I took my third computer science course, Assembly Language Programming, in the fall of my sophomore year of college. Assembly languages are low-level; that is, the commands used in them are MUCH closer to machine-level code than high-level languages such as Java, Python, R, and the like (or the FORTRAN I used in my other college classes). The mainframe Transy was using in the fall of 83, an HP-3000, had no mechanism to accept an assembly language program. That meant James, Mark, Cathy, I, and all the others in the class had to trundle across town to McVey Hall at UK to complete our assignments. Even better, our programs needed to be typed on punch cards, one card per line of code! (I hope you can truly sense how much fun this was to do.)
There were a few punch machines on our campus—one in the science building and maybe a couple in the basement of the library—so we did the majority of our prep at Transy before jumping in my navy Citation or James’s enormous, black Caprice Classic (otherwise known as the land yacht). Once at UK, we’d hand over our bundle of cards to a staff member who’d put it in the queue to run through the reader. Soon enough you’d get a printout, letting you know if your program compiled/ran, along with any output you requested if successful. Fortunately, UK had their own machines on site so you could fix bugs etc. as needed (I might have needed to use it from time to time…).
For some while after graduating, I kept my stacks of cards, but eventually threw them all away (honestly, I’m a wee bit surprised I didn’t retain a few as souvenirs). However, I do still have the printouts from successful runs of my code. It may be hard to read, but the picture at the top was what I submitted to Dr. Feng for my first assignment. It’s time-stamped a little before 5pm on the Monday following this weekend’s featured 80s countdown. The class met on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so even though it was a straightforward, introductory program, it appears I’m demonstrating excellent ‘just in time’ protocol here! One thing I very much like about the printouts is I can see how many cards I used each time (this project required 20); the largest number I found among my artifacts is 237.
Our cohort turned out to be the final group forced to use punch cards and trek over to UK. At the beginning of 84, Transy upgraded to an IBM 4331 system which, among other vast improvements, allowed submission of assembly programs. I’ve had friends over the years express surprise that as late as 83 there were people still programming with cards. I have to admit looking back it’s something I didn’t expect to experience myself (it feels much more like a 60s and 70s thing to me), but on the other hand, clearly there were folks at UK who were also still dealing with it. It’s become a fun memory to have.
Many thanks go to James for a messaging conversation this week that helped me recall a number of the details about Transy computer systems and our experiences typing cards in the library, among other things.
I can’t know for certain that I heard “Promises, Promises” (#15, heading toward a peak of #11) in the car heading over to McVey early that semester, but it’s certainly more than possible. I probably like it a little more than “Always Something There To Remind Me,” but I’m a fan of that whole first Naked Eyes album. I’m including two clips here: second is the official video, but I also wanted to provide a version with different lyrics that has the intro I remember being on WLAP-FM (courtesy of TM Stereo Rock) back in 83. Not sure I’ve heard those opening measures anywhere since (other than in my head).