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Government Programming United Kingdom

One-a-Day-Compiles: Good Enough For Government Work In 1983 230

theodp (442580) writes "Simon Allardice takes a stroll down coding memory lane, recalling that when he got started in programming in 1983, hand-writing one's programs with pencil on IBM coding sheets was still considered good enough for British government work (COBOL, Assembler forms). Allardice writes, 'And when you were finished handwriting a section of code — perhaps a full program, perhaps a subroutine — you'd gather these sheets together (carefully numbered in sequence, of course) and send them along to the folks in the data entry department. They'd type it in. And the next day you'd get a report to find out if it compiled or not. Let me say that again: the next day you could find out if your code compiled or not.' So, does anyone have 'fond' memories of computer programming in the punched card era? And for you young'uns, what do you suppose your C++ or Java development times would be like if you got one compile a day?" The other way you could program in 1983.
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One-a-Day-Compiles: Good Enough For Government Work In 1983

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  • by paiute ( 550198 ) on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @12:33PM (#46880493)
    There was a day at the end of the term when the students in a chemical engineering course (10.something) coming back over the Harvard Bridge would take the rubber bands off the stacks and stacks of punch cards accumulated while writing FORTRAN programs for the course and toss them off the bridge. There was usually a stiff breeze and the results were satisfying.

    I took an introductory version of that course. Punch a hundred cards out on the big old typewriter workstation thing. Take the stack to the computer window. Come back next day for the wide printout. Unfold and see all the fucking errors. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. All failures separated by a day or a weekend.
  • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bzipitidoo ( 647217 ) <> on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @01:54PM (#46881773) Journal

    In 1987, university budgets and aged professors made for an experience that was not much faster. PCs were a precious resource. Grad students got PC AT clones (286s) and undergrads sometimes got the use of an old PC XT clone.

    But at least one old professor didn't believe in PCs, so for his classes students shared an IBM mainframe (a 3090 as I recall) with admin. We had green screen terminals, but results were printed and the printout placed in 1 of 100 pigeonholes, according to the last 2 digits of your SSN. Admin had 2 levels of priority on mere students. The system increased the priority of an unrun job every 3 hours, so between 8 AM and 5PM, it took 6 hours for us to get back the results of a job run. After hours, performance was on the whole much better, but could still vary. Might get a result in a few minutes, or might still have to wait an hour or more. Couldn't continue working after midnight. University budgets dictated that computer labs had to close for the night. Each dorm had 2 or 3 terminals available all night long, but there you couldn't get back any printouts. You didn't want any evening classes, as that cut into the best times to use the mainframe. Weekends were good, if you didn't mind giving up the best times for a little leisure.

  • by n0ano ( 148272 ) <> on Wednesday April 30, 2014 @02:35PM (#46882313) Homepage

    I started in 1968 at Michigan State with punch cards on a CDC 6000 mainframe, a big one, all of 65K words of memory (60 bits per word but still, that was considered big back then). As a student I was guaranteed 1 run per day and yes, even after eyeballing my programs carefully I lost many days of work due to missplaced punctuation. It's amazing what you can get used to when you have no choice.

    I remember my excitement when I was able to move to a research account from a student one. Research accounts could get as many runs as the system could turn around, typically around 4-5 per day - nirvanna! Of course, the research runs weren't guranteed so when the system got backed up (some physics professor tying up the machine for hours or down time due to HW failures) the student jobs got priority and your research job came back whenever they could get to it. I waited 2-3 days for a job more than once.

    Back to punch cards, my favorite technique was something I saw one of the FORTRAN programmers do. The technique used the fact that you could put a line number on any card and it was possible to put multiple statements on the same card. This guy ended every single card with a goto statement to the next card in the deck. As he said, the operators could drop his deck, shuffle the cards and his program would still work properly. (We really didn't like or trust the operators back then.)

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