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November 13, 2005

AKICIF: Steve Brust needs a Linux guru
Posted by Teresa at 09:10 PM * 87 comments

No, I don’t know what the problem is, but Steve needs help—he says he already has a Linux geek, but now needs a guru—and he’s in the last stages of revising a novel I’d very much like to have in hand, soon.

If you’re a bona fide Linux wizard, and are willing to volunteer your assistance, please send your e-mail address or AIM address or both to skzb@dreamcafe.com.

And thank you.

Comments on AKICIF: Steve Brust needs a Linux guru:
#1 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 09:54 PM:

I don't suppose anyone would care to define those terms?

I've never been quite sure where 'geek' grades into 'guru' grades into 'wizard' with these things.

#2 ::: Will "scifantasy" Frank ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 10:09 PM:

I'm with Graydon. Is there any clue what type of help Brust needs--installations, data recovery, etc? One man's geek is another's guru. I'd be willing to help out, but gods only know how much help I'd be, as I'm probably only in "geek" status myself...

#3 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 10:09 PM:

When you groggily imagine needing to run fsck on yourself before getting out of bed, you are a guru.

When you actually run fsck on yourself before getting out of bed, you are a wizard.

#4 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 10:15 PM:

I told Steve that if someone named Graydon volunteered to help, he should say yes.

#5 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 10:17 PM:

What those guys said. I work with people who rewrite kernels and design file systems for multi-processor real time streaming video servers, but that still doesn't qualify them as Wizard in some respects.

#6 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 10:18 PM:

When you see an elaborately carved mahogany endtable with one bashed leg sitting in a dumpster, and immediately think, No problem, I can take a copy of the other side, flip it, and paste it over the damaged leg, you are a Mac head.

#7 ::: Will "scifantasy" Frank ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 10:22 PM:

Actually, I think I may volunteer my services not based on my strength alone, but on my network of friends, at least two of whom have sysadmined for a living...ironic. I'm about to tell Steven Brust that "I don't do work, but I have a friend who does..."

#8 ::: dajt ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 10:24 PM:

"Linux" covers a huge amount of ground these days. Looking around my office I see the kernel hackers (each with their own specialty), the Samba hacker, the clustering hackers, the desktop hackers (KDE, Gnome, and other), the OpenOffice hackers, the GIMP hackers, the SELinux hackers. . .

I will admit to being a guru only in my small areas of expertise. There are huge chunks of the system I hardly know anything about.

On the other hand, the best gurus all know who the other gurus are.

#9 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 10:27 PM:

I don't know where to draw the lines. Steve used to be some kind of mainframe wrangler, and started out writing his novels in EMACS. When his old computer setup became untenable, he switched over to a Windows system running software which David Dyer-Bennet had custom-configured for him to emulate EMACS. Now Steve's using Linux. I assume his setup is idiosyncratic.

Dajt, when I'm looking for an expert, and I find someone who tells me how difficult it is to approach the question I'm asking, I figure I'm in the right hands.

#10 ::: Will "scifantasy" Frank ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 10:30 PM:

Now Steve's using Linux. I assume his setup is idiosyncratic.

I think you repeated yourself there...Linux is the most proof I've ever seen of my theory of techno-animism, specifically that users imbue computers with a bit of their own souls.

Come to think of it, I seem to remember hearing that Brust wrote Jhereg while between mainframe-wrangling jobs?

#11 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 10:35 PM:

Thank you, Teresa. (I volunteered to help just after my first post; I'm pretty sure I want to read whatever it is, too.)

My rule for these things tends to be I haven't designed a popular language; I have no significant kernel patches accepted; I have produced no well-know, widely used application. I am only an egg.

But since I'm also the sort of person who responds to deleting the wrong memory card full of pictures with downloading, compiling, and (successfully!) using a command line file system editor application, it's entirely possible that Mr. Brust and I use different calibrations. (I am also the sort of person who thinks "hey, it's only vfat. No egoboo until you can do that with Reiser4".)

I would also say that Linux isn't idiosyncratic; it's just diverse.

#12 ::: Will "scifantasy" Frank ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 10:40 PM:

Graydon: Well, it is diverse, but there's definitely an element of idiosyncracy there, mostly on the part of the users. Distributions, individual tweaks and optimizations, installation of what sounded like a good idea at the time...

That's not even counting entropic fields, like the one my friend has. She can screw over computers by being within ten feet, and using them? She steps very lightly.

