Wednesday, 23 November 2011

By on November 23rd, 2011 in Barbara, biology, government, netflix, politics

10:10 – Barbara took off this morning on a trip to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee with her parents, sister, and sister’s husband. They plan to spend several days going to shows and shopping at the outlet malls. They rented a Toyota handicapped-accessible van to make it easier to handle Barbara’s dad’s wheelchair. They’ll be back Sunday. I told Barbara I’d watch 20 or 30 episodes of Despicable Housewives while she’s gone and then tell her what happened when she gets back. The truth is, I probably won’t turn on the TV while she’s gone. I’ll work during the days and read during the evenings. Well, read and throw the ball for Colin. Over and over and over.

I’m still working heads-down on the biology book. I sent the protists chapter to my editor this morning, and am currently working on a chapter about fungi and lichens.

Meanwhile, during the last couple of weeks, the euro crisis has gone from desperate to catastrophic. Italy and now Spain are on the verge of needing bailouts to avoid defaults, and there’s no money there to bail them out. Belgium isn’t far behind, and France maintains its AAA rating in name only. The FANG nations are now the G nation, with Finland, Austria, and the Netherlands coming under the gun. The ECB has reached and passed its limit in terms of its willingness to buy Italian and Spanish bonds, and without that subsidy Italian and Spanish bond yields will skyrocket from their already-catastrophic 7% levels. Private investors are no longer willing to risk their money in sovereign bonds or private bonds from any EU country other than Germany, and they’ve begun to be leery even of German bunds. The IMF and the BRIC nations have basically told the EU that it’s on its own and it can’t expect any IMF/BRIC bailouts. The US has tossed diplomacy aside, told the EU not to expect any financial support from the US, and is now ordering the EU in no uncertain terms to DO SOMETHING. The trouble is, there’s really nothing to be done, and even if there were, Germany is not willing to pay for it. We’re watching the collapse of the eurozone and the EU itself, and the timeframe is now weeks rather than months. This is not going to be pretty.

13:42 – Oh, my. Forget what I just said about Germany being the last FANG nation left standing. Germany–Germany!–just suffered a failed bond auction. Germany offered €6 billion worth of bonds, but private investors were willing to buy only about 60% of them, leaving the central bank having to buy the rest. Granted, the interest rates were low, at about 2%, but even so. This was the worst auction of German bonds in the euro era. At this point, it’s clear that investors don’t want even German bunds, perceiving (correctly) that Germany is in deep, deep trouble.

14:38 – Actually, I think I will watch something while Barbara is away. We started watching the BBC series, Survivors, on Netflix streaming a couple of months ago, but we watched only the first episode. Barbara found it grim and depressing, and I could tell she really didn’t want to watch any more of it. But it’s still in our queue, and I should be able to get through the remaining 11 50-minute episodes while she’s away.

15:46 – Ah, I wondered how long it would be before this shoe dropped. After watching the concessions given to Greece, it was only a question of time before other bailed out nations demanded that kind of favorable treatment retroactively. The only thing I wasn’t sure of was whether it’d be Portugal or Ireland first. Well, it turns out to be Ireland. Can Portugal be far behind?

37 Comments and discussion on "Wednesday, 23 November 2011"

  1. OFD says:

    Gonna be a blue Christmas for Europe, I reckon. Things have simply gone too far, and none of the “solutions” are anywhere near “good.”

    It’s a white Thanksgiving here in northern Vermont right now, however, snow coming in sideways, and roads all bollixed up. Dug out the car and left early but hadda turn around after five miles and come home again. The weather liars had said 1-3 inches but we’re at 6-8″ already and it is still coming down steadily, probably a foot or more by the end of the day. Fine by me; I’m on the VPN to work, which is dead today anyway, and otherwise cooking stuff for tomorrow, which I’d thought I’d have to do tonight. Cool.

    Wishing a safe trip for Barbara and family, and all good people who are out traveling this holiday week.

  2. Larry McGinn says:

    RBT wrote: “…they’ve begun to be leery even of German bunds.”
    Ooookay, I’m guessing this is NOT a typo.

