Thursday, July 10, 2014

thanks grandpa, for writing all that code or whatever

Jack Gale Webb, Jr. was a big ol' funny, friendly, smart, happy guy. That is no secret. It's also no secret that he loved baseball and vintage cars. Like, really loved them. Everyone knows that! But he had one big mystery: What did he do?

Jack worked "in computers" in LA his entire career. He graduated from Central State University in Oklahoma with a BS in Math and Physics, focusing on computers. Computers, folks, in 1958 were...slightly different than those we use today. I think.

Here he is with some components in 1962. Just kidding--that's not him (image from here). Below is a computer from 1967, which looks surprisingly a lot like an actual computer, considering that most computers during his early years were rather big, and not just big like "My old Macbook is so BIG compared to my new Macbook Air." One was the size of the basement of his office building. He once had to fix it on payday so the paychecks could be printed, according to a reliable source.
He was, I guess, a programmer, but what did that mean back then? Computer lingo wasn't very universally understood in those days, so he couldn't really explain to regular folk like us what he did, although now it's easy enough to comprehend what programmers do, like "Oh, I'm building a new website for a bank." Then we'd be like, ok, cool. It seems very vague and sort of magical in context of the 60s and 70s, though. I do know that my grandparents had home-use desktop computers beginning really early, which I know because we played Jeopardy and Concentration (the game show) games on big old floppy disks on a green-screen computer when we went to visit.

When he retired, I have the idea that it wasn't entirely voluntary, but that his "field" of "expertise" was somehow suddenly obsolete. Who knows, maybe it was game-show video game programming?

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