jouets dans le grenier
l'ameublement idéologique pour l'esprit sans foyer
This period covers the start of my development & activities as a computer programmer,
both in systems and business applications.
Sometime in early in 1965 I stopped by Chicago’s downtown Unemployment Compensation office for a routine stamp on my card, and happened to be interviewed by a former Wells HS Key Club associate named Carl Willis. Always friends, he suggested my reputation at school might make me a worthy candidate for training under LBJ’s Manpower Training & Redevelopment Act. Pursuing this, I learned I might be able to join a class in Computer Programming, to start in the Fall at a place on South Wabash suspiciously called Business Machines Institute.
Somehow I learned that the administrator for BMI’s program would be Don Kerins, DP Manager for Roosevelt University (located a few blocks away). Roosevelt’s EDP shop was conspicuously displayed at street level, windowed in the corner of Michigan Boulevard & Congress Expressway. Nearest the front window was a 1620 IBM calculator, and behind it an IBM 1401 DPS, with attendant punched cards & their processing paraphernalia. We met, and Don introduced his instructor for the course, a manicured greaseball named Ed Zack. I mentioned my already minimal contact with IBM equipment, and left to further enjoy the Summer.
As May approached, I accidently came across Cynthia (Herrera) and her small brood, Kimberly (Clapp) and Maxie’s Christopher. Driving now the recently incarcerated Ronnie Lusker’s small green Morris Minor convertible, we all went to that year’s Chicago Air Show, and became friends. She and Jay’s wife Genna (also a new mother, bearing a bright toddler affectionately called ‘Pumpkin’) lived on Sedgwick Street, at the ◄ Marshall Field Garden Apartments (a block down from a Ravenswood El station and North Avenue). Their apartments were across the street from Mother Blues, famous for folk music at the time.
As both adult male Herreras were detained in other places, the ladies needed to generate local revenue. Cynthia often worked as a cocktail waitress on Wells Street (a few blocks away). One of her employments was called The Cave, a small Oriental bar furnished appropriately & owned by Marsh & Mishi Kabata. Marsh’s sister Sadako was married to Louis Szathmary (1919-1996), who owned The Bakery (1963-1989) – where Lucy Baines Johnson once ate in the kitchen. As their services were complimentary, Louis & Marsh routinely exchanged customers. Although he hardly needed one, Marsh hired me for the summer as a doorman, bringing Cynthia and I into a working restaurant family that in addition to Marsh & Mishi included a grandmother & one granddaughter (Mari-Joy).
Come September, I joined the interesting mix of my soon to be reconstituted classmates at BMI – housewives, funeral directors, aging students, etc. Learning later that Ed was if anything just a COBAL programmer, he nonetheless presumed to approach his ‘non-private’ students with disdain. He also clearly did not know assembly language, a mainstay of 1401 programming. I really felt no need to continue in this apparent farce. Unsure of what would happen next, I wandered over to Michigan Boulevard. Don saw me passing, and waved me on in. I reported that what I was hearing was way under what I already knew, and he proposed that I might study at his shop for three of the next six months.
Mr. Kerins was something of a trip himself. A small extremely lean Scotsman, his daily drugstore lunch consisted of a chocolate sundae chased by black coffee, usually in the company an attractive Black wanna-be student-mistress named Roberta. Whatever became of them, they were delightful people and it was a pleasure to have known them. After my graduation from BMI, I was invited and accepted occasional opportunities to deliver adjunct instruction in Programming at Roosevelt.
For the present I accepted my adjusted learning assignment, finding out a lot about tab operations as well. I eventually returned to class to discover nothing had changed. Students in fact had filed a formal protest on their own. So I was given a novel opportunity for Independent Study and further salaried as an Assistant Lab Instructor, with therefore unlimited access to BMI’s 16K computer. Learning assembly language and the elements of COBAL, FORTRAN, and RPG on my own, by the end of December I was ready to pursue my new career – having actually attended no more than two half days of Ed’s instruction. Zack went on to lead computer application development at the U/Chicago’s Hospital.
