Thursday, July 23, 2015

Throwback Thursday: No Progam is Perfect

Decluttering, that tedious job of going through everything you own to weed out the things you can release and the things you can retain, does have its moments of pleasure. Maybe you'll find that pocket knife or earring that you thought you had lost forever. Or maybe you'll find evidence of a civilization long gone; that is, your early years.

Today I found two printouts from an early computer job. When I say early, I mean that one printout is on perforated paper, printed with a dot matrix printer. The other is a photocopy of something typed on, I believe, an IBM Selectric typewriter.

The printout from the dot matrix printer is a poem called "The Perfect Programmer." It doesn't say who the author is, so I searched the Internet. The HP Calculator Archive attributes it to Lou Ellen Davis, having appeared in "65 Notes," January 1977, Volume 4, Number 1, Page 1.

In the April 4, 1983 edition of InfoWorld, the poem appears on page 50, but with no attribution. The poem, apparently very popular, appears again in 2009 on page 220 of Classical Fortran: Programming for Engineering and Scientific Applications by Michael Kupferschmid.

I wanted to know who Lou Ellen Davis was. Was it a woman? Was she one of the first females in the field? Was it a man whose middle name just happened to be Ellen? Did he/she publish other poetry?

Alas, I didn't find an answer and I really should get back to decluttering. But I'll leave you with my favorite stanza:

He died at the console
Of hunger and thirst.
Next day he was buried
Face down, nine edge first.

And for a clue why that particular stanza tickled my geeky little heart, I look at what I also found while going through old clutter:

Yup, an old IBM punch card. In the early days, a programmer (later it would be a keypunch operator), would punch them up on a clunky machine similar to an old teletype. Later these machines would be replaced by a computer terminal connected to a device that would do the actual punching.

Either way, when you finished punching one per line for each line of the computer program, you'd load the cards into a machine that would read them into the computer that would run the actual program.

You had to load them a specific way for them to be read, much like you have to load a printed page in a printer to manually print on the other side. With these punched cards, it was always the same way...

Yes, you guessed it: Face down, 9-edge first.

For more info, see this article on Wikipedia:

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