Mixsonian  Larry

First Computer Course

In January Dad came home from work one day and at dinner time with the family sitting around the table, Dad said that his boss told him he had to take a computer course.  Although Dad made it sound like an order, it was only a suggestion.  The Chemistry department was implementing a new computerized inventory system for the department’s stockrooms that Dad managed.  The same was happening at Hospital Stores where I worked.  Dad, like Mr. Boulware, Dad’s friend and manager of Hospital Stores, they were not too happy about the new computer system.  Dad, since the process a couple of weeks before, had mentioned it at dinner, complaining what a pain it was, he supposed it was a good thing, but their old paper system worked quite well and didn’t see the need to change it.

Computers at the time did not have terminals, PC’s or other means of direct communication, computers were huge, taking up a good size room and the only means of communication was through punch cards for input and computer printouts for output.   What Dad was going through at in the Chemistry Department was the same process that Hospital Stores where I worked was going through.  Each item in inventory was assigned a number and the description, quantity and other information were handwritten on a data-entry sheet of paper.  The data-entry sheet was then giving to a keypunch operator who would type each line into a keypunch machine which would spit out a punch card into a bin, one for each item in inventory. The result would be thousands of punch cards, boxes and boxes of them.  The boxes of punch cards then would be delivered to the computing center to be read into the mainframe, processed, and the next day a stack computer paper would be delivered back to the department.  The “printout” as it was called, was green and white striped, 11x17 inch pages that were connected together, top to bottom, in a fan fold stack.  Computer PaperWith the printout back, it would have to be reviewed for accuracy, making sure that the keypunch made no errors.  If errors were found, the would be recorded by hand on a correction sheet, sent to the keypunch operator, punched onto cards, and sent to the computer for the next day’s printout.  Of course, stockrooms have new inventory coming in and existing inventory checked out which involved the incoming and outgoing inventory transactions being record on a sheet of paper, sent to the keypunch operator, punched onto cards and sent to the computer for the next day’s printout.  This new “automated” process was going on both at the Chemistry Department and Hospital Stores where I worked.  I remember seeing the printout, it would be about three inches thick.

Dad didn’t think much of the new computer system, complaining that it took more time than the old manual system, but he supposed it was the future and he had to go along with it.  With the new computer system being implemented, it was recommended that that Dad learn more about computers taking a computer course and there was a free course in Fortran programming that was being offered in the evening one night a week for six weeks, so he and Paul Dixon signed up for it.  Paul Dixon is Betty’s Yawn’s brother who also worked at the University.  After telling us at dinner that night Dad turns to me and asked if I would like to take the course with him, explaining the course was open to the public.  Well, like yeah, like how cool is that, like….like, “Yes” I replied.  I mentioned it to my best friend Bill the next day and he said he would also like to go.

The class was on a Tuesday night at 7 PM, we sat down for family dinner like we did every night right at six o'clock, and eating a bit more quickly than usual, Dad and I were ready to go at 6:25.  Now the university is only a 15 minute drive from our house, even faster on a weekday night, so we get there twenty minutes early.  The class was being held at Williamson Hall in the big auditorium on Stadium Road just a couple of blocks away from the Chemistry Department where Dad worked.  Dad parked the car in a parking lot just across the street. Being in January, it was a dark and cold as we walked to the auditorium, where we find Paul Dixon and Bill waiting outside and I introduce Bill to Dad and Paul and then we enter the auditorium together. Relieved from getting out of the cold, we look around.   It was huge, rows and rows of seats arranged in semicircle, sloping downwards and a stage in front.  It was like a cross between the movie theater and church.  There were maybe a dozen people already seated out of the hundred seats. Bill and I follow Dad and Paul about halfway down the rows of seats and sit down.  We had brought pencil and paper per the information about the class and were ready.  A dozen more people showed up by the time a woman came out, announced herself, and begin the first class. 

She started with the basics, what a computer was, where the computer was located, just across the street next to the parking lot where we parked. She went on for an hour covering basic concepts, I two pages of notes.  At the end she announced, “Next class will be about punch cards.  You will need to go to the bookstore and get a pack of punch cards.”   I looked over at Dad’s notes, two words, “computer”, “cards”.   We get up, saying our goodbyes to Bill and Paul as we walk out the door and return to the car.  I was like that was really great, so cool, I couldn’t wait until the next class, Dad didn’t say much.

The next Tuesday came, and I was ready, I had my notepad, two pencils, and a stack of 50 punch cards a half inch thick.  With the bookstore being a block from where Dad worked, he had gone over one day and got a stack for each of us.  We didn’t get there quite as early but still waited ten minutes before the instructor started, Bill and Paul arrived and sit next to us.  Second lecture, punch cards, holes in them represent characters and is what the computer reads.  She went on explaining how each card was a line for a computer program.  Okay, I got that.  She then wrote a three line program on the board and told us to write it down, that it was our first program that we would have to make a punch card for each line.  

Well, it not as simple as just typing on a piece of paper we found out, certain columns on the cards had special purpose things had to be in certain places, she explained.

Updated: 11-09-2022

First Program