Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Farewell to all that

Today I removed my last possessions from the university campus. Since I retired, I have had the privilege of a little working space on campus, in an office shared with several other active retired staff. I have used it for writing and editorial work, and valued the chance to see and talk with former colleagues.

Alas, that has now come to an end. The office is no longer to be free for the honorary staff, and so I decided to move my last few things home. As I did so, I thought back over the 35 years since I came to Exeter. It is unusual to have spent so much of one's entire working life in one place.

I have had six different offices, in three different buildings.

When I came, the data and programs for my research came with me in two card cabinets, each holding 10000 punched cards. When I left, I needed a USB stick to carry far more data and material. I regret that one of the datasets that was on punched cards has been lost; it can never be replaced, and there was scope for some more statistical analysis to be done on it. Some of the research publications that I had used for my PhD research were on microfiche; that is a medium which has practically disappeared. When I came, I already had a small collection of books and journals that filled about 12ft of shelf space. Even with pruning, I have three times that space for professional material.

When I started, the language of choice for programming was Fortran. That was my fifth language (after Algol 60, Titan Autocode, Basic, CSL). We progressed through Simula, Pascal, C and C++. The first desktop computer we used was a PET, but we never did any research on it. A research grant provided a more substantial machine in 1981 or 82, which used 8inch floppy discs, and compiled a Pascal program in about 20 minutes! Olivetti PCs arrived in 1986, and thereafter most of my computing was based on PCs.

What changes will there be in the next 35 years?

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