[TUHS] Fun experiences with old mainframes (was Early non-Unix filesystems?)

Clem Cole clemc at ccc.com
Thu Mar 24 06:47:53 AEST 2016

Seems like we are all contributing old card stories.. here is one of my
favorites from my past.

At CMU, all systems programmers working for the computer center had to put
shifts in as the operator behind the "glass door" doing the grunt stuff
(but we got all the computer time we wanted, an office and terminal - so it
was a good deal in those days).  The student courses, in particular the
engineering intro to FORTRAN (WATFIV), used the TSS based 360/67 which we
programmed and ran; but they used the batch system on cards not timesharing
with the ASR 33's which was quite expensive.  There was a traditional glass
room with the computer, its tapes and other gear, and a counter with a
"call human for help" button where "paying users'" could come ask questions
of the operator on duty.   On the older side of the counter was the flock
of keypunch machines and a high speed card read.    The printers were in
secure areas, so we would bring out student prints from their batch jobs as
needed and put them on the binds near the counter ( as was the pretty much
the standard of those days).

By rule, the system's programmers were also not supposed to help the
students with their assignments. They were supposed to get help from their
TA's and Profs, *etc*.  who had regular hours.  But often folks were up
very late working on assignments and no one from the course was around to
ask questions.   And as the operator, if you had a minute, it was not
uncommon to have a little empathy for your brothers and sisters in arms on
the other side of the counter.   As long as this was not abused, the TA's,
Profs as well as our bosses in the computer center tolerated the process.
But if we were obviously busy, we really did not have the time to do much
to help them.

One night I was working the over night operator shift with another coworker
who will be left nameless (but I will say that he's now a SVP at a large
computer firm these days).   It was a very busy night for us for some
reason, probably something like printing bills, or checks for the school or
some such; along with a full backup, so we had our hands full between
mounting tapes, changing types of paper and print heads *etc.*, security
procedures with the results and the like.  That night, there was also a big
assignment due shortly for one of the classes.

Sure enough the buzzer started ringing and it was a frustrated (and as I
remember somewhat clueless) student that needed help with his assignment.
 He was claiming that the his deck was being rejected/was not working.
Note "turn around" from deposit card deck to receipt of print out was
probably in the order of 10-15 minutes, and sometimes longer.    One of us
came out, showed him something like a missing "BATCH WATFIV" command card
or some such and reminded them of the official policy and probably pointed
to the sign, as we were very busy with our job.  We would politely tell
them to try to find a TA or someone in the class that could help him.

The student went away, and we went back to work.   A few minutes later the
buzzer went off again, same student, and the cycle repeated with some other
trivial issue.    After the 4th or 5th time it was becoming a real issue
because we were really quite busy.  At that point, my coworker came out and
said, here bring me your deck.   He looked at them and quickly said -- "The
problem is you used the wrong color cards."😈

The student was completely dejected and walked away.   I looked up and
said, man that was cruel.   But it did buy us time to finish our work.
Never found out if he re-keypunched his cards.

-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://minnie.tuhs.org/pipermail/tuhs/attachments/20160323/913653b5/attachment.html>

More information about the TUHS mailing list