEC, Strelley Hall, circa 1990. Image copyright Derek Barley. Used with permission.

An interview with the PAFEC Post, June 1990

While I’ve been trying to find the PAFEC 10th anniversary photograph (no joy so far), I did come across an edition of the PAFEC Post – our customer magazine – from June 1990. I was interviewed! That’s me, having a bad hair day, second from the right, in the Stapleford offices with some of the other members of the Product Services Department.

Interview in the PAFEC Post from June 1990.

PAFEC – Strelley Hall in 1986/7 and Stapleford in 1990

A post I published here a little over four years ago with a couple of photographs of my office at PAFEC in 1991 has since attracted a steady stream of readers and comments. This week I’ve been sent some photographs by Derek Barley and Darren Seaton, both former employees. I’m grateful to both of them for their permission to publish them here.

Darren sent me this picture from the Strelley Hall stables of his desk that he dates to 1986 or 87. It shows a Westward graphics terminal (I’m unsure of the model, but it looks like it might be a 3219 or 3220) attached to a digitising tablet. There’s what looks like a DOGS 3.1 menu card taped to the back of the stall too.

A DOGS digitising station at Strelly Hall, 1986/87. Image copyright Darren Seaton. Used with permission.The set of photographs Derek provided date to around 1990. These show views of the exterior of the Stapleford offices and a couple of the first floor development offices, including the DOGS Mapping office.

PAFEC Stapleford office exterior circa 1990.Image copyright Derek Barley. Used with permission.PAFEC Stapleford office exterior showing the tower after renovation circa 1990.Image copyright Derek Barley. Used with permission.This picture was clearly taken after the tower (and the meeting room at the top of it) had been renovated and the years of dead pigeons that had accumulated up there had been removed. I remember it being somewhere I used to like to hold team meetings – provided that the weather wasn’t too hot or too cold. On the other side of the tower a microwave dish had line of sight to Strelley Hall, allowing the two sites to be networked with a very decent speed / bandwidth for the time.

The view from the tower at the PAFEC Stapleford offices exterior shThe view from the tower at the PAFEC Stapleford offices circa 1990. Image copyright Derek Barley. Used with permission.The view from the top of the tower. Strelley Hall is somewhere in the distance on the left hand side of the photograph.

PAFEC StapleSoftware Development office at PAFEC Stapleford circa 1990. Image copyright Derek Barley. Used with permission.It’s clear from this photograph that the company had already switched over to Apollo Workstations (probably DN3000s) from terminals linked to Prime minicomputers for software development purposes at the time this was taken. That’s a HP A0 pen plotter in the background I think.

Software Development office at PAFEC Stapleford circa 1990. Image copyright Derek Barley. Used with permission. Software Development office at PAFEC Stapleford circa 1990. Image copyright Derek Barley. Used with permission.In the left foreground of this image is the back of a Datapath X5A terminal – one of the least expensive colour graphics terminals on the market in the mid 80s. There were quite a lot of these spread throughout PAFEC’s offices and they were excellent VTxxx emulators too. I remember writing a lot of code using one of these as my display screen.

Derek has also sent me some photographs of the exterior of Strelley Hall from the same period. However, I’m going to hold these over for another post because I have a picture of everyone on the lawn of the hall in 1986 celebrating the company’s tenth anniversary that I’d like to put with them, but that will require me to take a trip into the attic!

 

An appeal: PAFEC DOGS is worthy of conservation

Recently, there’s been quite a bit of banter in the comments of a post I wrote a couple of years ago about my first employer, PAFEC Ltd.

It’s got me thinking. It would be great to try to re-create a working copy of their most famous software package, DOGS (Design Office Graphics System) on (say) a modern Linux platform such as the Raspberry Pi, for conservation reasons.

As one of the first general purpose CAD packages on the market (it was first released around 1979 if my memory serves me correctly) that didn’t require specialist CAD hardware to operate it, as well as being the leading British CAD software package of the 1980s, it would be a shame not to try I think.

I’ve no idea who owns the rights to the software today, but if they’d like to get in touch I’d be very interested in putting together a small team together to start a conservation effort – assuming that they still have access to its source code.

PAFEC – August 1991

I’m still looking for the photographs of the Warwick University Rent Strike of 1983. I’ve not managed to find them yet, as it involves going through a cabinet in a cupboard in my younger daughter’s bedroom to find them, which first of all involves tunneling through the masses of teenage detritus she keeps in what we laughingly term a bedroom. You can rarely see the bed (or the floor.)

But I did find these photographs, which are interesting historical documents in their own right. (OK, they’re interesting to me, and me only, probably.) They show the middle office of the 2nd floor of what was PAFEC’s Stapleford premises at 39 Nottingham Road in August 1991. At that time, I was the Product Services Manager and was in the process of building a team from the remnants of three others involved in porting the company’s software, as well as having been given the publications department.

One of the goals we wanted to achieve was to introduce more professionalism into what the company was doing. One means of  making sure this happened involved getting the Support Services Division (which my team was part of) through an ISO9001 audit against TickIT. As part of working through this, we realised (pretty quickly!) that we needed to be far, far better in how we organised our working environment. The first photograph shows the scale of the task we faced. The team covered the whole of the 2nd floor – so we had two other offices that didn’t look too dissimilar to this one.

PAFEC Product Services Office - August 1991

Key to photograph

  1. Back of two Sun ‘shoeboxes’ – at this point in time, they would have contained either 70 or 140 Mbyte SCSI disks and one of them would have had a cartridge tape unit.
  2. A PAFEC DOGS menu card – though probably for one of the options, like DOGS NC, from a superficial view of the colours used on it.
  3. Uncontrolled media – probably containing DOGS source and object code. You can also see piles of it in the open cabinet behind my desk. Part of the process of getting through the audit was to eliminate most of this from the offices (and keep it in a fire safe in the computer rooms in Strelley and Stapleford, where it belonged.)
  4. Our Sun SparcStation 1 workstation.
  5. Our Harris MCX workstation.
  6. The console for the Data General mini computer we had in the office, running the now long defunct AOS/VS operating system.
  7. A Tektronix graphics terminal – probably a 4111.
  8. A Prime PT200 terminal, connected to the customer support database and contact management system.
  9. Boxes containing various revisions of SunOS 2.x, 3.x and 4.x for Sun 3 and Sparcstation hardware.
  10. The back of one of the Sun 3/50 workstations we had in the office. Out of picture to the left would have been our second 3/50, a diskless 3/110, a Sun 386i and a Whitechapel MG-1.

The other offices would have had a number of Apollo workstations (DN3000s  and earlier models), Vaxstations, DECstations, an IBM PC RT (6150) and a HP9000/400 workstation. A range of graphics terminals (Tektronix, Sigma, Westward, Datapath)  would have been capable of working through a Gandalf switch with the “heavy lifting” minicomputers in the machine rooms at Stapleford and Strelley, including Prime, Vax, Data General, HP, Norsk Data, Bull and Harris.

The second photograph shows my desk (you can just about see it in the background of the first photograph) after we’d finished our clear-out. Neat and tidy – with not a piece of uncontrolled and unlabeled media in sight.

PAFEC Product Services Office - My desk, August 1991

We got through the audit later on that year, first time. The quality of the processes we were following improved beyond all recognition and we started to deliver software, not in jiffy bags, but in the type of packaging that the rest of the industry was capable of doing. Which meant that we started to get the right software to our customers, first time, rather than second, third or fourth time. Quality went up, costs went down and the company (after the false hopes we had for the 3D CAD market were past) started to recover with our later diversification into electronic document management software.