At least one friend considered a sign on the door to his server room: "No Chaos Demons Allowed," specifically to keep her out. As it happens, we just make sure she doesn't go near the servery.

#13 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 10:41 PM:

Funny:

I assumed from Teresa's original question that help was needed because a crucial plot point of Steve novel was based on UNIX trivia.

"Fool! Don't you know a double-indirect inode when you see one?"

#14 ::: Will "scifantasy" Frank ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 10:43 PM:

I'm sorry, I just got the image of Vlad Taltos as a network security consultant for Morrolan...

#15 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 10:44 PM:

Well, once again I'm puzzling over the 'send' email from my new iBook, I had the same conundrum when I got the cube for my birthday this year and it's something truly stupid that will come to me in the next day or two.

What I need advice for (our Mac guy at work has been told expressly not to offer any advice for personally-owned computers) is what is the best method for moving stuff from my G4 Cube and my new iBook. they both have Firewire and USB. And we've got all the Ethernet positions taken up on our router.

and the two computers are sitting nearly side-by-side.

#16 ::: Will "scifantasy" Frank ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 10:45 PM:

Paula: Probably loading the Cube as a firewire drive. Hook up a Firewire cable to both, boot the iBook, and hold down...I think it's "T"...as you boot the Cube. The Cube should appear as a drive on the iBook, then just drag.

#17 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 11:13 PM:

Linux drove me nuts after a while, especially since a lot of projects were becoming distribution-specific....

Switched to FreeBSD about a year ago, and haven't looked back.

#18 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 11:21 PM:

Paula, what Will said; and "T" is the correct key to hold down on the Cube's keyboard at startup.

#19 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: November 13, 2005, 11:30 PM:

Stephan Jones wrote:

Funny:

I assumed from Teresa's original question that help was needed because a crucial plot point of Steve novel was based on UNIX trivia.

... and I thought to myself "Oh no, please don't tell me he's using ext3, and his novel's been accidentally deleted...."

At any rate - by most peoples standards I qualify as a geek - and by some standards well beyond that, and certainly have enough connections to figure out a pile of problems, if I can't myself.

It would be useful to have some idea of what his issue is, however.

#20 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 12:02 AM:

I'm gonna buy a firewire to firewire cable (currently nonexistant in our house) and do what y'all suggested. thanks a bazillion times

#21 ::: Greg ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 12:08 AM:

Well, fff...

Tell him to email "Eric S. Raymond"

Open source god and serious skiffy geek. Sure he'd be happy to help out.

#22 ::: Lisa Spangenberg ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 12:12 AM:

Paula, what they said, but here are some nifty instructions for using Target Disk Mode:

http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=58583

But you should definitely also read about the Migrarion Assistant on the new computer. It's designed to help you move over files.

#23 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 12:14 AM:

No matter how much you know, there is always, always, something to feel shamefully ignorant about.

I've been futzing around with computers since you needed a teletype to play WUMPUS, owned a PC since 1983, have an MS from CMU, got a software patent, earn lots doing QA work.

Today I picked my laptop up from CompUSA service:

The left mouse button -- well, left touch pad button -- was going off spontaneously. It had been doing that since the touch pad was repaired last year. It took the approach of the end of warrantee to get me to drop it off.

Turns out that there is a "tap touch pad to trigger left mouse button" that I hadn't noticed was on. I was setting up the sucker off myself without knowing it.

Ungh.

#24 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 12:15 AM:

Greg suggested:

Tell him to email "Eric S. Raymond"

Open source god and serious skiffy geek. Sure he'd be happy to help out.

Don't forget to have Steve read How to ask questions the smart way first.

#25 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 12:17 AM:

Stefan - I'll trade you the discovery that my work laptop needs you push a button to turn on wireless...

#26 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 12:25 AM:

To quote a friend of mine (Nick Matheson, co-author of the very cool anonymity program Tor):

The first rule of question asking is: Ask
The illustrative dialog is: "May I ask a newbie question?" "You just did."
If he'd say, "I, beloved author, want to know X", he'd know X within a day.

(and notes that if he knew what X was, were he able to answer, he would)

#27 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 01:23 AM:

Tell him to email "Eric S. Raymond".

I was croggled (as we used to say in the old country), when I witnessed Eric struggling with his laptop to achieve a wireless connection, two Potlatches ago -- and I got to tell him that he should run "IFCONFIG eth0 up" before attempting to assign an SSID with IWCONFIG.

