Software, its usage and abuse

I have been muttering here about rationalising my blogs. One of features of my last cutback was that I moved my websites into WordPress and merged them into my blogs, but in doing so I lost some of the freedom that I had before.

My myriad websites were all written by me using HTML using Notepad or a similar blank page and then uploading the raw code to the web where it would emerge as pretty pages. In theory using WordPress should be easier, but I find it restrictive and it often does not work in the way that it leads me to believe it should. Perhaps I just need to work with it more.

Forty years ago I was a COBOL programmer writing business software, mostly for financial systems, but rarely seeing the machines that my programmes would run on. Once I was happy with what I had coded on paper I would book time on a data input terminal and key in my code for someone to run for me at a convenient point after which I would, in all probability, get an error report that could be anything from one to far too many pages long. The latter was actually better because it usually meant a single cock-up, or syntax error as we preferred to say, that could be easily fixed.

Soon after I moved to work in Swindon I was presented with an IBM PC. Despite having tried to persuade my employers to buy around 20,000 of these things the year before I had not actually seen one myself at that point and had not worked with BASIC as a language, but the PC came with MS-DOS and MS-BASIC and so I read the books and got to work, knocking up a few simple programmes.

The power of the computer was amazing back then as it began to reach into mainstream business life. I can remember one of the junior managers that I worked with coming back from his weekly quality of service meeting having been savaged over the manually produced figures that he had to present. I wrote him a simple routine that allowed him to input his manually produced data and print it off on piano lined paper. He breezed through his weekly meetings thereafter; the hierarchy believed his numbers because they came off the computer system; they didn’t know how they had got in there – if they came out of the system then they must be true.

One of the arts of programming back in those days was economy. Memory was in short supply and I was used, in my COBOL days, of having about 1K of memory for my programme to run in. That last sentence will have taken more than 1K of memory here with all of the software overheads in the software and I have more memory in the ‘phone in my pocket than we had in our entire network back in my early days in the trade. Edith inch floppies, dustbin lid demountable discs (or disks) were our stock in trade.

By the time that Windows came along memory was less of an issue, but it was treated with distain by people like me. We held the snobbish view that it was in some way cheating, but the reality was that it encroached on our art and perhaps diminished our role as high priests. It was a little academic for me though because I had, but then, moved on from IT and was back in the world of the suits. I even had a one of those new fangled laptops and was getting too grips with Lotus 123.

If my simple input and print programme mentioned above had pulled the wool over eyes a spreadsheet was a huge step forward and you could get away with all sorts of nonsense with those; lies, damned lies and statistics had nothing on a spreadsheet. It was The Emperor’s New Clothes all over again for a time as pie charts and bar graphs bemused all and sundry.

The beauty of software though was that you could, if you specified and designed it right, was that you could produce your performance data as a by-product of doing the job; information for nothing in effect and I loved my suited time in those days as I had the benefit of having worked on both sides of the fence and could communicate exactly what I wanted to the IT mob. It was a golden time for me in my career.

It was going freelance as a business consultant that got me back into programming. When I first wanted a web site to help promote our Florida villa a colleague offered the services of his son who was trying to break into computing. I wrote him a spec for a four page web site and he came back with something that looked great. Until I loaded it onto the server. He had used a package, I think called Dreamweaver, and my hosting package only had room for the first page. Memory problems again and so I bought an HTML book and coded my own site, the raw HTML taking a fraction of the memory.

That was the way that I built all of my web sites thereafter until I decided to rationalise and that’s where w=this post started. Now I need to try and get to grips with WordPress and spend some time reviewing and testing what I have to make sure that I have not right and that everything works before I try and merge things so that I come down from five sites to three.

It will be an interesting, and no doubt, from time to time, frustrating journey, but I will give me something to do over the Winter and I will try and report on progress here as I make it. For now I apologise for any broken links; I am aware that the ones to Amazon are down because of things that they are doing.

Thanks for stopping by.

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