The following chart, from my 7/05/2005 10:51 PM’s mons_daurril Curriculum Vitae, summarizes my computing career as I advertised it in 2001. While it only shows about half my employments till then, it is still sufficiently representative of them all.
Obviously, the chart is only a skeleton of what might have been of minimal interest to a recruiter at the time.
Here’s what the jobs were really about, and how they fit into my life then:
1966: University of Chicago. Was a daily commute from Sedgwick Street to the campus – involving on each weekday Illinois Central trips between its downtown station and 57th Street. Once there, I reported to offices in the basement of the Ad Building – a structure which later would be occupied for a few weeks by protesting students (sworn not to affect EDP operations). Recreationally, I often stayed on campus for Student Government programs, getting to meet guests Alan Watts, but not Timothy Leary. And U/C’s slightly off-campus student restaurant featured the world’s greatest greasy cheeseburgers.
Work here was in marked contrast for comfort & happiness to the previous year. The Data Center was on Pearson & Wabash, in the basement of Loyola’s School of Law – 2 blocks west of its downtown campus at Lewis Towers, that being just across the street and west of the little island containing Michigan Boulevard’s famed Water Tower. I lived almost two blocks west of the Center, around the corner at Pearson and State. Later I would come to know and love the natives’ favorite watering hole, called Mister Jones, found a block directly south & adjacent to an alley on the north side of Chicago Avenue.
After a year of moderate industry, our manager Frank Walz thought I should be rewarded with a title, more money, and an opportunity to do practically nothing at all. His finding actually was not without good cause. My first programming assignment was in an area innocently called ‘Development.’ This meant raising money by direct appeal to selected subsets of our Alumni population, i.e. tape file. The practice at the time was to write short programs specific to each subset of interest, and tailor output records to be as small as possible.
My approach was to write a single assembler program that treated an Alumni record’s fields as a collection of variables, and allowed parameter cards to contain Boolean expressions directing the intended search. Thus the 1401 program itself wrote the machine language code appropriate to single-minded request, and transferred control to it. The program was incredibly compact, difficult to emulate on a s360, and impossible to rewrite in COBAL. Output records were in the same format as input, so they might themselves be input to a search. Throughout its life, it never failed to give Development staff what they wanted.
I became Systems & Programming Manager (with a staff of three, two of whom I barely saw in their functional capacity as FORTRAN consultants in Lewis Towers), making $12k per annum. My normal work day began in the afternoon with Frank and Tom Korinek (the Operations Manager) at Mr. Jones. If there was anything we needed to know, the Keypunch Supervisor brought us a message. Our occasional respite was the very affordable Millionaires Club on Michigan Boul, where the booze of our choice was served continuously from noon till we got around to quitting time’s much-delayed Prime Rib lunch.
The joke of course was really on us. While we tended a practically obsolete 1401 in Law’s basement, Bill Frett’s IBM-directed assembler programmers at our Medical Center in Maywood were honing their skills on the latest s360-mod 40. I rushed to become their Clinical Labs programmer; Frank became M. Hawley Smith’s assistant, and Tom a non-programming Systems Analyst. Law’s programs would run in Maywood under the s360’s 1401 Emulation.
While the work required at least a fair comprehension of the language we called ‘BAL,’ my assigned task was to create programs that translated clicks on a keyed form into the elements of a service request. One of these for each possible type of order. Impossible change of direction for me, when my award-winning work on the downtown campus consisted in the development of generalized search solutions. So nothing was getting done, and Smith fires me. Interesting fellow, himself. An ex-Army Captain, he won his job at Loyola by walking off with a copy of all of Bowling Green’s hospital applications (SHAS).
