Thursday, April 23, 2009

Mother-Son Evening

This evening Jeff was taking a watercolor course so Vinny and I had an evening out on the town together.

We started by going to the "Pizza House" (as Vinny calls our local pizza buffet restaurant) for dinner, where we saw an older woman whom we recognized, sitting alone. I invited her to sit with us, and she did. I asked her about her past, and she told me she had a masters degree in mathematics, and that she'd worked as a programmer on my workplace's first supercomputer. I thought this was just about the coolest thing ever, and I asked her quite a few additional questions about her computing experience, and then told her a little about what things are like now.

After dinner, we went to play on the playground, but we didn't stay long because the sun was setting. We came home and it was soon time for bed. I tucked Vinny in just before Jeff came home.


Doctor Pion said...

Congrats on setting an example for your son by including someone at your table. That you probably wish you had a videotape of the conversation is just a reward for good behavior.

Now, make me feel real old:
What computer model did your dinner guest work on?

Rebecca said...

Dr Pion, it was the ORACLE. She came to town in the 1950's. She told me they input the codes on paper tape, not punch cards. She couldn't remember what language they used, but said it was probably just assembler. About the time she quit working to raise a family, they were just starting to develop Fortran. In the early 1980's, she went back to school and got a BS in computer science, just for kicks. It was there that she first encountered Fortran and punch cards. It was a fascinating conversation.

Doctor Pion said...

Good, I'm not yet real old! But old enough to know more than a little about what you are talking about, and to have used a DEC PDP computer that booted off of paper tape.

There is also a very real possibility that she and I know someone in common.

That computer would have been programmed in machine language. In my conversations with people who programmed similar machines and from a copy I have somewhere of a program written for one of them, the only use of assembler-like notation was to comment the machine code.

One oddity: It used KSNJFL to complete the hex symbol set, which makes the code unreadable. This supposedly resulted from something about the punch code used on the paper tape input.