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Collected editorials

March Madness

Once too many times around the technology cycle

The other day I was looking at slashdot.org (News for Nerds, Stuff that matters.) where I came across an article that started: “Visa has sent out a warning to customers stating that some card processing software may keep customer data even after a transaction is complete.” I don’t suppose that any of my readers will be confused by this little fragment. I, however, was casually scanning the material and the only thing that caught my eye was the phrase “card processing software”. I thought to myself, “My God! Are they still using punched cards somewhere!”

They weren’t of course. The article was talking about software to process credit cards. Once upon a time, though, “card” in a data processing context meant punched card. Once upon a time punched cards were ubiquitous; the punched card was the icon of data processing. Bills were sent out in the form of punched cards – do not fold, spindle, or mutilate. Swarms of women (professional keypunch operators were almost always women) sat in front of keypunch machines transcribing data into punched cards.

For those of my readers who are wondering what in the hell I am talking about, a punched card was a stiff piece of paper approximately 3″ by 7″ that had a grid of locations on it. The IBM card had 80 columns and 12 rows. It was a data storage device. Conventionally one column was one character, either a letter, a digit, or some punctuation character. A keypunch was a combination keyboard and hole punch. The keypunch operator pressed a key and the machine punched the combination of holes that represented the character into the card.

Nowadays “card processing software” means “credit card processing software”, not “punched card processing software” – unless you’re talking about voting machines. Democracy is the last haven of obsolete technology.

Punched cards – they’re so last century.

Chaos Manor

Someone, probably Jerry Pournelle though it would have better been H.P. Lovecraft, used Chaos Manor as a byline. I suppose that means that I can’t use it as a byline. Pity that, because the title is exquisitely suitable for a description of Chez Harter. One of the unfortunate consequences of purchasing something for later delivery is that the scoundrels to whom you have paid money have the infernal gall to actually deliver the goods. Thus it was that in mid March a truck showed up in my driveway bearing palets of stuff, stuff that included 110 cartons of ceramic tile, bags upon bags of tile adhesive, bags of grout, a wet saw, a door, and a recalcitrant ceiling light. The truck driver had a fork lift. His job was to deliver the stuff. Delivering the stuff meant that his fork lift moved the palets from his truck to the middle of my garage entrance.

Sometime later, with the aid of two young lads and their father, the cartons migrated to the north side of the garage where they form a small wall bearing testimony to the folly of your humble correspondent. Since then I have been laying down tile, grouting it, tearing down cupboards, and have been practicing other weekend warrior activities too grim to describe. Our Lady of the Large Black Dog has been ably assisting me in these activities, albeit not entirely happily at times. After having spent four hours on her hands and knees grouting the kitchen floor she looked at me bitterly and said, “You don’t love me.” The next day, however, she looked at the floor and pronounced it beautiful, so I hope I am forgiven.

I should also mention Harlan Reed, and, since I should, I shall. Harlan is a local workman who has been helping me part time. He has a contractor’s license and actually knows how to do things rather than making it up as you go along.

Everything is definitely a work in progress. The kitchen will begin to be completed in early April when the cabinets, the dishwasher, and wall mounted microwave arrive. Er, scratch that, once all of that stuff arrives I can put in the counter top. In the mean time a rusted out bit of stove pipe that pretended to be a vent has been removed, the kitchen floor has been tiled, ugly stuff on the walls has been stripped off, and the walls have been painted.

It dawned on me well after the fact that the floor to ceiling bookcases will have to be truly built in. They are about They are so tall that there is just enough room to raise them upright. Adding the tiles removes the margin. Once the tiles are laid in the bookcases can’t be taken out other than by disassembling them.

I will say this though – the new floor looks really nice!

Words to live by

We all get heavier as we get older because there’s a lot more information in our heads. So I’m not fat, I’m just really intelligent and my head couldn’t hold any more so it started filling up the rest of me!
… Anonymous …

A decent obscurity

Recently a chap sent me an email (one sends emails, one writes letters – how odd) about an article I wrote in 1998 entitled Confessions of an Anastasia Junky. At the time I was entranced by the movie. I am like that; I become entranced by things. I wrote an article about my obsession, posted on the web, and went on to other things.

Before the web I published my observations on life, the universe, and everything in fanzines. These were read by such persons as read fanzines and were promptly and decently forgotten. The fanzines were ephemera that disappeared, either into the refuse bin or into the hands of collectors. In either case they were never read again.

Matters are different on the internet. Articles remain on the web indefinitely; they do not disappear. Worse, people stumble into them quite by chance – search engines turn up the damnedest things. Thus it is that people send me emails on all sorts of things out of the past that ought to have lapsed into a decent obscurity long ago.

Is this a good thing? I’m not sure. One advantage though is that it ensures me a supply of material for my letter column. Or should that be the email column? I dunno; I’m having a lot of trouble keeping up with the changing times.

Letters – they’re so last century.

Avian Flu

Dateline Washington DC: In an attempt to stem the tide of bird flu, US President GW. Bush ordered the bombing of the Canary Islands.

This page was last updated April 1, 2006.

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Collected editorials