    On another topic: What? No Thanksgiving Day dinner with family and friends? Tsk! Tsk!

  3. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    No, it’s not a typo. German bonds are universally called bunds, which is an odd combination of a German word with English pluralization.

    I don’t celebrate any religious holiday. Barbara’s not religious, but she loves holidays. She’s going to pick up our Saturnalia tree when she gets back Sunday.

  4. Raymond Thompson says:

    For a good show in Pigeon Forge have Barbara see The Hatfields and McCoys which is a fairly new show. The theatre is located near the Titanic museum. Very good show. Skip Lumberjack Feud. Country Tonight is good. For a good magic show that is cheap ($10.00) see Terry Underwood who puts on a show in the WonderWorld Theatre (a building that looks like it is upside down from an earthquake).

  5. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    Thanks. I’ll mention it to her when she calls this evening.

  6. BGrigg says:

    On happier news, the Asus laptop showed up about 30 minutes ago. I’m just running Ninite to install all the goodies I want, then I’ll uninstall all the chuff I don’t want, which is surprisingly few compared to HP and Dell.

    Overall impressions are good. Nice ribbed textured outer surface in black with a brushed aluminum keyboard surround in a subdued brown. All the connections are towards the front on both sides; AC connection, HDMI, VGA, RJ45 and 1x USB 3.0 on the left; Bluray/DVD Burner, 2x USB 2.0, headphone and mic jacks on the right. I didn’t buy it for lightness, only portability.

    I haven’t had it long enough to review the operation of the laptop itself, and will do so over the next few days. The chiclet type keyboard is fine, with LARGE letters printed on. Time will tell on how long the lettering actually lasts.

    Ninite has finished doing it’s thing, and it’s time to start deleting things!

  7. Raymond Thompson says:

    Oh, the Hatfields and McCoys is a dinner show and the food was actually quite good and decent quanties. The show is just fun and enjoyable. Recommended.

  8. Paul Jones says:

    Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday. It’s an American holiday where we eat and drink ’til we can’t feel our feet.

    You do that, don’t you?

    I wouldn’t buy German bonds on the off chance they go insane and try to bail out the other EU countries.

  9. BGrigg says:

    I can feel my feet just fine, and now that I’ve shed some pounds, I can SEE my feet. Canadian do Thanksgiving in October, when the traveling is much easier.

  10. OFD says:

    I am working hard on making it to 300 pounds so foreigners can come over and diss me real bad about being a typical big fat obese American pig, and then they can diss me some more about my sick fascination with gunz and explosives. I know there’s more stuff that pisses them off—somebody break out that list again.

  11. Chuck Waggoner says:

    I suppose I should not be amazed, but — as you know I record legal proceedings these days, and — even for a kid who grew up in a farm state where practically every boy in a town the size of Tiny Town, had a rifle by age 12, I am amazed at how many people interviewed in criminal cases (as victims or bystanders) not only own a gun, but also possess a permit to carry it. Unfortunately, — as I am seeing, — owning and carrying is not a sure protection from bad guys.

    Happy Turkey day tomorrow, everybody! Now for some cherry Stollen from Aldi for tea time.

  12. OFD says:

    No stinkin’ permits or licenses necessary here in the great Green Mountain State, folks! Fire away and fall back!

  13. Miles_Teg says:


    I’m sure your spelling and accent would be very annoying to most visitors too, plus the fact that you drive on the wrong side of the road and use diminished, weak American units such as the smaller US Gallon and the piddly 110 volt power.

  14. Chuck Waggoner says:

    Ha, ha. Yeah, just wait until you experience a short plugging something into 220v power. Two great advantages I saw to 220v: 1) lights do not dim when somebody starts the hair dryer or some other high wattage device; and 2) you can use as many multiple socket extension cords as you like, and they never get warm to the touch.

  15. SteveF says:

    The most entertaining short I’ve seen in person was when I was consulting at an engineering consulting company. (That phrasing wasn’t redundant: I was not an employee of GE Fanuc, but a specialist consultant helping them on something.) The work crew putting up an office building a quarter mile away spiked the power lines and the 400V 3-phase got all goofy and that blew out the power unit that delivered 120V 1-phase to the computer room. All of those lovely, expensive IBM boxes were fried in an instant. There was some truly impressive design failure in the system, what with no power conditioning for all of those boxes.

