Friday, September 26, 2014

History of Computer Science in Romania by Prof. Ion Văduva

Computing Center of the University of Bucharest, an Important Step in the History of Computer Science in Romania | About I. Vaduva

This article presents a history of Computing Center of the University of Bucharest (CCUB) and its role in the founding of informatics in Romania.
*** Article reflects the views only of the author, and his views reflect any use of the information it contains.
*** Image: Prof. Văduva at Rectors Gallery (35 portraits on paper by artist Daniela Chirion, and are exposed in the hall of the Faculty of Law, Rector's Palace) - University of Bucharest, 150 years of existence: July 16, 2014.

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                                                                                                      © ION VĂDUVA, UNIVERSITATEA DIN BUCUREŞTI

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1 The beginning

During the first half of the fifties decade, Acad. Grigore C. Moisil, as a true pioneer, visualized the future of computers in society [5]. Even then, he realized the importance of mathematical logic and theory of automata for designing computers. In 1959, inspired by the International Congress of Romanian Mathematicians held in Bucharest (in 1956), Acad. Grigore C. Moisil (1906-1973), Professor of Algebra at the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics, founded, for the first time in the country, the Specialization of Computing Machines in the Department of Mathematics of the faculty [5,7]. The program of this specialization was extended for the last two years (from five!) of studies. At the beginning, the curriculum was mostly theoretical but in time the staff used the experience of the Institute of Nuclear Physics (IFA), which had built-up the first computing machines CIFA (of the first to two generation).
The initial location of the Center was in the Negustori Street 9, in a small building where a small Library, used by the students who were living in a student hostel from the neighborhood, also existed.
A progress was achieved by the end of 1964, when the Center received the digital CIFA-3 computer, produced in the mentioned IFA.

2 Starting Activities of CCUB

In 1966, two important events increased the quality of work in CCUB. First we mention the International Colloquium "Computing Techniques and Computers" organized by the University of Bucharest, Academy of Economic Studies and Polytechnics of Bucharest, with the financial sup¬port of the Romanian Government. To the succes of this meeting, highly contributed the young staff of the Center. During that time I was a researcher in the Center of Mathematical Statistics-CSM of the Academy of science, and by request of Acad. Moisil and Acad. Nicolae Teodorescu I helped the organization of this Colloquium, having a good cooperation with the team of CCUB.
The latter topic situated the University of Bucharest on the third place in the world after the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia. (See [3]). As concerns solving practical problems the staff tried to use CIFA-3 in this respect; when trying to solve a real linear programming problem which was custom at that time, after a half an hour of work, the computer stopped because the frequency of the electric power was not stable. The computer was very sensitive with respect to frequency. Nevertheless, these computer equipments played a great role in improving experience in computer programming. During that time the programming of computers was done in low level languages, i. e. languages closed to machine code. A big qualitative step in the evolution of the Center was taken in January 1968, when the Eastern Europe Branch of IBM Company, located at that time in Vienna, organized an exhibition in Romania.
IBM Company brought a large amount of computer documentation with the exhibition. Professor Moisil encouraged this kind of open training (called by him free courses). Sometime in the third quarter of 1968 the Romanian Government bought the IBM Computer which was assigned to three owners:
  1. CCUB (e.g Minister of Education), 
  2. Government Commission of Informatics (e.g. the high body for supervising Computer Science in the Country) and 
  3. Minister of Agriculture.
The cost of the whole installation was 638.000 USD. This was a high price because computers were considered high technology, prohibited for countries over the iron cur tine, as was Romania in that time!.
Let us underline that Government Commission played 2/3 from the cost, the Minister of Education 1/3 of the cost, while the Minister of Agriculture played nothing at that moment, being obliged to provide later the money for extending the hardware configuration (e.g. magnetic disks, printers, punching cards machines and so on). The administration of the IBM Computer was allocated to CCUB . A detailed report on the initial activity of the Center is found in the papers [1, 2]. Note that the Center organized in one year many free courses to propagate computer programming among various potential users. Note also that in 1969 Moisil founded in the Faculty of Mathematics the Chair of Informatics, the first one in the country. The management of the Center was then done honorifically by Theodorescu, until the 1-st of February 1970, when the Government Commission asked me to be the Deputy Director of CCUB. In fact, I was obliged to do this, because I was a scholar of the Government in 1968-1969 at Manchester University (U.K.) where I got a M.Sc. Degree in Automatic Computation. Before I was proposed for this job, the Government Commission tried to appoint at CCUB an engineer as Deputy Director, but the Council of the Faculty did not accept, preferring a mathematician. The first thing I did being nominated at CCUB, was an appointment with Acad. Moisil. During an interesting talk late one evening at his home (Moisil used to work mainly during the night and the last half of a day), I got a warm advice on how to act as a good research manager of the Center.
In February 1970, the staff of the Center consisted of 16 programmers and analysts and 6 technicians or junior operators and programmers. I must underline that, among auxiliary programmers, two were produced by a postsecondary school organized in Bucharest by Moisil (during 1968/69) and they proved to be the best auxiliary staff in computer activity. Unfor-tunately, by unknown reason, that school was stopped after one year.
The first thing I have done was to organize the computer activity in three shifts, combining our staff with Minister of Agriculture staff. The Minister of Agriculture bought further auxiliary equipments as punching machines, printers, terminals and some other devices. I tried to increase the staff, but as CCUB was a Laboratory, the first step was to create a legal framework for selecting new qualified staff. Therefore, with the help of Government Commission, I initiated the Government Law 1948/31.12.1970, which was approved, in this manner increasing the legal level of CCUB, with the possibility of extending the number of staff up to 125 persons of different qualifications. Even in the autumn of 1970, with the help of some experienced colleagues, I organized weekly seminars, asking all qualified staff to give talks about the news they learned and about their work results. These seminars were a tradition learned from Moisil and from my Ph.D. supervisors Octav Onicescu and Gh. Mihoc.
The staff increased by selection of graduates from the faculty but, unfortunately, the Government did not allow us to enrollee too many graduates. (Priority was to enrollee graduates in industry!) Anyway, the staff has grown little by little, such as in 1975 CCUB had more than 50 employees and by the middle of '80's the staff number was 78! In 1972-1974, some fellows of CCUB undertook specialization stages in USA, Switzerland, Austria and France and when coming back they were basic leaders in research activity, such as: Liviu Sofonea, Nicolae Popoviciu, Maria Lovin, Dorin Panaite, Matei Bogdan, Ioan Rosca and so on. I, myself, for several months in 1974 and 1976, was a visiting researcher at GMD (Geselschaft fur Mathematik und Datenverarbeitung) Bonn.

