July 2, 2011 8:03 AM Subscribe
Computer and/or military history nerds -- please lend your speculations. Was Joe doing mundane data entry or something secret and spy-like?
posted by amanda to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A long time ago, when I was a wee slip of a girl, I held a summer civilian job in the MWR employment department of an American Air Force Base in England. I helped people find jobs, I filed things, I screwed around and made smartass comments. My cohort in those latter activities was a guy named Joe. Joe was part of the department but also kind of not. He frequently stood around a lot drinking coffee. He was civilian, possibly married to an enlisted woman (but I don't really recall) and American. He was probably between 28 and 35 years old. Crazy hair, kind of a goofball hippie type.
When he was working (and not affixing donuts to the ceiling or engaging in paperclip wars with me), he was entering in code into this old computer -- seemed even old for this time -- which was about 1992 or 1993. It was a rectangular slab of a computer with a screen maybe 5"x5" just green or white text on a black background. I recall that the keyboard was maybe integrated with the body of the computer. He would receive gridded printouts with numbers and letters handwritten onto them and he would painstakingly enter these into the computer. When he did this, he shut the door and asked us to be quiet.
I remember asking him about this and he said that if he made a mistake, it screwed the whole program up and he'd have to start over. Which would, of course, eat into his coffee-drinking time.
This guy was totally irreverent about the job. Often, I'd be stuck filing all kinds of stuff back in this forgotten part of the base. (Seriously, when people finally found our office they'd stumble in, looking all confused and go, "Wow. I really didn't think anyone would be in here!") Anyway, occasionally, I'd have some weird piece of paper I'd be instructed to file and I'd ask Joe what to do with it. "Shred it!" he'd say with a big laugh. "I'm gonna." "Do it!" And sometimes I would! Forgive me, I was 17.
Anyway, over the years, I've thought about Joe and even told stories about our wacky hi-jinks and it has become increasingly strange to me just what he was doing back there. So, was this just a torturous data-entry exercise that was par for the course in middle-90s computer technology? What computer was he using? And is it possible he was engaged in some security work, all hidden away in no-man's-land?
Possible red herring detail: our director was a British lady who seemed to function solely as Joe's boss but really had very little to do with the rest of us. She mostly sat in her office with the door closed.
And if you know Joe, I'd really like to get in touch with him. Best summer job ever!