    But it gets worse. The hardware was covered by insurance (and presumably the builder’s insurance eventually covered it) but the data was not. Those IBM boxes were running AIX and the old, crappy IBM file system which was utterly intolerant of unexpected shut-downs. So far as I recall, every single drive was trashed, with nothing recoverable. Um, hadn’t their systems guys heard of battery backups? Well, yes, but it wasn’t budgeted, so the boxes just ran off of line power.

    But it gets worse. Although the drives all needed to be reformatted or replaced, once that was done, the data could be restored from tape and the company would lose only a day’s work, right? Except there were no backups. The hardware was there, but it wasn’t anybody’s job to do the backups, and hardly anyone had the necessary permissions to mount tapes anyway.

    One final, amusing bit of fallout: I ended up getting my contract cut early because of non-performance. Not long after the big oops one of the bosses called on me to show what I’d accomplished in the months I’d been there. Pretty much all I could show him was what I’d been able to recreate, a pretty poor amount of output for the time I’d been there. Buh-bye!

  16. Miles_Teg says:

    SteveF wrote:

    “All of those lovely, expensive IBM boxes were fried in an instant. There was some truly impressive design failure in the system, what with no power conditioning for all of those boxes.”

    Expensive IBM boxes? Yeah, I’ll buy that. Lovely? You’re kidding. In the Eighties I thought IBM was evil incarnate, although my attitude to them has mellowed in the last decade or so.

    What? No motor generator sets? We’re talking mainframes here I take it?

    Back in the Eighties my employer had mirrored sites so that the production workload could be swapped almost instantly to the development one if there was a scheduled or unscheduled outage. We conditioned the power (and also achieved a modicum of power backup) by having motor generator sets between the grid and the mainframes.

    Eventually, of course, management couldn’t resist the temptation to “economise” by breaking the nexus between the production and development sites. It’s all outsourced now so I have little idea how well we’re backed up.

    One very annoying incident for me was the time I was on call and received a late evening phone call from the operators about a (mainframe) disk that had died It was as dead as a door nail – no power. The next morning the boss carpeted me for not ordering the operators to back up the dead disk. I objected that the drive wasn’t spinning, couldn’t be made to spin, and so could not be backed up by any normal process. From the expression on his face I knew he knew he’d made a fool of himself, but I was still removed from the on call roster, which bothered me not a bit.

  17. Chuck Waggoner says:

    I was not directly involved, but back in the very early days of “freeze frame” still video (it replaced film transparency slides in TV), we had two of those big IBM drive cubes that sat on the floor with what looked like a giant Tupperware cake container top on them. One backed the other up.

    The telecine area where all the film and slide projectors were housed, had carpeting throughout, and static electricity was a real problem in winter — even though we had a commercial humidifier blowing a constant stream of what looked like a jet vapor trail into the big room. Somebody in maintenance got the brilliant idea that the carpet should additionally be sprayed with cans of anti-static spray.

    Oops! That stuff contained magnetic particles, and it literally destroyed both those IBM drives, which were very, very expensive in the first place, and had to be replaced, along with the carpet. We lost every still image used in the station, as there was no other backup than the second of those IBM drives, which went down with the first — hundreds of images for over a half-dozen different departments. When those drives were replaced, they started spitting all the images out to videotape every week as a second-medium backup. Too late, though, as there never was another failure like that one.

    All this happened because somebody in maintenance blew a small circuit board in the telecine room with static electricity when touching it for repairs while standing on the carpet. Wow. Those IBM drives cost far more than replacing the whole circuit board in the other piece of equipment.

    They finally settled on some kind of grounded pad that they stood on while performing maintenance.

  18. Miles_Teg says:

    Back in the Eighties some of our mainframe hard drives were removable. (The combined units were the size of a small refrigerator.) An operator dropped a spindle onto the floor and replaced it in the drive, destroying the spindle *and* the drive. He then removed the spindle and put it in another drive, destroying that. He then tried putting a fresh spindle into a ruined drive, with predictable results.

