About the Manual

The Nerd Manual is meant to be both a useful resource for nerds and a guide for the people involved with nerds. If you're a nerd you can find information here that will help you improve your life and perhaps better understand yourself. If you're close friends with, dating, or married to a nerd, I want to give you insight into things nerds do that a lot of people have difficulty understanding.


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2019-12-06

Who Knew the Air Force is the US Military's Transistorpunk Holdout

Launch Control - US National Park Service
If you want to Aim High with your soldering iron, maybe you could be part of the maintenance crew for the Strategic Automated Command and Control System (SACCS), which relies on an IBM Series/1 computer to send emergency action messages from nuclear command centers to forces in the field. Based in Offutt Air Force Base, the 595th Strategic Communications Squadron is the unit that kept SACCS marching along.

While the Air Force said goodbye to the 8-inch floppy drives they used for data storage in October of 2019, it appears that the rest of the system is still in place.

In an age when a fitness tracker has more computing grunt than the Air Force communications system, it seems kind of...risky to rely on a computer system from the era of disco, but Lt. Col. Jason Rossi jokes, "it's the age that provides that security. You can't hack something that doesn't have an IP address."

If you're good with old systems, and don't want to enlist, the Air Force relies on both active-duty and civilian personnel to keep SACCS operational. “I have guys in here who have circuits, diodes, and resisters memorized,” Rossi says. “They can tell you what’s wrong just based on a fault code or something. That level of expertise is very hard to replace.”

When something breaks on a current computer system, standard practice is to throw it out and replace it, but on SACCS the components have to be repaired, which could mean spending hours spent on a microscope repairing a circuit board.

On a related note, Air Force programmers keep the SACCS software up to date with regular revisions to the code. In order to keep the programmers in touch with current development, the 595th sends its airmen to development hubs with appropriately nerdy names like Kessel Run and Kobayashi Maru.

Read more about the 595th at C4ISRNET.