If you were ever a programmer or analyst on a Unisys large mainframe (yep, I’m that old), then you know what this phrase means:
In Unisys world a “word” refers to a 6-byte unit of storage; in IBM world it’s 8 bytes, but in my years of working in IBM world I never had much to do with “words”. Perhaps because Unisys operating systems are more word-focused. Or not.
Anyway, whenever a Unisys mainframe tells you that it requires words, it’s really saying, “I’m trying to do too much at one time and I don’t have enough brain capacity to do any of it.” Some program or other would stop, go into the wait queue and display the dreaded “words required”. An operator would get on the phone and start calling programmers and telling them to delete whatever big files they could find that were expendable. A frenzy of scanning, examining results and deleting would then ensue and, when enough space was recovered, the program would take a deep breath and start running again. Sometimes, even after we deleted files, there still wasn’t enough available space, so the operator would start the Unisys equivalent of a defrag: a squash.
Indeed, a Unisys A-series computer could be very chatty. For instance, if program A initiates program B, and program B failed for whatever reason, program A would go into mourning: “Death in Family”, or “child killed” or something along those lines. I forget. The folks who wrote operating systems for these computers had a sense of humor; it was warped at times, but it was also funny to see a computer committing infanticide or making funeral arrangements.
For the past 4 months I’ve been studying chemistry, which means I’ve been very mathematically focused. Calculations? No problem. Lab reports? Words required, not so easy. The labs were easy, it’s just the writing that became difficult. I used to be very adept at operating with both sides of my brain all at once, switching from logical to creative on the fly and keeping up. Not so much anymore.
(I had to go verify this before I posted it, so I took a “what side of the brain are you” quiz. Here’s the result:
You are 50% right-brained and 50% left-brained.
The left side of your brain controls verbal ability, attention to detail, and reasoning.
Left brained people are good at communication and persuading others.
If you’re left brained, you are likely good at math and logic.
Your left brain prefers dogs, reading, and quiet.
The right side of your brain is all about creativity and flexibility.
Daring and intuitive, right brained people see the world in their unique way.
If you’re right brained, you likely have a talent for creative writing and art.
Your right brain prefers day dreaming, philosophy, and sports.
Yep, that’s me.)
What was I saying? Oh yeah, chemistry and stuff.
I guess it’s a sign of aging, but for the duration of my class I’ve been totally handicapped at writing. Or maybe it’s more like being single-threaded. Whatever.
Back to words. Mainframes got into “words required” trouble when they were trying to do too much stuff with not enough resources.
In the past 4 months we have:
- moved our son back home and gotten him enrolled in community college.
- moved from one house to another
- tried to sort through two houses containing 20+ years of stuff
- met and begun relationships with a new step-family.
I know I’ve forgotten something, besides the chemistry class. I’ve also had a couple of new health-related thingies, diverticulitis and 2 weeks of back pain that landed me in an emergency room, the likely culprit being a kidney stone.
Trying to do too much stuff with not enough resources.
With the mainframe there was a support system in place to help: the programmers and the operators. With me, not so much. It’s not that there’s no help out there, it’s more like I hate to ask for it because it implies (to me, anyway) that I am incapable, inadequate, not good enough, whatever. The same old tape starts playing in my head.
So what? Beats me.