COMPUTERS

I don’t know from where I got the interest or the skill but it started with my first job in 1972. In a back room in the office on 61st Street and Broadway there was a teletype machine. No one else in the research division at the New York State Narcotic Addiction Control Commission knew how to use it. 

For whatever reason I began to explore what it was connected to and what one could do with it. I had never seen one outside of a Western Union office. I taught myself Basic computer programming. This was a primitive language but I figured out first how to do a 2×2 chi-square and after that a chi-square for  tables of any size.

At the time, I was the youngest member of the staff. I learned not only the programming but learned that the teletype was in fact connected to a computer in Detroit.

No one in the New York office had a clue.

My interest grew and I learned that there were additional computer languages that I could learn and use. First came Fortran, an algebraic language that was much more sophisticated than the basic language. I used IBM programmed learning books, I remember they were green, and was once again successful at self-teaching.

It wasn’t long before we moved to Number Two World Trade Center, the 67th floor. Now, instead of walking to work reading the NY Times, I hopped on the number one train and rode down to the Cortlandt Street station directly under the towers. From the lobby I had to take the express elevator to 44 and then change for a local. There was a cafeteria set up on that floor but it never served food. We sometimes used it as work space.  

My interest in programming and the expansion of the research division gave me access to learning tools for COBOL (the Common Business Oriented Language) and access to the statistical package for the social sciences known as SPSS.

I was still the youngest, even though we had expanded, and I was the only one who knew SPSS. It became one of my jobs to teach all this to other staff. Meanwhile, I went to a conference and met the woman U.S. naval commander who invented COBOL and soon expanded my abilities with SPSS to use it in my work on my master’s thesis.

Machines in the office on 67 included a counter sorter, a key punch and a verifier, eventually followed by a reader that communicated with the Sperry Univac mainframe in Albany.  The counter sorter literally counted and sorted IBM punch cards filled with data that were made on the key punch machine and confirmed on the verifier.  We thought we were quite sophisticated.

I was permitted to come in early, usually around 7:00 to punch and verify cards with my robbery data and to use SPSS to analyze the data for my Master’s thesis developed for my degree at John Jay.  The subject, dry to many, was the impact on the crime of robbery of the location of a police station house (the 20th precinct which moved from one end of the precinct to the other).

As my career progressed so did my use of computers but more and more so for documents and presentations.  

Early on, and at different times, I owned an Apple II, a Commodore 64 and an Apple IIc.  Today I use two screens on my MacBook and run an Apple Mini as my desktop.  Not long ago I operated in the Windows world.

I am often left in the dust by today’s technology but that’s what kids and grandkids are here to fix.

Ken@leavingwest83rdstreet.com

7 thoughts on “COMPUTERS

  1. Thanks for another marvelous memory from the man I’ve known since kindergarten. In 1972, the closest I got to a computer was the constant clackity-clack of a UPI teletype at the local radio station in Bowling Green, Ohio, my first fulltime broadcasting job. As the top of the hour approached, I’d put on a long record and run down the hall to the ear-splitting machine that spit out the top stories for my five-minute newscast. Sometimes I could read them over before going live on the air, but usually I’d be in “rip and read” mode. The biggest challenge: pronouncing the name of some Russian hockey player without missing a beat. Watergate dominated the news, and it was an exciting time to learn the trade that would carry me through the next fifty years. You too?

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  2. Did not know you were an early computer maven! How cool! I also learned how to use a teletype machine at the factory. That’s the only way we could contact our colleagues in China back in the day! Phones were no good because of the time difference. And I still remember seeing my first “facsimile machine” in 1981 at the PR firm I worked for. It was kept locked in an office, and no one but the trained operator was allowed to touch it. We thought it was magic!

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  3. Great story but I think you’re confusing Franklin Street for the Courtlandt Street stop on the #1 train. Franklin Street is the stop before Chambers Street downtown. Of course it’s a beautiful walk. You’d like the reconstruction they did to the Courtlandt Street stop post 9/11. Took forever but worth the wait.

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