The history of modern digital computing is unusual in one regard. Most of its advances have occurred during the professional lifetimes of many of its current practicioners. That has rightly put a premium on preserving some of our history while its early creators are still with us.
For those of us who came of age in the mainframe era, it is instructive (and sometimes humorous) to remember what has changed. This photograph shows me at the Computer History Museum posed by parts of ILLIAC IV.
Herewith, in the spirit of Jeff Foxworthy's humor, are a few tests to determine if you are a computing old timer.
- If you ever saw an ASR-33 teletype repaired with only a screwdriver, wrench and oilcan. Personally, I disliked the ASR-33 because the keys were so stiff it felt as if one needed to pump iron before typing.
- If you ever carried a S/360 assembly language reference card, but never used it because you had the instruction set committed to memory. I still have mine, along with my flowchart template.
- If having your code all wet was a meteorological fact rather than a management observation on your (lack of) programming prowess. One afternoon, I was caught in a rainstorm while carrying the card deck for a parser across campus. I then spent most of evening with an iron, smoothing the cards so I could punch a new deck the next morning.
- If you ever toggled absolute binary into the front panel because, well, a relocating assembler was for wimps. For me, it was playing with a Microdata system.
- If you know the difference between an 026 and an 029 keypunch and had a preference for one or the other based on keyboard feel. I was 029 aficionado myself.
- If you have ever whistled into an acoustic coupler, attempting to get a carrier signal. At 300 baud, I got close, but I could never quite pull it off.
- If you remember when the first UNIX articles were published in the Bell System Technical Journal and when every computer vendor shipped their own operating system. IBM had MFT and MVT before SVS and MVS; DEC had TOPS-10 on the PDP-10, RSTS on the PDP-11, and VMS on the VAX. I loved most of them – to varying degrees.
- If the numbers 780, 2314 and 6600 all have special meaning. I loved the VAX, though it was the apotheosis of CISC architecture with the polynomial evaluation instruction. The IBM 2314s always made me think of washing machines at the laundromat, and the CDC 6600, well, that was a work of art.
- If you hear the word BUNCH and you think of Burroughs, UNIVAC, NCR, Control Data Corporation, and Honeywell rather than the Bradys. I loved the Burroughs B5500 stack architecture; it was elegant and obvious how subroutine linkage was implemented.
- If a visit to the Computer History Museum is a stroll down the memory lane of your career.
No doubt about it, I am a computer old timer. I am sure many of you have your own, similar stories. I would love to hear some of them.