Honeywell: The Multics System Brochure, 1975

Marginalia

(Like this post) 30

01

02

03

04

05

06

07

08

09

10

The Multics (Multiplexed Information and Computing Service) System was a time-sharing computer conceptualized around 1964. Here’s a fun fact: the design and features of Multics influenced the development of the Unix operating system. More nerdery from Wikipedia: “The name Unix (originally Unics) is itself a pun on Multics. The U in Unix is rumored to stand for uniplexed as opposed to the multiplexed of Multics, further underscoring the designers’ rejections of Multics’ complexity in favor of a more straightforward and workable approach for smaller computers.” So I find this stuff totally fascinating, but you might not, so I’ll just talk about the design now.

Oh my god, Becky, look at the cover. This 1975 Honeywell cover is reminiscent of the classic Romek Marber Penguin covers that every designer has been, in recent years, reproducing like rabbits. And it’s obvious why; it’s a minimal and timeless recipe that never fails aesthetically. There’s something really beautiful about concentric circles, especially when layered with the right hues and shades; in this case, warm browns and oranges. But surely, those circles must mean something. I mean, back then, people didn’t just make arbitrary minimal graphics do nothing but look cool, right? According to multicians.org (<– whoa, nerd alert!), “Multics ran on specialized expensive CPU hardware that provided a segmented, paged, ring-structured virtual memory.” Ahhh.

Published //

March 14, 2012

Author //

Christy

Comments //

14

Filed Under //


Design, Layout, Technology

Like this post //

(Like this post) 30

Post Metadata //

14 Comments

  1. No.
    1

    Team Colorcubic

    haha… we’re such snobs. I love it. ;-)

    Name //

    Michael

    Date //

    March 14, 2012

    Reply to user

  2. No.
    2

    Identification

    Multics was the first multi-user computer system designed with integral security features, instead of having ineffective “security” code spackled on top later. One of the core security principles was the concept of 64 (later 8) “rings,” where programs in innermost rings had direct access to privileged operations and confidential data, and users in outermost rings could access these only through well defined and controlled “gateways.” Most logos and other marketing graphics for the product featured concentric rings or circular mazes.

    Name //

    C D Tavares

    Date //

    March 15, 2012

    Reply to user

  3. No.
    3

    Identification

    About the meaning of the circles: An important aspect of Multics system design is a security mechanism built into both hardware and software to separate system software from user programs and to separate the data and programs of one user from another. Several levels are provided to isolate various kinds of system software and various kinds of users; these are conceptualized as “rings of protection” with more secure system software running in inner rings and users in outer rings. The system provides a secure method by which resources running in inner rings can accept and fulfill specific controlled requests for services from users in outer rings.

    Thus the ring motif occurs frequently in decorative graphics on Multics documentation.

    Name //

    Dennis Capps

    Date //

    March 15, 2012

    Reply to user

  4. No.
    4

    Identification

    Whoa, nerd alert -> colorcubic.com: Are you sure that you are not graphic-design nerds? You have your expertise. Computer professionals have theirs. There is no need to insult people with different skills from yours by implying that they are all gauche. If you think that some of your readers are averse to technical material and you want to warn them, use some simple descriptive term that is not loaded with pejorative connotation.

    Name //

    Dennis Capps

    Date //

    March 15, 2012

    Reply to user

    • No.
      4.1

      Team Colorcubic

      Dennis,

      Slow your roll for a moment…
      I know it’s hard to sometimes discern between satire, sarcasm, belligerence, or outright deliberate insult when reading online, (or in general) for some people. Especially without intonation, or facial expression. But to clarify, I do believe, knowing my partner, that she was being sarcastic and satirical.

      More importantly, before you go jumping to assumptions, she has a computer engineering background. So I do believe, if I’m not mistaken, her rhetoric was intentionally poking fun at herself. If you can’t poke fun at yourself from time to time, you’re a little too uptight. Additionally, she and I are both genuinely fascinated with the utilitarian use of both graphics, industrial design, and engineering, and how they all have the potential to play together harmoniously.

      Lastly, if you cared to discern, (not to generalize, but…) the modern-day graphic designer uses ambiguous shapes and colors that “look cool”, without any consideration to the message such shapes and colors are communicating to the audience.

