The Good Old Days .....

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The Good Old Days .....

Post  slipperman12 on Thu 17 Aug 2017, 9:31 pm

Hi All,
It's always good to hear how other members have got to this stage in their lives, so on David's (Shawmut) suggestion, I've started this thread.
It can cover almost anything legal and decent that you think may of interest to other members.  I have, for a long time now, been working on a document detailing my career, which was for the most time, in IT - we used to call it Data Processing!! - but it's not ready yet for any public viewing, but, in time, you never know!

The idea for this thread started in my Mini Routes thread, so I'll restart my discussion here.

Starting in the not so "old days", a couple of years ago, a number of MSTS users were having problems with TSUnpack getting activities to install.  On a chance discussion with another MSTS user, I was directed to a website which contained what appeared to be an abandoned  program which purported to be a replacement for TSUnpack.  It was Open Source, which means that anybody could pick it up and develop it further.   The program didn't appear to work!  It was written in C#. which was new to me, but it got me interested.  The rest is history, as they say!

In case you're not aware, in my working career, I was a COBOL programmer with British Rail Engineering Limited (BREL) in Derby, and was very happy to get back into it, after 30 years, although with C# Smile   I still don't understand a lot of the C# language and concepts and just looking at the Open Rails program frightens me!

Ged


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Re: The Good Old Days .....

Post  Shawmut on Thu 17 Aug 2017, 11:09 pm

Hi Ged,

COBOL! I hadn't heard that term since I was in college, which was half a century ago now :-)  When I was attending the University of Michigan my best friend was a mathematics major and spent a lot of time at the computing center, which in those days was of course an IBM mainframe. I remember how excited he was when he asked me to telephone the computer (called, if I remember correctly, "MTS") to listen to a computerized audio response! I also remember a fellow who, during final exams week, was walking across campus with a box of IBM punch cards that he had programmed for his exam, only to watch them fly over everywhere when he tripped on an obstreperous piece of heaving concrete sidewalk. He was in tears, and not just from the scrape he took.

My own experience as a rare book cataloger was with a very primitive program written by one of the first (if not the first) female programmers: Henriette Avram's MARC (Machine-Readable Cataloging). This would have been back in 1984, where my first job was with a firm founded by an Ann Arbor, Michigan fellow who became distraught at the thought of Adolf Hitler invading the U.K. He decided to take his 35 mm. camera to England to begin photographing our philosophical and cultural patrimony before the Nazi's got their hands on them. In the end, of course, the Austrian corporal failed, and the Eugene Power took his reels film and began selling them to libraries in the English-speaking world as University Microfilms International's "Early English Books" collection. This fabulous collection of books, dating from Caxton's first printings in England up to the year 1800 (basically, the hand-press period) is now available as a digital collection called "Early English Books Online."

I can't imagine how exciting it must have been to have worked where so many great designs saw the light of day. Did you work on the HST by any chance? Also, and just as an aside to the mini-route discussion, thanks to your apk extractor program, I now routinely delete the UTILS folder in my mini-routes: there's no need for it anymore! As a rule of thumb, I dislike installers and prefer to manually move files myself. This is to no small extent because of my extensive mini-route setup. At any rate, when I download an activity the first thing I do is to extract it using your apk extractor, and then put the routes and trains folder back in the download's zipped folder. Then, when I get around to installing the activity (which may require that I do further downloads of engines, wagons, cabs and sounds), I simply drag and drop where I desire.

Regards,

David

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Re: The Good Old Days .....

Post  slipperman12 on Fri 18 Aug 2017, 10:03 am

Hi David,
Did you work on the HST by any chance?
No, I didn't work in the Workshops themselves - I was involved with, mainly, payroll and associated more mundane applications, although in those days, we wrote our own programs.  The only "external" parts of them were the subroutines supplied by the computer supplier (International Computers Limited - ICL) for tax and National Insurance calculations.

My first days with computers was with British Railways and we used punched cards, and had trays and trays of them.  They would occasionally be dropped, with the resulting chaos!!  The image, below, shows equipment like I used to work with.  In the centre back of the room is the "computer" - an ICT/Hollerith Type 555.  It was programmed using wires plugged into matrix boards, like those shown on the desk at the front. The machine on the right is a punched card sorter.  The young lady is standing in front of the "gang punch" machine - this is linked to the 555 and is used to input data (from punched card, of course!) and also to create output punched cards for use on other machines, like tabulators.  At the back left of the room can be seen racks of punched card trays - there also appears to be one on the desk.  I'm not sure what the chap is working on, but it could be a punch machine, for creating punched cards - I used to work with a "manual" machine, as shown in the second image.

Ahh!! those were the days - this was the mid 1960s




When I moved to the BR Workshops Division, later British Rail Engineering Limited (then, BREL), we had slightly more up to date equipment - but more of that later .... maybe!!

