Marvels of the modern era

Posted on March 25th, 2010 18 great comments. Room for one more!

No doubt about it, I’m going to copyright hell. Yes, I’ve once again raided the Toronto Archives (I highly recommend a search or two; lotsa fun stuff), and emerged with some gleaming gems. Should the Archives ever decide to sue my blatancy, I’ll no doubt be forced to hand over much of TCL’s total monetary earnings to date: $3.67. If I made them cry, emotional damages too. But I just can’t help it; they have way too much great stuff to hide behind a stuffy web interface.

This time around I went back to the mid-sixties in search of the very beginnings of computing in Toronto. Okay, yeah, I’ve been spending a lot of time online making sweet sweet love to the blogosphere. And programming. But the digital miracles I’m pulling out of my ass (and many of us are), these days would’ve been unimaginable forty-five years ago. In fact, even though I’m more closely familiar with most of the gizmos in these photos than the average person, even I’m at a loss to put name or function to everything there. But I’ll try.

Okay, so from my understanding, this is what computing looked like at the University of Toronto circa 1965ish:

toronto archives, computers, computing, history, historic, toronto, city, life

Can you imagine what it would’ve taken to slap together a basic web page at that time? Like, look at the fellow in the photo above; picking out a frozen pizza because he knows he’s going to be a while.  It’s nice that they provided slushie machines for the programmers:

toronto archives, computers, computing, history, historic, toronto, city, life

I guess he’s picking his flavour.

Oh, yeah, of course I’d be hideously remiss if I didn’t mention the sideburns. That was the requisite look in those days, from my understanding. For when you’d fall asleep on your desk on account of the speed of the computers. Sop up your drool ‘n all. (I know, gross, but hey, practical.)

So here’s Mr. Burns actually earning a living:

toronto archives, computers, computing, history, historic, toronto, city, life

That’s pretty much all programming was back then. Flip a switch, twirl a knob, push a button. Then wait two hours for it to confirm that, yes, 3 x 3 is indeed 9.

But it was the cutting edge and we wouldn’t be here today without it. Even though today’s digital technology wasn’t the intended outcome, if I’ve read my history books right. Most of this binary horsepower went to work for James Bondesque villains planning to do something sinister to Toronto. Typically represented by a blonde-haired German “Number Two” in the lower echelons of the organization:

toronto archives, computers, computing, history, historic, toronto, city, life

So what happened? Simple. Women happened:

toronto archives, computers, computing, history, historic,  toronto, city, life

You can’t run an evil empire when your henchmen and underlings are distracted by a pair ‘a gorgeous gams. So academia was left with all the slushie machines and frozen pizza pies and decades later we have cell phones that can multiply three by three pretty fast. Neat.

What a marvelous age we live in. Sure it has its problems, but I have a whole photo studio and a world-wide broadcast radio to take along with me into the toilets. When in the past could we ever do that?

18 Comments on “ Marvels of the modern era ”

  • Stanya
    March 25th, 2010 1:40 pm

    You are right – what amazing world we are living in. I remember not having TV at all but listening Sunday afternoon's fairy tales in radio at 2 p.m. glued to the speakers. Than black and white TV at the very beginning looking on the monitor for hours in disbelieve waiting for 2 hours program – one movie at night. All of a sudden we can stop TV in the middle of the program and go pee pee or get a glass of vine without missing something and how about the communication – awesome – just like you say whole world in your bathroom. And what about your amazing pictures? Without today's cameras and technology it would be difficult to get such amazing results. Very cool I like your pictures very much and your writing makes me feel good quite often laugh.

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  • Patrick
    March 27th, 2010 6:11 am

    You're right, Stanya, technology allows even someone like me to appear halfway competent. And I'm glad you get a chuckle out of the posts; I try very hard to omit seriousness wherever possible.

  • VanillaSeven
    March 25th, 2010 6:15 pm

    Oldies time is in a way better. Look how well dressed and groomed they are even when working in server room! :)

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  • Patrick
    March 30th, 2010 12:07 pm

    You got that straight, VanillaSeven! My haircuts always include a little sideburn. But not to much because I don't want to seem competitive.

  • Grace
    March 26th, 2010 10:30 am

    Ah, I remember those. Back in 1969 our main frame went from the floor to the ceiling and was in it's own locked, climate controlled glass-walled room…fun times!

