The New York Times explains computers circa 1967

Americans today love to read about cosmology and string theory, but you couldn’t pay most to listen to a lecture on how their beloved smartphones work. Apparently, there was a time when non-specialists were interested in “How does this computer thing work?” On Monday, January 9, 1967, the New York Times devoted a two-page spread to “The Electronic Digital Computer: How It Started, How It Works and What It Does”.

This article is preceded by a couple of softer pieces that talk about what can be done with computers. Every page includes “C++” up in the header, thus proving that the NYT can accurately predict the future.

The science writer, Henry Lieberman, is helped out by Louis Robinson, an IBMer, and they explain binary as well as mainframe core and magnetic memory:

Everything you need to know to be a TTL hero:

Source code compiled into machine language:

Universal access to computing is predicted:

And so is the Internet (sort of):

Page 139 carries a predictive article by J. C. R. Licklider about how scientists will use computers to deal with “big data” and there will be “vast information networks”. In several locations, including page 143 (out of 172; imagine a hardcopy newspaper able to sell so many ads these days to justify printing 172 pages!), journalists write breathlessly about how computers will transform education.

John Backus, who would win a Turing Award 10 years later, encourages would-be programmers on page 148:

Note the picture of high school students learning to code.

What about salaries and costs? An “Airline Clerk” is sought on page 165 and will earn $5,200 per year. On 167, a machinist can earn $6,700/year in the Bronx while a dry cleaning manager would be at $10,000/year. Page 160 shows apartments for rent in Manhattan. It looks like $100-200/month is the range for a studio or 1BR. So the clerk could easily live without roommates in the heart of the city.

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Teaching Information Security

This post is to help professors trying to teach information security, a subject typically studied by seniors earning a Bachelor’s in Information Technology. Information Security covers how to protect information from all of the bad things that might happen to it. Example problems include at least the following:

  • loss due to backup failure plus hardware failure, flood, or fire
  • theft by hackers and/or competitors
  • encryption followed by a ransom demand from hackers
  • corruption due to human or software error
  • service becomes unavailable due to hardware or network failures, hackers, etc.

The textbooks on this subject, and most of the materials published on the Web, including from ISO and NIST, are abstract and all about the process rather than the substance. Remember the old saying about ISO 9000 that it would be possible to certify a life preserver made out of lead. You would just need sufficient paperwork. So that you don’t have to pay ISO, see NIST 800-100 to get a flavor. The textbooks might be good resources for those working as Chief Information Security Officers at Fortune 500 companies, but young people just getting their first degree aren’t going to have jobs like that. Our textbook, chosen by a previous professor, was Management of Information Security, 6th edition, by Whitman and Mattord.

In order to make sure that the students developed some real capabilities, I decided to make all the assignments applications of the high-level principles to simple concrete scenarios. They were all open-ended essay assignments, with reviews in class and chances to revise. This part actually didn’t go over that well with students, who are accustomed to multiple-choice quizzes and fill-in-the-blanks questions. I don’t see how IT graduates can be useful to employers without becoming competent writers. If they’re not being trained to be hands-on technicians, e.g., Cisco Certified router admins, then what role can they have in a company other than developing the policies and plans that the technicians will follow?

I built all of the assignments around three concrete scenarios:

  • a hangar leasing operation in which a waiting list is maintained as a spreadsheet and active tenants are recorded in QuickBooks Desktop. All work is done by a single employee on a single desktop PC connected through a network-address translating router to the Internet (“HangarSys”)
  • a 1990s-style web site offering custom-cut khaki pants for sale (mustering all of my imaginative powers, I picked iKhakis, a site that I had actually built much of, back in 1998)
  • a T shirt shop that sells online and in person with all IT outsourced to Shopify and QuickBooks Online (Pop Ts of Delray)
  • a 50-employee law firm (“KWA”) with a classic Microsoft intranet in which almost everything hinges off a single Windows Server machine

Summary of the assignments:

  • apply the NIST standards to develop an Information Security Plan for HangarSys
  • develop an Information Security Plan for iKhakis
  • develop an Information Security Policy for HangarSys
  • develop an Information Security Program for Pop Ts of Delray
  • explain the differences among and between Information Security Plan vs. Program vs. Policy
  • develop a risk management process for HangarSys
  • develop a risk treatment plan (via transference) for HangarSys
  • develop a disaster recovery plan for HangarSys (desktop PC destroyed)
  • risk treatment plan for iKhakis source code only
  • protect investors and founders so the source code is kept secret, but flows to the investors if the founders die or run away
  • plan for hiring a temp to fill in for the HangarSys worker (the worst information security problems these days are related to people)
  • contingency plan for the KWA law firm (earthquake destroys office)
  • report on a network access breach at the KWA law firm (coffee shop customers got the WiFi WPA password)

By the time they’re done, the students will probably hate you, but they’ll have a portfolio of documents demonstrating practical skill in applying abstract principles. They can use these to show to employers. As discussed below, it may be smarter to assign these projects to groups of 2 or 3 students.


  • Microsoft Windows desktop computer (easy to train replacement if Robin quits)
  • Microsoft Excel as waitlist DBMS (only one user updating)
  • Quickbooks Desktop for accounting (bank statement integration)
  • Microsoft Outlook as e-mail system (merge Word doc with Excel list)
  • Second internal hard drive as destination for Windows File History
  • Microsoft OneDrive as off-site backup in cloud (Dropbox or Crashplan would also work)
  • Internet connection through network address-translating (NAT) router

Robin works at the F45 airport, owned by Palm Beach County and part of that organizational structure. There are 300 Tee hangars occupied by tenants who pay rent monthly. There are 175 people on a waiting list. Robin checks to make sure that the tenants have paid up by matching payments to accounts in QuickBooks Desktop (not QuickBooks Online, a different product). She periodically sends out mass emails to either everyone on the waiting list or everyone who is a tenant. When someone vacates a hangar, Robin invites the person at the top of the waiting list to move in.

If students need more detail to complete a plan, they can make it up, e.g., by positing a directory structure for the files in OneDrive or on the hard disk.


iKhakis, a startup within a big company, has the following:

  • Factory in Tennessee that can produce custom-cut khaki pants; Oracle RDBMS-based information system to support manufacturing and shipping
  • Web server to take orders from customers; Oracle RDBMS behind the Web server
  • Desktop access by developers in Massachusetts to Web server
  • Desktop access for operations from acquired startup in Masschusetts to Web server
  • Data warehouse for senior management in San Francisco to see reports on what is selling
  • All of the software for the public ecommerce site is on the Web server and edits go live immediately
  • The Internet Service Provider makes a backup of the SSD every Sunday morning at 3:00 am

Pop Ts of Delray

A pop-up T-shirt shop (“Pop Ts of Delray”) in Delray Beach is selling shirts both in-person (point of sale) and online via a web site. To minimize IT spending, the shop uses Shopify for its online presence, processing online orders, fulfillment of online orders, and also for point-of-sale payment processing.

Pop Ts has six employees:

  • the founder/owner, who works in the store most days and from home sometimes (devices: Windows 11 laptop and iPhone running iOS 15)
  • three retail clerks, who work from iPads in the store, but also bring their own smartphones and use Instagram for personal and promotional purposes
  • a merchandising expert, who works from home from a laptop running MacOS
  • an operations manager, who makes sure that inventory is maintained, bills are paid, etc. Works from home on a Windows 10 desktop connected to QuickBooks Online and Shopify. Also works from a Windows 10 laptop in the store sometimes and checks Shopify from an Android smartphone.

All locations are provisioned with Internet via AT&T fiber, with an AT&T-supplied router/WiFi base station.

KWA Law Firm

The 50-employee law firm of Kirkland, Watkins, and Austin (“KWA”) has an office in San Francisco. Everyone works primarily in person in the office, except when in court, out with a client, home sick, etc.