The particular joy of my Med Center adventure was the opportunity to appreciate every detail of the s360’s multiply-implemented architecture, while enjoying the associated generality implied in IBM’s Systems Journal for 1964 - mandatory reading for every one of their SEs. A formal description of System/360, by A.D. Falkoff, K.E. Iverson, and E.H. Sussenguth. “The description is functional: it describes the behavior of the machine as seen by the programmer, irrespective of any physical implementation, and expressly specifies the state of every register or facility accessible to the programmer for every moment of system operation at which this information is actually available.” All this in an extensively prologued version of Iverson’s APL.
1970: Erman-Howell Scrap Metal. Now I was back on Michigan Boulevard for a 3-year IBM 1440 managerial stint. E-H’s EDP operations were firmly established, and I did little to disturb them. Their principle office space was populated by about a dozen elderly Jewish folk who each managed the content of one or more trays of IBM cards - which they bent, folded and spindled to their heart’s content – knowing that my staff of three would repristinate their data before any actual machine processing.
EDP operations proper were located across the hall, in a generally non-Semitic kingdom of my own. Visiting clerical staff were required to machine sort the contents of their trays themselves, insuring their personal removal of any paper clips & attendant messages. No tape drives here, data in this shop resided on a pair of IBM 1311 disc drives. Mary Bragg, the lead keypuncher, also led our card-handling computer operations. Sisters on her staff did occasionally replace her, for additional training or just to get away from filling their chip buckets.
My job as programmer was to manage supplies and guarantee the overall integrity of the system. Akin to my programming performance at Loyola, I introduced at least one labor saving piece of ingenuity into our workers’ lives. All of these 1401 machines employed what may be called a Card-Operating System. This means there was no disk (or even tape) operating system. Data accumulated from earlier activity might be resident on some magnetic media, but the current data of interest, as well as the instructions to process it, were all in a data stream of Hollerith punched cards.
Possibly the only bright spot in this tedious affair was the presence of my one and only hire, a young ex-Carson Pirie model named Debbie. There was a moment when CEO (& big game hunter) Water Erman considered replacing IBM’s equipment, and I traveled to Maynard Mass. to visit DEC’s operation. The tour was great, and lobster plentiful. But as my IBM salesman put it, as far as my pursuit of culpable resources went “We’ve got (this) and we’ve got (that), but what can we do for YOU?’ and somehow I never got around to changing anything.
By now it was almost a tradition that I would not survive my third year (and usually third manager) in any job. And so it was that when Mrs. Bragg and our latest Controller offered me some drama early one workday afternoon, I characteristically relinquished the opportunity to be of further service.
It was probably sometime during this employment that I came upon Don Stunoff working at the Merchandise Mart as EDP Manager for Quaker Oats. You may recall he and I shared Senior prom dates in high school: now he was working in a shop that featured Honeywell’s upscale version of my 1401, it being called an H200. Its desk-mounted console was the Honey’s most conspicuous improvement, but there were many others.
Don was Wells’ star quarterback, and to my considerable delight now credited me with having affected his decision to do something more ‘mental’ for a living.
1974: Moving from State Street with Gayle’s very able (and sadly under-compensated) assistance, I took residence at 1041 W Grand Avenue. Although I parked my goods there perhaps in 1974, one could not say I enjoyed it as a home until near the end of the decade. So I will address that situation later in this presentation.
As the nation approached its Bicentennial year in 1976, I became in the ten years ensuing since 1966 pretty well established – in the lexicon of the time - as an assembly-level programmer. Not only with regard to IBM’s products, but also thought likely to possess a similar aptitude for coding in machine language on anyone else’s devices – and aside from the relatively long-term assignments described in Chart 1, I often programmed these under the guise of ‘Computer Research Associates.’
As formal education continued to supply more and more COBAL programmers to write business-oriented applications, my particular skill-set was seen as best used to maintain and support software provided by a vendor, in job titles related to Systems Engineering (SE).
1976: Datapoint Corporation (sometimes called CTC). Another long daily commute: now to Des Plaines to aid Sales in the demonstration of DPC’s product line. I was part of an ethnically novel SE team, consisting of a Lithuanian (me), a tall African-American named MacCammon, and a short oriental (named Honda) – led by a young man with bright red hair (and a red tint to his skin) from Texas. Probably the finest team in cooperation & perhaps accomplishment that I’ve ever been on.
