Re: My national tabloid love affair with a computer

From: Jim Fehlinger (
Date: Thu Apr 12 2001 - 05:24:20 MDT

Damien Broderick wrote:
> At 10:39 PM 4/11/01 -0700, samantha wrote:
> >Input was only punched cards.
> Me too. A sickening way to learn anything.
> >The sick bastards only taught us Cobol!
> Well, I got Fortran and hex machine code as well. God awmighty.

Well, as late as 1979, the intro to programming course
at NYU still required you to punch cards. It was PL/I, though,
and not Cobol (or even Fortran). After you punched the
cards, you had to wait in a queue, at the head of which an operator
would load your cards into the reader of an RJE (Remote Job Entry)
terminal connected to an IBM mainframe uptown somewhere.
If your deck didn't red-light the reader then and there, you'd
go and wait for the printout to appear (it did come out on
a local lineprinter, at least), which could be in 15 minutes
if things weren't too busy, hours otherwise.

I loved it, though, punched cards and all. I was working
at the time in the computer room of a Manhattan bank.
I was only a tape librarian and gatherer of printouts,
but I got up close and personal with the IBM 370/158 mainframes
there, and sometimes the real operators would even let me
issue the Hasp commands on the console terminals to load
and release jobs.

The next-level assembly-language course was hands-on with
an 8080-based microcomputer, though, with a floppy disk drive,
a CRT text editor, and everything (operating system must've
been CP/M, I guess, but I can't remember for sure).

In the course of researching that Blinkenlights article I
posted here a while back, reading about the IBM 1620 restoration
and Java emulator work those folks connected with the west-coast
computer history museum have done, I came across the story
of a professor (at Purdue, I think) who had an enormous
collection of IBM 1620 software on punched cards which he was
on the point of finally throwing away (it had been declared a
fire hazard). The 1620 buffs managed to rescue this irreplaceable
collection in the nick of time, after which they had to set
up facilities for reading the cards and embedding card
images within a more modern file format. They ended up
burning the whole kit and caboodle onto a single CD-R. Of
course, they also had to interface a PC programmed as a
virtual card reader to their antique 1620 in order to make
use of this CD-R. I got a letter about that article, which
contained the comment:

"I will never again consider MY hobbies foolish, no matter how foolish
they really are. I can hardly imagine the agony it must take to make
one of those old machines actually run again. Making a software
simulator is child's play compared to that."


Jim F.

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