I suspect that Steve's requirements are probably for someone who can perform sophisticated text manipulation, for which I'm sure Graydon is exactly the right person.

#28 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 01:47 AM:

Dear Sir Or Madam

I am writing to you to offer a golden oportunity to engage in our new online certification for Lunux Wizardy at the new Hogwarts School Of Computer Magic. In just 9 months, we can teach you in-demand computer magic!

#29 ::: Zack ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 02:51 AM:

Josh, you laugh, but someone going by "Hermione Granger" posted a newbie question to the gcc development list not so long ago...

#30 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 06:46 AM:

cool. I'm a mac head.

For whatever it's worth.

I have always lusted after a command-Z tshirt.

#31 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 07:17 AM:

I do get the impression that Steve's Linux box suffered some sort of mammary reorientation event.

And I know the feeling. I've been struggling to get my Windows box running for most of the weekend. Backups aren't much help when Windows doesn't complete loading. A new hard drive is starting to look desirable.

Anyway, it is possible to get copies of Linux which will run from a CD, and not write anything to a hard drive. But it you don't have one, getting one ready to go can be tricky.

A spare PC really can save the day.

#32 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 08:06 AM:

Will said:

I'm about to tell Steven Brust that "I don't do work, but I have a friend who does..."

ROFL here in Georgia. Y'all go do whatever it takes to get that Vlad book on the shelves. My daughter and I are approaching DT status.

#33 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 08:21 AM:

He'd probably have got help quicker if the actual problem had been posted, but that's for next time, I guess.

Dave Bell: I think this is where I should mention the Free Software Foundation's associate membership scheme - if you join that, you get a bootable credit card CD for just this kind of situation. Plus you get to help support free software and stuff.

(Some of the other freebies are of more dubious value.)

Must admit I'm not sure I'd have recommended ESR for emergency help...

#34 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 08:25 AM:

"...Steve used to be some kind of mainframe wrangler..."

What the heck is a mainframe wrangler? Somehow I don't think I'm supposed to visualize Steven Brust in a Singing Cowboy outfit.

#35 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 08:32 AM:

Since this thread is (sort of) about computer programming... Does anybody know why this site doesn't always reflect new posts either in a thread's actual number of posts, or in the front page's list of most recent posts? Just curious.

#36 ::: Victor S. ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 09:31 AM:

Serge: Is your browser caching the page? Most do, but some are more graceful than others. You may have to force a reload (usually a shift-click on the reload button) to get the updated information.

#37 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 09:33 AM:

Thanks, Victor. I'll try that.

#38 ::: Aboulic ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 10:04 AM:

"When you see an elaborately carved mahogany endtable with one bashed leg sitting in a dumpster, and immediately think, No problem, I can take a copy of the other side, flip it, and paste it over the damaged leg, you are a Mac head"

Hmm, when I read this I immediately thought, 'If I flip it, that will mean the shading and shadowing will be in the wrong direction. This might be correctable through painstaking and lengthy airbrushing, but that might lead to an artificial look (as well as being the aforementioned painstaking and lengthy). It might not be a realistic option as the carving is elaborate. There might be other solutions, but my prefered option would be to photograph the table again, from as similar a position as possible, with as similar lighting conditions as possible, but with the table rotated 90 degrees (or what ever is appropriate for the number of legs) and crop from that. Any fine adjustment for scaling and perspective should be possible with free transform. And advantage with mahogany is there would be relatively little visable grain to cause problems with orientation and patching. I wonder if Teresa meant there was a small area of damage that could be covered with a small area of the undamaged leg, that might be doable without recourse to airbrushing or additional photography, depending on the nature of the carving.'

What kind of head does that make me?

(Plus, all my photoshopping is done on PC, not Mac.)

This reminds me of a beautiful summer's day, when i was standing in the middle of a field on a hill overlooking Guildford, and had the revelation that i was playing way too much MUD II. I saw a butterfly, and my hands spasmed in front of me, instintively typing out 'ki bf wi ls [enter]'.

#39 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 11:25 AM:

I'll never forget the time I was in embryo mode trying to learn MVS system programming and realized I was driving along I-70 in a sort of reverie *seeing the semi trucks as data structures*.

That was weird. And I was more or less awake at the time, too....

#40 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 11:44 AM:

A classmate of mine had a nightmare about being persued about her house by a compiler; she woke up when it had finished tokenizing the couch.

