Digital Direction

Six Day. Running a bit behind, mostly due to slow cognition. Anyway, ran across this article [Link] entitled “This Guy Made a Replica of The Computer That Helped the Robinson Family 50 Years Ago” yesterday and my thinking was led to the picture more than the effort of the individual.

Seems the fellow made a replica of an 1950 Burroughs box (mainframe?) that was used in numerous television programs as the computer character. This led me to consider what we should be doing with computers.

(The above is not, I believe, the replica because the article has an embedded video and I don’t need the overhead that goes with.) This is what we used to call a “Geblinkenen Kluge”. 

By the time I got to university, these Rube Goldbergs were pretty much replaced by metal pastel hued boxes on isolation flooring in frigid glass walled rooms. Some of them had as much as 64Kb of RAM. Hard drives were the size of refrigerators and cost as much as a college education. And you coded in FORTRAN (nerds) or COBOL (bog-geeks.) What we did was number crunching. The nerds were doing science and engineering stuff and we spent more time studying numerical methods than languages. The bog-geeks were doing accounting or inventory stuff and I have no idea what they studied since it was taught in the Business schule which was on a side of campus I only visited in summer term to watch old movies. The only things controlled by computers in those days were terminals and plotters.

In 1984, I bought my first box, an IBM PC with an 8086 CPU, 64Kb RAM (16 Kb on the MB) and two floppy disk drives. In 1986, after two years of budget whining, I got funded to buy a (generic) PC for half the folks in our organization. I had to have a blessing from the IT Tsar of the post, which took over a year, and I can recall him asking me “What can you do with one of these toys that a terminal off my mainframe can’t do better?” I answered “Are you going to let me run a word-processing program on your mainframe?” At which point he turned to his deputy and asked “What the H**l is a word-processing program?”

Once told the answer he cursed bluely for five minutes while trying frantically to approve my purchase.

Nothing, in my opinion, symbolizes the PC so much as word processing. Even more than spread-sheeting, word processing – not coding – is the epitome of the PC stage of computing. 

In those days, most STEM graduates learned to code in college. Their bosses either on-the-job or not-at-all. That was the peak of computer literacy. Since MegaHard took over the cardiovascular system of the corporate organization, it has been downhill to planned illiteracy.

So today, in the slablet age, computers have gone from tools to appliances, providing either entertainment or controlling our machines. Number crunching is arcana. Coding is a blue collar craft, if that.

So where did we go wrong?