  • Core information systems:
  • shared filing cabinets for physical documents
  • central server running Windows Server 2016 (set up when the firm moved to Windows 10)
  • Windows shared drive (server with mirrored disks in an IT closet) for PDFs and TIFFs (documents from discovery) and Microsoft Office documents (work product)
  • Microsoft Active Directory for single sign-on to all of the Microsoft applications as well as PCLaw and Time Matters
  • Microsoft Exchange Server 2016 on the local server; Microsoft Outlook on the laptops
  • PCLaw 16 and Time Matters 16 on the local server for accounting
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2016 to support PCLaw and Time Matters
  • Central phone number and Cisco 7800-series IP phones on desks (shares network/wiring with the PCs, contrary to Cisco recommendations, due to limited Cat 5 wiring in the building)
  • Every attorney has a Windows 10 laptop computer that plugs into a dock (hard-wired via Cat 5), but can also be used in conference rooms via WiFi
  • Working when away from the office: VPN into the firm’s network (otherwise protected by a firewall)
  • The IT department consists of two employees: IT Manager and IT Helper. The manager selects equipment, sets up and administers systems, hires contractors, and supervises the helper (who can solve individual users’ problems). The manager has already engaged a part-time Cisco-certified network engineer for configuring the routers and firewall as well as dealing with the phone system.

KWA has a Managing Partner, but otherwise a fairly flat management structure. There is an Office Manager who supervises most of the general administrative functions and a Finance Manager who makes sure that accounts receivable and accounts payable are current. The firm relies on PCLaw for billing and accounting and Time Matters for recording attorney hours. These applications rely on the Windows share drive server and can be used only from within the firm’s network. Payroll is handled by ADP and does not rely on any KWA systems.

(Fun to share with students who are dreaming of the California lifestyle, a 2018 response from a young colleague when I asked him where in San Francisco I should stay: “The review location is a cubicle inside of WeWork Civic Center on Mission between 7th and 8th wedged between a homeless encampment and emergency heroin detox center. I would recommend picking a hotel in another part of town. … I’ve actually found taking the train to the Civic Center stop and walking the rest of the way to be the best approach. Specifically walking down 7th street and crossing to the far side of Mission then turning right. Due to the layout and direction of the one way streets and traffic I’ve found cabs/Uber to work fairly poorly and often take longer than BART. I stopped using cars when junkies started trying to open my door at stop lights.”

Just a couple of blocks from my luxury hotel:

and on the same trip, I happened to get a picture of the In-N-Out Burger that was later shut down for refusing to check customers’ vaccine papers:


Checklist for the Students

For each document in your portfolio, use the following checklist

  • filename makes sense, e.g., “20211103-meetfish-source-code-version-control-and-escrow-plan-joe-smith” (YYYYMMDD at the beginning enables the documents to sort chronologically if displayed in a typical file system browser; add your own name (not “joe smith”!) at the end so that if the document ends up in a folder with others’ work it will be clear how to find yours)
  • only one version of each plan at the top level (create a “Drafts” subfolder if desired and put the obsolete versions in there)
  • contains author’s name, email, and phone number
  • contains date created and date of last revision
  • contains the full text of the original assignment either at the beginning or the end (so that your document, if printed, can be read and understood without reference to any other material)
  • does not contain any “plan for making a plan” material (e.g., cut and paste from textbook-type materials designed to cover a broad range of scenarios)
  • does not contain any conditionals (“if the system is using a VPN, then…”) since your assignments always reference a concrete scenario (fill in additional details if designed)
  • is in Microsoft Word format if at all possible (makes it easy for me and others to add comments and Track Changes)

The “plan for making a plan” bullet point is critical. Students struggled with these assignments at first. A standard technique for American college students is to take every 7th paragraph of the textbook chapter and submit that as their essay. If there is a guide to writing a plan, therefore, what is submitted is a condensed guide to writing a plan, not an actual plan. Until this has been pointed out to them at least three times, they don’t realize that they’re submitting the wrong category

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A 1958 UNIVAC airline reservation system

I had thought that SABRE, a joint development of IBM and American Airlines, was the first computerized airline reservation system, going live in 1960. However, “The Univac Air Lines Reservations System: a special-purpose application of a general-purpose computer” was published in 1958 and talks about the system being up and running already.

