Saturday, May 21, 2011

Vietnam and my one and only experience with an IBM Card Sorter

I'm going to make this one fairly short because I would love for you to read the link below involving the men and the women of IBM who volunteered to go to Vietnam and other locations in the region to support the fielded computer systems.

As an x-Microsoft employee myself, I find this to be a very interesting read about the men and women who made computers in combat a reality.

It was after January 1, 1970 and the monsoon season was still keeping aircraft on the ground.  So we didn't have much to do. Master Sergeant Salomon had read my records along with SFC Valentine and Valentine needed to have someone help him up in operations at night.

My records showed that I took a 12 week class on basic electronics. Once passed, the next step was computer repair certification.

I have no clue how that marries up to being a key punch or computer technician. Guess it made sense to them so Salomon volunteered me for the position.

The way it was supposed to work is the punch card operators would create the IBM punch cards and then the cards would be sorted using a card sorting machine. So my job was to take the cards and run them through the card sorting machine.

A piece of cake, right?

So the cards are put into a tray.  You make sure the cards are lined up, none are bent and the spring loaded back is firmly pressing the back of the last card. When you feel confident everything is going to work as planned, you press the big white on switch and in a blink of an eye, all the cards get sorted.

The attendant on duty showed me this.  I watched him do the same thing I just did.  I watched his run work flawlessly.

How come my cards shot out like bullets everywhere?

It is not possible for a card to fly out of a machine so fast that they break light bulbs is it?

Did I discover a new way to kill enemy soldiers?

Is the room supposed to shake like that?

I know one soldier who wasn't an enemy that right about now wished one of those killer cards would have flown his way.

Horrific squeals, smoke rising, the smell of burnt rubber bands.

I am toast before sunrise.

I'm staring at once perfectly good cards now the size and dimensions of a spit ball.

Can we back it up to the point where I didn't turn it on?

"Turn that damn thing off."

Thanks but too late. I did anyway.

"What have you done?"

Do you know to this day I am still traumatized by post punch card syndrome. All my wife has to do is squeal,  "What have you done?" And I want to vanish like a genie in a bottle.

"He's going to kill me."

"More like court marshal you."

"Not very much help am I?"

"I've seen worse."

He inspected the damage.

"I'll fix the belt. The cards go in left to right not right to left. You did them backwards."

He sighed.

Looks like about 30 need to be redone. Pick up all the cards and resort them. I'll try to get the first 30 redone before we have to make the run."

I did rerun the cards and put markers between the batches.

But that was the last time I worked with computers in Vietnam.

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