There should be an image here!Cloud computing reminds me of the early days of computing — at least of computing with digital computers. The first digital computer I worked on was a Bendix G15. An interesting feature of it was that you could pull out each bit and look at it. Each bit was on a card with two vacuum tubes. Non-volatile memory was punched tape fed through a reader. Again, you could see the bits.

In the sixties, we carried punch cards to a mainframe to submit in a queue for running in batch mode. Later we got dumb terminals that could actually talk, more or less, to the mainframe (wired, of course). Personal computers used audio cassettes to store kilobits of information. Finally personal computers got cheap enough and powerful enough to do some real work by themselves. My first commercial purchase was an Apple ][ complete with 64k of RAM (an upgrade) and two floppy drives. Adding a dot-matrix printer with false descenders brought the bill to about $4,400, if I remember right.

The first night at home, I carefully removed the motherboard and installed the capability of true upper and lower case typing. This could have been done more easily, but I did not want to obviously void my warranty. The wires were hidden underneath.

Next, we removed the cover, never to be replaced, and installed a variety of upgrade cards, most of which were too big for the cover. The Apple looked a bit like a hotrod automobile with cutouts in the hood to make room for extra carburetors. To give a flavor of the times, one could use the normal power supply (the shape and volume of a box of animal crackers) to speed copy all 270k bytes from one floppy to another, but the application would open with “Copy from ___” and you entered the identifier. Then it asked “Copy to__” and identifier. So far so good, but before commencing the operation, the system asked “Destroy power supply y/n?” That caught your attention. An external or upgraded power supply was useful.

But shortly thereafter, I scored on some Sage computers from a company that was going out of business. This was in the early seventies. We were the only private house on the block (or maybe city) with a central server and four terminals and a dialup connection — cloud computing of its day. My wife of the time had a terminal in the kitchen for her recipes. Was that cutting edge or what? We switched from BASIC to Pascal. Fortran still ruled on the mainframe.

But all was not well. My two boys picked up the possibilities quickly. They showed me how to defeat the early copy protection on floppies. One evening my twelve year old son ran out of the house as I came home. The phone was ringing. He shouted back, “If that is the Air Force again, tell them I’m not here.” Turns out he had probably hacked into a CDC6600 somewhere. The word “again” seemed particularly ominous. My other son called me into his room one night. “Look here, I found a bulletin board for gay marines — you want to see what they want to do to each other?” Later I found a program had been installed without my knowledge that dialed telephone numbers randomly and recorded those that responded to a computer query. After several incidents like that, I curtailed access. How successful that curtailment was is unknown. By that time, they were proficient enough to cover their tracks.

But times went on and computers continued to evolve. Personal computing became less of an expensive hobby and more of a cheap necessity. Meanwhile mainframes also evolved. Now my phone is more powerful than a super computer of yore — certainly more powerful than the computers that went to the moon. The Internet blossomed as memory costs decreased. Who would have thought in the sixties that we would devote enough computer memory to stockpile many Library of Congress equivalents to the mundane task of preserving videos of Pamela Anderson? What else do you do when a 2 terabyte hard drive cost less than $100?

Now armed with extremely powerful personal computers, we are beginning to back off and voluntarily purchase less powerful computers in the form of netbooks and augment computing power with cloud computing. What goes around comes around.

What are your memories of that seminal period?

[Photo above by Paulo Henrique Rodrigues / CC BY-ND 2.0]