    I didn’t hear this story from the culprit, but from another operator turned systems programmer, so I don’t know the exact details. I think my friend said 18 spindles and/or drives were destroyed. The union protected this guy from being sacked.

  19. Brad says:

    When I was. teenager, my dad helped me write a couple of programs for the Honeywell mainframe at his office. I particularly remember the washing machine size disks thrashing like an out-of-balance spin cycle. They has glass tops, so you could see the disk, and the heads moving.

    Not too long ago I was searching for a video of this – I figured someone, somewhere must have filmed disks like that back in the day. No luck, Youtube or anywhere else.

  20. Miles_Teg says:

    Washing machines? LOL. The “modern” hard drives on our Control Data Cybers used Model 885 drives, known informally as “Twin Tubs” because a single physical unit looked remarkably like a twin tub washing machine. (although it was about 2-4x the size.) It had two enclosed (i.e. non dismountable spindles) with a whopping 690 MB per spindle. Can’t remember whether the spindles were visible or not.

    CDC stopped making these antiques years before we sent our Cybers to their reward, so we had to buy “refurbished, warranted as new” models.

    We wrote some pretty mischievous programs back then, such as Yoyo, which wound tapes back and forth, back and forth, back and forth on the tape drives. The boss was quite willful, on one occasion the operations area wouldn’t let him back up the contents of a system disk, format it and restore the contents. (Some file on the disk couldn’t be accessed for some reason.) He warned operations that something dire might happen, they ignored him, so he wrote a little program to crash the machine (this was a production machine) and make that disk unbootable. He ran the program and the machine died. Operations rang him and breathlessly told him that what he had warned would happen had happened. He tut-tutted and said that they should have listened to him, then drove over to the site and fixed the problem.

    An operator had noticed one of his jobs run through the machine the instant before the crash but didn’t put two and two together, and didn’t take a memory dump, so the boss was in the clear.

    This chap annoyed me once to often in the mid Eighties, so even though he was my boss I wrote a little program to sent a logout command to his interactive session every 0.5 seconds. Took him ages to work out partially what had happened, I finally told him what I’d done. He laughed it off but took away my software access level privileges for a few days, but it was worth it.

    One day *I* got into an argument with an operator over the status of one of the development machines. I told the operator there was a problem and that that machine needed to be deadstarted (booted) soon. The operator wanted to do it in his own time and I hinted darkly that something might “happen” if he didn’t do what I wanted. He understood me perfectly and said that if there was an unfortunate crash of that machine I’d be in deep doo doo. I only had an obvious, kludgy way of crashing this type of mainframe, so I got to work on a fairly subtle piece of code that would hang the machine without it being obvious what had happened. The *next* time this type of situation arose nothing happened that would arouse suspicion.

    Ahh, the good old days. I and others did so many things in the Eighties that we’d be sacked for instantly now.

  21. Robert Bruce Thompson says:

    Heh. Back in the early 80’s, I worked for a company that used DEC minis, with those washing-machine size RL01/RL02 disc-pack drives. One day, I was sitting at a desk writing some code when the drive box next to the desk crashed. Metal chunks came flying out through the sheet metal side of the box. I was unscathed, but it was disconcerting.

  22. Ray Thompson says:

    I go back before most of you having worked on machines with no disk drives. Drums were used where you timed your code so that the data you wanted was close when you needed it. Add a couple of instructions in some code and the speed of the program would drop in half because of waiting for data.

    Used many of the washing machine units, fixed and removable. First disk unit was a Head-Per-Track unit, there were no moving heads. Drive only held 100 megabytes of data, had an air compressor to keep the heads off the disk. When of those went wonky it was not unusual for it move a couple of feet across the floor. They used a 1 horsepower motor to spin the single platter.

    Tape drives were used for sorting because no disk drives. Tape drives moving forwards and backwards. An errant operator dismounting a tape early could destroy 8 hours worth of work.

    I had a program that would immediately generate a program light, basically a system fault, that I could run at will on the Burroughs B-3500. There was also a command in the online (teletype) system that could be issued. A snotty operator was usually greeted with a red light if he/she did not cooperate.

