The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

‘Having Persevered Through Those Days of Horse Drawn Computers . . .’

Posted on | May 14, 2012 | 47 Comments

Oh, you were one of the lucky ones who could afford a horse to pull your computer! When I was starting out, we had to pull our computer by hand — uphill! — to work every morning at dawn, then we’d blog all day in Fortran or Cobol, using an awl and a mallet on our punch-cards.

Weren’t none of this here fancy “electronics” back in the old days. We learned our craft on coal-fired computers. Only supervisors at the plant had the fancy high-tech kerosene-burning models.

Little boys and girls were hired to sweep up the chads from the punch-cards, and feed ’em into the stove what heated the Blog Factory . . .

Well, I remember it like it was yesterday, but it’s a sho-nuff wonder that was all the way back in aught-one.

Or was it aught-two? Anyhow, it was near the turn of the century, and folks would toil 12, 14, 16 hours a day, seven days a week. Didn’t have any fancy “PayPals” or “BlogAds” back then.

No sir, bloggers were paid in scrip, at piecework rates, and they’d trade ’em in down at the company store where Old Man Reynolds sold ’em some moldy bread and maggot-infested pork — and they were happy to get it, too! Times were hard back then, after the Dot-Com Bubble swole up and busted. Programmers were living in hobo camps down by the railyard, huddled around bonfires of burning copies of The Industry Standard every night. During the day, you’d see ’em on the street corners, peddling worthless stock options they’d taken in lieu of salary at startups that went bust in the Crash.

Then the War came, and every patriotic blogger enlisted in the Fighting Keyboardist Brigade. Boys came home from the blog-wars all gimped-up, and some of ’em were never quite the same. Reckon that’s what happened to Ol’ Crazy Charley . . .

What? . . . Oh, never mind, kid. You never heard of him, and it don’t hardly matter no how. You’d have to understand there used to be a guy name of Rather, back during the War Years. People got so confused they thought Howard Dean should be president one day, and then the next day you’d turn around and they was claimin’ John Kerry should be president! Anyway there used to be things called “GIF” files . . .

Never mind, son.

My point was, that war done things to people — messed up their minds — and so when you see Old Crazy Charley staggering around with his face all covered with Cheeto dust, ranting about “Belgian fascists” and “Greek Nazis” and so forth, try not to mock and point fingers and make jokes about him, like those mean kids do. The war messed up old Charley’s mind, and then he got obsessed with Pamela Geller, and next thing you know . . . Cheetos.

Or go ask Old Dan Collins, he’ll tell you about it.

UPDATE: Welcome, Old Man Reynolds readers! It may be necessary to explain the referents: Old Ed Morrissey blogged about that spry young whippersnapper Jonah Goldberg, inspiring me to Crotchety Geezer mode, which offended somebody . . . . But danged near everything offends somebody nowadays, it seems. As to Crazy Charley, them there Daedalus fellers can explain it, if anybody can.

UPDATE II: “Gold! They’s GOLD in them thar blawgs!”

UPDATE III: “He’s done told it like it was, fer sure!” Back in the old days, when a man’s word was his bond, and a neighbor would always share a link or two with a feller.




47 Responses to “‘Having Persevered Through Those Days of Horse Drawn Computers . . .’”

  1. PaulLemmen
    May 14th, 2012 @ 10:09 pm

    *snicker* By cracky, I’s be thinkin’ ye got a point there somm’ere … ‘Twas the PLSQL code what got my eyes …

  2. smitty
    May 14th, 2012 @ 10:17 pm


    And if you don’t get that joke, recommend lay by your dish. ūüôā

  3. Dianna Deeley
    May 14th, 2012 @ 10:18 pm

    One marvelous thing about allergies. I honestly thought I’d hallucinated that post. I was looking for it this morning at work, because it had some choice bits I planned to riff off of for the instruction of my Apprentice Evil Henchperson (assistant), and decided, when I ran into Live at Five, that I’d imagined it.

    My Apprentice Evil Henchperson thanks my allergies, I suspect. 

  4. Instapundit » Blog Archive » BE KIND: “The war messed up ol’ Charley’s mind.”…
    May 14th, 2012 @ 11:35 pm

    […] BE KIND: “The war messed up ol’ Charley’s mind.” […]

  5. Intrynet Reminiscences of an Old Timer
    May 14th, 2012 @ 11:50 pm

    […] there were this other feller from down south, done use ta work for the news-papers before everybody gave ‘em up fer the Intrynets device, […]

  6. Charles Johnson
    May 14th, 2012 @ 11:53 pm

    You think you are so funny.  Wingnuts and racists you are.  I am watching you.  

  7. buddy larsen
    May 14th, 2012 @ 11:56 pm

    “Browsers to the left of us! Browsers to the right of us! Into the folly of dearth wrote the sicks, haunted!”

  8. M. Thompson
    May 15th, 2012 @ 12:03 am

    You can always flog a little more out of your commentariat.

