Tag Archives: labs

August 27 — The Important Anniversary In My Life, And This Year I Will Talk About ‘APL’.


IBM Hursley per Google Maps. Cricket pitch & local pub highlighted.

.Anura Guruge December 2014 thumbnail


by Anura Guruge

Related Posts:hursley_site_detail
>> IBM’s 1st ATM in the U.K.
>> Donate Hursley House To The National Trust.

>>Think” sign — Aug. 28, 2014.
>> Hursley’s John Fairclough
>> Mainframe 50th.
>> Gene Amdahl & I.
>> IBM Hursley pictures.
>> Malaysia flight 370: And ‘Poor’ IBM.

Search on “Hursley”, “IBM” & “mainframes” for other IBM (Hursley) related posts >>>>

For the last few years I have been trying to ‘put a stake in the ground‘ every August 27th. It is an important anniversary in my life. I left Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), for what turned out to be for good (though I had no idea that it would be thus then), on Sunday, August 27, 1967. I was a week shy of my 14th birthday. I left on (what I think was a Pan Am) Boeing 707 from what was then ‘Katunayake Airport’ to Athens (Greece). It was my first trip outside of Asia.

Seven tumultuous years later, during which I lived (at least for 11 months at a time) in three different countries, viz. U.S.A. (Buffalo, NY), France (Paris) and the U.K. (London & Swansea), on Tuesday, August 27, 1974 I started working for IBM — at Hursley in the U.K. Well since my birthday is my birthday (though due to the hospital mix-up it could be +/- 2 days), I joined IBM a week shy of my 21st birthday. That it was the 27th, as I have talked about before, was CUTE and neat. I had NOT planned to start work — the VERY FIRST working day of my entire life (having never worked, for pay, in any capacity prior to that) — on a Tuesday. But, for the second year in a row I was spending my Summer in Bangkok, Thailand — and what Summer it was with the Vietnam war coming to an end ‘right there’! [That is another story.] I had sent a telegram to IBM saying that I planned to accept my job offer (from nearly 18 months previously) and start work on Monday, August 26, 1974. Got a neat telegram back saying basically that that was good, and that August 26th will be my official start day (in terms of salary) BUT since that Monday was ‘August Bank Holiday Monday’ would I please not come into work until Tuesday, August 27. That was how I started my working life. Getting paid for a day that I didn’t work — and spent most of the day watching cricket on TV. (Well, to be fair to IBM, IBM also paid for many days when I was not at work — though I was supposed to be — but was in Southampton watching Hampshire play! That is another story too. My work didn’t really suffer and that is all they cared about. Performance reviews were BIG in those days. I had 7 reviews in the 5 years I was at IBM. The reviews were graded from ‘1’ to ‘5’. ‘1’ basically said you walked on water and ‘5’ meant that you passed water when you realized that your review was done. Of the 7 reviews I got a ‘1’ in 5. So I guess the time I took off, without telling anybody, during the Summer, to watch LIVE cricket, really didn’t affect my performance. I did, ALWAYS, make up the time — albeit working late into the night (and as such getting overtime). What can I say.

Well last year, on August 27, I talked about John Fairclough who was the lab. director during my whole tenure at Hursley.


Ken Iverson’s 1962 book, the TITLE of which begat the language …

This year let me talk about ‘APL’ — A Programming Language — the BRILLIANT coding system, for mathematicians, engineers and scientists, that was developed in the early 1960s by Ken Iverson. I can’t be 100% certain of this BUT I think I once ‘spoke’, obliquely (if I remember right), with Ken during my time at IBM. I will get to that in a second. Looking after APL was the first task I was given upon joining IBM (at Hursley) and going through about 10 days of orientation. I had been hired to work for the ‘System Support Group‘ (SSG). That it was called the ‘Swapping Society Group‘ had a lot to do with the 1970s and I will have to tell that story in a later post. So looking after APL meant that I was responsible for making sure that APL, which was an interpretive language, was readily available, 24×7, for all the hundreds of very clever engineers who used it for their work at Hursley — mainly for modeling engineering designs.