    Weirdest I had ever seen was on occassion the system would crash completely. Memory wiped clean. Burroughs replaced multiple components until they had replaced the entire guts of the machine. Problem still happened. And it was unique to our machine. They even ran new dedicated electrical circuits and extensive monitoring showed the power was rock solid.

    Then one day one of the Burroughs engineers was outside smoking. He noticed that a radar unit took a low scan. He immediately got called back in because the system had just crashed. He put two and two together. He brought the system back up, called the radar people, and had them do a low scan again. Wham, system was toast.

    The radar was the culprit. They had to copper shield the entire building. Used a very expensive mesh. Cost the USAF a lot of money but I guess it was cheaper than moving the radar.

  23. OFD says:

    Well I go way back before ALL you old dinosaurs, and remember when we had to string beads on multiple abacus drives while herding hamsters into the generator room.

    Actually, I think I am in the same ballpark, going back to the DEC PDP-11 and VAX/VMS 3.5, and now I find myself in an IBM environment with AIX and Linux and rumors that OS/2 is still running somewhere in the gigantic complex up here. And I remember the old washing-machine disk packs that we used to run around replacing all night during central Maffachufetts summer thunderstorms.

    Happy T-Day all! Except for you furriners.

  24. Ray Thompson says:

    Well I go way back before ALL you old dinosaurs, and remember when we had to string beads on multiple abacus drives while herding hamsters into the generator room.

    You have beads and power generation. Would you like to see my chisel and some of my stone calculating tablets?

    Seriously, when I first arrived on the scene some of the reporting was still done by hollerith cards running on a IBM 407. Used punch cards. I never got involved in that stuff but some of the card output from the 1401 (with 8k of memory) was sent through the 407.

    Part of my job was the moving all of the processes from the 1401 and 407 to the B-3500. A large project that really required a lot of rethinking on some processes. Many folks resisted as they did not like change. There was a comfort level for the guys in aircraft maintenance to have physical cards rather than a listing. Slowly we weined them from the cards.

    We had no mass storage on the IBM 1401. We did have disk storage onthe Burroughs but it was very much limited to program storage only. All data had to be on tape or cards. In fact programs that had to be compiled were on large card decks. Gradually over time this changed with larger storage units. I cried no tears when the cards were finally abandoned.

  25. Ray Thompson says:

    Should say “Used punch boards.”

  26. Miles_Teg says:

    Ahhh, punch cards. An operator dropped a 2000 card deck of mine once, cards went everywhere. Did I ever mention my low opinion of operators?

    I learned my trade on a Control Data Cyber 173 with (IIRC) 96 K Words (60 bit words) of memory in the late Seventies. Was nice when I got to the third year of the course and I was allowed to have my programs stored on disk rather than punch cards.

    I’ve been a CDC fan since day 1, my first employer had an enormous number of CDC 3000 machines and a lone Cyber 72 running Kronos. Unfortunately this was at the beginning of the lets-convert-to-IBM era and they were soon replaced with a Fujitsu M200 mainframe. An application running on the Cyber 72 couldn’t easily be redeveloped so, when the Cyber 72 was at the end of its design life it was replaced with a Cyber 180-810, a machine that “couldn’t pull the skin off a rice pudding” in the words of the above mentioned boss, who eventually joined the local arm of CDC.

    I deliberately chose my next employer because they had Cybers, and I eventually became a NOS/BE systems programmer, one of the best jobs in the world. But once again management was hell bent on replacing the cheap (we got our Pascal compiler from UMinn for $10, the cost of the tape and shipping), efficient and you didn’t need compactors full of manuals to know what was going on. (My collection of frequently used manuals was about 3 feet of shelf space.) We got rid of our Cybers and got an IBM compatible machine running MVS/XA. I hated it. The evil genius behind getting rid of our Cybers was a pro-Microsoft, pro-IBM guy whose biggest claim to fame was having played a round of golf with Bill Gates. Our nickname for him was TDI. (Tall, Dark and Ignorant.)

  27. SteveF says:

    You had punch cards? Lucky you! I had to have people standing in a row to represent my bits. And because there are so many stupid people around and stupid people are 0s, I never had enough 1s to make my programs work correctly.

