First Interface

March 29, 2010

The high school I attended back in Decatur Illinois, Dwight D. Eisenhower High School, was fortunate enough to have a BASIC computer programming course. Through a time-sharing arrangement with a local manufacturer we had access to a mainframe computer via a couple of Teletype terminals.

I happily spend hours coding, entering, debugging, and eventually running my programs through these terminals. Each had a large roll of yellow paper and a paper tape spool. With the terminal set to "off line" mode you could enter your program into a local buffer, and then cause it to be listed on the paper tape. Once you had a complete program captured on paper tape you connected to the mainframe (online) and let the paper tape reader input your program to the computer. This was faster than typing the program yourself while connected and therefore spending money. Each connection minute was billed as was each CPU second used.

After spending my Junior year learning all I could from the teacher I spend my Senior year helping to run the computer "lab" such as it was. Two Teletype terminals and an optical scan card reader. Somewhere in a box in our garage I have a couple, maybe three, paper tape spools with now fossilized programs listed on them.

This reminiscence was triggered by seeing the following image this morning. Part of a larger article about The Art of Unix Usability by Eric Steven Raymond. This is my second computer interface.

The first computer interface I ever used was a thermal paper terminal with a 1200 BAUD acoustic coupler built into the back. It probably weight 40 pounds and was terribly slow even in the mid 1970s, but it opened up an entire universe for me and quite literally changed the course of my life. I have been "in" computers ever since.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.