Computer question: A trip down ‘memory’ lane

Ross Jewell recalls the early days of working in the computer industry and some of the pitfalls of that early technology

I really don’t want to get into one of those “I remember when…” stories, but having been around one kind of computer or another for more than half a century now, there are a few tales worth telling for their humourous, if not their technical, content. Like the time in 1964 when I was a research assistant with a Fortran program labouriously keyed in to a thousand or so punched cards.

In order to run the program I would hop on my bike and pedal a couple of blocks to the campus computing centre where a cute girl would feed the cards into a big IBM mainframe computer. A few hours later I would return to the centre to pick up my printed output she had nicely wrapped around the box of cards which I would tuck under my arm and happily ride back to my work place.

One day it had been raining quite a bit so the pavement was still wet and, wait for it, the box slipped out of the wrapping and distributed my huge program over several square feet of very wet asphalt. Nowadays, this could not have occurred with punched cards gone extinct and lots of on-line or cloud storage available for backup. Back then my only backup would have been a duplicate set of cards and/or a printed list of the Fortran statements. The former I didn’t have, but the latter I did. So the daunting task before me was to gather up the soggy IBM cards, salvage any reasonably dry and readable, and repunch the remainder from the printout.

I was not a happy camper and neither will you be if a computer disaster befalls you and you have not taken a few simple steps to back up valuable content. My boss and later my wife laughed when I described this incident to them, but at the time it wasn’t funny!

The next meeting of the Vernon PC Users’ Club is Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Schubert Centre in the cafeteria. Call Betty at 542-7024 or Olive at 542-8490 for more information.