I was talking to my mom over Facetime the other day and telling her about some recent accomplishments at work. As a software engineer and team leader making a decent salary without ever finishing either of my attempted college degrees (that had nothing to do with computers), I feel like I’m in a good place in my life. My mother, in her motherly ways, verbally shared her pride for her oldest and remarked at how far I had come in my career. Admittedly, I’ve done some good things.
“Not bad for starting out by being fascinated with the electronic cash registers at the P&C”, I replied.
I’ve mentioned this before on the blog, but as a kid I was fascinated by cash registers, especially the early electronic cash registers of the 1970s. I wanted to push buttons but more importantly, I wanted to know how they worked. The early electronic registers basically emulated what their mechanical predecessors did as far as just dividing things up until departments and the like, but they could also look up prices based on a code and print more detailed reports of what was going on during that shift in the checkout lane. The orange VFD (Vacuum Florescent Display) was fascinating to me and I loved the sounds of the Seiko EP101 printers (which would later become a printer company called Epson).
The Data Terminal Systems Series 400 electronic cash registers, and their little brother, the Series 300, were the most fascinating to me. When P&C Foods held a “Food Fiesta” at the State Fairgrounds, we attended. They had a small display of their new electronic cash registers and attendees were invited to try them out. I ran to the display and waited me turn. I can remember growing impatient with the guy in front of me who could not figure out how to get the drawer open. I waited for him to step aside, cleared whatever error he had on the screen, and punched in a typical order, just like I had seen at the P&C grocery store in town. I entered split pricing (1@ 3/ .99), did some tax exceptions, hit subtotal and then did a split tender of 1.40 cash and 40.00 check. The receipt was about a foot long. I saved it in my collection of receipts for many years. Knowing how that cash register worked led to me writing software on my VIC-20 and later Commodore 64, to emulate a cash register system. I ended up sharing that software on a Bulletin Board Service when I was in college and then rewrote it for business systems using the college computer lab. A company bought the shareware from me for a small amount of money and I bought a bigger computer.
My love for writing software continues to this day, all because I watched what Delores on register 2 punched into the nifty DTS 400 at the P&C in town.