Cheers,
Ged


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Re: The Good Old Days .....

Post  Shawmut on Fri 18 Aug 2017, 2:45 pm

Hi Ged,

Great stuff!! Brings back those memories of punch card days. Anyone who worked with them knew about the little "chads" that were the small bits that were actually punched out of the card, but I imagine few knew (or know) that "O" gauge modelers prized them for their ability to simulate a brick!! Superb architectural models that had as a subject a brick-based building would be meticulously built out of card stock (or later plasticard) and then the individual chads would be laid on (after getting a bath of pva glue) by the modeler-cum-bricklayer one-by-one. Can you imagine the dogged determination necessary to model even a small village?! Rolling Eyes

Below is a picture of the old portion of the Univ. of Michigan Library (built 1916 around the core of the original library which was built in 1881) that I worked in for 17 years.  It was built by the firm of Albert Kahn who had previously built what was then the largest manufacturing complex ("works") in the country: the Ford River Rouge works.



On the second floor of this building was a massive room filled with custom-made card catalog cabinets; the MARC program I referred to previously was designed by the Library of Congress to automate the production of those cards. At the time (again, mid-1960s) the thought of an online catalog was just a futuristic dream. The picture below shows a tiny portion of those cabinets which weighed a massive amount; only that one room was designed to withstand the weight of what must have been millions of those 3 x 5" cards.



The above photograph shows the cabinets in the sub-basement of the library where it had been banished after the introduction of the online catalog in the early 1990's, but in the "good old days" there was a crew of people who did nothing but file those cards and maintain the order of same. Most of them wore braces on their arms due to carpal tunnel syndrome!!

Where I came into the process here was in the curating of the rare books owned by the several libraries that I worked at. By curating I mean the purchase, cataloging and display of the books. Below is an image of one such book I curated. The image shows a total eclipse of the moon published in a sort of "student's cheat sheet" in 1485 for those trying to understand the complex intricacies of the Ptolemaic astronomical system. The book was called De Sphaera Mundi (Sphere of the World) and was published by the first publisher to take an interest in science: Erhard Ratdolt of Augsburg.  This image, by the way, is the very first multi-colored printed illustration ever!




Cheers,

David

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Re: The Good Old Days .....

Post  slipperman12 on Fri 18 Aug 2017, 5:28 pm

Hi David,
Most interesting Smile
I never knew that those waste bits of punched cards were called "chads", and even less that they were used by railway modellers as bricks! The mind boggles!!

I seem to remember that we tried some "cards" made of plastic, but don't think they were very. successful.

Cheers,
Ged


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Re: The Good Old Days .....

Post  dforrest on Fri 18 Aug 2017, 6:45 pm

My first experience of using computers was in Jamaica nn the 1970's.  I had just moved to a job in Jamaica (it was too cold in England wearing long-johns and two pairs of gloves, working on a brewery extension in Luton.  I was preparing a critical-path schedule for the construction of a new Bank of Jamaica building.  The logic was determined long-hand and I had to fill out data-entry-forms which were taken to IBM's office in Kingston, Jamaica for processing.  This involved card punching and processing on their mainframe (sorry I have no details of this).  I then received back reams and reams of printouts with the scheduling information to be checked and then re-entered (and re-entered) until it was satisfactory.

My first actual use of what would probably now we called s desktop computer was about a decade later in the Cayman Islands.  Again on construction scheduling.  No hard drives and all information was stored on floppy disks (8" of course).


David
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Re: The Good Old Days .....

Post  ShortNorth on Sat 19 Aug 2017, 8:19 am

Speaking of computer chads, I got married in the NSW country in the mid-70's in the middle of Winter. My mate in the flat next door and his girlfriend were both computer analysts and were invited to my wedding. During the wedding and the reception, my car was hidden away in a so-called secret location so it wouldn't get tagged, as we had a long drive ahead of us next morning.

We left the reception about mid-evening, but as it was so cold I had the car's external air vent closed to keep the cold out. We left next morning to drive to Brisbane for our honeymoon - after an hour or two it started to get quite warm, so I opened the air vents - and ........WOOSH ......... got hit with a total snowstorm of computer chads. Somehow my mate found out where my car was hidden and they had poured a couple of pounds of chads down the external air intake, knowing that I wouldn't open the vent until later next day.

I was still vacuuming chads out of the car several years later - they went absolutely everywhere !


"Any railway that paints their locomotives such a magnificent shade of red, must be the most superior in the land" (apologies to the late David Jenkinson).
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Re: The Good Old Days .....

