Observation.

My grandmother handled the posting of Accounts Receivables for the family business. It was a part time position and she generally worked from 10 to 2. She’d bring dessert for everyone to enjoy during the lunch hour. She liked baking things.

Grandma posted to the customer ledgers using a mechanical NCR 160 Posting Machine from the early 1970s. I found the machine to be a marvel, with its typewriter like carriage, flap the flipped open for the ledger card, and rows and rows of specialized buttons. I’d watch her work while she did the posting and most of my accounting knowledge was learned by simply watching her work.

After she retired in 1986 I took over the Accounts Receivable duties for a little while before my aunt took over the position. A couple of years later I wrote a computer program to replace the NCR 160 Posting Machine. We used the same ledger cards and statements for customers but the computer remembered everyone’s address and balances and the like and could automatically print these things for the new month. Grandma would type everyone’s address on their monthly statement after the previous statement went out. She had an electric typewriter but she didn’t want one with a “return” key; it had a manual lever to return the carriage as if it was completely manual typewriter. My aunt replaced the typewriter not long after joining the family business.

Even though I’m an electronics geek I am still fascinated by all the things were able to accomplish in the mid 20th century with these mechanical marvels. The Posting Machine knew when to add, subtract, stamp the date, and print a balance without telling the machine what to do. It was all programmed on a specialized bar that ran the length of the carriage. It’s pretty amazing if you think about it. It’s kind of like those old mechanical cash registers at Kmart that kept track of daily totals for every department for a readout at the end of the day.

We did some amazing things with machinery before we went all electronic. Our gadgets lasted longer too.

Isolation

ISS Astronaut Chris Hadfield offers some great tips for living in isolation. To keep things in perspective, while not as exciting, we do have it better than living on the International Space Station or off-planet in some other way (The Moon, Mars, etc). While it’s certainly possible I’ll see an off-planet colonization some time in my lifetime, this quarantine lockdown is the closest I’m going to get to the experience.