Our flagship product was the Datapoint 2200. It displayed 80x12 green-phosphor characters (like IBM’s 2260m3 - 12 IBM cards worth), with a keyboard shaped like a Selectric typewriter. Its motherboard was populated with Intel TTL chips, doing exactly what it said on the box that they would do. The story of that product is well-told in the Wiki article. An interesting sidebar tells of DPC’s failed attempt to encapsulate the 2200’s motherboard into a single chip prompted Intel (who previously only made memories) to sell DPC’s discarded copy as the 8008 processor. (Years later the mere sight of my personally constructed operational model of that board would get me a “B” in Computer Science at LACCD’s Valley College – my only earned college credit.)
About half-way thru my DPC tour, Des Plaines was told our Western Division’s Manager of Customer Service (ie hardware repair) wanted his own resident SE. I’m not sure why I was chosen. It may have been apparent either in Illinois, or when I arrived to where Lackland was, that while I was certainly competent in the use of DPC’s developed apps, machine-level programming on a reduced (RISK) instruction set much different from what I was used to on IBM equipment.
For instance, 1401 execution of a Card Read instruction was invoked by a single BCD “1” appearing in its instruction register.
If executed all the contents of a serially read 80-column card would be transferred to the first 80 positions of a 1401’s core memory, incidentally translating each column’s 12-character Hollerith code to 6-character BCD. If the Read instruction was invoked by pushing the 1401’s IPL button, you got a ‘Read and branch to column (memory position) one,’ which meant whatever was in the read hopper was treated as the first section of what might be called a Card Operating System. Nothing like this was expected on the 2200, and even if feasible would have taken dozens of micro processing instructions to implement within the constraints of its very reduced instruction set.
Although I did the customary month of Phase 1 Basic Training at Lackland AFB in 1957, none of that included any real sight of San Antonio. Now quartered downtown, I just happened to look over the side of one of its bridges and quite unintentionally discovered an attraction called the Paseo del Rio. While that made life near my temporary home more interesting, I was also awarded a new Ford Crown Victoria to facilitate my daily commute to Datapoint Drive. Where I learned about the care & maintenance of DPC‘s equipment innards. I was also to tour Huston (and Galveston), Austin, LBJ’s ranch, El Paso, and (somehow) Denver & Aspen CO. My fully compensated expenses while there came to about $5k.
I enjoyed 1976’s Christmas back home in Chicago. Datapoint’s idea of a Christmas bonus was 10% of one’s annual income, coming in my case to about $1500. Returning to San Antonio, politics had changed. The VP for Operations decided this particular CS was not entitled to its own SE, punctuating this novel conclusion by firing my new boss. A week later my continuing presence was noticed, and I was terminated as well.
Several months later rumor had that that VP had been seen led out of his Datapoint estate handcuffed by the FBI. It seems in his zeal to perfect the clandestine gathering of rival intelligence, he was found systematically bugging all the important phones at corporate headquarters.
1977: Searle Radiographics. Another Des Plaines assignment, but where corporate’s new management was going in one direction and Searle’s existing EDP establishment another. Perhaps to accommodate an early ‘70’s academic notion of how one communicated with their computer, the new bean-counters came to believe Honeywell’s belt-driven teletypes might seriously replace CICS’s screen-driven devices already in place. Interfaced to its BOMP, the effective use of full screen displays was the sine qua non of EDP’s intelligent design.
In order to prevail, the new guys fired the EDP manager. Next the Operations manager was set free - guaranteeing eventual suicide in a DOS environment. As the notion of impending doom trickled down, destiny all the while had other plans for me.
