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Cherished Computer Memories

Holding on to keepsakes can teach us about a certain time in computing and help us relive our experiences

6/11/2014 12:20:57 AM | This is part two of a two-part series. Part one described mainframes as furniture and categorized the technology artifacts we all cherish.

Virtually Saved, Magically Recreated

I knew someone with every version of MS-DOS and Windows running in PC VMs, ample artifacts indeed. So if you're running OS/360 PCP or MVS 3.8 under Hercules on a PC or Mac, that qualifies. Not quite as interesting as running programs are software listings; for a while— early in my career!—I saved all my programs. But the binder became unwieldy; I wrote a lot of code, stopped adding to it and eventually ditched it. Too bad; there were a few interesting programs I'd love to have now. Maybe they'd be valuable or useful for someone's research. More likely, they'd simply prove my earlier packrat assertion.

Just as a recent viral video showed children being baffled by dial telephones, people who joined the industry after 1980 or so may never have experienced the joy of keypunching. The Virtual Keypunch gives a faint hint of what that was like. Minus, of course, the challenge of creating drum control cards, and the agony of card jams and dropped decks. Stan King, CEO of Information Technology Company, owns a working keypunch; perhaps he'll record and upload the unique sound it makes.

Other Good Stuff and Future Artifacts

Our industry has been well photographed; pictures of nearly any technology are found with simple searches. More meaningful are trophy shots and photos showing us next to yesteryear's heroic boxes and images such as a very young author being promoted to IBM Associate Programmer.

Books are special—some become friends I can't imagine discarding. I have assorted language, technology and best-practices tomes. Many are past obsolete but they stay for history and recollection. Others document memorable companies (including a collection of books about IBM) and some describe significant eras or milestones (i.e., a few remaining Y2K volumes).

Buttons of all shapes, sizes, compositions and messages have been a key feature of SHARE, GUIDE, COMMON, WAVV and other user groups for decades; they convey at a glance one's era, enthusiasms, expertise, vendors and gripes. Of course, after a while they may be inscrutable even to those who once wore them. My hefty bag o' buttons includes:

• JES3 was written on a Monday JES2
• Seeing Graphics Is Believing
• AIX Is a 3 Letter Word and It's Blue
• APL Power
• Get Your CICS from VM/IS
• VM: Slickest Thing Since Oil (from SHARE in Houston)
• VM/SP R4 Sends You Help

MXG's Barry Merrill is likely the champ (are there even any other contestants?) button collector and exhibitor, seen at SHARE in a very hefty white lab coat, covered outside and in with buttons. See a searchable button database!

Along with buttons, T-shirts document technology, our industry and our careers. Jim Kovac had a royal blue T-shirt with IBM on one side and "This side intentionally left blank" on the other—an inside joke for people who actually read the company's manuals. No matter how frayed or dated, some stay forever:

• "VM...virtually all the time"
• "VM/370 R; for the 80s"
• "REXX—It's in the Cards" (with large king playing card on front)
• "Happy 30th Birthday VM"

Considering what's already been lost, it's hardly necessary to caution regarding discards. It's always hard noticing that today's commodity may be tomorrow's cherished memorabilia. So especially for youngsters, heed the advice to hold on to some of what you work with now, to amuse and amaze future youth on how anything was accomplished with today's primitive technologies, and to fuel your own nostalgia and storytelling.

Interestingly, a recent discovery excited mainframers interested in their equipment's past glories—a warehouse full of System/360 and 370 systems and peripherals. They are still in discovery; nobody has set foot in parts of this dilapidated warehouse for 20 years. A video shows that these are systems wheeled in complete with manuals and tools, then abandoned. In part, they've been open to the elements, so some of them are in poor condition.

We're living in perhaps the fastest-moving industry in history. Where we are today follows the fairly recent past, which itself was rich in technology innovation. This is our legacy; rather than ancient artifacts from a long-past civilization, it is the foundation from which current capabilities grew. Computing today traces to the 1950s; by 1964 it blossomed with powerful new capabilities. Rather than relics, these show our industry's power and strength. They're memories of our (and computing's) youth and useful reminders of the pace of change.

Gabe Goldberg has developed, worked with and written about technology for decades. Email him at destination.z@gabegold.com.

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