Thursday, May 05, 2005

Bong.     Bong        Bong.   Bong    Bong    Bong    Bong. BongBongBongBongBong….

Very early in computer history we had to deal with data that was too extensive to fit all at once inside a computer. The only solution for many years was to keep tapes full of data. A tape reel was about a foot in diameter and an inch wide. When a program needed to use a tape, it would print a request, in front of the computer operator, to load the tape. (The people who wrote programs were not permitted inside the computer room.) The operator would find and load the tape so the program could continue. Computer time was precious; it was frustrating to all when the operator failed to notice a tape request and idled the mainframe for an hour or two.
Princeton University solved this problem by adding a programmable LOUD GONG to the computer room. They told us how to add a simple routine to our programs to ring the gong after printing a tape request. Fine. Although it must be said, operators occasionally failed to hear the gong.
About two weeks later one professor wrote a program that rang the gong; then ten seconds later it rang the gong twice; then four times; then a hail of gong-shots until the desired tape was mounted. We loved this idea and everybody borrowed his program.
A few days later, faced with a united protest from all the operators, the university removed the gong.

I’ve dealt with many amazing and wonderful computer devices in my life, but I miss the gong.
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