      So to ultimately recap, and summarize, this article Christy posted was merely her way of saying “It’s a shame how a lot of designers, nowadays, don’t consider the level of communication their graphics convey to an audience. And I appreciate and am humbled by how considerate these designers and engineers were, by taking into account the level of depth their designs reach, by incorporating the very essence of such a machine through the thoughtful use of graphics and color. I’m sure I’m revealing just how committed and obsessive I am, but I don’t care.”

      I hope I’ve helped clarify your misinterpretation of the article.

      Cheers! :-)

      - m

      Name //

      Michael

      Date //

      March 15, 2012

      Reply to user

  5. No.
    5

    Team Colorcubic

    Hi CD and Dennis,
    I’d like to first respond with a thanks to the both of you for your expertise and helpful clarification. At the time of posting, I’d just barely scratched the surface of multicians.org, and ended up revisiting the site very early this morning to learn more. I’d also read about the security rings and thought about making an addendum to this post, so I’m glad that you confirmed my suspicions!

    And Dennis, yes, I am a graphic design nerd, and plainly and simply, a nerd. I apologize if you’ve misinterpreted my tone regarding the aforementioned interstitial as gauche and pejorative — that was certainly not my intent. It was my way of expressing wonder at websites that are repositories for such specialized knowledge. To put it another way, my reaction was more like, “Whoa… this is a nerd’s paradise. Sweet.” In the past, nerd certainly carried more of a negative connotation, but the term has since evolved in meaning, as many words often do. There’s been no other time in society where nerds have been accepted more and actually deemed cool. We’re at a place where nerdery is positively cultivated and utilized in a myriad of creative disciplines, and vice-versa. This is why it’s so highly recommended that designers learn how to code, and coders learn how to design, because we become better designers and coders.

    As for areas of expertise, I stake no claim in that title for anything, whether in graphic design or technology, but I do find it offputting that you’d be so quick to make assumptions about who I am without really knowing who I am. I do have a technical background, and I also have an artistic background, and while I did study computer engineering in college, I still feel inadequate about technology sometimes. I acknowledge that there’s always someone who knows much more than I ever could, which is why I’m grateful that we’re having this conversation, and I hope it will continue. Now that I’ve given up a little bit about myself, I’ve love to learn more about you, Dennis. Were you involved with Multics in some capacity? And do you know CD, the first commenter? I ask because you both happened to respond within the same hour and with similar explanations, which also begs the question: how did you come upon Colorcubic?

    Name //

    Christy

    Date //

    March 15, 2012

    Reply to user

  6. No.
    6

    Identification

    OK, Christy and Michael. I am happy to hear that in your personal views technical knowledge is interesting and not a social handicap.

    In reading your use of the word “nerd”, possibly I should have paid more attention to the statement in the original post: “I find this stuff totally fascinating”. But I think any stranger coming upon this post on its own (i.e., not having read the other posts in the blog), as so often happens on the Internet, would have taken the “nerd” usages at face value and not as sarcasm or self-deprecation. I have seen such uses of the word elsewhere, sometimes clearly apologetic and sometimes clearly ironic. So I suppose this is feedback that you need more verbal clues in these cases than normal to compensate for the lack of “intonation, or facial expression”.

    Certainly the relationship of this post to attitudes in the graphic-design community was completely lost on me as I am completely ignorant of that context. But I do understand the point in your reply about professional tools being used without any consideration to the effect of, usefulness of, or even need for the product. This can apply in a lot of fields.

    Even not fully understanding your comment about the interstitial, Christy, I did not think you were criticizing it. I did not even think specifically that you find technical subjects distasteful: you might only have been catering to real or perceived attitudes of your readers.

    My objection is to the connection of the term “nerd” with specific categories of knowledge. The word refers to behavior of specific persons; knowledge itself can not be nerdy, does not impose nerdiness on those who have it, and does not require nerdiness in order to learn it. I will try to explain this.

    By my definition, after these responses I doubt that you are a nerd of any kind. I am not disparaging any knowledge, skill, or interest you have in any field. Rather I imagine that you do not have the more disagreeable characteristics included in the usual definition of “nerd”.

