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Databases in the olden days.


I cut my programming teeth on archaic structured programming languages. BASIC, PASCAL and FORTRAN where in those days the fringe languages that allowed programmers to break away from such constraints as the declaring of variables in COBOL at the beginning. Nowadays you got all this free flowing globals and stuff! But in the olden days, all these would be defined in central sections and only for the running of that suite of programs.

Likewise file structure has changed. From the old flat stack file to the creation of relational files has been a long one.In the olden days, any system that was around had to first search a flat file for a record. Then scan that record for a field. Then scan that field for data. To get a report on all contents with certain data in a certain field, it used go through every single record.

Then came sorting routines. Binary sorts and bubble sorts. These helped reduce the need to search every single record and helps made the data find and retrieval much faster. Of course when I say faster, you would still laugh at us. From request to retrieval, sometimes, depending on how big files got, took minutes. Yes. Minutes. You had the limit of speed via communication protocols. The number of users all trying to flog the mainframe. The size of the file, and occasionally the weather. Get too hot or too cold in the specially air conditioned rooms usually set to a precise 18 degrees Celsius could see the entire system fail.

So when the PM mentioned the WANG system at Slater & Gordon, I had a nostalgia flashback.

More of a flashback hit me when she discussed centralised word processing units. Thats where the files would be physically put up. In those olden days, you didnt have a computer on each desk. Nor was the computers that where on the desk actually connected to the rest of the system.

Ahh… The olden days. Where transferring data from one machine to another required floppy disks rather then a connection to a LAN or from an on-line CLOUD source. How many times did I spend hours copying things onto disks, checking the integrity of the copy, put the disk to another machine a 20 km drive away only to find the disk had not recorded properly or the receiving machine had trouble reading the disk. Ah… the olden days.

Now its all USB this or text me that, its important to remember the constraints an actual system had on the way you worked.

When I was in databases, we would get requests to create files and we would ask questions about which fields were to be used for searches and made sure all the fields likely to be left empty was at end of the record to save file space as it was filed. Ahh the olden days.

From time of request to create a file to the time it was ready after we structured the fields would vary from 1 to 5 days. Yes people. One to 5 days. Sometimes, if the file was being added to a database of other files, you had to get everyone off the system, run a backup, run a file insertion program to insert the new file, then test the file. If all was okay when you did the database integrity report which could take 2 – 3 hours to run overnight, then the file was ready.

Now a days you can run a back up while the system is up!

17 years is not only a quarter of an average human lifetime, it is a like 100000 years in computing life.

Allow me to put this in perspective. In the early 1990’s, there was no true type fonts. There was no google translator. And WANG had just produced a massive innovation into its range of typewriters. Balls.

The idea being if you placed these balls into your printer, it would type out the document in what ever font the ball was. So if you wanted Times Roman, you put in the Times Roman ball. Ahh.. the olden days.

One company at that time made a translator ball. It basically instead of printing the document in English, it would print it out in French or German etc depending on (yes you got it) if you had the balls. This was not of course in very good French or German and it was always worth a giggle.

Now you may all think you are blessed in your APPLE days. Let me put that into perspective. At one time in my computing career, I got the chance to test the APPLE Newton. A hand writing pad. What a total disaster! It had troubles understanding you, then it had trouble learning new words etc. It was if you like, the first Suri but it did not talk back

To think this 1993 failure would one day come back as an iPad and then a phone shows you the advances in software and hardware in just 15 years.

So when the PM talks about opening files and stuff, you all need to remember what that meant and what systems that where out there that could let you do stuff.

On a closing note, WANG attempted to recover the ground it lost as typewriter balls gave way to desktop publishing. It modernised the machines sleek looks and it came out with a advertising campaign that must have sounded fantastic in Japanese. Unfortunately, it was not so the case when the new company took on the new slogan.

They wanted to emphasis the personal in personal computers highlighting the system support and hardware support and the fact that they wanted to treat all customers with the same level of one on one personal service. Sounds good huh? So why did it fail? Well. I did say the slogan sounded good in Japanese right? Well it didn’t quiet translate into English. I blame the balls. If you don’t get what I mean, read the slogan out loud and then real fast.

A. Ghebranious 2012

  1. Space Kidette permalink

    OMG! You take me back! I remember the formatting of the NSW Budget papers – all 5 volumes – character by character! Used to take me six weeks!

  2. Catching up permalink

    Funny when things are put in context, how different the truth sounds.

    There was file, one like a drawer marked miscellaneous, where one put all their bits and pieces.

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