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Ben Franklin's bifocals Friday, February 29, 2008

[Leap Year Day]

Composer Gioachino Rossini
[1792 - Gioachino Rossini, composer, born in Pesaro Italy]

Inventor John P. Holland
Holland's SS-1 submarine
[1840 - John Philip Holland, submarine pioneer, born in Liscannor Ireland]

Computer Pioneer and Statistician Herman Hollerith
[1860 - Herman Hollerith, statistician, inventor, born in Buffalo, New York]

Director & Screenwriter William Wellman
[1896 - William A. Wellman, Academy Award-winning director & screenwriter, born in Brookline, Massachusetts]

Actress Hattie McDaniel - her stamp
[1940 - Hattie McDaniel is the first black woman to win an Oscar]

Punch My Ticket

Herman Hollerith came up with the idea of representing data by punching rows and columns on stiff paper cards. Although he was a statistician, and primarily interested in a way to achieve machine tabulation of data, his patented invention played a significant role in the early history of computer programming. In 1911, four corporations, including a company founded by Hollerith, merged to form Computing Tabulating Recording Corporation (CTR). It was renamed International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) in 1924.

William encountered Mr. Hollerith's ghost in the summer of 1965 when he took his first computer class at RPI. One wrote programs in those days in longhand on coding sheets. The next step was to take the coding sheets to a room full of key punch machines, (another Hollerith invention), to convert the individual statements into a stack of punched cards. This card deck was submitted through a window to one of the priests or acolytes behind the glass wall that separated the student mortals from the all powerful, all knowing, IBM-360/65 mainframe computer. Typos, hanging chads, folding, spindling, mutilating, or out of sequence problems with any of the cards in the card deck were sure to generate error messages after your submission had been run through the card reader. Cleaning up these errors and resubmitting the deck, likely with a new set of errors, was a loop that involved no small measure of frustration and often seemed to be closed. The process of just teaching the compiler to make sense out of what you thought you had tried to tell it could involve days of turnaround.

Students working at key punch machines

William's Whimsical Words:

Today, when I hear programmers complain about their hardware support, I just smile.

Man at IBM key punch machine

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