Y2K retrospective / was Re: Algol vs ...

Russ Bartlett arcbe2001 at yahoo.com
Fri Feb 12 11:19:29 CST 2010

I get back to my point that a lot of the comments and criticisms concerning the absence of the century in system design comes  from people ill equipped  and knowledgeable to be able to pass judgment.  By 1985 I had been working in Data Processing for 20 years!  Hardware constraints dictated what we did and didn't do.  The hardware constraints were our main obstacle and  were twofold:

1) Cost - Memory was incredibly expensive (Read The mythical man month)
2) Hardware Technology - Early systems were mag tape only.  

The bottom line to this is that there is always a price point.  Added to which, and factored in, is the life expectancy of any system.  Back then it was considered around 10-15 years plus.  A lot of systems had no upward compatability and applications needed to be modified to run.

In the mid 60's only large companies had systems with greater than 16K
 memory and disc drives.  Mag tape 800 and 1600 bpi if you were lucky was the norm.  Systems running a single job stream were common place.    Now the more sophisticated systems - of which the British ICT (ICL) was one - used an offset to hold dates.  The ICL 1900 range  used a technique of holding the number of days since the Jan 1st 1900.  Richard Pick later used a similar off-set technique in his Pick O/S (Dec 31, 1967).  We used assembler language because we had to.  Generally they were considered a necessary evil although I loved using it. 3rd generation language compilers weren't that mature and generated a lot of machine code instructions making them a memory hog and slow to execute.    While the main pack (IBM lead) pursued architecture that used Assembler, Burroughs took a different, and far better approach as their
 systems used Algol.

In the early days when we wrote programs they were written onto coding forms.  Once punched onto 80 column cards we would check each card to ensure that had been key punched correctly.  Checking an 8000 statement  program took time.  Once checked we would have it listed (used little machine time).  We would then dry run through the program looking for logic errors.  Having done that we would have it compiled.  Typically there would be a couple of development slots or so a week for testing so we had ensure that we had done due diligence.  If it compiled we would schedule a test slot and run against test data.  Debugging consisted of analyzing dumps and correcting the code.  Contrast this against interactive source debuggers.  Today machine time is inexpensive and many compiles and test shots may be performed in a day.  "Workbench" tools allow the programmer to run
 their program without even hitting the mainframe.  A totally different world.  

There was no padding of EDP (Electronic Data Processing) budgets - they didn't exist, there was not an EDP cost center in the G/L.  EDP was a huge investment for any company.  We didn't have an EDP Manager in the true sense of the term as we reported to the head of finance - The chief accountant.  It was later that we split off and became a separate entity with our own budget.

--- On Wed, 2/10/10, Brent Hilpert <hilpert at cs.ubc.ca> wrote:

From: Brent Hilpert <hilpert at cs.ubc.ca>
Subject: Y2K retrospective / was Re: Algol vs ...
To: General at invalid.domain, "On-Topic and Off-Topic Posts" <cctalk at classiccmp.org>
Date: Wednesday, February 10, 2010, 1:25 AM

William Donzelli wrote:
> > 11 years ago, I pointed this very fact out to "journalists" who were
> > convinced that Y2K was all a scam to pad IT budgets
 because "nobody
> > would have gone to that much trouble to save 4 bits (00-99 fits in 7
> > bits, 2000 fits in 11 bits) even in the 1950s.
> While it was not a scam, it certainly was used to pad IT budgets.

I would argue the public aspect of the issue was a scam.
The people who needed to know, knew already. 
The public hype around the issue was overblown and unnecessary.

Remember the various experts and consultants railing about how microwave ovens
and cars and anything with a microprocessor in it (things that didn't even know
about the date) were going to fail? 

I still have the bulletin from the government mailed out to every household in
Canada to prepare everyone for Y2K: a fine example of public folly.


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