Have a look at the authors’ affiliations at the bottom right. A cautionary tale that success in the computer industry can be fleeting! How powerful was the mainframe?

Transaction processing time wasn’t that different than today’s bloated servers, with their infinite layers of Java, can manage:

The system was up 99.7 percent of the time for its first six weeks and the authors envisioned a future system serving 1,200 travel agents simultaneously.

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Social justice and vaccination crusaders meet IEEE floating point arithmetic (Facebook)

For several years I’ve been a member of “Airplanes for Sale” on Facebook. The software at Facebook apparently thinks that an airplane is a car and therefore tries to display the mileage. The result is “NaN“, a value in the IEEE floating point arithmetic standard used for the result of dividing by zero and similar outrages against Mathematical Justice. Here’s an example: “1999 Cessna 172 R · Driven NaN miles”

With all of humanity’s money (except for the cash that Google and Apple have harvested) and a healthy fraction of the world’s best programmers, you might think that Facebook would have noticed that it was displaying this internal value from IEEE floating point to end-users. The company’s software is smart enough to flag anyone who has questioned the idea that a COVID-19 vaccine is in the best interest of a 20-year-old. The company had the energy to kick Donald Trump off the platform (to keep us safe from another insurrection, was the justification). But they don’t have anything left over to catch this error that occurs literally millions of times per day (87,000 members in this group times lots of ads that show NaN).

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No, no, no on Windows 11

Today is the official launch of Microsoft’s Windows 11. How’s my $2,500 state-of-the-art-in-2015 PC doing with the new software? Here’s the report from PC Health Check:

I thought that I had filled out all of my TPS reports, but apparently there is no Trusted Platform Module in my PC. This is because the idea is new? I think it goes back to 1986 when IBM Watson developed ABYSS (1990 paper), in which a secure coprocessor decrypts software before it is run, first checking to see if the user has the right to execute the code (the ultimate copy protection hammer!).

Who here is actually running Windows 11? Is it a whole new world of awesomeness that would justify days of pain to set up a new PC, transfer applications from the old PC, move hard drives, etc.? And how many kidneys would I have to donate to get a GPU? Just one? Or two and then go on dialysis?

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The first computerized medical diagnosis systems (late 1950s)

“The Automatic Digital Computer as an Aid in Medical Diagnosis” (1959, Crumb and Rupe) is an interesting example of hope versus reality. Computers will turn medicine into a science and they’ll also save money.

The authors predicted that computers in medicine would “contribute to the good of mankind”:

What do we have, 60+ years later? Epic, whose primary function is making sure that the providers get paid!

Were these authors the pioneers? No! The references include a 1956 punched card-based diagnosis system for diseases of the cornea (TIME).

The comments on the article are interesting. Then, as now, we don’t know if computers are useful in medicine because we don’t know how often human doctors are correct:

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Meth head Sudafed policies adapted for PC sales

A lot of retail in Cambridge, Maskachusetts did not survive the coronapanic shutdowns and mask orders. Micro Center did however, and while up in Boston to retrieve the Cirrus SR20 I stopped in for nostalgic purposes. These are photos from August 26, 2021, shortly before the City of Cambridge went back to its indoor mask order (coronaplague was an emergency on August 27 when the order was enacted, but they decided to let COVID-19 rage until September 3 when the order went into effect), so masks were optional and, in fact, mask usage in the store was lower than the observed voluntary average in Palm Beach County.

As you can see from the below, people can’t buy a PC or video card without presenting a government-issued ID, similar to the process that would be required to purchase Sudafed (a precursor to meth, or so I am told). Even motherboards are limited to 1 per household. (When everyone in the same house uses a single PC, privacy can be compromised; see Au pair to green card.)

