Everything new is old again

By Shamus Posted Thursday Mar 16, 2006

Filed under: Nerd Culture 3 comments

James Lileks has a new bit up on late 60’s / early 70’s computers. It’s a series of photographs of computers from that period, along with Lilek’s own brilliant comments. It’s pretty funny, and offers a nice look at the world of computers around the time I was born.

Still, I find these pictures depressing somehow. Look at those miniscule monochrome screens. I can imagine the noise and heat and unbearable slowness of the thing. The reel-to-reel tape storage gives me the willies as well: How much would one of those fat, heavy spools of magnetic tape hold, anyway? Is it even a full megabyte? I doubt it, I really do. Despite my love for computers, I think that working with one of these beasts would be like doing a stretch in purgatory. It’s like in the early days of the automobile, when you had to turn the crank to start it, and the thing was loud, slow and uncomfortable to use. Honestly, this is so much trouble. Can’t we just ride a horse?


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3 thoughts on “Everything new is old again

  1. Pixy Misa says:

    You’d be surprised how much one of those tapes can hold. We’re talking about 2400 to 4800 feet of tape, encoded at anything from 800 to 6250 bytes per inch. Multiply it out. :)

    My first experience with minicomputers was in 1982 (I was still in school then), but 9-track tapes were still significant for years after that. I did manage to miss the punched card and paper tape era, fortunately. By the time I came along, it was all interactive terminals and magnetic media.

  2. Shamus says:

    Back-of-the-napkin says 343 meg for the larger ones.

    Now that I’ve thought about it, sub-megabyte storage doesn’t make any sense. These things were used by banks and such, and if storage was only a megabyte then the whole thing would have been useless.

    I’m still thankful I never had to use one. :)

  3. Actually, those early 70s computers were a blast. I learned to program APL in 1974 on an IBM 370 time-sharing system. Then the next summer I learned PL/I which was entirely punched cards. It turns out that if you could find the manual for the card punch you could make it do really cool things.

    The first big PL/I program I wrote was a program to predict the outcome of NFL football games. The card deck was in my parents’ attic for many years before it became a casualty during one of my mother’s cleaning binges.

    I wouldn’t go back, but there are certain thrills you never forget, like the first time I wrote a program, punched out the version, fed it into the card reader, and 20 minutes later I got back a printout with no syntax errors! On the very first go!!!

    Those were the days.

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