My own tendency to go into fugue states when coding is why I don't work as a programmer.

#41 ::: Bruce Arthurs ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 12:23 PM:

Dave Bell wrote:
"I do get the impression that Steve's Linux box suffered some sort of mammary reorientation event."

So you're saying his PC got its tits in a wringer?

(Y'know, it's sort of distressing to realize that one not only knows what a wringer was, but that one is old enough to remember a family washing machine that actually had a wringer attached.)

#42 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 12:32 PM:

Graydon wrote:

My own tendency to go into fugue states when coding is why I don't work as a programmer.

... but ... but that's half the -fun- of programming!!!

#43 ::: Claire Connelly ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 12:43 PM:

Bill Blum wrote

Linux drove me nuts after a while, especially since a lot of projects were becoming distribution-specific....

Can you give some examples? Other than infrastructural stuff (e.g., apt on Debian or RPM on Red-Hat--derived distros*), most everything builds on most anything. You can even build a lot of free/open-source software on Windows (via Cygwin) and Mac OS X (with DarwinPorts or Fink).

* Actually, even those apps aren't distro specific -- you can get apt for Red-Hat-like distros and Debian has supported the use of RPM on Debian systems for a long time. (And Progeny is working on putting together a mostly-Debian distro that can use RPMs as well as debs.)

#44 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 12:52 PM:

Distros? Debian systems? This is starting to sound like Captain Kirk's log.

#45 ::: Kat Tanaka ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 01:27 PM:

Mr. Brust should direct his question to tag@lists.linuxgazette.net , which is the e-mail address of The Answer Gang. That will get him to the folks at Linux Gazette who specialize in answering these sorts of queries.

#46 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 01:33 PM:

Xeger --

Sure, it's half the fun of programming. But if you combine it with a natural tendency to severe over-focus and an aggressive response to stress, the overall results are highly sub-optimal.

#47 ::: Michael ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 02:02 PM:

Feh. Brust did not specify what his purpose in requesting a Linux Guru. Perhaps he is having trouble with his Soylent GreenHat. Or else that book? It's a cookbook...

#48 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 02:04 PM:

I swapped out the English language once, while trying to follow some C program with seven levels of indirection. Lunchtime came around and I had to figure out how to speak to a human again.

("greg"- is in fact THAT greg. You DO meet the most interesting people around here.)

#49 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 02:06 PM:

You know, I've got some experience using Linux to recover data from a brain-damaged Windows machine, and in forensic examinations of Linux machines that had been broken into.

I guess I'll email him and offer help, even though he's probably found someone to help by now.

#50 ::: Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 03:22 PM:

When you see a mixed-race group of teenagers on the subway, and your brain keeps trying to drag the black ones onto the white ones and vice versa, you've been playing WAY too much Windows Solitaire.

Yes, it did.

#51 ::: amysue ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 03:54 PM:

All I can say is reading these comments both intrigue and baffle me. I feel as though I've entered some odd alternate universe where everything seems tantalizingly just out of reach of clear.

#52 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 04:03 PM:

**Deep Breath**

What distribution is Steve using? Does he need help with a plot point, or is he having trouble? Is he using Open Office, AbiWord, Kword, Vi, or Emacs? Will his machine boot? Is he having driver/hardware troubles or did he lose his password?

Details!! We geeks and gurus need to know!

And if he's in SoCal I can go take a look.

Alex

#53 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 04:19 PM:

Will "scifantasy" Frank writes I just got the image of Vlad Taltos as a network security consultant for Morrolan....

At one point, several machines at the Electronic Frontier Foundation had hostnames based on the Vlad books. The machine that ran all the behind-the-scenes services? kragar. The sysadmins' personal workstations? loiosh and rocza.

The NeXT cube? morrolan. Black is, after all, the color of sorcery.

#54 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 05:22 PM:

Mr. Davis said:
At one point, several machines at the Electronic Frontier Foundation had hostnames based on the Vlad books. The machine that ran all the behind-the-scenes services? kragar. The sysadmins' personal workstations? loiosh and rocza.

Isn't that just begging for this problem?

#55 ::: Eric ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 05:31 PM:

Sometimes, when I've been coding really intensely, my brain won't let go. This is OK if I'm casually messing around with a problem, waiting for inspiration, but it's bad when I've revved myself up to "Captain, the engines canna take it anymore" levels, and I really need a few hours of rest. It's a twisted, sleep-deprived version of the programmer's traditional fugue state.

