That’s the kind of thinking that gets you out of the box.

Computerworld  |  Shark Tank
Computerworld / IDG

It’s 1968 and this high school pilot fish is learning Fortran IId programming on Saturdays at the local junior college. For class projects, programs are punched onto cards with an IBM 026 or 029 card punch and run on the computer department’s IBM 1620 “small scientific computer.”

The only direct print output is a painfully slow, 10-character-per-second IBM Model B1 electric typewriter. But the 1620 is equipped with a much faster card punch, so everyone directs program output to cards and then prints them out on a reader/printer supplied by the computer lab. Of course, because everyone does this, the lines to use the reader/printer are excruciatingly long.

Fish is impatient, and he’s also inquisitive, so he duly discovers that the computer lab in the college’s business department has an IBM 1401 with the much faster 1403 chain printer. All fish has to do is buy a 1401 Autocoder programming language manual from the college bookstore, write a dirt-simple read/print program, boot up the 1401, and he’s printing program output 30 times faster than with the 1620 typewriter and 10 times faster than with the reader/printer. Best of all, fish and his closest friends don’t have to wait in line for the reader/printer.

Life is good for a while, until word gets out. Fish’s ingenuity is rewarded by the instructor appropriating his 1401 read/print program and opening it up to everyone.

So fish finds himself waiting in lines again, this time for the 1401. But he has plenty of time to look around the business department computer lab, where he spies an ancient IBM 402 accounting machine. It’s older and slower than the 1401, but it can read punched cards reasonably fast and has its own integrated line printer. Because the 402 is programmed by wiring a plugboard, fish goes back to the bookstore and learns yet another prehistoric programming language.

In short order, fish is back to printing his output without waiting in line. But he’s more circumspect this time. He inserts his program wires into the 402 plugboard, prints his output, then pulls out all the wires. As a result of his caution, no one ever figures out his new way of doing things, and fish finishes his classes without ever again waiting in a print queue.

There are no lines to reach Sharky. Send me your true tales of IT life at sharky@computerworld.com. You can also subscribe to the Daily Shark Newsletter and read some great old tales in the Sharkives.


Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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