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An Artistic Analogy of the Computer: Circa 1969

As the date of my 30th anniversary in business approaches, I am taking my time to build a site to archive my life's work and commemorate my legacy as a pioneer of the Internet era. Drafting up designs that incorporate fonts, colors, icons, and imagery pulled from one of Dad's paintings, I intend to honor the legacy of my father as a pioneer of the modern computer era at the same time.

Painting of 1969 Computer Technology
"Computer Technology" - Mixed Media by Herman Joel 1969

My Father's Legacy to the Computer Age

Man stuck inside an old computer
Herman seen here climbing into a computer in 1973

My father, Herman Joel, took a short break from working as a computer technician at UNIVAC. While snacking on sandwiches and sipping Hawaiian Punch, he took up painting, producing several pieces, three of which were handed down to my care when he retired in 1996. Of the three pieces of art, one stood out as a masterpiece.

Using paint, computer print-outs, and punch cards, he crafted an analogy of what the state of computer technology was in 1969.

This piece has always graced the walls of my studio/office as a symbol of our relationship with computing, computers, programming, and art. Both of us have been blessed with left and right brain duality, allowing us to merge technology with creativity.

Breaking Down the Analogy of the Computer Artwork

Binary Code in Painting
Binary Code In

Painting of binary code coming out of magnetic tape
Binary Code Out

Binary Code, The Foundation of Modern Communication

Starting at the top and right of the painting, there are 0s and 1s representing binary code, the foundation of modern communication. Though binary language may have been in existence as early as 500 B.C., the modern basis for binary code was invented by Gottfried Leibniz in 1689. The history of this invention is a good read, full of intersections between religious and mathematical philosophies, theories, and even ideologies.

An example of the use of binary code to produce a number, while using the 3-bit binary number, is where 1 = 001, 2 = 010, 3 = 011, etc.

Painting of punch tape
Punched Tape

Punched Tape

The yellow band, with the randomly punched holes, and horizontal gracing the painting, represents a mainframe perforated computer-punched paper tape.

Dating back to 1725 when Basile Bouchon developed the control of a loom by punched holes on paper tape.

Claude Seytre utilized it to allow self-playing pianos to read music in 1842.

Shortly thereafter in 1846, Alexander Bain used punch tape to send telegrams.

Ten years later, Charles Wheatstone used it for automated preparation, storage, and transmission of data in telegraphy.

In the 1880s, Tolbert Lanston invented the Monotype typesetting system, consisting of a keyboard and a caster. These typesetting systems would be used for another 90 years.

At the end of the 19th century, Herman Hollerith invented the recording of data on a medium that could be read by a tabulating machine, developing punched card data processing technology for the U.S. Census.

Punched card laminated to painting
Actual Punched Card

Data Entry & The Punched Card

In the center, bottom half of the painting, there is one punched card. This particular card was a test card to test the functions of each alphanumeric and special character available on the keyboard at the keypunch station.

Painted keypunch station keyboard keys,
Keypunch Station Keyboard Keys,

Above and left of the card, there are painted keypunch station keyboard keys, similar to the ones that were used to tell machines where to punch the holes. This keyboard layout followed your typical typewriter key layout but was graced with additional command buttons to command, escape, print, etc. (I still have a keyboard that was once attached to such a station on display in my office.)

Compute paper laminated to painting
Continuous, Perforated Computer Paper

To the left of the card, there is an actual printout of what was produced when the card was run and a printing command was initiated, showing all 10 (0 through 9) numerical characters, all 26 (A through Z) alphabetical characters, and 27 special characters on perforated, continuous computer paper.

Computer punched card
Typical Punched Card

At the height of my father's career, the punched card held the data that told what the computer what data to display, print, or store.

For example, a company's human resource department would generate punched cards for their staff. Details on these cards would include names, addresses, phone numbers, and other vital information such as pay rate or salary. These punched cards would be stored in boxes and put away in storage until needed.

When payday came, boxes of cards would be pulled from storage and run through the machine to access the content of the personnel. The more information there was available per subject, the more cards were needed to run. Another set of cards would be pulled to create the paycheck layout, while a final set of cards would be pulled to produce the amount of the check being distributed to the staffer.

Larger volumes of data would more cards, and stored thousands and thousands of cards, found in boxes, that sometimes filled up entire rooms.

Sometimes my father would take me along with him to work on weekends. At the office, he would assign me the task of collecting, filtering, and organizing punched cards into their respective boxes. He taught me how to manually filter cards using an alphanumeric process, something I still apply today when programming code.

In the 1960s, they were replaced as the primary means for data storage by magnetic tape. They would still be used for entering data up until the 1980s when they were completely replaced by the computer terminal.

So when my father painted this, it was at the end of the punched tape and card era. Enter the magnetic tape reel.

Painting of magnetic tape reel
Reel to Reel Magnetic Tape

The Magnetic Tape Reel

In the painting, you can see the reel-to-reel tape. Data was stored using binary code of 0s and 1s onto a magnetic tape. After their invention, punch cards were run through the computing machines for a final time to store their data onto these reels of magnetic tape.

The space needed to store data shrunk immensely and the speed at which data could be entered, stored, outputted, and distributed sped up exponentially.

Developed in the early 50s by The Eckhert-Mauchly Computer Corporation (EMCC), but matured by Remington Rand using the name UNISERVO 1, which served as an input-output device that replaced the punched card.

Over the next decade, improvements in density capacities and tape reading speeds once again, significantly increased the speed of computer technology.

The magnetic tape would be replaced with disk storage technology in the 80s.

Univac Magnetic Tape Reel
Univac Magnetic Tape Reel

The Technology of Electronics in 1969

Painting of Gates, Magnetic Coils and Circuitry Diagrams
Gates, Magnetic Coils and Circuitry Diagrams

Towards the bottom of the artwork, you see what electricians and computer engineers would recognize; all electronic diagrams of how electronics handle and deliver binary code (electricity) from the source to the destination, through the use of gates, core memory, and diagram of a schematic of diodes, capacitors, inductors, resistors, DC voltage sources, and AC voltage sources.

As the punched cards are being read using mechanical brushes that make an electrical contact for a hole, and no contact if no punch, or photoelectric sensors that function similarly, the electronics are what manipulate the current as it travels through the machine's circuitry, taking binary code and recording it onto the magnetic tape.

Historical Significance

As I tap on my iPhone's keyboard, sending instructions to software found on hardware that fits in the palm of my hand, I marvel that it has 32,600 times faster processing power than the most powerful computer used to send Neil Armstrong to the moon on 1969.

When I look at my father's painting, I don't see an era gone by or dinosaur technology, I see a piece of historical significance – a reference to human progress.

I am proud to honor my father's legacy.



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