Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sepia Saturday

Back in the days when computers were serious...

That's my Dad on the far right -- when he was still just a sailor.
My Dad was a communications officer in the Navy when I was growing up, and it was a big treat for us kids to visit him every once in a while aboard ship. I remember what must have been one of our first chances to go to my father's "work."  Since I was only five or six at the time, it would have been the first four of us kids. We were so proud to walk alongside Dad in his uniform; I remember the goosebumps of delight when the enlisted men saluted him and his fellow officers chatted with him, remarking on us kids as they added information to the little tour speeches Dad gave as he led us around to the authorized-kid-touring places onboard.  We marched behind my Dad like well-trained little soldiers, the bunch of us, speaking when spoken to, and trying to absorb everything in case there was a test later.

 You never knew with my Dad; there might be a test
But, we didn't mind because time with our father was precious and it really was a pretty neat experience; the ships were enormous and we got to see a lot of the cooler bells and whistles from the helm to the torpedo deck, but what I remember most --  besides all the neato ladders and hatches -- was the big computer room.  You could hear the humming and whirring coming from that room as soon as you climbed down the ladder to that deck.  The closer you got, the louder it got.  And it smelled kinda funny for some reason, as I remember it.

Funny the things you remember.

But, anyway... I digress. 

Me.  An eighth as old,
a quarter the size.
 Located somewhere in the bowels of the ship (you had to know where it was to know where it was), the computer room was a long and narrow space -- maybe twenty feet long by twelve feet wide -- and it was lined wall to wall with floor- to-ceiling rows of humming computers.  In the middle of the room were several rows, as well, all with buttons and lights and sliding knobs -- all very mysterious.  And very, very solemn and serious.  Dad only let us poke our heads in, before he quickly shuttled us out, explaining in the most cursory way, that this was -- well, it was the computer room.  Like we knew what that meant.

What my little brain  inferred was that the whole thing was purposely veiled in secrecy. Maybe there was coding going on.  Something having to do, maybe, with the evil empire, the Communists.  Or the Vietnamese.  Who knew?  One thing for sure, though, we obviously weren't supposed to be anywhere near those computers. Dad sure herded us out of there pretty quick.  And then he headed us straight to the mess hall where he gave us doughnuts -- to make us forget about what we'd seen.  Or something like that.  Anyway, what little Lisa, Kindergartener, came away with that day was that computers were a very grown up, complex, and vauguely frightening  thing.  Something I'd probably never understand.  Certainly not something I'd ever own.

Isn't it amazing?

Thirty-some years later*, here I sit, Lisa, twenty-first-century Momma, typing at our desktop computer, communicating via the internet with people all over the world. In a minute here I'm going to look for a crazy free online zombie game that Gabey keeps telling me about.  Dan's in his office working on his laptop, and the children have several "kiddy" computers that they pull out to play games on all  the time.  Our cars are computerized, our cellphones are computerized, our music comes from tiny computerized devices that we plug into our ears.  Even my coffepot has a chip in it, that programs it to grind the beans on schedule for our morning coffee. And here's the thing -- the computer function of my coffee pot would probably have taken a whole wall of the computers on my Dad's ship thirty years ago.  Maybe even two walls.


To Join in on Sepia Saturday fun, run over here.
* Alright, alright.  Ya got me.  Make that forty-some.


Sarah Oldham said...

My husband does computer work for the USN as well. I'm not allowed to know much more than that. ;) I could only go in there (he was on a ship way back in the early days, not now) when everything was shut off . . . and, didn't stay long 'cos it was FREEZING from the A/C.

Alan Burnett said...

You are right to remind us how far - and how quickly - things have changed over so few years. I remember getting punch cards made and booking an hour on the University computer in order to carry out a simple task that I could now run in seconds on my iPhone. The advances have made so much possible - including blogs and Sepia Saturday. Welcome to Sepia Saturday, by the way, I hope we will see many more such fascinating posts.

Bob Scotney said...

During my National Service in the late 1950s I worked with the Americans in the cipher centre at SHAPE, in those days in a village near Versailles.
Cipher machines, teleprinters and punched tape were the norm. It wasn't until 1960 that we had a television (for the Rome Olympics)
Now the computing power in a mobile phone would outdo those old banks of computers.
Great post.

Anonymous said...

Even nowadays, computers can easily bring on the need for a doughnut :-) We really have seen massive progress in the last few decades. Jo

anne said...

I hope it's not the plants vs/ zombies game..It's so addictive!!!
I never knew computers really existed until I was a smidge older...That's so neat that he took you around!

barbara finwall said...

My boyfriend worked at Xerox in the late 60's. It was Scientific Data Systems, at the time. They later became Xerox. He gave me a tour of the computer room. They were huge- way taller than me. And, yes, they made a loud buzzing sound, And it was very cold in the room. He pushed some buttons and the computer said (not out loud) "not ready" (or something like that) and he said "oh, yes you are" and gave it a little push and it completed his command. I wish I could do that to my computer, now!
Welcome to the group. I really enjoyed your post.

Marilyn said...

This is such an interesting post and what a wonderful photo of your father in his top secret computer room.
I used to use a small machine that used punch cards and then later punch tape then the cards or tape used to be sent to the computer - a massive, full wall of a computer. Amazing that I can now sit with a laptop on my knee as I type this.
Lovely photo of yourself too.


that was a fun post!! computers have come a long way!! BTW: be careful of those free online games. some have viruses... i'm just saying!!
nothing is really free in this world.

thanx 4 sharing!!