Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Antique computers

I was first exposed to mainframe computing when I joined C&P Telephone Company in 1969 as Assistant Manager in the Fairfax, VA Business Office. I toured the company's billing office in Richmond, which used an IBM 360 mainframe with 16K of memory and took up an entire huge room, complete with its own cooling system. The floor was raised about a foot to make way for the extensive amount of wiring that connected the various elements of the computer.

Service Order Typists in the Business Office cut the orders using the Model 28 ASR Teletypewriter, which used 5-channel paper tape.

The Service Order Bureau also had a few of the "newer" 35 ASR Teletypewriter, which used 8-channel paper tape.

Service Order Representatives in the Business Office would hand-write the order on a special form. The orders were carried via a pneumatic tube system (which I designed) to the Service Order Typing Bureau. There Service Order Typists would create a punched paper tape. Each character was represented by a specific pattern of holes in the paper tape (either 5- or 8-channel). This tape was then fed through a tape reader. As the tape advanced to each position, little metal fingers protruded through each hole in the tape, generating an electric signal that was sent out over the service order network. The network operated at 110 baud, meaning that 110 characters were sent per minute. A long service order for a business with many extensions could take hours to transmit.
The service order network was hardwired and dedicated to only service orders. If one printer ran out of paper or jammed in the dozens of locations to which the multi-leg circuit terminated (which happened frequently), the entire network would go down until someone was dispatched to fix the problem.

In 1974 when I joined C&P's headquarters forecasting staff, I learned to use the mainframe timeshare (VM/CMS) system, with which I created mathematical models of customer demand using linear regression and multivariate econometric models. These models were run using "STATLIB", which was an acronym for "Bell System Statistical Computing Library." STATLIB was a high-level language based in FORTRAN and developed by Bell Labs. Input (data and models) was created by paper tape, which was fed into the computer and run on the mainframe, which was located in New Jersey. Most programs were run in batch mode, and the printed output would arrive several days later.

About that same time I bought a Timex Sinclair 1000 for my home, with which my son and I discovered the joys of programming in BASIC.

In 1984 my division received our first IBM personal computer, which was shared among 14 people. I was one of the early adopters and shortly thereafter spent $4,000 to buy an IBM PC-1 for my home, with which my son and I discovered how to write simple graphics programs using BASICA. It came with 64K of RAM, which I upgraded to 640K, the maximum that DOS could address at that time.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The strange story of my first car

Here I am leaning against my first car.
It was a 1964 Chevy Nova, which my dad purchased for $800 and gave me for a combination college graduation/wedding present.
I paid half, as I had saved $400 to buy a car upon graduation.

It had a 3-on-the-column stick shift and an in-line 6-cylinder engine that got about 18 mpg.
It had no air conditioning but did have Positraction (limited slip differential), which was very handy on icy roads.
It was our sole family vehicle for the first 3 years of my marriage.

We used to drive it to the Outer Banks of North Carolina for family vacations.
We'd leave by 4:00 a.m. to take advantage of the cool morning air and let the kids sleep in the back.
We'd stop at Williamsburg by 7:00 a.m. for breakfast, then arrive at the beach before Noon.

I sold it to a "friend" sometime in the mid 1970s.

I enclosed the word "friend" in quotes because he had an affair with my wife.
Or maybe she had an affair with him.
Either way it still hurts.
He was an ex-con.

Anyway, shortly afterwards he gave the car to a new girlfriend.
He gave her the car because she was short of money.

Her name was Ellen "Kay" Hatch, Executive Director of the National Kidney Fund,
and it seems she got pretty good at her job.

Here's a Washington Post article about her:

Frances Sauve
February 19, 1981; Page C8

The National Society of Fund Raising Executives has presented its Greater Washington Metropolitan Area Fund Raiser of the Year award to Ellen Kay Hatch, national Executive director of the American Kidney Fund. Hatch, whose area of fundraising expertise is direct mail, raised more than $3 million in 1980 for the Kidney Fund, with fund raising and administrative costs of less than 28 percent. The foundation provides direct financial assistance to kidney patients across the nation.

Four years later Kay was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Here's the Washington Post article:

Kidney Fund Sues Aide's Estate

Lee Hockstader and Patricia Davis, Washington Post StaffWriters
November 22, 1985; Page C1

The American Kidney Fund has filed suit in Fairfax County against the estate of the executive director of the Bethesda-based charitable organization, who committed suicide in June, alleging that she "wrongfully diverted" more than $1.4 million into three bank accounts she kept secret from the fund.

Ellen Kay Hatch, 44, who had been executive director since 1974, was found with a gunshot wound to her chest June 29 in an empty Jacuzzi in her Herndon home, according to Fairfax County police. About a month earlier, she had been fired by the board of trustees of the fund, which had discovered the alleged misappropriation, the executive director of the fund said.

I have often wondered about the connections between these people.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Lunchtime walk around Nashville's Bicentennial Park 1-12-07

Friday was cloudy an unremarkable in every respect except for the unseasonably warm temperature for mid-January. My previous post about Sulpher Dell was drawn from the same lunchtime walk, but my imagination ran away with me (as is its wont - see my screen name). After much research I ended up devoting an entire post to the historic ballpark that once occupied this site. And so here are the other pictures I took on that 20-minute walk. (Have I mentioned lately that I love working in downtown Nashville?)