Though I was a programming language freak at the time — which is why IBM offered me a job during my 2nd year at University — and was proficient in about 5 languages, I did NOT know APL. Knowing APL was not a requirement per se. My job was to support the system — not write code. But I set out to learn APL and that was HUGELY rewarding and fun. I was never a master APL programmer (as I would be in Assembler, FORTRAN, PL/I, COBOL & PL/S) but I could get by — and most importantly those that used APL, in anger, at Hursley, knew that they could talk ‘APL’ to me and I would not be clueless.

I loved APL. It was so compact and terse. Not verbose like today’s programming languages. Much of it was done with SPECIAL mathematical symbols. Here are some examples of APL code. Neat … right?




So given all the special (Greek) symbols involved you needed a special APL keyboard to program in APL. 

IBM’s APL interpreter, which was very clever, was also VISUAL. That meant that you could create symbols by OVERTYPING and the system would recognize what it was. Well, in 1974, we, at least in Hursley, did not have any electronic terminals — i.e., (3270-like) displays. We used selectric teletype terminals for interactive programming and system management. Yes, we also, in 1974, used punched cards and paper tape. Given the symbols you needed a bespoke APL Selectric Golfball for APL. IBM, of course, made and sold them. You just needed to order them IF you planned to use APL. I kept a whole drawer full of APL Golfballs as part of my job for those that came by asking for one. I would also carry one in my pocket. Carrying a Golfball in your pocket really gives meaning to the expression ‘playing pocket golf’.


Selectric Golfball.

Well, soon after I joined Hursley we were tasked with implementing the new “APL Shared Variable”, APL SV, system. APL SV, like all of the IBM APL systems was developed in the ‘States’ — I think, at the time, in ‘Yorktown Heights’ in New York. SV was new and had some issues. There were a number of times I had to call the ‘States’ to report problems or ask for workarounds. My contact was Adin Falkoff, Ken’s collaborator and right hand man. Adin was very nice and always helpful. It was during one of these calls that I think Adin said “Ken says ‘Hi'”. Wow. [I always admired Adin’s last name.]

There was one printing problem in APL SV that had gone for over 6 months without a fix. The Hursley users were constantly bugging me about it. Though it wasn’t my job to FIX problems in APL SV — that being the prerogative of the ‘States’ — I decided to have a look. In those heady days ‘we’ — meaning anybody that worked for IBM — basically had ready access to the source code of more or less anything that IBM created. So I had the source code and I went digging. I found the problem. I fixed it. Even patched it locally on our system. Then I called up Adin and told him how to fix it. He was very pleased. BUT, not as pleased as my BOSS. He was ecstatic. It was funny. But in those days there was REAL competition between the ‘States’ and the non-U.S. labs. So now we had the situation that Hursley had fixed a bug that had foxed the ‘States’ for 6 months. This was why I could go off and watch cricket during the day and nobody complained! 

I miss APL. I keep on thinking about installing it on my PC.

Well that was 1974 to 1975, in Hursley, working for IBM when I wasn’t watching/playing cricket.

Unveiling Of IBM’s First ATM Machine In London (U.K.), mid-1970s — A STORY.

.Anura Guruge December 2014 thumbnail

by Anura Guruge

Related Posts:hursley_site_detail
>> Donate Hursley House To The National Trust.
>> Get rid of unproductive R&D.
>> IBM’s 26% layoff is NOT enough.

Punch-drunk IBM, 40% layoff.

>> “Think” sign — Aug. 28, 2014.
>> Hursley’s John Fairclough …
>> Mainframe 50th.
>> Gene Amdahl & I.
>> IBM Hursley pictures.
>> Malaysia flight 370: And ‘Poor’ IBM.

Search on “Hursley”, “IBM” & “mainframes” for other IBM (Hursley) related posts >>>>

The story in the January 26, 2015 issue of the U.K. “Daily Mail”, that I talked about here, which memorialized IBM in terms of ‘floppy disks and the first modern ATM’, brought to mind this story. With the book in the works I had been too busy until now to get around to sharing it with you.

My business cards from the mid-1990s to about 2003 used to say: ‘analyst, author and raconteur’. The latter in the main was to embrace the fact that a major part of my then life was about relating stories — verbally and in writing. Doing standup seminars was a huge part of my life and I used to write even more than I do now!

