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Tempus Fugit, Don't It?

June 26, 2014

This week's blog was inspired by a recent trip into the depths of our basement where we came upon ... wait for it ... a brand new boxed set of PC DOS diskettes. How they came to be in our basement, and why they had never been opened remain a mystery, as do much of the rest of the basement's content -- but we digress.

Anyway, after having disposed of the disks in the circular filing cabinet (aka garbage can for the uninitiated) we got to thinking about how far things have come in the years since we entered the computing field. When we first started, punch cards were still the primary input medium for most systems. In fact Jon still recalls the actual hole positions for different characters so well that at one time he had a nasty tendency to use them when creating things like Wi-Fi passwords "because it is easy to remember" -- a sentiment which was not shared by Susan and as a result is no longer used in our household.

But old as we may be, punch cards were around long before we got started in IT. Their initial use for data entry was in conjunction with the U.S. Census of 1890, but they had been in use for controlling looms and similar equipment way back in the early 1700s. They remained a major means of data entry until well into the 1970s.

For a relatively short period of time, starting in the mid-1960s, dedicated data-entry systems such as those produced by Mohawk Data Systems and Canada's CCL strove to replace the lowly punch card by providing direct to disk/tape data-entry systems. IBM's entry into this arena was the 3740 range introduced in 1973 and built in good old Rochester, MN. But good as some of these systems were, for smaller companies the cost benefit was just not there. Perhaps that explains IBM's decision to give the humble punch card one last hurrah in the form of the 96-column card. Introduced with the System 3 in 1969, we've never quite understood why IBM ever thought those silly little things were a good idea. Thankfully, although they still carried over into the S/38 line, they soon died a well-deserved death.

The real end of the punch card's lengthy reign came with the introduction of (relatively) low-cost data-entry terminals such as the 5250 line (1977). And this is the point in time at which things really started to speed up.

No sooner had the IBM PC been introduced in 1981 than "real" 5250s began to be replaced by emulators running on PCs. We then began what in retrospect appears to be the inevitable rise of the browser as a means of data entry. Close on the heels of the rise of the browser came the age of the smartphone and tablets and then, after many false starts, the use of voice recognition for data entry.

All that seems to be left is for the "thought keyboard" to be introduced and that will finally signal the end of any tactile involvement in the data-entry process. Whether that is a good idea or not we leave to the reader to decide, but it does seem to be the inevitable end-point in the game.

As with all things in our modern world, it is the speed with which these changes have occurred that leaves us breathless when we look back.

Try drawing up a few such timelines yourself. For example, the transition from jungle drums, to telegraph, to phones, to cell phones to .... Or disk storage (the latest Mac Books for example don't offer a conventional hard drive as a base option - they are all SSD based), or memory (from core to transistor, to ...), or ....


Posted June 26, 2014| Permalink

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