    For example, the paperback Oxford American Dictionary that I have at my desk defines nerd as “a gauche person”. That’s it. The whole definition.

    Wikipedia is more expansive: Nerd is a derogatory slang term for a person typically described as intellectual, socially-impaired, and obsessive who spends inordinate amounts of time on unpopular, obscure, or highly technical pursuits, or relating to topics of fiction or fantasy, to the exclusion of more mainstream activities. … As with other pejoratives, nerd has been reappropriated by some as a term of pride and group identity. In short, it describes a person who cannot relate well to others due to a massive lack of general knowledge and social skills.

    You say that the usage has changed recently; perhaps Wiktionary reflects that: nerd 1. (slang, sometimes derogatory) A person who is intellectual, skilled in one or more fields, and generally introverted. But even here there is that behavioral trait of “introverted”.

    Thus I doubt that “nerd” is becoming a general neutral word for a person who has extensive knowledge and skill in one or more fields. We already have words for that: expert, fan, maven, aficionado, guru, polymath, goto-guy, and more. Is “nerd” applied to English literature? Does anyone call a person obsessed with music a nerd? How about movies? Cars? Video games? Sports? I see “nerd” applied almost automatically to technical fields, especially computers and electronics, but not “mainstream” areas where people, according to some undocumented standard, are expected to have an interest.

    Thus, it seems to me that associating the term “nerd” with computers or graphic design simply creates (or perpetuates) a stereotype and devalues knowledge of the affected area in the society at large.

    All right. Now for some practical comments on how I would apply this principle in the current post.

    “More nerdery ” is simply apologetic. You could have omitted it, leaving just “From Wikipedia:”.

    “I find this stuff totally fascinating, but you might not, so I’ll just talk about the design now.” Good. This is the kind of neutral treatment I am advocating. You are clear about your own interest but acknowledge that many of your readers don’t share it (a simple fact) and that the focus of this blog is design, not computers.

    “whoa, nerd alert!” is 17 characters. Leaving out “More nerdery ” above gives you 13 more. With 30 characters to work with you could have come up with something that both expresses your own delight and informs others who would be less delighted; e.g., “computer history treasure trove!”. OK, that’s 32 and probably not your style, but at least an illustration. Same size post with respect for everyone and no ironic pitfalls. The sarcasm is reserved for the primary topic of the blog in referring to thoughtless use of design elements by present-day designers.

    So there is the reason for my response to the words in your post.

    Name //

    Dennis Capps

    Date //

    March 16, 2012

    Reply to user

    • No.
      6.1

      Team Colorcubic

      Dennis,

      You’re right that other words could be used instead of nerd, but it still doesn’t take away from the fact that the term has indeed evolved. The OED and Wikipedia may have a more historical (and pejorative!) background on it, but if those are your only sources on the meaning of nerd, I’d venture to say that it’s a very narrow view.

      I could make a counter response in the form of an essay, but it’s Friday night, and this NPR piece on Definition Deconstruction: What is a Nerd? pretty much sums it up nicely:

      “The face of nerd culture has changed over the past several decades, and the term “nerd” has lost the stigma it once held. These days people don’t hesitate to identify themselves as nerds: video game nerds, violin nerds, book nerds, craft nerds…the list goes on. “Nerd” has gone from denoting outcast status to simply highlighting that someone is a fanatic regarding a certain subject. Groups of nerds gather regularly – outside of their parents’ basements, too – to celebrate whichever passion they share.”

      Name //

      Christy

      Date //

      March 16, 2012

      Reply to user

  7. No.
    7

    Identification

    My comment on the use and misuse of “nerd” turned out to be quite long; so this one will respond to other points.

    This is why it’s so highly recommended that designers learn how to code, and coders learn how to design, because we become better designers and coders.

    Yes. The users will have a more realistic idea of what programs should be able to do, will demand better quality where it is possible, and understand intrinsic limits where they exist. Programmers will produce better programs if they know from personal experience what tools the user needs and what tasks the programs must do to be really useful. But, as explained in the other comment, it’s a mistake to call these principles “nerdery” when they can be called craftsmanship or professionalism; when they reflect attention to detail, desire for excellence, knowing the customer, understanding one’s tools, and other well-known elements of producing top-quality work.