I presume I found this job thru an agency, because I recall I had to boost my asking salary from $15k to $17k/a. I soon found that somehow a monthly equivalent of this modest increase did not satisfy Personnel, who would insist it be provided twice every pay period. Marveling that my first check reflected a $34k/a endowment, I adjusted my life style accordingly. Two or three months later, my immediate supervisor advised me that the new guys noticed this discrepancy almost as soon as I did.
It seems new management came with a Payroll Audit. My supervisor’s manager was called in to be told “Did you know you have someone working for you who makes more money then you or your boss?” Subsequent investigation proved I had nothing to do with creating the situation. When processing me as a new hire, data processing corrected the frequency of my award. Later, with my name no longer in sight, Personnel sent thru a successful request to make the frequency wrong again.
Neither willing nor able to repay the money, a few weeks later I was discharged with additional compensation appropriate to my true salary. In any case, a much better deal than that given to my much more deserving predecessors.
1979: Morton Salt. Another situation involving transition, this time simply between operating systems on one and the same piece of hardware, whereby an application might run under whatever OS currently managed it, without physically swapping machines for its implementation. In this case the mainframe OSs were DOS and OS/MVS, running in IBM’s Virtual environment.
To minimize potential problems, Morton obtained additional SEs from a consulting firm, one as backup for each member of its own SE staff. I was there to help the DOS guy. Turns out although raised a generation apart, we were from the same Chicago grammar school, and he was now just a happily married strange-looking young pothead. Of course EDP as it existed here was just all nonsense. It was the kind of place where one might leave a tentative letter of resignation in their desk, go to lunch, and find when they got back that their resignation had been accepted. Such was the case with Morton’s recent Systems Manager, whose wife in fact still ran the Programming department. Pure nightmare alley.
Nonetheless, a great technical education for me. VM invoked an operating system simply by calling it from a CMS computer terminal. If someone happened to log off the terminal that brought up either of the production systems, all activity associated with that OS stopped.
Systems came up as easily as they went down. One morning Morton’s operations staff could not get their systems started from the canned JCL that ran from the computer room. Their guru was still at home, so he corrected his copy of the JCL and brought all of Morton’s systems up that day from the teletype in his garage.
Fees were nonetheless charged, commissions were collected, and everyone went home happy.
One of these involved teaching at State & Madison, technically the geographic center of Chicago. About a dozen students, mostly Black, three White. On one occasion my topic went to logic functions, of which we know there are sixteen. My question was, having heard of ANDs and ORs, what names (and what properties) would we give the others? When I provided more prompting, and while there was some hesitation, a few of the youngest and prettiest Black girls worked out the answers. What a treat!
Not so Personal: For much of the prescribed period, from downtown Loyola on, Sue Stephens and I played house. There was a moment when I first started work at Erman-Howell, that my best girl might have become Kathy Anders (one of Tom (Claibourne) Tahi’s ex’s, from the Old Town Ale House), but that opportunity passed and she was discovered by the still married Joe Mulvaney. All the while I attempted domestication, the new Mulvaney’s and I socialized publically (we were especially fond of Halsted Street’s Greek food) and at Kathy’s home on Willow Street – across from the grammar school where Joe pumped iron & taught toddlers their gymnastics.
My 1976 trip to El Paso was a chance to visit Sue’s parents, retired as mental health administrators from Illinois. A morning visit to the racetrack, where gin flowed freely among the elderly ruins, and an afternoon side trip across the Border. Eventually I wound up temporarily sharing Sue with Gayle, and later permanently to ex-featured Time-Life photographer Fred Schnell – the author & principle contributor to Life’s 1971 128-page picture essay Rodeo! The Suicide Circuit (ISBN-13 978-0528881305).
In all of these rearrangements, I doubt any of us lost more than a small heartbeat in the continued pleasure of each other’s company. In fact, my second visit to the Great Southwest would be to Oklahoma City, as Fred’s guest for that year’s National Rodeo finals. My only recognizable loss from this period was Cynthia Durbahn, whom I would never see again. Sally Rae Kennedy would exit later, strangely enough to support a “blood” relation to her step-brother T Claibourne – whose mother (whom Sally was said to have emulated) claimed no use for her at all.