  9. Chili
    May 15th, 2012 @ 12:04 am

    When I started we were using FTP and gopher; I remember thinking what a huge improvement Mosaic was.

  10. Brian Cates
    May 15th, 2012 @ 12:09 am


  11. kryon77
    May 15th, 2012 @ 12:19 am

    Thought I was reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin for a moment.¬† The way the characters talk in that novel would be deemed racist if written today (at least if written by a non-minority.)

  12. darleenclick
    May 15th, 2012 @ 12:40 am

    The first job I had that involved a computer terminal was a big clunky thing that printed onto a roll of paper. Had to make sure the switch was set to ascii, the phone receiver was set on the modem that ran to the mainframes in the basement and remember to SAVE once in a while or anything one input up to the last SAVE was lost if the connection was lost.

    Hughes Aircraft GSG, Fullerton, CA 1978 …

  13. Chris Ar
    May 15th, 2012 @ 12:49 am

    Ever blog with a Commodore 64? Syntax errors, syntax errors everywhere …..

  14. Joe_Detweiler
    May 15th, 2012 @ 12:57 am

    Mr McCain, I swear you have a novel in you somewhere. Better than Faulkner but maybe not quite so good as Penn Warren. Someone just needs to beat it out of you…..

  15. yestradamous
    May 15th, 2012 @ 1:04 am

    You’re funny. ūüôā

  16. robertstacymccain
    May 15th, 2012 @ 1:14 am

    Ever work with a Tandy TRS-80 and a dial-up modem? Covered the state championship high school track meet in Albany, Ga., with one of those in 1991. Buddy, that was state-of-the-art back in the day.

  17. robertstacymccain
    May 15th, 2012 @ 1:16 am

    “Had to make sure the switch was set to ascii …”

    Oh, man, that rings a bell!

  18. robertstacymccain
    May 15th, 2012 @ 1:24 am

    Gopher! Damn, I remember using Gopher! Anybody else remember when the hot new search engine was Dogpile?

  19. Adobe_Walls
    May 15th, 2012 @ 1:54 am

    Are the whippersnappers comprehending any of this?

  20. CptNerd
    May 15th, 2012 @ 1:54 am

    I tell folks I wrote my first program back during the Ford Administration. ¬†They usually don’t know when that was…
    And when I first got on the Internet, there were just over 1,000 computers on the whole thing. ¬†Put up my first website in ’94 or thereabouts. ¬†I tell ya, us old timers can tell these kids a thing or two about this technology stuff, but they never listen…

  21. koblog
    May 15th, 2012 @ 2:07 am

    Ol’ Charley even thought the headwinds he rode his bike against were fascist.¬†

  22. Adjoran
    May 15th, 2012 @ 2:32 am

     Yeah, it sent the search to a bunch of engines and gave all the results in one place.  It was a pretty good idea at the time because your results could be very different from different engines in those days Рnot the differences we see now between Bing and Google, for instance.

    There was one that came out to much fanfare as a business search engine – everything geared to business needs.¬† Can’t remember the name, but on a lot of searches it just came back empty.¬† Oops.

  23. Foobert
    May 15th, 2012 @ 3:10 am

    ¬†First cleared core back in’65.

  24. Gazzadelsud
    May 15th, 2012 @ 3:29 am

    poor old Charlie, i remember him from before he fell off the wagon, when he believed in islamofascism, and when he helped take Rather down for his bullshit.  then he kinda went ape crazy and got liberal religion.  Methinks he is still all bent out of shape because PJ media didnt want him.

  25. Porkov
    May 15th, 2012 @ 3:36 am

    Damn Carterphone!  Roont the phone company!

  26. Bruce
    May 15th, 2012 @ 5:22 am

    Yeah sure, back in ’97-8. My first year on the ‘net anyways. Thanx for the memories Stacy!

  27. Webster Notes » Blog Archive » Now, that’s funny right there…
    May 15th, 2012 @ 6:16 am

    […] ‚ÄėHaving Persevered Through Those Days of Horse Drawn Computers . . .‚Äô : The Other McCain […]

  28. werewife
    May 15th, 2012 @ 6:54 am

    And for the win…

  29. buddy larsen
    May 15th, 2012 @ 8:23 am

    –thanks, intriguingly-named one.

    Got another but can’t dream up a set-up: the Abraham Linking Brigade.


  30. Im Generic
    May 15th, 2012 @ 8:46 am

    dev/null, people.  dev/null.

  31. Bob Belvedere
    May 15th, 2012 @ 9:15 am

    I used AltaVista.

  32. Shoretower
    May 15th, 2012 @ 9:22 am

    All of you ought to listen to Stan Rogers’ “White Collar Hauler”.

    “You gotta code boys, can you code it?¬†
    Program it right
    Nothin’ ever happens in this¬†life o’ mine
    I’m haulin’ up the data on the Xerox line”

  33. Bob Belvedere
    May 15th, 2012 @ 9:25 am

    A Burroughs A3 was my first mainframe.  COBOL. EBCDIC, not ASCII.

