Memories of Computers Past

Harry Keller 80By Harry Keller
Former ETCJ Science Editor
& President of SmartScience

When Jim wrote about 5-1/4″ disks, it triggered a cascade of memories from my half-century of computer experiences. Today, it’s all miniature flash memories.

Seriously, I remember 8″ floppy disks. I had a bunch of them, now long gone to the landfill. I worked in the computer industry before ANY floppy disks existed. Oh, we had removable disks and were careful not to drop them on our toes.

8-inch, ​5 1⁄4-inch, and ​3 1⁄2-inch floppy disks. Wikipedia photo and caption by George Chernilevsky, 6 June 2009.

It gets worse. I remember working with punched cards — myself! I even edited the binary cards returned to you after a compilation to save time. Woe betide the person who dropped their cards if they were not sequenced. If they were, then you had access to a card sorting machine. Old movies showed them as though THEY were the computer. Ha ha ha.

A punched card from the mid-twentieth century. Wikipedia photo and caption by Pete Birkinshaw, 6 Nov. 2010.

No. That’s not the beginning. I worked with punched paper tape on a Flexowriter and (years later) a teletype. Yes, I edited those too by hand. My first program was about ten feet long.

Friden Flexowriter used as a console typewriter for the LGP-30 computer on display at the Computer History Museum. Wikipedia photo and caption by ArnoldReinhold, 1 Feb. 2014.

That first computer I worked on had vacuum tubes in it. And its output was on clay tablets that you baked in the sun. I say that because you wouldn’t believe the truth.

I wrote FORTRAN for my Ph.D. thesis on an IBM 7094, the top computer of its day. It had a 32K memory that was the size of a wall full of filing cabinets. There’s a fun story about that memory bank. It was all magnetic CORES (where the term “core dump” originated) and was cooled with circulating oil. It kept having random bit errors. The entire story is too long for this note. The onsite IBM techs tore their hair out for weeks!

Operator’s console for an IBM 7094 at the Computer History Museum. Wikipedia photo and caption by ArnoldReinhold, 27 Jan. 2012.

Today, you have many more times (geez, GIGAbytes!!) of memory and computing power in your pocket. DO NOT TRAVEL BACK IN TIME WITH ONE OF THOSE IN YOUR POCKET! It will morph into a room-filling computer and crush you to death.

The first Atlas, installed at Manchester University and officially commissioned in 1962, was one of the world’s first supercomputers, considered to be the most powerful computer in the world at that time. Wikipedia photo and caption by Iain MacCallum (“email from my father, Iain MacCallum”), 31 Dec. 1962.

It seems as though the computer industry is playing limbo. “How low can you go?” The prices go low while the size goes small. They will make it under that stick, and you are the winner as long as you aren’t buried under a software snow storm. I hope that I am not going too fast for everyone here.

I was once paid $250,000 (not all for myself, had to hire help) to automate a steel mill. The project was a big success and was never installed. Who says that computer programmers lack a sense of humor? I laughed all the way to the bank.

I have had a number of dental problems and now sport two implants. I hope that my next one is enough in the future to include a computer.

Remember Floppy Disks?

By Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

The message on this tanktop is a reminder of how far we’ve come in a very “short” period of time. I got it as a gift this past Father’s Day and catch myself smiling whenever I wear it.

My first personal computer, in the early-1980s, was a Kaypro 2 that came with two single-sided, double-density 5.25″ floppy drives. For all practical purposes, we needed two drives back then: one for the program and the other for our files. Wikipedia photo by Autopilot, 19 Mar. 2015.

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A Palm-sized Desktop Computer for $35 – Raspberry Pi 4

By Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

Officially released today, 24 June 2019, is the Raspberry Pi 4 single-board computer that fits in the palm of your hand. It’s made by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a UK-based charity (nonprofit) that works to put the power of computing and digital making into the hands of people all over the world. They do this so that more people are able to harness the power of computing and digital technologies for work, to solve problems that matter to them, and to express themselves creatively.

The foundation provides low-cost, high-performance computers that people use to learn, solve problems and have fun. They provide outreach and education to help more people access computing and digital making. They develop free resources to help people learn about computing and how to make things with computers, and train educators who can guide other people to learn.

For more on this palm-sized computer, click here.

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A Plea to Simplify the Definition for ‘Online Course’

By Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

Three years ago, in 2016, four students (one was possibly an instructor) had a discussion on Reddit about an online course offering with a “lecture required” component. The original poster was byu:

Posted byu/[deleted]
[Subject:] Online Classes – Class Component: “Lecture Required”?
Signed up for a couple online classes and under the Class Details section is says Class Components: Lecture Required. The class is definitely listed as an online class, room says online and meeting day/times TBA, so what does this mean? Video lectures? Just making sure I don’t have to physically show up for anything.

