2004. At that time, it was not recognized for a long time what a gigantic
transformation it will bring to human history.
The Author worked 1964 with Seymour Cray in the developping of the Supercumputer CDC 6600
Question 1: What was the world before the Computers and THE NET?
There are not so many anymore who can remember that time. He can.
It was for a long time not realized what this ‘thing’ later called IT (Information Technology) did to the world. An entirely new dimension ‘hit’ humanity
Question 2: Could the impact of IT on the development of humans, the whole society, and almost everything, not be compared with the invention of gunpowder? Or even with the atomic bomb?
End of ‘psychological’ somersaults. Back to reality. Back to the text of 'The Other Computer History'.
What is coming now may not be of interest to many. Unless she or he is an extreme ‘computer freak’. In 1955, there was no evidence of something like this. And also the ugly German word, ‘Informationstechnolgie’ was most likely not in the ‘Duden’. 'Duden' was and still is the most important wordbook in German.
It was much easier, even for a born Swiss, to write the technical parts of what now is to be read in English. After all, English is the language of computer people. Not just for them. Children all over the world are eager to learn it already in kindergarten.
He is very, very familiar with the computer and everything related to it. Therefore, the ‘DU’ in the title of the German version of this book. The computer and he had been working together for 45 years. Sometimes friends, sometimes enemies. Deadly sad mood and joy followed in high frequent order. A kind of hate-love. It was definitely a very close relationship.
He was there. From the beginning. He was there until 2004 when he ‘switched off’. Which means he wanted to forget everything about IT. With only half a success. As was so often the case in his computer-oriented life. Today he is no longer so interested in the details of the almost crazy development of IT. And he’s afraid of all its abuse.
He has become a normal user. But that too is becoming a burden. The daily battles with Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Word are getting harder every day.
But he’s not (yet) completely out of service and away from that ‘stuff’. In an intensive conversation with his son on his already somewhat advanced birthday, he recognized his defeats and victories with the machines which so frequently gave him big problems. But they also brought a lot of joy during his long professional career.
But writing it down is a very different ‘story’.
It seems to have made a big impression on his son what he heard from his father. Of course, he is also a computer scientist. With a diploma and more. Not like his father. At his time, there were no signs of a possibility to study computer science. The term, as said, did not even exist. He has no official certificates. The only official document is the paper, which certifies that he has passed the exam in this hated profession as a precision mechanic.
He received the certificate that he had completed his apprenticeship only after the second agonizing examination. And only because he made a sacred promise to the examiners that he would never work in this profession. Which he obviously would never have done.
In the ‘Stone Age’ of computers and data transmission, the universities did not see their future. The glamorous potential of the new techniques has long been ignored.
He saw it very early. But it was only by the conversation with his son that he realized what a great deal of knowledge he now has.
But does it bring something to write them down?
The question of all the questions: Does it bring money?
Is this not the only final criteria for almost every decision in life?
This book will certainly not bring lots of cash!
He replied to his son: “No pig will care about my stories”. The millions of young people who gesticulate today on laptops, smartphones, and whatever will come are only interested in the photo of the lover, dirty pictures, the games, the news about the next upcoming events and demonstrations,
“I am on Facebook, that’s why I am”. (Quote Rodolfo Bodmer).
So, it’s a pretty hopeless project to write a book with forgotten facts about technical details. Or tell the world about the amazing moments he had together with a genius like Seymour Cray. Or the imagination you need to fix Supercomputers.
In addition, it will be extremely stressful to concentrate for two or more hours a day for weeks and months. Not to mention the dozen hours spent searching on the internet for forgotten abbreviations,
So, it’s a pretty hopeless project to write a book with forgotten facts about technical details and their problems. Or tell the world about the amazing moments he had together with a genius like Seymour Cray. Or the imagination you need to repair supercomputers.
In addition, it will be extremely stressful to concentrate on correct names, verifying facts, and so on. And to fight the attempt to follow the guaranteed arising ‘brain associations’. Force yourself to come back to the topic as soon as possible: To the Other computer history.
Yes, and let no mistakes creep in. A potential reader would not like this and the writer will receive malicious criticism. He prefers to leave mistakes to the computer. Or better to those who create the programs. The benefits of a computer are only as good as the programmer who wrote the software. A computer is a tool. Nothing else. Like a lathe. Only: To work with a lathe and to use it correctly has still to be done manually.
Today, the computer is the boss. Nothing works without it. But also a lot goes wrong with it.
Quote: “The computer creates us today the problems which we earlier did not have”.
Much about this unpleasant reality can be read from now on.
The beginning of the ‘essay’ was quite difficult. Will it ever be finished? Qui vivra verra!
Quote: “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”. (Matthew 26, 41 in the Bible).
Oh, excuse me for slandering the Homo sapiens. But like most things in life, the accused machine also has very excellent and useful skills. For example, It can perform calculations rapidly. Learning arithmetic in elementary school will soon become redundant. No more hated and strenuous learning of multiplication tables. The students need no longer construct grammatically correct sentences. They now have time to chat, send text messages and tell each other the usual nonsense. Or to play computer games. A very productive activity.
