Good Night, My Friend

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Today’s Guest Writer is Jamie Mallory.

Early on I learned how to program an IBM 360/30 computer. What a difference between today and then. A desk-top computer now has almost unlimited memory. Back then this 360/30 had 64 K in the main frame, four tape drives, a disk with 7.5 million bites, and a humidity-controlled room of its own. K or bytes roughly amounted to one letter of the alphabet. The OS or Operating System took up about half the main frame memory.

The main IBM plant was in Poughkeepsie, New York, and it was very reassuring when one of the IBM people who worked with this 360/30 told me they had been at this plant with its long hallways when they heard a commotion against the wide metal doors and looked to see one of the IBM brains busting through the doors on his bicycle and continuing down the hallway without as much as a good morning.

Most people preferred to program in COBOL because of its English-similar wording. I liked FORTRAN, because of its mathematical aspects. You did have to come in with a sub-program to adjust for the fractional numbers that occurred.

I ran a couple or three short programs on the 360/30, and also had a program that was of long duration. That particular program I liked to run late in the afternoon and into the night when everyone had gone home. Just me and the computer. I realize at Poughkeepsie their engineers had programmed into the 360/30 standard errors and procedures for those errors, and some of them would print out from time to time and be dealt with.

Sometimes in the dark of night I would get messages that seemed to be more personal than what any scientific mind in New York used. I almost began to think the computer was human.

Jamie Mallory’s story begins. She allows for those who might not consider computers to be human.

Once upon a time there was a girl in her late teens who went to work at a very boring place.  It was as if everything was brown.  There were brown walls, brown floors, brown stairs, and maybe the ceilings were also brown, a very dismal place.  She wore the brightest colored garments.  She really brightened the place up.  She picked her own bouquets to put on her desk. She also had a really good imagination. If not for this, she couldn’t have stayed there.

One day a very large machine was brought into the office.  It was a computer, one of the very first ones made.  The machine had a name scraped on one of the solid metal sheets in the back. It read “Harry”. The machine looked rugged, like Harry Callahan alias Dirty Harry in the movies. The girl in the office thought everybody called Harry, Harry, so she decided to call the computer Cal. Just being in the room with Harry Callahan. Wow. This Big Ole Boss machine was a hunk. He was the only one she really had to answer to, Cal and only Cal.

She kept Cal fed.  He started demanding more and more of her attention.  It seemed like he was eating more. She would feed him his cards in the morning.  He spit more and more out, making her feed them back to him.  He so enjoyed this time with her.

She would always tell him good night, never good bye.  She became dependent on him just as he was with her.  She wasn’t so lonesome with Cal around. She was very lonesome before he came.

Cal began to worry about his girl’s future.  He thought about her getting married, the children she would give birth to, the parties she would attend, and all the fun things she would experience in her lifetime.  All this he knew would be without him.  He was only a friend and he knew that was all he could be. After all he was only a machine with no arms or legs.  He had a heart though, a big heart.

His girl did meet a boy.  Cal noticed she was happier than ever before.  His girl was gone for several days, and another girl fed him.  He was miserable.  His girl treated him as a human, and this one treated him as a machine, as if he had no feelings, and she didn’t have any herself.

When Cal’s girl returned to work she was so happy, happier than Cal had ever seen her.  Now Cal was happy again.  He noticed she was wearing a ring he had never seen before.  It was a beautiful ring.  He wished he could have given her a ring or a pretty gift.

One night his girl told him good night.  She never returned.  His heart was broken.  His girl had become a woman.  She decided to stay home and raise a family.  She gave birth, she had parties. She was having a good life just like Cal had dreamed about, but something always felt like it was missing in her life.  Maybe it was in the saddest of times she thought back to Cal.  Somehow he always was able to comfort her, but with no arms he could never hug or hold her. Without hands he could never caress hers.

Sometime while the now older woman was enjoying her life with her family, Cal was retired.  He was outdated and replaced with a modern, somewhat smaller model.  He had done a good job during his time at the office. Someone took him to a musty, dusty, rusty old warehouse and left him. They did cover Cal with a piece of plastic wrapping.  Physically and mentally there was nothing wrong with him, so they were decent enough to leave him in one piece.

Through all these years so many inventions came into place. Some would have made even Cal blush.  Portable cell phones were invented.  There were some small ones that fit into a man’s pocket or a woman’s purse.  Then someone tried to mix a phone with a computer.  All this was really good, but something was missing.  Inventors got together and figured they had to have a certain part off of one of the very first computers.  One of the inventors who had been around a long time remembered the old computer that he worked on many years in the past. He remembered Cal.  He traced it down, and found Cal was in a certain warehouse.

A group of men traveled to the warehouse to search.  Cal tried to hide, but with no arms and legs to move himself. He was in the back of the building. Cal looked as handsome as ever when they removed the plastic sheet covering him. The men decided to see if Cal still ran and plugged in the cord to an outlet and turned him on. Cal knew this was his last chance to say goodbye to his girl, because they were there for something that was an integral part of him. One of the men called Cal’s girl, now woman, to say they had found Cal. In all the years that Cal had been programmed, one of those programs had inadvertently been wired to a cell phone channel, even though cell phones had not been invented when Cal retired. Cal intervened in the cell phone conversation the man had with his girl, and texted her. She looked at the message, “Good night, my friend.” She hurriedly texted back, “Good night, my Cal,” their signoff every night when his girl had left the office for the night.

The men found the piece of equipment they needed. It was only a piece of equipment to them, but to Cal it was his heart and soul. They covered Cal with the plastic sheet once more, and he would forever more be silent.

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