In January 1970 I was on the downwind leg of my senior year in high school, and the Chicago Public Schools had installed a computer somewhere. A truck full of these fancy IBM typewriter gadgets was delivered to Lane Tech, and a bewildered math teacher was drafted into teaching computer science (as they had the nerve to call it) to a high school full of rowdy males.
I figured it out fairly quickly. You pounded out a deck of these goofy computer cards on the card-punch machine, dropped them into the card hopper of one of the typewriter gadgets, and watched in awe as the typewriter danced its little golf ball over the green bar paper, printing out your inevitable list of error messages. It was fun. I got straight A's. I even kept the first program I ever wrote that did something useful: a little deck of cards that generated a table of parabolic correction factors for hand-figuring telescope mirrors, astronomy being my passion at the time. (I still have the card deck, though the gummy mess left behind by disintegrating rubber bands would not be healthy for a card reader, assuming that one still exists.)
The question that kept gnawing at me was exactly what sort of beast RAX (the computer's wonderfully appropriate name) actually was. What we had were ram-charged typewriters that RAX controlled over phone lines—that much I understood—but what was RAX itself?
I asked the instructor. In brief, the ...