Monday, April 17, 2006
First Experience with Computer
I am bad at remembering dates, I can guess though that, this happened in the '50s sometime. I was working as a group leader in Research and Development. Computers were being talked about in the newspapers and pictures showed huge arrays of tubes that resembled radio tubes. The department signed up for a service offered by General Electric. A gigantic work station was installed in a central location at the labs. Supervisors were gathered together and given a lesson in "Basic" computer language. The work station was connected by telephone wire to a big computer somewhere in north Jersey. There was no monitor, no mouse, just the oversized typewriter-looking thing and an enormous printer. The printer used paper that had those holes along both margins and fed up in a continuous stream from a cardboard box on the floor. I decided that I would like to be able to enter the data my group gathered and have this miracle machine do all the calculations. But first I had to write a program.
I wasn't burdened with a lot of confidence (never was good at languages). So, I waited until after hours when most everyone had gone home. I labored away at the program-writing until I thought I had it. It was time to send my imput to the big computer at GE. (There was a substantial cost per minute of connection.) I pushed the appropriate keys and, sure enough, the printer groaned and started printing. First problem was, it was printing gibberish. Second problem was, I couldn't turn the darn thing off. I could see the Department being charged dollar after dollar as page after page of random letters and numbers accumulated on the floor. With no help available, I did the only thing I could think of. On hands and knees, I crawled under the monster and pulled the plug. I stuffed the acres of paper into my briefcase, put on my coat and went home.
p.s. Later, I got the hang of it and became a steady user.