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  • Patrick
    March 27th, 2010 6:16 am

    I got to interact with mainframes a few times, Grace. Exactly as you described — floor to ceiling and inaccessible to all but a chosen few. It was my wish to penetrate that inner sanctum that got me into programming in the first place. Now every home has a computer and no one points a gun at you for trying to approach it. *sigh* At least I got a practical skill out of it.

  • bingkee
    March 26th, 2010 12:46 pm

    It's amazing world we live in but I think the evils are proliferating even more. With technological advancement, real communication and human interaction are diminished, and values are denigrating. This is what we pay for our search for convenience and more knowledge.

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  • Patrick
    March 27th, 2010 6:22 am

    I'm gonna have to disagree with you, Bingkee. To begin with, I seriously doubt I'd ever be having this conversation with you otherwise. And I still speak with friends, chat with my folks on the phone, etc. I just have more avenues to use in polluting the world with my thoughts. The style of communication is changing, for sure; short, very informal, and acronym-laden, but language and communication are malleable things that have changed since people first grunted. I've heard many people lamenting the "loss" of the English (and pretty much every other language), but I always respond with, "what's the point of language?" If it's to communicate, and I believe that's true, then as long as you're getting your point across succinctly and correctly, mission accomplished. I think what people are lamenting is the loss of people's ability to clearly get their thoughts across, but to me that's a Darwinian thing — if you can't communicate clearly, very few people will want to listen to what you have to say. Mostly because they have no idea what you're trying to say :)

  • RE - Recycledfrocker
    March 26th, 2010 7:42 pm

    I remember the days of being a computer tape librarian. I worked the silos at mcgill for a year before I went back to complete my degree at u of m. I actually did data process cards – the punch cards which were complied onto those tapes. can you imagine that.. ahhhhh haaaa BASIC and COBOL were what I cut my teeth on. glad they finally invented Java. did you notice that NO Beverages or Food were in either pic. NOT Ever were you allowed to bring anything consumable into the work area. Oh No. and it was as cold as a freezer Always because the machines got so hot, that they'd shut down if you didn't keep it cool. in fact we had portable fans that we moved around to control heat when we were doing a big run, like the payroll checks, or the report cards.

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  • Patrick
    April 7th, 2010 3:57 am

    I came a bit after the reel-to-reels, BadGal (RE). I did do punchcards in High School. I never got to use them again but at least I can say I've written programs on paper :) — Kind of. But other than that, what you describe sounds like any server room I've ever been in since. Except for one — just a dank basement with no AC, basically just a matter of time before the machines died or a fire started. But that was a financial network so it's understandable.

  • John | Retro Program
    March 27th, 2010 6:06 am

    I've got the assembly language manual for one of these 360 beasts somewhere. I love the way they're all posing with the computer!

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  • Patrick
    March 27th, 2010 6:24 am

    Me too, John :) Computers were definitely photo-ops in those days. Makes sense too — how many people do you know that had slushie machines in their living rooms?

  • RE - Recycledfrocker
    March 27th, 2010 2:00 pm

    gee patrick, didn't realize my comments would be so bad you'd refuse them, okkkk

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  • Patrick
    March 27th, 2010 8:37 pm

    Sorry BadGal (RE), spam filter was being naughty. I hope I've fixed it, and your comments are always welcome :)

  • Man Over Board
    March 27th, 2010 8:09 pm

    Got to love the old puters and the lamb chop side burns. Unfortunately only two of the pics are viewable :-(

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  • Patrick
    March 27th, 2010 8:45 pm

    You know, Man Over Board, it's possible I may just have overloaded the page with photos and fancy widgets. It's possible that the images didn't get fully or properly transferred; try ctrl-shift-delete (Windows), or apple-shift-delete (Mac) — should work on most popular browsers — and clear your cache (cookies/passwords/etc. you can keep of you want). I've tried on a couple of computers and across a few browsers, including my mobile phone, and they all seem to be pulling the page okay. So corrupt, half-downloaded images sitting around on your computer pretending to be okay would be my guess. (don't forget to reload the page after that :) )

  • Kato
    March 29th, 2010 9:44 am

    Hahaha! Frozen pizzas and slushie machines indeed! You are funny my friend!

    Seriously though, those things must have been sooooo frustrating. Although I am sure they thought they were UBER fast!

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  • Patrick
    March 29th, 2010 10:50 am

    As fast as modern hamster wheels, Kato :)

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