Professor Nesson's Website:
Book: A Civil Action, by Jonathan Harr
Movie: My Cousin Vinny
Album: Void Dweller, by Eon
an undergraduate I took a course on the Univac One, 1958.
The final assignment was to program the machine to sort a
list or words alphabetically . This was before silicon chips
and computer language. The Univac was built with stacks of
vacuum tubes that occupied a large room and looked just like
the stacks in a library, except the shelves were filled with
vacuum tubes instead of books. We controlled the machine from
a separate control room that looked like the deck of the Starship
Enterprise. We wrote our instructions to the machine in strings
of one's and zero's. For our exam, we had twenty minutes at
the controls to debug our program and run it on a test list.
Our grade depended, first, on whether our program worked,
and then, second, on our program's elegance, measured by the
time our program took to sort the list.
next real engagement with computers came in 1981, when, on
my first sabbatical, I moved my family to the seashore of
Long Island, accompanied by one of the first edition IBM PC's.
In my spare time there I wrote a computer program in BASIC
that played an excellent game of five-card draw jacks-or-better
poker, the rights to which I sold for a pile of money to a
company which, I am sad to say, was subsequently indicted
for manufacturing illegal gambling equipment. The BASIC language,
circa 1981, included the word "SORT" among its verbs.
Coming upon it was like meeting an old friend, now part of
a whole useful language built of ones and zeros. If I could
make a word from digits, and a generation later use such words
to program a computer that could bluff me out, then, perhaps
in a future generation, I would be able to use the power of
the new language to liven up my classes.