Funeral for a mainframe

The fun-lovin' computer scientists at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg held a funeral for their retired 47-year-old IBM 650 mainframe, Betelgeuse. The festivities included pallbearers who carried the machine out onto the frozen, snowy lawn, a brass band that played a mournful New Orleans style Amazing Grace during the procession (and broke into joyous Down by the Riverside when it was over), and an hilarious eulogy that was greatly appreciated by the attendees, many of whom sported prodigious, Unix-grade facial hair.

For forty-seven years you've served us well, you cast us in your green spell. You processed transactions without complaint, we've asked the Pope to make you a saint.

The users you were always able to please, with a little training they could enter with ease, all the data they needed in 2 or 3 screens instead of the 57 in VIP.

And getting data was easy in IMS, there were six hundred reports in the RS. And Finance was easy with FRGLA, in the time when the mainframe held sway.

Link (Thanks, Darren!)


  1. Yay, my university mentioned on Boing Boing. By the by, it was the University of Manitoba, not the University of Winnipeg.

  2. The IBM 650 is notable for two things: first, its unusual bi-quinary architecture. Not quite binary, not quite decimal, it worked like a digital abacus.

    Better yet, the machine served as the platform that Donald Knuth cut his teeth on for programming! His Selected Papers on Computer Science has a chapter on his appreciation for this machine. I’m sure he’s sad to see it go, too.

  3. I wonder how cold it would have to be for a brass band to have their lips frozen to their mouthpieces?

  4. I’m sure the IBM 650 was retired years ago. The final mainframe was an Amdahl Millenium 1015. I think the funeral was for the mainframe in general, as they have now converted to a client-server architecture.

  5. I wish more old equipment was honored this way. It always made me sad to see a machine transition from the newest and greatest thing that everyone is fussing over, to a useless hunk of scrap metal unceremoniously pushed out the back loading dock after giving years of service.

  6. That’s sad! I wonder if it was in any way still operable, there can’t be many 650’s around still.

    But by no means is it a “mainframe”, which generally applies to those big multi-user machines with hundreds or thousands of terminals. The IBM 650 was essentially a one-user machine, architecturally, about as bit as an ATMEGA8. It’s internal arithmetic was DECIMAL! It was huge by today’s standards, but that doesn’t make it a mainframe…

    Never used one, well before my time, but they are genuinely a “classic” machine (that word is grossly overused to meaninglessness). It really defined an era.

  7. I’m another U of M student who’s excited to see her university featured on Boing Boing. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of a student teaching block when this happened and missed it.

  8. I love the phrase “Unix-grade facial hair”. I’m going to try to work that into as many conversations as possible.

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