And, since I like to follow the examples set by our Presidents (even the one-termers)…. let’s remember that this is Pearl Harbor Day. (“I wonder how many Americans remember today is Pearl Harbor Day. Forty-seven years ago to this very day we were hit and hit hard at Pearl Harbor and we were not ready.”

“In a Bush administration that lesson would not be forgotten,” said Bush, who was a Navy flier decorated for combat missions during the war. “It would guide my defense and foreign policy.”)

Should we be grateful to meth heads for preparing U.S. retailers to distribute motherboards, graphics cards, and PCs?

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Archival properties of CD-ROMs after 20 years

As part of the move from Maskachusetts to the Florida Free State, I decided to dispose of all of the CD-ROMs that were lying around in the garage and hangar. These contained backups of long-discarded PCs, 600 MB drum scans that I previously considered too large to maintain on an NAS or local drive, etc.

Despite the crummy storage conditions (temps ranging from 0 degrees to 100 degrees F and high humidity at times), only 2 out of nearly 100 CD-ROMs were problematic for reading with the $75 ASUS Blu-ray burner purchased in 2015 as part of a new PC build. (Would all of you cryptominers please let me know when you’ve stopped so that I can refresh this 6.5-year-old machine?)

Among the scans, I found this one of an early coronascientist:

Here’s a Fuji 617 slide of an oil refinery in Benicia, California:

Check out the detail:

Not bad for old tech and a single image rather than stitched-together multiples!

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Annals of Government Computer Programming

On August 4, 2021, the Web site for renewing a Global Entry card tells me that I can’t start the renewal process until September 28, 2020:

One for the textbook chapters on the merits of the IF statement…

The site did not get better. On nearly every page, before I started answering questions, I would be greeted with a banner at the top:

The plus side of coronapanic:

And the renewal might involve a “remote virtual interview”.

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Osborne 1 computer potentially up for grabs

We’re trying to clear out the house for our escape to the Florida Free State. One item that must go is an Osborne 1, a portable computer from 1981. I wish that I could say that it had been mine ($1,795 in 1981, about $5,606 in today’s Bidie Bucks), but in fact I was not prescient enough to put all of my time and effort into PCs. I always wanted to use the computers with the best (most efficient) programming tools and at least a medium amount of computing power. That meant, in 1981, a refrigerator-sized Lisp Machine. I did not deny that the tiny PC acorn could one day become a mighty oak, but did not want to work directly with acorns.

I’ve got this on eBay right now. But if there are no bids I will send it, free of charge, to any reader who wants it. I will even pay for packing and shipping, as long as you aren’t an Act 20 tax refugee in Puerto Rico or similarly expensive to reach by UPS.

I can get it to say “put in a floppy disk” but not to boot once the floppy is inserted.

How did I get it if I wasn’t smart enough to realize the promise of the PC back when PCs were feeble? A much smarter friend was clearing out his unnecessarily big house and gave it to me.

Speaking of PCs, my latest purchase is a Seagate 16 TB Exos disk drive. What kind of a loser buys a mechanical hard drive in our Brave New World of SSD? A loser who wants every possible version of every file backed up for decades to come via Windows File History. (What if the drive fails? See What’s a good online backup service? (Crashplan can do only 10 GB per day)) Since we’ve been looking at exponential growth recently in the context of taxes (see Effect on children’s wealth when parents move to Florida), let’s consider the growth from the Osborne 1 to 16 TB. Each floppy disk held 90 KB of data. Today’s hard drive holds 180 million times more than the floppy drive of 40 years ago. That’s roughly 60 percent annual growth over 40 years to go from pathetic/feeble to awesome.

What’s more shocking? It was the same engineer responsible for the floppy inside the Osborne 1 and the Seagate 16 TB drive: Alana Shugart (a feminine pioneer in magnetic storage and a relentless smasher of gender barriers).

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