[cctalk] Head-less computers (Was: TOP POSTING
cisin at xenosoft.com
Sat Dec 12 10:51:18 CST 2015
[2^6 lines of irrelevance omitted]
On Sat, 12 Dec 2015, Mike wrote:
> The one question I do have for the older gentlemen on here is what in
> the world did the computers without a screen to look at do? Now I know
> about the tape, cassette tape's and even the paper with the hole punches
> in them but what kind of applications were they use for? Mathematics or?
> ? ?
Instead of a screen, you looked at "paper" (a flat, thin, slightly
flexible product made form ground-up dead trees).
There was a campaign called "The Paperless Office" set up by the
papermills to sell more paper, by claiming that xerox machines, and using
fax machines instead of post office, would "save paper" (actually intended
to "save paper industry")
Sometimes, it was non-simultaneously interactive, using a device called a
TTY. You typed in a command, and it did it, and then it typed its answer.
PRINT 2 + 2
YOU DON'T FIT THROUGH A TWO INCH SLIT
YOU ARE IN A MAZE OF TWISTY LITTLE PASSAGES ALL ALIKE
Sometimes, it was printed reports. A thick fan-fold pile of continuous
form paper that listed all of your SYNTAX ERRORs
Sometimes, it was special forms (also fanfold continuous), such as your
Sometimes, it was a deck of punched cards. (They are "PUNCHED cards", not
"PUNCH cards", once there are some holes in 'em - "PUNCH card" can only
mean blank cards to feed the PUNCH with). Those went into drawer in a
room full of special file cabinets, or into the input of another machine,
such as a different machine such as "accounting machine" (which was used
as a dedicated printer), or the card reader of another computer. Inter
computer communication was handled by a "gofer" carrying, or pushing a
cart full of, decks of punch cards. Each deck of cards, if less than 2000
in a box, was inadequately secured with rubber bands and had diagonal
lines made with magic markers, to recognize the rearrangements after the
deck or box got dropped. That process was later upgraded to
Sometimes, it was a reel of tape. Used in similar ways to punched cards,
except that the storage room was called a "tape library", and other than a
tape number, and maybe owner's name, there weren't any diagonal lines
across them. There were "tape hangers" that wrapped around the outside of
the reel, and small plastic "rubber" rings near the hub called "write
rings". The tape drives were the iconic image that filmmakers used
instead of computers, which "don't look like a computer".
Sometimes, it was a big picture! Take the deck of cards or tape to
another machine that was dedicated to operating a "PLODDER". It would be
a large table, or a lorge roller (and since late 1960s sometimes a machine
that wrote to 16mm or 35mm film!). The plodder moved "pids" (rapidograph
like pens) around, responding to commands summarized as N, S, E, W, UP,
DOWN (oft subverted into manufacturer proprietary commands). Large
libraries of subroutines would convert into those primitives from commands
such as LINE, CIRCLE, GRID, PLOT xxx V yyy.
Sometimes, the owner of some small machines, or the paid operator of some
larger machines, would have a "FRONT PANEL", that was full of
blinkenlights. When the operator wasn't feeding the printers (trying to
start a new box of paper without turning off the printer), they could
stare at those lights. Occasionally, an operator might start
screaming or giggling uncontrollably when the computer told them a
good joke, such as program counter repeating itself.
Sometimes, they controlled dedicated equipment (such as looms, milling
machines, spaceships, etc.)
RARELY, there was voice output. A quarter of a century ago, I had a
friend who used a VOTRAX. She had a laptop with a big gaping hole where a
screen had once been. The first email that she sent me (she believed
that the proper quoting was "NO QUOTES!"), said:
CAN I BORROW AN AXE?
Like her, if you know what you are doing, you do not need a screen.
Grumpy Ol' Fred cisin at xenosoft.com
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