dwj-digest (Diana Wynne Jones) V1 #929

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Sun Dec 19 18:23:26 EST 2004


Charlie Butler wrote:

>Did anyone else have to use those strange calculating machines - the name of
>which now entirely escapes me - which did basic arithmetic functions, but
>were entirely mechanical and worked by turning a handle? I had to use them
>for a couple of years back in the early '70s, before electronic calculators
>(the size of housebricks) superseded them?

Yes.  When I was working for a computer firm in the mid-seventies, we
had a perfectly good mainframe to do the calculations for various energy
bills we sorted for a particular company that sold power to some
housing estates, and it spewed out the answers
*lovely*, but the client didn't entirely trust these newfangled
Babbage-engine-type-things, and required that all the figures be checked
every week using a calculating machine provided by themselves.  Just in
case.  Turn the handle.

I always wondered a bit why they paid us good money to put their stuff
through a computer, when they were going to require that we also use the
calculator.  There was probably some historical reason for the whole
thing, which was a great nuisance and ate Fridays.  One learnt to be
busy doing something essential just after the paperwork arrived, or else
one would be turning the handle for the rest of the day.

I don't know what its proper name was either.  We called it "the
octopus", for some arcane reason connected to the Wild-Eyed Programmer.

Minnnow
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