Post  Jonathan David on Sat 19 Aug 2017, 9:21 pm

Yes, the chads were also used sometimes, though rather overscale, by 4mm/ft modellers in the UK.
And to bring things back "on topic" (sort of) I am pretty sure that the company which produced vast numbers of cards in the UK was also into railway ticket printing - McQuorquodales or something similar? Anyone remember?
I learned a bit of Fortran in college but never had any use for it in real life. My wife's first job was with Heinz as a Cobol programmer. Yes, dropped cards are not a good idea.
At university the computer (called George) occupied a whole suite of rooms and I suspect was less powerful than my current watch.
Happy dayys.
Jonathan

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Re: The Good Old Days .....

Post  slipperman12 on Sat 19 Aug 2017, 11:26 pm

Hi Jonathan,
Yes! The name was McCorquodales. I remember we (BR) switched to those at some time during my early career, because they were quite a bit cheaper than those we'd been using (probably supplied by ICT/ICL!)

I see Ebay have got some, unused, for sale Shocked

Talking about names for computers, we had one called Mable - yes, spelled that way because it was short for "May anytime bring loud explosion"!! It was one of ICT's early Type 555s - number 004 - and because ICT refused to maintain it any further, the DP department took it over. One of my colleagues was into electronics, which, in those days, were valves and relays. At one time the main timing casting (called, if I remember rightly, a Geneva) in the Gang Punch machine broke, which made the whole thing useless. It wasn't in that state for long because we got the Derby Locomotive Works to make a new one, and Mable was back in business!!

Cheers,
Ged


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Re: The Good Old Days .....

Post  StephenRWells on Sun 20 Aug 2017, 11:11 am

Hi Ged and Jonathan,

Fortran brings back a few memories to me as when I was in my final year at Helston County Grammar School ( as it was then ) our class did a course of computer programming using Fortran. The programmes were then sent to Truro County Hall to be transferred onto punch cards. We visited the computer once and I remember that it filled the room. We also visited Goonhilly Downs Radio Station to see theirs. the highlight of the visit was when they used different programmes to play various tunes - one of which I think was Telstar.

Regards,

Stephen
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Re: The Good Old Days .....

Post  Jonathan David on Sun 20 Aug 2017, 2:35 pm

To bring things a little nearer home, did anyone else use the Amstrad 464 train simulation program of a run from London to Brighton/ Wire frame graphics! Things have moved on a little.
Jonathan

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Re: The Good Old Days .....

Post  slipperman12 on Sun 20 Aug 2017, 4:08 pm

Hi,
Stephen : You're only a youngster! At my school (Derby Central School for Boys), the only technology we had was a film projector!!

Jonathan : No. mate, I never had an Amstrad. My first computer was home built from a kit of parts and a series of articles in Practical Electronics magazine, in 1979/1980. It was the Compukit UK101, based on a similar product from the US, called the Superboard from Ohio Scientific. If you're interested, Google it and you can find out all about it! My first purchased PC was the BBC Model B, 4 or 5 years later.

Cheers,
Ged


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Re: The Good Old Days .....

Post  glasgowworks on Sun 20 Aug 2017, 6:55 pm

slipperman12 wrote:Hi,
Stephen : You're only a youngster!  At my school (Derby Central School for Boys), the only technology we had was a film projector!!

Jonathan : No. mate, I never had an Amstrad.  My first computer was home built from a kit of parts and a series of articles in Practical Electronics magazine, in 1979/1980. It was the Compukit UK101, based on a similar product from the US, called the Superboard from Ohio Scientific.  If you're interested, Google it and you can find out all about it!  My first purchased PC was the BBC Model B, 4 or 5 years later.

Cheers,
Ged
I remember using the BBC computer when I was at school. I can even remember that when I was at the nursery! Last used the BBC computer in 1996 when I was 7 and I think it was a BBC Master.

My first computer at home was an Apricot computer, the operating system was Windows 95, and only had 8MB RAM! At the time many video games require at least 32MB RAM and this was in Autumn 1999. Not for any train simulation games at least!

Alistair Cowell
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Re: The Good Old Days .....

Post  rufuskins on Sun 20 Aug 2017, 7:04 pm

First use of a computer was 1971/72 when I wrote programmes in Fortran for comparing slope stability assessments - my thesis for my Civil Engineering degree.

My first personal computer was a Commodore C64, which I bought in Saudi Arabia in 1986. I then tried to write routines for Bending Moment and Shear Force for continuous beams.

When I think of these and compare them with the Finite Element analyses I carried out in my later working years, well . . .


ALEC - Supporter of MSTS and TSSH!

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Re: The Good Old Days .....

Post  Scampispeedway on Mon 21 Aug 2017, 9:09 am

My first computer which I've still got was a BBC B and we had them at the University where I worked in
Newcastle upon Tyne, I found it a easy one to use as it used Basic and so I could then write simple programs.

Bob
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