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Sunday, June 01, 2003

Newly Digital

My first exposure to computers was an old Univac mainframe. The year was 1969. I was just a kid.

My then brother-in-law rented mainframe time in a building on the Chicago River behind the Chicago Tribune building. I'd take the Greyhound to Chicago, and after he was done working, we'd drive to his and my sister's house in Michigan to visit.

The Univac didn't make too big of an impression. But, I recall the guys that worked in the room telling me I had to sit still and try not to breathe. They said the computer was very fragile and any sudden movement could break it. O-kay!

Occasionally, my brother-in-law put me to work checking lines of printed code for errors. I think it was Cobol, and while I never learned programming, I did get pretty good at reading it.

One guy asked me if I wanted to make myself useful. Sure, I replied. He gave me two large trash bags and told me to "go dump the chad in the garbage by the elevator." Chad? What's chad? He explained that a chad was the little punched out piece from the punch cards. There were millions of them. Maybe billions. Chads. Some things you never forget.

Shortly after that, they off-loaded the Univac and went to an newer IBM mainframe. I was then free to roam about and touch things on my trips there. I distinctly remember thinking that whoever owned that computer must be rich. And, I wondered if someday I would ever work on one.

This entry was inspired by Kalsey Consulting Group: A distributed anthology of early computing experience, an experimental writing project.

Via Christine.

Posted by Marie at June 1, 2003 11:51 PM


Chad! I almost forgot about the chad (isn't that a line from the Charlie's Angels movie?)... Of course, we were semi-rural and not that sophisticated, so they were just "punch card holes" to us...

We used to empty the bins on all of the punches and then go off looking for someone to prank with them -- a couple bin-fulls in a car or carpet and you'd be the rest of your life getting them out...

I missed them as keypunches disappeared, later on in my career... But then I discovered the best piece of prank gear of all time, the 'blow-in-foam" machine from the shipping department (it had a wand that you'd stick in a box and fill it up, and it would turn into protective foam).

One of the best pranks ever was one weekend, when we filled the desk drawers of a snotty engineering manager. You'd open the drawer, and it was just solid foam (with the contents of the drawer embedded in it). For the finishing touch, we duck-taped an extra cube panel over the door-opening of his cube, and filled his cube with peanuts, also from the shipping department...

The look on his face was almost worth the aftermath :-)

Posted by: Chuck at June 4, 2003 12:26 AM