    In answer to your question: Yes, C. D. Tavares and I both were involved in Multics although we never worked together on any specific projects and about the most that can be said in regard to whether we know each other is that we are workplace acquaintances. Speaking only for my own part, some of my work is part of the Multics system and some user-level programs that come with the system, but to call my contribution to the overall development marginal would be an exaggeration of its impact. I also used Multics as a user for many years in the course of doing other work for my employer.

    As to the timing of our comments and why we even looked at the post: The editor of the multicians.org website sent an email to the members of the Multicians private Yahoo group yesterday at 11:08 AM EDT. I can only assume that he has requested a Google alert (or some similar service) whenever a new post referring to Multics appears on the Internet. Your post would have triggered an alert and, after looking at it, he sent an email to the group in case anyone might be interested. I read that email about an hour later, took a look, and explained the rings because only Michael’s comment was there at that time. Apparently Chris did the same at about the same time and his comment appeared while I was composing mine.

    Name //

    Dennis Capps

    Date //

    March 16, 2012

    Reply to user

    • No.
      7.1

      Team Colorcubic

      Thanks for sharing your background, Dennis. What did you end up doing after your work ended with Multics? I’m genuinely interested in hearing more about your experiences since most of the technical folks I speak with regularly are of a much younger generation.

      Name //

      Christy

      Date //

      March 16, 2012

      Reply to user

    • No.
      7.2

      Team Colorcubic

      Also, Dennis, would you happen to know who the designer was for this brochure? I have a lot of amazing material sourced from the Computer History Museum, but sadly, the designers never seem to be mentioned.

      Name //

      Christy

      Date //

      March 16, 2012

      Reply to user

      • No.
        7.2.1

        Identification

        I do not know who designed the brochure. I posted your question to the Multicians group in case someone who worked for Honeywell might know the answer. I do not know what the probability is on this, but I suspect it is quite low.

        Name //

        Dennis Capps

        Date //

        March 18, 2012

        Reply to user

  8. No.
    8

    Identification

    Christy,
    Frequenly the brochures were put out by marketing departments who in turn were both seemingly clueless about what they were selling (in spades with Honeywell) and also with who the contracted the work to.

    Sometimes they came up with good work, in this case, but I don’t know who they were selling to with this. In a lot of cases people like myself would pick this up and keep it, but not because it would ever accomplish it mission, but only because it had something with the product name on it.

    It conveyed almost nothing in my opinion other than the name. And since noone was buying Multics, I’m not sure why they would have prepared the document in this fashion. I guess when sales were of such magnitude both to Honeywell and to the potential customers that the real information didn’t warrant being in included in the brochure says a lot.

    Anyway I was on the engineering side of things, so twice removed from such those who would have done the design. Because of the nature of the business, I suspect that even the designers were hired by the Honeywell ad agency, so the identities of the designers would have been 3 or 4 times removed.

    I worked at another company, Microdata who made a system called Reality, and they hired a couple of ad agencies. Again there were several similar levels of separation to the engineers. I never saw the identities of the people who did the brochures talked about except in the ad agency trades, never back in our circles. And the info was not put into the brochures, or rarely was.

    I would think that the place to find both the brochures and the designers would be in ad agency trades going back to these eras, and hopefully find some give awards or discussed at the time.

    In the case of Microdata the agency was in Irvine, Ca, and was Basso and Associates. With the organization of Honeywell’s structure it is likely that the agency may have been one which was retained by the corporate side and not by the computer division.

    Name //

    Jim Stevens

    Date //

    March 18, 2012

    Reply to user

  9. No.
    9

    Identification

    You guys really need to check this artist out. I firs saw her at show in Dumbo with some Hunter MFA students I know. The circles are hand-painted. I repeat: HAND PAINTED ! If I had 5 grand with me when I was there I would have bought one immediately.

    http://lulinling.net/

    Name //

    John Henry Dale

    Date //

    June 15, 2012

    Reply to user

Leave a Comment

XHTML // You can use these tags:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Gravatar

It's the avatar that identifies you in your comments. Get yours at gravatar.com