During my senior year (1957–58), I managed a group of Princeton students who were the night operators on the Institute machine. Night meant something like 5 to 11 p.m. The computer had 40 CRTs for memory, and we had an oscilloscope that could tune in on the 32-by-32-bit grid on any of the tubes. Our most important task was to make sure that no one bit “lit up,” because if it did (for example, if the program was in a very tight loop), it could burn out that bit in all 32 tubes, and that would be a disaster.
I used that computer to do calculations on my senior thesis, and I suspect that it was one of the first Princeton theses to use a digital computer. My classmate, Ned Irons, tells me that he also used the machine for his thesis, but I was unaware of that at the time. I had to get my thesis done in a timely way, since the machine was disassembled for shipment to the Smithsonian shortly thereafter. It was exciting many years later to visit the Smithsonian and see the desk at which I used to sit.