Working on Computers in 1975

Let’s flip the toggle switch on my steampunked time machine and head back to 1975 — the year Gordon Moore revised his hypothesis on the potential exponential growth of computing power, now known as Moore’s Law: computing power doubles every two years. He surprised himself at its curious accuracy.

moore.graph
Semi.Wiki (a semiconductor’s discussion site

Let’s go back to 1975, a year when Singer built business computers — I worked on a Singer System 10. That sewing-machine outfit made a foray into small business systems, a foray that ended abruptly in 1976.

 

singer.computer
A fine two-tone-dial phone with rotary dial.

Ten years later I was assigned the task of converting a completely manual order processing system at a Cincinnati Milacron division in Blanchester, Ohio. They obtained a small business computer, a wardrobe-sized unit called a CIP 2200B, from the Milacron Products Division. So it was a hand-me-down — with 64K core memory, 10 megabyte fixed disc, 10 megabyte removable disc and a 96 column card reader/punch.

I reported to the corporate boss of information: Pat Goggins. She was a wonderful iconoclast who ruffled many corporate functionaries. I have a soft spot in my soul for independent minds because they threaten the order of things. That is as it should be. Vegans pose a threat to the tyranny of the majority, and that is a very good thing.

vegan.humor

The Electronic Circuit Materials Division manufactured board bases for Ford automobiles, crappy scrap for Radio Shack and all manner of integrated circuit users. It was a fascinating place to work in the 1980’s At that time I was a single parent to my two children — my wife Jeanne died in 1983, and I wouldn’t meet Lisa until 1993. so I chucked my suit-and-tie collection into the closet and returned to German language and literatures, a world I had left in 1973. We moved closer to town in 1987. It was a hot and densely humid day. The cicadas sang, the car blew a radiator hose. We were at the shoulder of an interstate. Who populated that vehicle? Myself, my two kids, our cat and our bird.

Coding a program is a lot like learning a foreign language. Database records are words and relationships. Programs have syntax, grammar, logical thought — uttered or iterated.

Programming-816

One kind reader has expressed an interest in my use of pattern-matching techniques, a method called “regular expressions” — an invention of the 1960’s: it still supports many shells glommed around it — devices with modern application. The shoulders of those giants still support us. There is no such thing as a sky hook.

Meanwhile — in the “greater” world — folly tramples on dreams deferred. Do we stand at the rim of an abyss — perhaps of our own making? Dinosaurs peered skyward at the brink of yet another extinction. What other species unknown evolved over billions of years, to return all to primordial casseroles with a punch on the reset button. Five extinction events and counting. This planet is patient and resilient.  I like the way my friend Hariod expresses a gentle treasure — confronting imponderables with contentedness. Witness contentedness. Consider this photograph:

 

happy-indian-girls-in-kolkata-by-jorge-royan-argentina

Happy Easter 2017 🙂

Thanks for reading.

 

First Job: 1965 — Steampunked

Well, it’s time to steampunk the time machine again. The one over there. The one in the corner. That’s mine.

Yes. The time has arrived to set its calendar function to a May day in North America — its 1,965th iterations of C.E or A.D. (your choice). My machine, its vacuum tubes warm to the challenge. I click the counter to 2000 + 17. Dial needles slowly sway forward as the tubes warm. I click the destination counter to 1900 + 65.

steampunk.knapsack

Was it…

OK it was McDonalds. My parents dropped me off so I could put in an application while they did journey upon an errand. I shall never disclose the nature of their journey-called-errand because both joined the deceased quite some years before I started writing this account you now read, that is, unless you have already departed from this post.

Dear readers, we are now in that very McDonald parking lot. Do you see the car leaving this lot? Do you see me walking in at the back door?

OK. There was this guy at a corner desk. Did he tilt his head sidelong in my direction? Yes he did. How did you know?

mcdonalds.1965

That guy would utter something of portend the following day. You’ll read about that mere minutes from now. Allow me to repeat his very words, so that you may carefully note them:

“The uniforms are in the basement.”

By gosh there were uniforms in that nether room. And don them I did.

Bill, thank you for recalling the insignificant.

Upon donning the red and yellow vest, upon tilting the paper cap to a jaunty angle, I returned by the same set of stairs.

mcdonalds-ad-1961-cincinnati-enquirer-2

And thus did I learn the milkshake-machine trade. A fellow tradesman was already at our shared station. Few customers demanded shakes that day. We simply stood there and took turns. My associate posed an inquiry:

“Why did they assign two tradesmen to this light-duty trade?”

“Why were we not assigned the task of squeezing mustard and ketchup for the grillsmen?”