3 Research and Teaching Activitis, Cooperations 

As the expenses of managing a Computing Center were increasing at that time, in 1973 CCUB started to perform research activity and services under contracts. I must say that expenses of activities in the Center were covered by funds from contracts at least from 1973 up to 1991; the services for students became free. The research topics were various (see [6]). I mention some from the period of the seventies: simulation of mining transportation to achieve an efficient flow; simulation of flight of an airplane to achieve a given job; design of the simulation language SIMUB during 1976-1980 coordinated by me; (SIMUB=Simulation Language of the University of Bucharest); design of computer product PLUB during 1976-1980, coordinated by Liviu Sofonea; (PLUB=Programming Language of the University of Bucharest, used for generating compilers). The latter two languages were designed for the Romanian computer FELIX. They were worked in cooperation with some staff of the Chair of informatics (Professors A. Atanasiu and Horia Georgescu and regretted O.Basca and N. Tandareanu); some performing students were also used. Starting 1974, the computer usage was highly increased due to new staff enrolled and due to good work done by colleague Dumitru Draghici.
Thus, in 1971, due to the contribution of Acad. Teodorescu, an International Summer Scholl of Informatics was organized at Mamaia-Constantza. Specialists or audients from Romania and from France, Italy, Germany and others, participated. The lectures were printed, being used afterwards as references. In the summer 1972 a UNESCO Round table on "Computer Assisted Instruction"= CAI was organized. It was the first event of this kind in the country. (On this opportunity was tested for the first time an air conditioning system!).
Even if the course was appreciated by UNESCO and by the participants, it was stopped due to economic difficulties of Romania during the 80's. Unfortunately, Acad. Moisil died in 1973 (in Canada) and he was not able to enjoy the new results of CCUB, created by him. During the seventies, the Center was also involved in some cooperation activities between the so-called Socialist Countries. Thus, the Commission of Informatics of the Romanian Academy (lead by Acad. Tiberiu Popovici from Cluj, after the disease of Moisil) asked for the cooperation of CCUB for organizing the meeting between representatives of socialist countries which was held in Bucharest in the summer of 1976. I, myself, participated also, as a Russian speaker. The Minister of Education asked CCUB and the Computing Center of ASE to work in the Group of cooperation of Socialist Countries in the field of Education in Computer Science. The responsibility of this cooperation was for the Hungarian colleagues. Therefore, Dr. Bilciu C., from ASE (which now lives in USA) and myself, participated in annual meetings of the group in 1977-1979 in Szeged and Budapest, where interesting problems of the curricula in computer science were discussed. Unfortunately, we were obliged by our authorities not to agree with any of the interesting ideas, even they assumed no pledge.
In the 80's, to an interesting project to manage the traffic flow of autos in Bucharest, participated successfully my Ph. D. fellow Gh.Petrescu. In 1976 the Minister of Education asked the Computing Centers of Universities to develop a program called SICAB for ensuring an efficient management of the education system. In this respect, an Informatics System for the personal used in education units of the country was designed. This system illustrated many discrepancies in the balance of academic staff (for instance, in the fields of Economics and Geography, the percentage of professors and readers was very high compared to the fields of medicine and mathematics). Because the admission in higher education was done at that time by means of strong competition (and in the case of faculties of economics and law, defalcations were discovered) we developed a computerized methodology for a safe processing of admission examination data which is applied even now as a rule. Many other SICAB applications were analyzed an applied over time, related to management of equipment and material in universities, computerized salary calculation and so an. One application was done in collaboration with the Romanian state TV; a weekly poll data was processed in order to determine the optimum TV time table. As it is known, at that time, the TV schedule consisted of only some hours in the evening and half the time was allocated to the Ceausescu family. But once, the result of processing showed that audience for the family was null, therefore the project was stopped until 1990 when Ceausescu's regime failed.