When this happens, I need to carefully blank my mind, then go distract myself with something amusing. Oddly enough, Ambrosia games work marvelously--they tend to be all-captivating for about an hour. And with one or two exceptions, they actually let me go afterwards.

Of course, dumping all my mental state like this makes it hard to get back into the zone the next morning. It helps if I take detailed notes the day before.

I wouldn't be remotely surprised to hear that writers face similar issues.

#56 ::: Eric ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 05:48 PM:

Ah, yes. We could talk about machine names for a week. But for my money, the best naming system was allegedly chosen by Pope John Paul II, for the Vatican's own servers:

Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael

These are, if you will, the canonical hostnames. *ducks*

#57 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 05:54 PM:

I'd like to remember most of last Dec/Jan/Feb, which I did spend in a programmers fugue. Well worth it - but it's disconcerting to dream about code.

#58 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 10:11 PM:
When this happens, I need to carefully blank my mind, then go distract myself with something amusing.
I have found the same thing, and have discovered that network TV is remarkably good at the first of those - and, since I don't have Tivo or cable, it lets me go relatively easily, since there's rarely more than an hour's worth of veg out material in a row.
#59 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 10:59 PM:

My father was making and repairing furniture into his late 80s, including mahogany furniture. The description of the Mac concept of repair of smashed table leg, is just so utterly wrong to me, since I've seen museum-grade restoration of smashed up furniture done....

#60 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: November 14, 2005, 11:10 PM:

Eric, when it's working right for me, writing is like a fugue state.. when its working right. Right now it's pulling story out of chaos by brute force, which is not pleasant but I still need to write. So I do. But I'm better when I'm forcing it than writing in the fugue state, which has created a lot of navel-gazing Mary Sue type of crap and just a small amount of Good Stuff (the three Kayli stories sold to MZB were such a product). Sigh.

#61 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 07:38 AM:

I'm hesitant to call myself a guru, because it's one of those terms like "genius" that is best not applied to oneself. But I've been a professional sysadmin for 10+ years (solaris & linux), so I'll give it a shot.

#62 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 08:54 AM:

So... What IS a mainframe wrangler?

#63 ::: Sam Kelly ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 10:20 AM:

Some older equipment can get quite active on occasion, and often makes a break for freedom.

Presumably, mainframe wranglers are the people employed to round the overly independent hardware up and bring it home again.

#64 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 10:24 AM:

So... What IS a mainframe wrangler?

Someone who does the usual duties; rubbing it down with a blanket after a long run, conditioning its power, etc.

(Serious answers, like "Mainframes were huge beasts of computers, requiring some degree of machismo to administrate," would also be acceptable, I suppose.)

#65 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 10:26 AM:

Thanks, Sam. When I started as a computer programmer, I specialized in mainframe-based programming, but I had never head of wranglers.

(I started such a long time ago that I originally wrote programs using punched cards. When I mentionned that to one of my younger co-workers, she said she remembered seeing those in a computer museum. Just can't get no respect from the younger generation.)

#66 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 10:39 AM:

Macho mainframe operators...

#67 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 01:05 PM:

Serge, if it helps, I'm under 30 (for a few more weeks, anyway) and can remember operating a typewriter-like device to punch cards.

Now granted, I was 4 at the time and my dad was taking me in to show me where he worked, but still - I remember.

Mostly, though, my memories of punch cards are that during the mid-80s we always had a bunch of unpunched ones around the house, and so they were used for grocery lists and other things. (If you write small, it's not hard to fit an entire D&D character on the back of one, though I only ever had the simplified red-blue-and-green box sets, not "real" D&D)

#68 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 01:13 PM:

I used my punch cards as bookmarks, myself. I might still have one around as a souvenir of days thankfully gone, Daniel. Thinking about it now, I feel like I was living in a steampunk alternate reality.

#69 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 02:24 PM:

The community college I went too in 1980 still had punch card machines for instructional purposes.

The introduction to computers class I took had an exercise where we punched a card with our name and address or something along those lines.

I remember that one school or another I attended used punch cards for registration purposes. When you picked courses you took a card and submitted it along with a cover card to complete your registration.

I've seen blank punch cards repurposed as order forms and the like. There was a reuse industry thriving there for a while, finding uses for all those sturdy rectangles.

Do not fold, spindle, or mutilate!

#70 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 02:29 PM:

I was in college in the early 80s, studying computer science, and we had to do one program on punch cards. I found a seldom-used keypunch in a cubbyhole in the engineering building and did my punching there, surprising some of the engineering students.