  28. Ray Thompson says:

    The Burroughs machines were excellent for banking. It was the only computer in existance that could multiply a 100 digit (not bits) number by another 100 digit number and get a 200 digit result accurate to the last digit. IBM at the time maxed out at 18 digits unless you went to floating point and floating point was never precise suffering from roundoff errors.

    It was also possible on the Burroughs to divide a 100 digit number by a 50 digit number and get a 50 digit result accurate to the last digit. These were possible with a single instruction.

    Banks like them because you could calculate interest accurately. All you had to do was scale tne number to 30 or 40 places ano/d use integer division and multiplication. Absolute accurate results.

    The machine was aloo entirely decimal using the digits 0 through 9 for math. The machine could also process EBCDIC with ease and conversion to/from was part of the architecture.

    All addressing was decimal so reading memory dumps was easy to resolve addresses. Relocating programs in memory was a simple matter of modifying a couple of control registers, moving the code, and all was done. No address resolution was required to load a program. It was simply jammed in memory, the base and limit registers set, and the program executed.

    At one time in my career I wrote half a dozen custom language compilers on a B-6700 that generated B-3500 machine code. The B-6700 was a 64 bit word machine and the B-3500 was a decimal machine. There were no word boundaries on the B-3500. Really loved that job.

  29. Miles_Teg says:

    I did some courses at the Canberra College of Advanced Education (now University of Canberra) in the early Eighties, and used a B6700 (I think) running MCP. It was okay, but the Cybers were light years ahead. (Is my bias showing?) Both were far ahead of the IBM offerings of the time. One of the few things that Reagan got completely wrong in the early Eighties was dropping the antitrust suit against IBM, which had effectively been initiated by CDC. I *really* hated IBM back then. I’ve mellowed since though.

    As to doing arithmetic on large numbers, I got my first calculator in 1975 when they were a serious status symbol at my school. The previous year a HP salesperson had been at our school, and sold *one* low end calculator to one of the nerds in my class. (He may have sold some in other classes too.) People were always begging this guy for the loan of his calculator. I don’t remember the model number but it had+-*/ and square root. That’s all. The rest of us had to use log books. (I had, and still have a slide rule and instruction book but have forgotten how to use it.) One year later dad bought me a calculator that was light years ahead. The next year I coveted a HP-65 but couldn’t justify the price.

    What I was leading up to was that in the Physical & Inorganic Chemistry labs in 1976 they had these desk bound calculators that were, well, smaller than a typewriter (about 1/4 the volume actually) but still pretty impressive gadgets. They would do calculations to 20 or more digits. I wonder what happened to them…

    I really should re-learn how to use a slide rule…

  30. Ray Thompson says:

    I really coveted a Hp-35, saw one in Hawaii in 1972 (or 1973). Later on I was able to purchase a H-45 as my first real calculator. Didn’t need it or use more than 10% of the functions. But as a geek I just had to have one and it did impress my friends.

    I always liked the Burroughs medium system (B-3500) verses the large system (B-6700). In some ways the medium system could run rings around the large system, especially in interger math. Only thing I really liked about the large system was the Algol compiler.

    The cross compilers that I wrote were written in Algol. Getting a word machine to do long strings of integers was a challenge. Had to use a lot of partial word references which really slowed things down. But there was really no choice. But I really did like Algod. A single pass compiler. The transition to Pascal was not difficult as the concepts were the same as far as language flow.

    I also got exposed to IBM when the bank I worked at got sold and we had to convert to IBM. Stacks of manuals with error codes. JCL that was archaic and never changed from the ’60s. RACF that was sometimes very finicky. VTAM that was nothing more than a large assembler macro, CICS which was again a large macro and the interface into COBOL was not at all smooth. Burroughs had a much cleaner system in my opinion. The big downfall was the poll select communication protocol that Burroughs used. It was slow when you had several terminals on a line but that single line was an advantage.