I still think of myself as a raconteur though most of my storytelling is now restricted to my writings. But sharing stories, especially those with historic significance, is important to me — because I do NOT want them to disappear. So it has been very gratifying, especially this year, that my story about what happened in 1948 during Ceylon’s Independence Celebration has now received significant coverage in Sri Lanka. That is the point. I would have hated for that story to have died with me.

So, this story, is in the same spirit.

Unveiling Of IBM’s First ATM In London, mid-1970s,

I heard this story, c. 1977, while working for IBM (U.K.) at Hursley. I can still remember the event, vividly, in my mind’s eye. It took place in the Hursley ‘Special Engineering’ lab (in the low-slung, single story, bunker like building in which all of Hursley’s ‘Special Engineering’ group was housed at the time). We were all gathered around, informally, around an 8100. There was about eight or nine of us from various projects. I think we were just taking a break. The story was told by a ‘Planner’ (IBM terminology at the time for what today would be a ‘Product Manager’). Hursley ‘Special Engineering’ would have, of course, played some role in the U.K. version of an ATM. IF nothing else the ATM, most likely an IBM 3614 or 3624, would have had to have been customized for ‘UK English’ and to handle UK Sterling currency. That would have been done by Hursley ‘Special Engineering’. So the Planner telling this story probably was involved with this ATM unveiling from the start. As with the Ceylon story I never tried to verify it — at the time. It was no big deal. We were a group of friends, chatting. Nobody was trying to score points. So the chances are that this story, like the Ceylon story, is true. It is even possible that the Planner had been there. Again, I never asked. I, alas, no longer remember his name (and folks know how bad I am with names). I can, however, visualize him.

I found this story online. The timeframe ADDS up. Again this was not the first ATM, first ATM in the U.K. or first ATM in London. It was IBM’s first ATM in London. Got that? OK.


IBM 3614 — one of the first IBM ATMs.

The Story
The unveiling was a ‘big deal’. I think it was a Monday at the City. There was a Royal involved. It might not have been the Queen per se. It might have been Prince Philip, Princess Anne or a second-tier Royal such as Prince Michael of Kent. [IBM, at in those days, did NOT have trouble getting Royal patronage given their clout in the U.K.]

The ATM is installed in the lobby. On a wall, IBMers had been working on it all weekend to make sure it worked perfectly. But as was fairly normal they did all of the testing using ‘mock’ paper currency. The unveiling is close. The ATM is behind a curtain. There are cameras. Speeches are being made. An IBM engineer loads the machine, behind the curtain, with REAL money. It is now ready for action.

Lots of fanfare. The Royal is given an ATM card. IBM VIPs are at hand, at the Royal’s elbow, to offer instructions on how to use the machine.

The Royal inserts the card, types in a pin and enters a cash amount.

The machine ‘whirrs’ into action and suddenly everybody hears VERY CLEARLY the dreadful sound of paper being ripped. Nothing is coming out. Just this awful ripping sound from within the ATM.

The IBMers are looking at each other — mortified. Eventually they jump into action — like all good IBMers are expected to do. They escort the Royal backwards and draw back the curtain.

The engineers immediately open the side of the ATM and dive in.

To their horror, but also to their amusement, it is very obvious what had gone wrong.

The person loading the ATM with £5 notes, in his excitement and nervousness, had FORGOT to take off the rubber bands that held the notes together.

That was IT.

So per the story, and I am sure it is true, that was what happened at the unveiling of IBM’s first ATM in London, U.K.

Do Hospital Medical Labs Really Test Your Blood?


Anura Guruge

Getting my blood test that said my Glucose was 102 got me paranoid about this, all over again.

Yes, I am a cynic’s cynic, but if you walked in my shoes, for as long as I have done, across so many countries and so many walks of life, you also would be one. Trust me.