I set my camera down on the sidewalk to get an ant's-eye view looking up toward the state Capitol, which you can see on the hilltop in the distance.

Here's a standing-up perspective. This is what a normal person would see - not that I'm at all "normal." I always search for the unexplored perspective.

This little tree has been fooled into thinking it's spring. You can see the Captol building again through the branches.

Its buds are opening,

and we wondered what will happen to it when/if we get a hard freeze.

Then we spied a vine that had wrapped itself around a bush and opened its seed pods to spread its next generation. I love the way it looks windblown, even though the atmosphere was completely calm.

Underneath the bush we saw where a mockingbird appears to have met its demise.

On the way back to the office we passed some new condos for sale where an old vegetable distribution warehouse had stood until a few months ago. Can you imagine paying $300 thousand dollars to live in a two-story townhouse within a block of the railroad tracks?

Here's a perspective looking back at the condos from the other side of the tracks. A train was passing at the time.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Nashville's Sulphur Dell

Yesterday my bud Jerry and I took a walk around Nashville's Bicentennial Mall, which was once home to Sulpher Dell. Union solidiers occupying the city during the Civil War introduced baseball to Nashville in 1862.

I set the camera down on the sidewalk to get this ant's-eye view looking toward the state Capitol, which is visible on top of the hill in the distance.

Supher Dell was the oldest professional baseball field when it closed in 1963.

How did Sulpher Dell get its name?
From The Tennessean 10/30/02:
"The park was in a low-lying area south of Jackson Street along Fifth Avenue, just a bit north of the present-day James Robertson Parkway. The area was subject to flooding when the Cumberland River exceeded its banks. To its credit, this topography also made the spot a natural amphitheater.

"Another asset was the free-flowing sulphur water well on the ballpark's southern boundary. Players between innings could take a few steps to the well house for a cooling, if strange-tasting, refreshment. The first game there between organized teams was in 1866.

"Known early on as Sulphur Spring Bottom and later as Nashville Athletic Park, it got the better-known name of Sulphur Dell thanks to Grantland Rice, a legendary Tennessean sports writer. One day in the 1907-09 period, when Rice may have been struggling to find a topic, he suggested in a ''prankish moment'' renaming the bottom the dell.

"The name stuck with the locals, just as baseball had four decades earlier. (The irony that didn't go unnoticed was that this ''dell'' — the term for a tree-lined valley — was largely a coal-smoke-filled, flooding lowland. Part of it was even used as a city dump, its fires often sending out acrid fumes.)

"Nashville's 'Vols' were among the Southern League's eight teams in the first decade of the 1900s."

Hank Williams in a Nashville Vols cap.

LBJ throws out the first pitch in 1961.

The area flooded frequently. This photograph was taken after the Cumberland River flooded in 1937.

In its heyday.

For sale.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

My father's artwork

Japanese Landscape in mosaic tile created by my father sometime in the 1960s.

This is the tag on the back. My father was the top civilian assistant to the Chief of Personnel for the Naval Reserve when he died of a heart attack in 1972 at age 57. He worked at the Navy Annex, which is just uphill from the Pentagon in Northern Virgina. During his long recuperation from an attack ten years earlier, he discovered a passion for making mosiac tile art. Dad accumulated a stock of bathroom tile that he picked up free or at very little charge from contractors. He and mom had designed and had built four houses between 1952-58 and of course in the process had made good acquaintance with many contractors. It appears dad had entered this piece in a competition at his office. You can see he was left-handed. He developed great strength in his hand and could cut the thick tiles single-handedly using a tile cutter.

All of these pieces are in need of a good cleaning and re-grouting. They are quite heavy, so they've been stacked on the floor for more than 30 years. One day I shall re-frame and hang them where they can be enjoyed.
Dad was born in 1913 to a railroad foreman and a second-generation Irish immigrant. He was raised in the tiny town of Gordon (pop. 2,000) in the panhandle of northwestern Nebraska. He was the first of his family to graduate from college, and after graduation he moved to Washington, DC where he put himself through law school and later met my mom. From these examples, I surmise that he was indeed an artist.
My dad designed and made this piece himself; I believe it is a representation of Venice.

Roger the cat inspects the piece from this angle,

experiences it in a tactile manner,
and gives it his sanguine nod of approval.
Would you call this a cat-scan?

New Year's moving day

The year 2007 was barely underway when a friend and I helped another friend move into her house.

She lives at the end of a cul-de-sac at the top of a hill. She had rented a 24-foot long truck to move her belongings to Nashville from Atlanta.

This truck was full when we started.

We worked from 1 p.m. to about 4 p.m. unloading and moving things

UP the steep driveway,

UP the steep stairs outside,

UP the stairs inside,

then back down again to get another load,

and repeated the process for four hours.

These are a few of the things we moved.

The hill does have its advantages once you get to the top. Here's her view out the front window:
What better way to wish a new Nashvillian Happy New Year!