But without the word processor with all its ‘features’, problems, and errors, this text could never be written. Today, almost nothing is put on paper by human fingers.
In Switzerland, there is an important exception!
The last will !!!
1. It’s hard to start…(1955-1961)
1.1. The beginning of his professional life.
He wanted to learn FEAM. It was in the late 50tis a highly
desirable profession. Today, one would say top modern and ‘in’. So, it is a job with a great future. FEAM stands for ‘Fine Mechanic and Electrical Apparatus Mechanic’. Well understood: Mechanic and Electrical. Not electronic. A word that just came up. The science behind this term was still a long way from being accepted as such.
Let alone electronic data transmission. At that time, playing with a remote-controlled toy car almost required a radio license and learning how to signal in Morse. Is the Morse code not the first one of the many more data transmission protocols which will follow? It is some kind of ‘semi-digital’. The earlier smoke signals of the Indians, other old tribes, and the medieval Swiss at the time of William Tell, were analog
He had no chance to become a FEAM. As many times before, he had no luck in his still short life. The apprenticeship positions were very rare. And those who were stronger than he had got hold of them. A little brightness came. A company that trained FEAMs offered him an apprenticeship as a precision mechanic. With the option of being allowed to attend the theoretical schooling of the FEAMs. This was nothing more than an empty promise. Only to fill the unpopular apprenticeship position.
So, he struggled through this extremely unpopular ordeal. Weeks of suffering from the filing of an iron block. The exactness requested had to be within a hundredth of a millimeter. The surface on the top of the iron cube had to be exactly flat, as a special polishing machine, build to accomplish this, could not do it better. And the iron block was of extremely hard quality. When he was sweaty and nerve-wracking, nearly finished, then the master punched with a pointed iron hammer a huge notch into the now so very fine edited surface. And the ‘Sisyphean’ work started again.
The only positive thing in the four-year apprenticeship was this: A colleague at work, two years older than him, remarked that he will never stay in the learned profession. He will go to one of the increasingly emerging companies that build electronic data processing machines. At that time, the term ‘computer’ was still very vaguely used. Better known were names like Burroughs, Honeywell, and a few more. And, of course, the largest and the leading one: IBM (International Business Machines). His colleague’s statement remained deep within him. It was a sign from a higher power. In such a power, he does not believe it until today.
Is the idea to make a successful life with the ‘things’ named ‘Computer’ not only an illusion?
To quote Mark Twain: “Don’t separate yourself from your illusions. When they are gone, you will continue to exist, but you will cease to live”.
But it was definitely a tip that should have a major impact on his life
1.2. His first ‘experiences’ in the Swiss Air Force.
The reality then looked much darker. For example, he had to go through basic military training. He had to serve in the Swiss Army Air Force as a data transmission device mechanic. Their duties were, among others, to maintain the antique Siemens telex equipment constructed in 1939. Those worked with a data transmission rate of lousy 50 baud (bits per second). Baud is a term invented by Jean-Maurice-Émile Baudot.
The incoming messages were written on an 8 mm width and 10 meters long paper band. Or were punched with holes in narrow paper strips to be stored and to be able to resend the information. Those paper strips were later burned so that no military secret could get into the wrong hands.
The operating personnel, in the military term the BP2 (operating personnel 2) cut the printed paper strip together and glued them onto a normal sheet of paper. This page was then handed in strict confidence to the officer on duty. The UEMGTMs (Swiss military abbreviation for data transmission device mechanics) then wrote for fun love letters to their girlfriends on these paper strips just mentioned. They rolled them in tiny rolls, and then they were sent by the military postal service to the at that time favorite ‘female’.
Then he had to deal with loud rattling mechanical encrypting devices. In bulletproof heavy iron boxes. And, as a telephone soldier, had to hang with a long hook kilometers of wires on roofs, trees, and lamp posts. Then he had also to establish telephone connections by plugging cables in the 150 kg heavy semi-mobile telephone switchboard. From time to time, the commander was, for great fun, connected to the nearest madhouse.
And, of course, also had to struggle through the usual soldier disciplines such as guard duty, goose-stepping, bodybuilding exercises, throwing hand grenades, cleaning the toilette, peeling potatoes, and so on. And was forced to march in nailed shoes, in the jargon called ‘gearwheel sandals’, on hard roads and through rocky trails. He still was equipped with the wooden carbine model 48. A very precise shooting riffle. If you could operate it correctly. He was very terrible at it. He felt the huge recoil after every shot. This resulted in a swollen shoulder and a sore collarbone.
This basic training, called the RS (Rekruten-Schule), was an agony. A lived nightmare. The ‘experience’ troubled him so much that it was causing bad dreams until old age.
The OTHER Computer History.
A Review from Amazon.
It is hard to imagine a world where computers aren't one of the most important parts of almost every way of life, but that has not been that long ago. Technology came a long way in a short amount of time and this book illustrates that through lively and mostly fun stories about a time where the computers were something relatively new and very exciting. The stories and anecdotes are well intertwined in the overall narrative and they flow seamlessly. It is a cool book with an interesting idea. The book It is a fun and interesting read for anyone.