TurtleWaffle: It could be a blended class. I had a class like this and we had 5 Saturday class sessions during the semester as well as the online stuff

Rhynocerous: In my expirience it means you have to physically show up at some point possibly for exams.

corner0ffice1: It sounds like a class with both an online lecture and online lab. You always enroll for the lab component, and then tack on the lecture, so SIS is just telling you that you need to enroll in both components. It does not always mean that you have to show up for anything in person. It SHOULD say if you have any on-campus obligations in the course description, but you can also ask the instructor to confirm.

If we took a moment to actually listen to our students, we’d learn that conversations like this pervade the higher ed landscape. In nearly all colleges, “online” is a confusing course label that can mean any number of things that fail to meet student expectations. byu’s “Just making sure I don’t have to physically show up for anything” captures students’ primary concern in selecting an online class.

Implicit in their expectations for an online class is the idea of not being required to “show up” in a specific place at a specific time. For them, online is virtual, a convenience that allows them to engage learning from anywhere at any time. Thus, synchronous meetings are also not part of their online expectations. “Online” ought to be reserved for courses that are completely online and completely asynchronous. Sync requirements are a real problem for students who choose online courses for their anywhere/anytime advantage. Many online administrators and faculty don’t realize that sync requirements are a carryover of F2F into the virtual environment. Requiring students to meet at a specific time is tantamount to requiring them to meet at a specific place.1 Continue reading

Discussion of Ken Robinson’s ‘Bring on the Learning Revolution!’

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

In our current discussion on “The Zen in Online Learning” (17 June 2019), Harry Keller says, “Life is about joy. Find your joy, and immerse yourself in it” (19 June 2019). His comment reminded me of Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talks “Bring on the Learning Revolution!” (Feb 2010).

The transcript is available here. This video runs 21 minutes, but Robinson’s wit and wisdom make it seem much shorter. His message is similar to Harry’s, which is to change our model for education to develop and celebrate each student’s talents, interests, and dreams. Please make the time to watch this video. It was released in 2010, but its message is relevant today.

Also make the time to comment in the forum attached to this article. (If you’ve never posted a comment in ETC, it will be held for approval. I’ll be standing by to speed up the process. Once approved, future comments will be automatically published.)  There’s a wide-ranging discussion on the TED site, so in our discussion, I’d suggest focusing on the takeaway for higher ed. What are your thoughts on Robinson’s call for an “organic” revolution? How does this apply to higher ed?

If you’d like to submit a longer comment as a stand-alone piece, email it to me at jamess@hawaii.edu. If this is your first submission, then please append a brief (1-to-3 line) professional bio and snapshot.

Related Videos:
Sir Ken Robinson: Do Schools Kill Creativity? Feb 2006 (20 min).
Sir Ken Robinson: How to Escape Education’s Death Valley, Apr 2013 (19 min).

The Zen in Online Learning

Jim ShimabukuroBy Jim Shimabukuro
Editor

When the center monitor in my three-monitor setup failed to turn on this morning, I didn’t panic. It happened before, and reinserting the HDMI connector into the graphics card usually did the trick. So I turned the computer off, crawled under the desk, unplugged the connector, and plugged it back in.

I turned the computer on, but the monitor remained dark. No problem, I thought. Try the same maneuver again. I did, but it still didn’t work. I was beginning to panic a little. I turned it off and checked the back of the monitor to see if the power and HDMI connectors were tight. I unplugged and plugged them back in.

The three-monitor setup for my desktop computer.

I turned the computer on again, but the monitor was still dead. Panic was setting in. I tried the remote control to see if the settings were correct. (This monitor is also a TV set.) Nothing came up on the screen, not even the menu.  Continue reading

Using the CRA to Promote Digital Equity: May 14-15, 2019

By Vic & Bonnie Sutton

Ways to use the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) to persuade banks to invest in projects to promote digital equity was the central focus of a meeting of the National Collaborative for Digital Equity (NCDE), held in Washington, DC, on 14-15 May 2019.

The meeting was hosted by the National Education Association and brought together some 70 participants from across the country.

The CRA is a federal statute enacted in 1977. It requires the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation and the Office of the Controller of the Currency (OCC) to encourage financial institutions to help meet the credit needs of the communities in which they do business, especially in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods.  Continue reading