Thursday, January 28, 2010

How much has changed since 1969 (when we put Man on the Moon)


Remember how I.T. was in the days that we put Man on the Moon? We had the technology to control a mission to an object 240000 miles away, and could control it through space remotely.

Yet, in the late 1960s, for programmers, computing was a tedious and bureaucratic process. I worked for two different parts of the Navy: for the David Taylor Model Basin (or Naval Ship Research and Development Center) on the Potomac River near the Cabin John Beltway crossing in the summers of 1965 through 1967, working mostly in FORTRAN (“Formula Translation”, at one time a competitor of COBOL), and then in 1971 and 1972 at NAVCOSSACT, the Naval Command Systems Support Command at the Washington Navy Yard in Washington DC.
(An electric utility I worked at in 1972 with Univac still used FORTRAN, as did a health care consulting company in 1989, although then it was switching simulations to SAS. I don't know if anybody uses FORTRAN today.)

We would code programs on coding sheets, where specific columns were set aside for specific areas ofd statements (COBOL certification tests still ask about this), turn them in to keypunch (or sometimes keypunch ourselves), get them back, and submit compilation or “load and go” decks as “shots”. Two or three cycles of submission and output (printed and deck) a business day was good turnaround (or you could go to the EAM room sometimes and run it yourself).

People tended to become specialists on one little subroutine of some sort of simulation model. Whole jobs were budgeted based on expertise on one little bitty area – because for some things in space or military applications, the work had to be perfect, and there was not an efficient way to get it done.

Our culture has certainly changed direction since 1969 (“One step for mankind…”) Now people set up businesses on the Web with little programming skill, or whole publishing operations, or invent on their own whole facilities for social networking or gaming. How things have changed.

And then James Cameron gives us a movie that suggests that on other planets, Internets could grow as part of biology – natural “social networking” with bees and ants have already!

Second picture: both the Moon and Mars.

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