IT Episode 1 – Keypunch Machine

OK, it is time to blog something about IT (the trade I am in), but I reckon it makes little sense to blog the latest and greatest (as you can find easily in Internet) … so, what about something really “retro” ? Let’s start from the early 80’s (the time I get in touched with “Computing”) …

Way before the mini-computers, micro-computers (i.e. PCs), we have mainframe computers. And the only way (back then) to instruct the computers to do something smart (or stupid), was to use “Punch Cards“. To record those silly computer instructions to the Punch Cards and to “run” it, you need to do couple of silly things …

  • Get some blank punch cards by buying them from vending machines. If I recall correctly – 1 quarter for 50 cards.
  • Or you could “borrow” some from your friends, other computer centers, or other universities 😎
  • Then reserve a keypunch machine (or here) in the data center and punch in the computer programs (e.g. FORTRAN, PL/1, COBOL), line by line, with those machines.
  • Hand in the computer program (i.e. the deck of punched cards) to the computer room service desk, and the operator would submit the cards to the mainframe computer (see the card reader on the foreground …)

Lesson Learnt: WARNING – Don’t drop the punched card deck, or you need to re-sort the whole program …

Mr. and Mrs. IT User

Mr. IT User is a famous geek and with a wife who know nothing about IT but business – he knows all sort of technologies but he refused to speak his wife’s language (i.e. business language) and reluctant to consider how the technology can help his wife to do her own business better and easier. After all, all he wants is the latest and greatest.

Mrs. IT User is a successful businesswoman and married to a man who know nothing about business but IT – she knows all sort of business strategies, techniques and tricks but she refused to learn how IT can help her business … she believe her husband shall deliver anything she asks for, as soon as possible and for free.

How can they make this marriage a successful one ?

First, Mr. IT user needs to learn more about her wife’s business, speak her language and deliver something useful, cost-effective to her business…

Then, Mrs. IT user shall learn more about IT, the pros and cons, and the realistic cost – after all, there is no IT free lunch …

Lesson Learnt: No matter how good you are now, learn more to bridge the gap between you and your other half.

Remote Controller Freak

I cannot deny that I am a freak of all sorts of remote controllers. First of all, I have many devices at home and therefore there are many many remote controllers. And then I bought many many “remote control learners” to try to take over the many namless controllers. After so many expensive experiments with Sony, Philips, Marantz; there is only one winner – Harmony …

The idea of Harmony remote controllers are simply brilliant … set up the device on the web. In other words, just tell the web what devices you’re owning, and also what features you need to turn on / off when you’re watching TV, or DVD, or playing CD etc. etc. Then the web will compose a XML, and download to your Harmony remote controller.

Then that is the magical bit, you press “Watch DVD” command and it will turn on all related devices – e.g. DVD player, TV, amplifier etc. and select the proper device input and output as well. Next you press “Watch Cable TV”, and it will smart enough to turn off your DVD player, but turn on the cable TV set-top box, and select the proper device input / output again. How brilliant !! Thanks to that “Smart State Technology”.

Lesson Learnt: You can do a lot with the web and it can integrate nicely with the physical world as well.Go get a Harmony Remote.

eCommerce Tale

Try to be a bit light-hearted.

The other day I read the Next Magazine and found that there is one website to sell movie tickets – with no service charge. That website sells tickets of cinemas JP, SilverCord and two others. I think, ahhhh, finally a website to sell tickets for cinemas other than UA and Broadway. I therefore jotted down the web site name.

The web site is Movie Super.

I started off my trusty Fujitsu notebook computer the same night. Running with XP, it booted up in no time, and fired up the Internet Explorer. Typed in the URL, and I was immediately greeted with Internet 500 Server Error. I changed my hat from consumer to IT people then, and clicked the refresh button. Ahhh, the homepage of the web site showed. Obviously, one of their servers was down I thought. I then changed my hat again, back to dump consumer.

I first found that there were two big advertisements on the screen, for the movies “Signs” and “Gold Member”. I thought, hmmm, it’s the right “movie” site. I then scan around the page and found links to buy DVD, VCD, books. And there were links to cinema information, new movies etc. But, hey, there was no link to buy movie tickets … I scanned again all these links, no, no links to buy tickets. OK, I then did it for the third time, and this time I scan the pages including the banner ads (yes, I surf Internet with my mind to ignore ALL banner ads). Ah, I found it, the “Buy ticket now” animated button was placed just besides the top banner ad. How “smart” they were, they put the most important button besides a banner ad – and animated like a banner ad.

Naturally, I clicked the “Buy tickets now” button, another window popped up and what, a site with all English. Yes, a Chinese homepage, jumped to an English web page. Anyway, “I can live with that”, I thought. I spotted the “Buy your tickets Now” link immediately and clicked it. 5, 10, 15 seconds gone. Nothing. Another 5 seconds passed, ooops … Cannot find server or DNS error. OK, IT mind came into play again, clicked the refresh button.

Finally, a screen to ask me to select cinema, movie. I then selected my favorite cinema, JP. This time was quick, and the system asked me to select “Film”. What ? “Movie” in previous page, and this page was “film”. Nevermind, all I needed was to buy tickets.

I then picked the “film” (Signs), and then the date and time. Finally, another screen with a graphical view of the cinema – the system was smart enough to select the best two seats for me, nice (IT mind came into place, it gotta be a Java applet, I thought). It also showed a timer on screen, warning me that I had another 4 minutes to complete the transaction … 03:59, 03:58. The clock was ticking.

OK, I decided to pick the selected two seats, clicked “Next” button to continue the process, clicked the “Purchase Now” button. Clock was ticking.

Wait and wait, the clock was ticking -… no response yet -… blood pressure was going high up now. 03:00, 02:00, 01:00, 00:55, 00:54, 00:53 … 00:37. 00:27, 00:17 … I was prompted “You have 15 seconds left” … ooops, the program ended, saying “Your order is empty”. What’s it supposed to mean ? I tried the second time, and this time “cannot find server or DNS error”. I tried for the third time, … failed again, …I kinda getting sick of the ticking clock.

I forgot how many times I tried – finally, I went thru and this time a new pop-up – it invited me to trust a digital certificate …. What ?!

Changed my hat to a stubborn IT people, and I found the certificate was issued by Mr. Ken XXX, not Verisign, not Thawte and not HK Post. I clicked to see more details and found that the certificate already expired …- no security or what ….

Changed my hat back to a naïve customer – who cares !! I clicked OK and was greeted with the credit card number screen. It’s actually quite a relieve as finally I could buy something….

“Could you stop mingling with your computer ?” my wife shouted to me. Ooops, my first ever on-line shopping with this web site ended. Lots and lots of troubles, but hey, I don’t care and I would try it again definitely, as I really wanted to see the movie “Signs” in JP cinema .