I've seen wreaths made from punchcards.

#71 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 03:17 PM:

... and you could make a grown man cry by spilling his punch cards - especially if he'd forgotten to number them...

#72 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 03:23 PM:

Do NOT remind me of that, xeger...

#73 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 03:23 PM:

Not to mention what could happen to you if you dropped a deck of compiler or assembler lace cards. (Or mangled a card: you needed an older keypunch to copy them, because the 029s jammed if there were that many holes in a column.)

#74 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 03:29 PM:

[textilegeek] Lace cards? Now I'm having weird ideas about bobbin-lace prickings run through a computer. [/textilegeek]

#75 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 06:44 PM:

TexAnne: Cards with far too many holes punched in them (usually in machine language). They look like lace, but not like prickings, if your lace has only rectangular holes in it. (They're also fragile, because there isn't a lot of card left between the holes: lace-like that way, too.)

#76 ::: Daniel Boone ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 06:52 PM:

"I'll never forget the time I was in embryo mode trying to learn MVS system programming and realized I was driving along I-70 in a sort of reverie *seeing the semi trucks as data structures*."

Nor shall I forget the time I was standing in my attic, and mistook rusty nail holes in the attic floor for buried Zerglings. Too, too much Starcraft being played that week.

#77 ::: xeger ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 08:32 PM:

TexAnn perked up:

[textilegeek] Lace cards? Now I'm having weird ideas about bobbin-lace prickings run through a computer. [/textilegeek]

Well - if you take a look at jaquard looms, you're not all that far off...

#78 ::: Paula Kate ::: (view all by) ::: November 15, 2005, 10:58 PM:

The first computer I learned to beat into submission was a Burroughs TC700 bank teller terminal, about the size of a washing machine and you rebooted it by feeding in a paper tape, which we kept in the vault.

Ah, those were the days.

#79 ::: J. Austin ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 12:36 AM:

My husband was a programmer for the Air Force, now contractor, and was just reading this thread over my shoulder. They had to learn how to use punch cards, just in case they went to a base that still uses them. Present tense.

#80 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 02:03 AM:

We had IBM 029s around to program our IBM 360/20, but we used punched paper tape to distribute teletype messages around the world when I was in the Navy (72-74).

When I was in college the CE students learning FORTRAN used to bring punched cards back to the frat house, along with printouts they'd run the length of the hallways.

#81 ::: Tom Womack ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 07:02 AM:

Is there any justification for a Jacquard hand-loom? I saw one in India, in a corner of Varanasi full of Muslim weavers, where from the buildings with shuttered windows and locked doors came the click-clack of mechanical looms, and from the buildings with low roofs and guttering light the noise of handlooms.

Is there a reason that this isn't a criminal waste of humans?

#82 ::: Chad Orzel ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 07:10 AM:

There's a drawer full of punch cards in my lab. It's probably somebody's Ph.D. thesis, but at the moment, it's nothing more than a convenient resource for beam stops.

(I work with infrared lasers, so pieces of paper with small holes punched in them are frequently called for...)

I'm not sure my students have any idea what the cards are, though.

#83 ::: Sandy ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 09:16 AM:

"beam stops"- on first reading I was thinking something to do with architecture.

It's early yet.

#84 ::: Eric Sadoyama ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 02:40 PM:

My high school class was the last to use punchcards before they installed terminals in our computer room. I probably shouldn't be as proud of it as I am, but I once was lazy and brute-forced an assembly language programming assignment -- it was a least-squares approximation problem -- by translating the equation into a series of arithmetic operations, then expressing each operation in COBOL, and then decomposing each COBOL command into assembly. My stack ended up being 10 times thicker than anyone else's, but it worked the first time with no debugging needed.

#85 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: November 16, 2005, 05:22 PM:

Tom, in the US, pretty much all hand-looms are for hobbyists. In India, the weavers probably can't afford mechanical looms.

#86 ::: abi spots comment spam ::: (view all by) ::: January 13, 2007, 04:20 PM:

The fish, formerly given a meal, swims south of the market?

(Because I know my physics, I was given
A statuette of Larry Niven.

Xopher is probably very, very sorry now.)

#87 ::: xeger suspects peculiar spam @ 88 ::: (view all by) ::: December 23, 2007, 01:16 AM:

... at least, it's a year later, and singularly incomprehensible

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