Monday, June 27, 2011

Thirty Years Of Jobbers - Chapter 1.13


Ralph had committed the 'cardinal sin' of computer procurement. First you must select the software you like, then you buy the computer to run it. Even today, there are still many questions to be considered: How much memory does the software require, do you need an unusual amount of disk storage, will you be networking, working over the Internet, need more than one monitor and how big, will you need enhanced graphics, etc. For example, if all I did was write articles and/or graphic design work, I would probably be much happier with an Apple computer over a Windows-based PC.

When I arrived to start my first day at the new project, a special office had been constructed according to IBM’s specifications with its own air conditioning system, plenty of insulation in the walls, new lighting and a wide, plate glass window so the computer room could be viewed from anywhere in the office. The computer itself was enormous, measuring five feet tall, by six feet long, by three feet wide… and it weighed 990 pounds. The noise was sufficient to make you raise your voice to carry on a conversation and it had an extremely noisy printer the size of a chest-type freezer.

I’ve lived long enough to understand, every human-being born has the ability to become a genius at something. I had a good friend that could look at a powered-up, broken television set and not only tell you the circuit malfunctioning, he could most likely tell you the component in the circuit that was at fault. He would say stuff like, “The fifty microfarad condenser in the vertical-oscillator circuit is leaking,” and he’d be right. The sad thing is, he did not like that kind of work and had a passion to become a motivational speaker. He was pretty good at that too, but there were many speakers better. He spent his latter years fixing robots in a factory out west.

Most people go through their entire lives without stumbling over their gift, while some find it, and like the friend I just mentioned, have a passion for something else where they are not so gifted. I often wonder if there’s a coal miner in Virginia that could have been another Einstein, Mozart, Michelangelo or Pavarotti if only he had stumbled upon his ‘gift’.

I stumbled on mine quite by accident when I bought the first programmable calculator in 1977, and another, not quite so remarkable while I was locked in that tiny, motel room comparing a jobber’s General Journal to a college text book on accounting. Sometimes you just see something complicated and a door in your mind swings open and not only do you ‘get it’, it gets you.

I never received formal schooling in computer programming, but somehow I was always able to fiddle around with a computer language for a couple of weeks and make sense of it. The RPG computer language was originally created as a ‘report program generator’, hence the acronym ‘RPG’. RPG II was an extension of RPG that turned the simple, report generator into a programming tool.

I couldn’t find any books on RPG II and had no code to analyze, so David suggested we call a friend of his for advice that taught computer science at the University of Arkansas.

“Where did you get your degree,” he asked. When I told him I didn’t have one, he started laughing at me. “I’ve got Ph.D.’s working here that can’t program in RPG II,” he said. In short, he was not helpful at all. But, he was right about one thing. RPG II was the most confusing language of all to understand; probably because it wasn’t written as a programming language from the get-go. I experimented with the Sys/34 for two weeks before I was able to do the simplest of things… like print my name on the computer screen. I had a great incentive to succeed which was, I never doubted my ability to get it done.

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