    In part of my career I did indeed write a couple of modules for the Medium Systems MCP operating system to make the print spooling system much faster. That along with a printer program I was able to sell for $2500.00 a copy and was able to sell several of them. That is until Burroughs stole the concepts and ideas and integrated them into the operating system. I could have legally fought them but that would have bankrupted me into submission.

    I did get a job offer from Burroughs when I left the USAF to work in Pasadena at the medium system headquarters. I would have been working on the operating system. Good pay, good job. But it was in Pasadena and that was wrong for many reasons. Instead I opted for EDS which was still under the Ross Perot regime. EDS as that time was a superb company.

  31. OFD says:

    My corporate employers thus far: Bose, Data General, DEC, EDS, Staples, GE, and IBM.

    Best gigs so far have been EDS and IBM.

    After our 8-10″ of snow the other day, temps are swelling back up into the forties for the next few days.

  32. Chuck Waggoner says:

    Roll with the modern era. Throw the abacus and slide rule away or give to a museum. They are now ancient history, to be studied by future archeologists.

    I went into broadcasting, while my brother took the route you guys did. He started with the old AT&T — which was competent in those days — with punch cards, and moved on to writing programs for all those systems you mention, including Burroughs and DEC. He seemed to favor DEC, as I remember, and spent a lot of time in Maynard, taking classes. Burroughs had a major office in Indy, just a couple buildings down the street from the I.M. Pei-designed TV building I worked in.

    My brother passed on some years back, but as early as the ‘70’s, he used to talk about how computers were so much more capable than the uses they were being put to. For decades, they were used only for accounting, even though they could have been used very effectively for word processing.

    Hate for IBM was pretty general: my dad had what was known as a Mag Card typewriter, which was an IBM Selectric, that was controlled by a box next to it, that read magnetic cards — it was kind of like paper was the display screen. IBM would not provide a standard rate service contract, and that machine broke down about every other month. First of all, the machine was useless until fixed, and it took days to get somebody out. The tech would then work for several hours on it, and the bill would be several hundred bucks in a day when that was equivalent to several thousand in today’s dollars. IBM would not sell that machine, so my dad was paying for that service on a RENTED machine. No wonder hate for IBM was palpable.

    There was a wonderful article during the M$ anti-trust trial, that described how Gates & Co. throttled IBM to near extinction, which IBM is still recovering from. M$ was convicted of illegal anti-trust wrongdoing for the stuff they did to IBM, but were never punished as that whole case just disappeared when G.W. took office. If you hated IBM, just know that Gates nearly took them out completely — if illegally. These days — at least in Europe — IBM is in the consulting business, which it kind of took over after Arthur Anderson self-destructed.

    My brother eventually got my dad fixed up with a commodity system running some form of Unix, and the Mag Card went back to IBM. I was blown away by the word-processing capabilities of that system — which I think ran a thing called Q-Office. The fact my brother had been using the vi editor for decades before I ever saw it, gave me some idea of how far behind the whole rest of industry was, until Gates came along.

    Automation systems for TV and radio were all purely mechanical until well into the 1990’s, and relied on extra audio tracks with cue tones that started the next event. Videotape machines required 5-second pre-rolls, so the beginning of a 5-second tone started the next machine rolling, and the end of the tone caused a video/audio switch to the next machine. The mechanics of all this were so complex that when something went wrong, it often took a couple minutes of “dead-air” before the system could be brought back to working order. That kind of automation did not allow for any personnel reduction, and I often wondered why any station bothered.

    Still, when computers came to broadcasting, they were first employed by the accounting department. Second use was the “character generator”, which puts print on the screen that formerly was text of hot-pressed white type on pure matt black construction cardboard, shot with a camera and the white then super-imposed over the main picture. Next, a company in California, called CMX, used a DEC processor to control video tape machines and a video switcher, which finally allowed computer video editing. The station where I worked in Chicago had one of the first of those systems in the nation. SoundStage was the first program we used it on.

    On linear systems like CMX (and later Ampex, who finally came up with a competing system), programs had to be built from start to finish in real time. That is sometimes very hard to do, because if a particular middle segment of the show is not ready, the whole process has to wait until it IS ready.