Excuse our yawns, Bill. Uh, did you parents return from their quest?

Indeed. They returned. I do not think that they expected to find me in full uniform regalia, jaunty tilt and all. I do not.

steampunk.time.machineDay number two: co-shaker and I are on the job,  waiting for the ever infrequent shake order to arrive. In the mean while the manager and his assistant sat upon a picnic table outside. They watched us as we nervously stood, working hardly at faux cleaning.

Some short minutes thereafter the assistant manager of picnic-table note informed me that my application existed not, one person where only half-ass staffing sufficed.

application-mcDonalds

Fortunately I had a prepared response “uh, yeah. I haven’t done that part yet.” My second day was also my last — pink papers were drawn.

Next job to visit via steampunk: OS&D Clerk at Dance Freight Lines — connecting the north with the industrial south.

 

crackerbox_red_dance_lf_lg

Thanks for reading.

 

Astoundingly Analog

Let us say you are on the way to Mars in 1958. Let’s actually place you in the pilot’s cabin of a spacecraft in a distant future — 1980. Back home at mission control, pipe-smoking scientists and cigar-smoking generals are using the magic of radio — bigger, better, more vacuum tubes.

 

space-ship-controls
Source

 

Meanwhile, other American scientists and generals are helping Japan battle monsters all kind. Godzilla, Gamera. Scientists, generals and the kids and singing miniature friends of Gamera.

 

A confident team on Earth barks orders. Walls crammed with magnetic-tape driven mechanical brains. What gives with all those dials?

 

Isn’t it time for you to mention Phillip K. Dick again?

Of course it is. PKD.

And speaking of analog, your LP, 45 is performing its proverbial broken record role. Time you enter the future of home recording — the reel-to-reel tape deck.

 

science-fiction-sunday
BoingBoing Science Fiction Sunday

There’s a reel or two from my good old 3M Wollensak in the basement, or somewhere. Here is some advice you don’t need — cheap magnetic tape flakes its coating; it had a ferrous smell.

You probably have a large box of vacuum tubes, condensers, capacitors, resistors too.

Yes.

And when I wasn’t trying to make sulphuric acid and release free chlorine gas? See Chemistry 001 for more. What to do?  Well, wrap copper wire around an oatmeal box to make a crystal radio, one with an antenna stretching from attic to nearest tree. That there radio pulled in one (1) station. Those were less modern electronic times, the days before a portable radio could contain up to 12 transistors.

We don’t seem to be getting anywhere here. Are you fumbling for a coherent, direct and unambiguous theme, Bill?

No.

You need help, Bill. We hope you’ll get the help you need. Let’s help get you back on task. Didn’t you program a computer in that world of the future? 1980’s.

’twas a circuit-board materials plant in Blanchester, Ohio. I still have several 8K boards that were suspended on a rod and inserted into a motherboard. Those 8 boards provided all the memory needed to power a 64K core memory. No old-fashioned 80-column cards for the CIP 2200B. No indeed. 96-column cards were a fraction the size, yet delivered more columns for nifty RPGII program code.

96-column

What did the Electronic Circuitboard Materials Division do before becoming ‘computerized’ in that 1980’s distant future?

The order-entry system wrote data on thin bamboo sheets with a paper covering. Perforated strips had columns inscribed with a straight edge and ballpoint pen. The bamboo was flexible; it allowed you to move order data up and down a steel “book” flanged on each side. Those strips traced an order from entry to shipping. When the order shipped you snapped that bamboo and tossed it into a waste can.

Once again, you are allowing your mind to wander. We’re interested in results (and getting you the help you need).

I programmed a database to convert the bamboo modus operandi into electronic databases. We went parallel with the bamboo strips for a month, all went smoothly and moved right along — until competition from Japan arrived in that future 1980’s world. Cutting to the proverbial chase: the plant closed and reopened as a Honda parts facility. I became a single parent of two incredibly wonderful children when my wife died in 1983.

The Japanese no longer had to defeat Godzilla, Gamera and all the other monsters. Nippon had time to become an economic juggernaut.

Where did you go then?

To work on my M.A. in Germanic Languages and Literatures, of course.

 

germanic-languages
Source

Well that’s a finely fiddled career path, innit? 

Naturally it was. I had until 1993 to meet Lisa online in the advanced bulletin-board system of that more distant future world of the 90’s.

Didn’t you get back into databases when you discovered that classroom management was not your forte, but your greatest weakness?

Yes. Had to  do something until Y2K came along without two columns on an 80-column-card. An assumed “19” fostered justifiable fear. Had the 96 column card been available in those 1950’s spaceships — my mind begins to boggle.

We can wait. 

OK.

Thanks for reading.