    First PC: TRS-80 [still have it].  No hard drive, no floppy drives.  Tape drive.  16K of RAM, I believe.  BASIC

    First Work PC: Heath/Zenith with 64K of RAM and a 1MB Hard Drive.¬† We thought: ‘Damn, we’re never going to fill that sucker’.¬† WordStar and first version of Lotus 123.

  34. Bob Belvedere
    May 15th, 2012 @ 9:34 am

    One of my first cousins, using the first IBM PC [only two floppy drives, no HD] and the kind of modem you had to place the phone in a cradle, using CompuServe, met a gal on a Bulletin Board in the mid-80’s and started a long distance romance.¬† They married in 1990 and are still married.¬† One of the first, I think, on-line dating matches.

  35. Bob Belvedere
    May 15th, 2012 @ 9:35 am

    I’ll hold his arms.

  36. Tennwriter
    May 15th, 2012 @ 10:45 am

    Ah, the Trash 80, a thing of beauty I’d say if
    I were a speaking politician.

  37. Crotchety old computer geek and the horse-drawn computers… | Nerdwatch!
    May 15th, 2012 @ 11:23 am

    […] Check out what he has to say about “them good ol’ days…” […]

  38. Finrod Felagund
    May 15th, 2012 @ 11:59 am

    I started off on a TRS-80 Model III (16K, cassette) as well.  Eventually we upgraded to 48K and a floppy drive.

    School had Apple IIs back then.

  39. Finrod Felagund
    May 15th, 2012 @ 12:03 pm

    I’ve heard that, and I’ve also heard the parody of Valley Girl, named Silicon Valley Guy; both on the good ol’ Dr. Demento Show.

  40. The Osprey
    May 15th, 2012 @ 12:58 pm

    Are Greek Nazis Gyro-Fascists? 

  41. Foobert
    May 15th, 2012 @ 1:41 pm

     Actually, it is the BEL character Р07 in the ASCII table Рthat rings the bell.

  42. Miskra
    May 15th, 2012 @ 2:08 pm

    COBOL! We woulda killed for COBOL inna day! We had to set the switches on our treadmill powered computer by hand, and press our own increment switch! 18 switches, one for each bit on our 18 bit CPU – just big enough to store three characters. Weren’t no ASCII – that 7th bit was expensive. And EBCIDIC? IBM Luxery bits for rich folks. Lower case letters – sheesh! We had CAPITALS son, CAPITALS! ‘Cause you can’t spell GOD in lower case!

    Kids nowaways… script kiddies, all of em.

  43. robertstacymccain
    May 15th, 2012 @ 3:17 pm

    The fact that the whippersnappers don’t comprehend any of it is, I think, the main point: Too many of these impundent ungrateful young punks are standing on the shoulders of giants, and think they owe no obligation of courtesy or respect to their grizzled¬†elders.

  44. JM Hanes
    May 15th, 2012 @ 3:26 pm

    I remember thinking I was hopelessly late to the game when I bought my Mac SE!  I still have no clue what the original gurus are talking about, of course, but if those kids with their heads in the Cloud had to spend a day catching conflicts, we might get some strange new respect.  We were all beta testers then!

    OTOH, the human brain is a plastic thing, especially when we are young, and I really believe the new generation has developed a different set of wiring.   Call it adaptation to a changing world.  

    My kids needed almost no instructions to play Super Mario Bros. — they just knew intuitively where and when to jump up and grab grab stuff. ¬†My son was wild for a card game called “Magic, The Gathering” but he had to play my hand for me, as well as his own, because I just didn’t get it. ¬†I was used to grouping like cards together, but the Magic cards didn’t have fixed values. ¬†It was like playing with suits of jokers. ¬†The old ¬†approach is essentially reductive, the new one is expansive and contextual, in which each card has an ever increasing number of possible iterations. ¬†

    I suspect that kind of thinking is why today’s generation has no problem navigating the complex networks of eEverything that I often find so daunting.

  45. PaulLemmen
    May 15th, 2012 @ 4:29 pm

    I used Copernicus because it ran in DOS and accessed every search engine on the planet and gave you the results in one place. I also worked for Quarterdeck software, beta tested QEMM and QEMM95 plus a host of other products and apps. Too bad QDeck went belly up in 98 (or 99).

  46. Mad Capn Bob
    May 15th, 2012 @ 4:47 pm

    Coal fired?  You were lucky!

  47. The TCOTS Six Days Of Cheesecake: Tuesday « The Camp Of The Saints
    May 15th, 2012 @ 9:33 pm

    […] you enjoy watching paint dry, I recommend Stacy McCain’s memoir, Having Persevered Through Those Days of Horse Drawn Computers…. and the recollections of Dan Collins:¬† Intrynet Reminiscences of an Old Timer. Together, I suppose […]