    When non-linear PC computer editing finally came along, I had one helluva time getting editors to use it. Actually, it was not until younger guys came into the industry, who had no prior predilections about editing that non-linear finally took over (that and the terrific cost of the older systems, which a mere PC could now replace). With non-linear, you can edit segments in any order, then slap them together at any time — or more importantly, — make changes in the middle of the program, without having to rebuild everything that follows it, all over again, as was necessary in linear ‘assembly editing’.

    I will give you a little secret here about non-linear editing that even most pro’s do not know or understand. Often, in live-to-tape recordings, dozens of little fixes need to be made throughout the program. Things like late cues or a late shot that needs to be pulled up, places when the talent stumbles over something and you need to help them out, or when extra audio needs to be mixed in or some audio mistake corrected. You screen the show, getting time code numbers of what needs to be done where. In linear editing, you make corrections as you go along building the show from start to finish. In non-linear, you can do it in any order. BUT, if you do it in top to tail order, which all the old-timers are used to, all your time code numbers for subsequently needed edits will be off, because in non-linear, you are actually working on the final build as you go along. Whatever you did on the first edit, — usually taking stuff out, — will throw ALL your later screening numbers off. You then have to calculate and apply an ‘offset’ to all of your subsequent time-code numbers; and you have to keep doing that, over and over, at each point where you make changes, as you progress sequentially through the show.

    BUT, if you make those changes backwards, from tail to top, the numbers never need an offset, because you are never working on something that affects timing of any screening numbers you need after it. So simple, yet I have worked with dozens of editors in non-linear over the years, and most shudder at the need to figure the offsets. They have never been introduced to the idea that doing it backwards, preserves all the prior numbers and therefore requires no figuring of offsets at all. Crazy that hardly anyone has figured that out. I realized it in my very first non-linear session.

  33. Ray Thompson says:

    There is a lot of history in all the old dinasours on this board.

  34. OFD says:

    Fo’ sure.

    I was born in the year of a big record heat wave in NYC, and when they heard the nooz about my birth, the North Koreans got discouraged and signed an armistice and Koba the Dread up and croaked. Finally.

  35. Miles_Teg says:

    Our IT infrastructure was taken over by Evil Doers in Suits in 1999. The government forced my employer to outsource for ideological reasons. It wasn’t the disaster I expected but I hate having to go through a help desk and explain a situation to some drone, only to have to re-explain it when I’m put through to the next drone, ad infinitum.

    In the good old days I knew how to fix problems, either by doing it myself or ringing the person whom I knew could do it. Now that’s no longer possible. And we have two outsourcers now, one doing the overall management, the other the actual grunt work. It means we have to do everything in quadruplicate, which increases our costs and vaporises the supposed savings.

  36. Miles_Teg says:

    Hmmm, old dinosaur? Yeah, I suppose that at 53 I am now.

    When I was almost 16 I was out with my sister (who was 24), she bumped into an old pal. After some reacquainting my sister’s friend glanced over at me and said “This is your husband?” When I was young I looked older than my years, in my thirties and forties I looked considerably younger, many people underestimated my age by six to 14 years.

    Now I’m a lot less tolerant of extremes of heat and humidity than I used to be. It’s almost summer here but I’m still sleeping with the electric blanket on all night, and had to get out my winter clothing again recently. We had a few hot days, but now Global Cooling ™ has returned.

  37. Chuck Waggoner says:

    Whoa, we had one of the hottest summers in record here in the US Midwest. Corn, the staple farm product in the Midwest, had ears that were about two-thirds of normal size. I attributed it to the summer of drought — which set in in early June. But the real agricultural experts say the stunted size was due to heat, not dryness.

    All I can say about the fall so far, is that it is danged, danged windy. So windy that things blow into the side of the house all the time — everything from nuts falling from trees to twigs and limbs, and trash that has become airborne, of course. We have yet to have a hard freeze. If we don’t get one soon, I am going to have to mow the lawn another time.

    Our continent has about the worst weather of any. In summer, the jet stream was way up in Canada all summer long, giving us the record heat and humidity from the Gulf. And sure enough, as soon as temps started turning, that jet stream went down to the southern US, so we are getting cold, wind, and even lots of early snow up in OFDland.

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