It is not like I haven’t been ‘stiffed’ by medical test results. The story of my false high PSA reading from Huggins is on here. Among my many health issues I am prone to bronchitis. I get it a couple of times a year. In the mid-1990s I used to go to a medical practice in Milford. My doctor was female, unmarried and roughly my age. She liked me; you could tell. In those days, when I was in my mid-30s, I was quite likeable. Even if I went there with a sore throat she would insist on giving me a full physical exam — and given that I flew incessantly and did lots of full-day seminars, I did get sore throats. So, I go to see her one afternoon with a bad chest. She says time for a X-ray. She takes me into the X-ray room and she does the X-ray. She then looks at the film and says that I have major issues! I am in a daze. This is bad stuff. I am waiting for the birth of my son and this doctor basically is passing a death sentence or close to it on me. I immediately call up my mother in Paris, as I was wont to do in those days. She is devastated. She calls up her brother, the doctor, in Sri Lanka. He calls me up. He says NO WAY. He says, I can assure you from here: ‘no way, she is wrong‘. As I have mentioned in this blog, he was GOOD. You don’t become the personal physician to a succession of Prime Ministers and Presidents without being good, just because you are a fun person — which he also was; life of the party who lived to party! So, I am now going around in a daze. I had been basically told, that I was screwed. Three days later, to the day, she calls up, all bubbly: ‘Good news. You are fine. The radiologist checked the X-ray. Your lungs are clear and clean. Nothing there‘! Bloody bitch. I was too shocked to speak, which doesn’t happen often. I stopped going there. I thought about suing her, but I really never wanted to see her again.

These things happen to be all the time. Just 2 years ago, after another X-ray, again of my chest, again for bronchitis, a doctor (at a very prestigious institutions in NH) tells me that I have an ominous dark shadow under my lungs and that I need every possible scan that money can buy. I go to Huggins, because of the convenience, for the scans — which cost me, with my high deductible, $1,900. A 4 days later, no results. I call up Huggins. The next day, I am in the car, Deanna was driving. A doctor from Huggins calls. Not my doctor. He says: ‘I hear you are worried about your Cat-Scan results. You are fine. Nothing there. You have some fat deposits on your liver. That must have been the dark shadow.’! It transpires that a half-way competent radiologist or doctor should have been able to determine what that dark shadow was on my original X-ray. No. They thought I was going to get my scans done at their facility. Bloody crooks, all of them.

I have lots of other stories. We had a similar situation with Deanna and gestational diabetes. It appears that IF NOT for a nagging doubt that I had, and acted upon, we could have had a bad experience — and Deanna already had had one! Again, lab testing! Yes, sometimes it really does pay to be as cynical as me.

Given that I know that all hospitals are profit motivated, I always wonder whether they try to cut corners with the lab tests. OK, we know that the test, with labor, equipment, chemicals, overhead and markups, cost ‘$60’. They bill insurance $260 and get paid $160. So they still pocket a nice $100 profit. No lets say they DON’T do the test, or do it on the cheap. They might save $20. But, they will still bill $260 and get paid $160. They now made an additional $20 profit. That is an example. A ‘$20’ here, and a ‘$20’ there and 100,000 tests later you are talking some respectable money.

I have already been told by my cardiologist (and by another) that my 97 reading last year and 102 reading this year, are within the margin of error for the test. The only difference is that 97, because it is less than 99 is not marked HIGH.

Last night I found that that this ‘range’ in the glucose test results depends on the ‘PACKET’ of chemicals they use for that test. Different packets, different results! Also, the glucose test results vary, albeit by a small amount, depending on how long the blood sat around before it was tested. Yes, again for convenience, I get my blood drawn at Alton rather than Huggins. They courier it up later that day.

I think you get the drift. Yes, I checked on the Web. Yes, people get different results, on the same test, from different labs.

If I had the resources, this is what I would LOVE to do. Have two sets of vials drawn out and each sent to a different lab. Have you ever had this done? Same day, same time. So blood drawn at the same time with no intervening variables.

IF somebody could help me get this done, I am game. I have plenty of blood — now that the Red Cross won’t accept my blood because I am a Brit! Yes, the U.S. Red Cross, categorically refuses blood from Brits! Check it out. It first started as a 10 year ban — if you have visited home in the last 10 years, we don’t want your blood. A couple of years ago, for the 1st time in my life, I met that criteria. I had not been back for 10 years. Thye had changed the rules during that time. C’est la vie.

U.S. Red Cross exclusion of us Brits. From their Web site. Go check if you don't trust me. Just click.

U.S. Red Cross exclusion of us Brits. From their Web site. Go check if you don’t trust me. Just click.