4 Difficulties, Disappearance of CCUB

In 1986, CCUB had to change its address. In the eighties, Ceausescu decided to build the huge Parliament House in a space close to Military Museum, an unit of national importance. This museum had to be moved. As the buildings in the neighborhood of the Center belonged to the Minister of Defense before 1956 (when they were temporarily borrowed by the Minister of Education), it was decided that we must be moved, for bringing Military Museum instead. It is important to say that this action of moving the Center was very costly, but all expenses (including manpower) were ensured by the Minister of Defense.

A problem was to move from Mircea Vulcanescu Street, the cooling fans, which had to be placed in the inner court of the building, very far from the air conditioning installation of computer room. The length of the copper pipes necessary for the flow of cooling liquid, was five times larger than in the old location. With the help of a lady programmer of the Center, whose husband was an influent person, we obtained the necessary copper pipelines for the cooling installation. (At that time copper was a metal as expensive as gold). After 1986, the cooperation with the colleagues of the Chair of Informatics was improved. It was really an improved integration of the staff of the Computing Center with the practical activity of teaching students. But at that time, more effort had to be made in order to ensure the funding for the necessary expenses. (By the end of eighties, the economic crisis was effective in Romania!). During this period of time, two minicomputers CORAL and INDEPENDENT were installed, they increasing the research and teaching activity.

After the Events of December 1989 the Center continued its activity and by request of the regretted colleague Dr. Emil Perjeriu, a former political detainee, I still remand the Director. In the mean time, the faculty and the Center received modern PC computers (bought with the currency from UNESCO) allowing further improvement of our activity. But as the most part of our partners for research activity disappeared, the Center could no longer have enough contracts to finance its activity. With some help (contracts) from some friends, including Calin Popescu Tariceanu, the boss of an auto company, we could survive for two years. In this bad situation, the staff, which in majority had Ph. D. degrees, left CCUB as teachers in different faculties: The most part of the staff had obtained Ph.D. degrees under the supervision of Acad. Solomon Marcus, Prof. Leon Livovschi, Prof. Constantin Popovici and myself. Some of the former fellows from CCUB are working in Universities abroad such as: Radu Nicolescu in Aukland, (New Zeeland); Gheorghe Marian and Gheorghe Doina in Sheffield University (UK); Serban Gavrila-a programmer in USA. During the years, more those 50 fellows working in other universities of the country and more than 20 from abroad, prepared their Ph. D. theses in the Chair of informatics or in CCUB. A part of the auxiliary staff of former CCUB remained in the faculty to assist the activity of computer laboratories.

I dare to think, that CCUB, which survived for 31 years (quite a long life in Computer Science), has given enough benefit to our society and that efforts of the staff was really useful. 

[1] MOISIL, Gr. C. (1970)."Activitatea Centrului de Calcul al Universităţi din Bucureşti", AMC nr.13, pp. 9-20
[2] MOISIL, Gr. C. (2007)."Activitatea Centrului de calcul al Universității din București" în volumul postum "Grigore C. Moisil şi continuatorii săi",Ed.Academiei Romane, pp.133-155.
[3] MOISIL, Gr.C. (1970). "Contribuția românească la teoria algebrică a mecanismelor automate", AMC, 13-14, pp. 82-88.
[4] MOISIL Gr.C. (1971). "Propuneri privind învățământul informaticii la Facul¬tatea de Matematică a Universității din București",Raport înaintat conducerii Universității, Nr.259/11.02.1071, 8 pag.
[5] MARCUS, Solomon.(1987). "Grigore C. Moisil și începuturile informaticii românesti", Lucrările Sesiunii ştiinţifice ale Centrului de calcul al Universității din Bucureşti, 20-21 februatie 1987,pp.23-26.
 [6] VADUVA, ION.(1987). "Douazeci și cinci de ani de activitate a Centrului de Calcul al Universității din Bucureșt", Lucrările Sesiunii știinţifice a Centrului de Calcul al Universităţii din Bucureşti, 20-21 februarie 1987, pp.6-14
[7] VADUVA, ION. (2007). "Centrul de calcul al Universității din București, creație a lui Grigore C. Moisil", Grigore C. Moisil și continuatorii săi, Ed. Academiei Române, 2007, pp.515-5
[8] VLADA, MARIN. (2014). Informatica la Universitatea din Bucureşti: 1960-2014,, accesed 2014
[9] CNIV, Gr. C. Moisil,, accesed 2014

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