1041 was owned by a pleasant & accommodating elderly Italian named Mancinelli, and my rent so cheap I used (for a while) the stores on both sides of 1041. Over the long haul, I could only afford to keep 1041 and 1039. 1043 went to a computer hobbyist and major cocaine-dealing Hawaiian named Dave LaVelle, who over time would contribute very little to my life.
The interior of 1041 was totally partitioned into a public portion in front, and small living space in back. Its northeast quadrant was made into two ceilingless offices, with their own little windows. I topped off that space with a platform that supported double queen-sized mattresses, and became a marvelous place to sleep. Since the porches in back sheltered the space behind the trio of stores, I was fearless back there with regard to overhead precipitation. I permanently removed 1041’s rear window, and as there were no buildings across the street (overlooking Ohio Street’s east bound ramps), I controlled the potential typhoon-level draft by leveraging the transom over the front door. This effect could be enhanced in winter when the gas space heater was on full blast, as the windows were never totally closed.
For a short while I tried to use the small public space in front as a classroom: otherwise it was just my living room. The view to the street was partially obscured by one-way shades, and the reverse view usually showed the world a garden on either side of the front door.
1039 was just one big room, mostly populated with the 2000-card boxes of IBM software and applications, as punched cards. Also I imagine, books & a lifetime accumulation computer junk. My one architectural contribution was a free-floating table, bolted to the west wall. At least 16 feet long, it was sturdy enough to dance on. I was also busy downstairs. As I frequently could only pay one water bill, I perforated the intervening basement wall, enabling me to always redirect outside services to my living space.
All of these effects were in place when the second John Paul visited Chicago on the second leg of his 1979 US visit. Aware that when he came down the street I could plainly see from my front window, and turned left on State to enjoy a concert at Holy Name Cathedral, I would be there. On the evening of his arrival my camera & I were firmly posted on the northeast corner of Oho & State. As the Papal vehicle swung into sight, its top was down and JPII was standing & slightly waving: fender flags flying & Secret Service hanging on all over the car. Passing within yards and with a totally unobstructed view, I got my picture.
I headed straight to Chicago Avenue, a block from where his motorcade would be parked on Superior Street. (And I have told this part many times.) Standing between Yankeeburgers and the nearby CTA subway portal, where I had spent many a childhood evening, I noticed very little directed traffic - and a hush, a profound quiet, unlike any I must conventionally report I had ever known.
There are several YouTube recordings of his visit. ►
I would track him for three more days, with effectively three more sightings, including his departure from Lincoln Park’s Archiepiscopal estate, after a Blessing from outside Cody’s window, via Marine helicopter. Pope John Paul II (Chicago 1979)
The joy of that visit would continue for at least a few weeks. Plants from JPII’s Grant Park altar were made freely available to the public, including moi. My personal collection would populate 1041’s storefront windows for some time. White and gold carnations, there long enough to be viewed from inside the store under high-intensity light, against Chicago’s pristine first 1980 snowfall. Where roadside noise was also much abated.
a Winter Solstice 2016. Playing 1945’s Caesar & Cleopatra, decide to take one more look at Vivien Leigh’s bio. Realize she also died in 1967 (in July, at age 53), so my 55-year old mother started earlier and lived 2 years longer. With a practically identical timeline but hardly life. Watching Vivian I could imagine how Mary Johnson may have responded to life – via GWTW in 1939 (I’m 2 years old), C&C (I’m 6, and WWII is ending), or 1951’s A Streetcar Named Desire (transition from grammar to high school). The mind is more fun than anything.
Claude Rains (10 November 1889), Vivian’s much older costar in C&C, also died (in May, age 77) in 1967. As did Spencer Tracy, Ann Sheridan, Basil Rathbone, William Tracy, Paul Muni, Charles Bickford, Reginald Denny, Tom Conway, Mischa Auer, Nelson Eddy, Bert Lahr, & Jane Darwell.
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