Since my father was a successful career soldier for the vast majority of his life, it’s no wonder that when I was thinking about what I was going to do in life around the age of 16-17, I decided to pursue the same career. To do this, however, it was necessary to graduate from a military college, so I successfully passed the entrance exams and entered the first year in 1984.
Computer technology was also brought to the school in my first year, each department then received a super-modern PMD-85C computer, i.e. a box that could read input data from an ordinary tape cassette and display it on a color monitor (basically on regular TV) and print on a specially adapted electric typewriter or dot matrix printer. No one knew what to do with it, there were no computer enthusiasts at the school, but the management’s order was to “use computers to modernize teaching”.
I sheepishly tweeted that I studied automation of control systems at grammar school, that I could turn on the machines, but also operate them and even program something on them. The fastest was the department of military psychology and pedagogy, which immediately offered me a paid position as an auxiliary scientific force and “chief programmer”, so to speak. And so, in addition to my ensign’s salary, I received another four hundred on top for auxiliary scientific power (great for a first year student)and in my spare time I taught my teachers how to turn on the computer and how to display, for example, a sine wave graph on the screen.
The greatest interest was still in the explanation of the principles of the game “Moon landing“, i.e. about landing a rocket on the moon with completely primitive graphics, where you had to use the arrows on the keyboard to regulate the thrust of the engines and the power of the braking flap, and successfully land the rocket. If you failed, then you and the crew were shattered on the lunar surface (and the computer mockingly told you that you left a crater X diameter and Y meters deep), or you broke away from the landing orbit, and irretrievably disappeared without fuel in the tanks with an uncontrollable ship in the depths of space. In my time, I was a real master of this game, and I could land a rocket under any conditions in under four minutes at the latest, beating even the deserving colonels in the department head on. I also unofficially beat the Soviet military attaché, General Sitov, who sometimes went to play the game in the afternoon as well, and saved his results in a secret folder on his computer, called impenetrably “Sitov1”. But – what kind of “chief programmer” would I be if I didn’t know about the existence of this folder on my computer.
Years passed, and I went through the military academy relatively smoothly, almost like a knife through butter. I passed all the lectures and exams in tactics, operational art, psychology, pedagogy, history, Russian, English, sociology, economics and even Marxism-Leninism, which was still compulsory at school at the time. The time had come for me to defend my diploma thesis, which, as usual, was related to military computers at the Department of Psychology and Pedagogy, and was entitled “The use of computers in military-pedagogical research“.
To put it simply, we produced a paper survey that was anonymously filled out by active duty soldiers, but entered there (perhaps true, but for the purposes of the diploma it didn’t matter anyway) and answers to questions about which region they come from, what kind of education they have, and so on. Each of them answered a battery of 50 questions, all of which was fed to the computer, which was then able to answer tricky questions from the professors such as “What percentage of Slovak soldiers with a secondary education in the rank of corporal up to and including sergeant like to go to morning warm-ups?” or “How many soldiers from western Bohemia, he comes from a single-parent family, and at the same time they like the dinners served to them by the unit?’
A consultant (= leader) my job was a major, whom I taught myself to work with computers, and my opponent was an old front-line colonel who was afraid of computers like the devil and wanted absolutely nothing to do with them. I didn’t expect any setbacks or complications from either side. But – they came.
After studying the work for the first time, my consultant was full of praise about how nicely I programmed the whole thing and how many wonderful things the system can do. It just didn’t seem like such a small thing to him…actually two. First of all, I did not quote even once (!!!!) any of the scripts of our head of the department, comrade colonel professor doctor of engineering Ludvík Vaniš, doctor of science, which the boss, let’s say, um … would have a hard time bearing. The objection that my entire work is about computers, about which a scientist has not written a single line, as far as I know, did not pass politically. And so I solved everything by simply writing a bullet point, link 1)and on that page below the line I added a note in the style of “1)see Col.Prof.Phdr.Ing.Ludvík Vaniš, DrSc. et al., Essentials of Military Pedagogy, page 326″.
It was clear to me that the famous scientist really writes about pedagogy on each of the six hundred pages of his book, and at the same time that absolutely none of the assistants would dare to contradict this man even with a single word. And as I thought, it really was.
My consultant’s second objection was considerably more difficult. “You know, Víťa…” says the good man, “in the first chapter you explain what research is, in the second you put it together with computers, in the third you program, it’s all very nice. But you’re in college, you have to give it some style, some kind of general political introduction. Write a few more words about the Soviet Union and computers, or perhaps what VI Lenin wrote about computers. And it will be absolutely great!”
My objection that the leader of the world proletariat had died of a stroke in January 1924, while the first computer had only begun to be constructed during World War II in 1943 by Americans in Pennsylvania, and was not even completed until 1946, was simply ignored by Mr. Major, and I began guess I’m in a pretty mess.
Fortunately, at the central library at that time we had an amazingly educated young lady who probably knew the entire library by heart, all the writings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Gottwald, she could quote from them, and when it was necessary to write down a report, she simply went to her, and she unerringly pulled out from the shelves exactly the article that each of us needed as a background. She was able to find even the least significant contribution of one of the members of the Politburo, for example on VIII. congress of the KSSS, for which all of us students respected her properly.
So I bought a bag of ground coffee and set off to see Katka. “Katuska, this time I need everything that Lenin ever wrote about computers”, I blurted out to her without preparation. She rolled her amazingly large brown eyes at me, blinked, sat up, and then laughed quite loudly. “But Víťa…” “Direct your complaints to the head of the department of pedagogy. I just have to write it.”, I did not allow the discussion. And so we made the coffee together in the library, and began to seriously think about how to make it so that the wolf would eat itself and the goat would remain whole.
We gradually discussed individual, quite rare ideas, and again rejected them for quite understandable reasons. In one of his only statements, Lenin once used the word “scoot”, but by that he meant the ball counter, which Russians used to calculate with in his time. I rejected it because somehow there is no electricity leading to the board, it doesn’t have a screen or a printer, you can’t program it. However, I brought Katka to a saving idea. She disappeared somewhere in the back, and triumphantly brought the book “NEP – New Economic Policy”, in which Lenin allows a kind of small business (it is mainly about small carpenters, masons, shoemakers, etc.)but ESPECIALLY where Lenin mentions the GOELRO plan (which in turn means “Gosudárstvěnnaya commission po Eelectrification Rossii”), and there he basically determines that a power station will be located somewhere a little outside of Moscow, and he goes into such detail that he writes where and which electric pole should stand, so that modern electricity can easily reach Moscow. The plan was started in Russia as early as 1920, and its basic goals were basically fulfilled in 1931, that is, after the death of Lenin, but that did not matter much at the time.
Katka and I discussed it from all sides for a while, and I finally understood my only chance. And I added a six-page introduction to my thesis about how Comrade Vladimir Ilyich Lenin once planned the route of power lines and how he brilliantly predicted future possible progress, including the possible advent of computer technology, which he had no idea about yet, but which would certainly not be able to operate without electricity in the future. Vojín Kefalín in another well-known novel called something similar literary prostitution, but it helped me to be able to present my work even to the teachers of the department who had no knowledge of computers. They took it to mean that the devices would probably be important when Lenin also wrote about them, and when I even found support for my claims in the textbook of the current head of the department.
Surprisingly, there was no problem with defending the work itself. I demonstrated to the commission the connection and cold start of the computer, the acquisition of data via the keyboard and monitor, and their recording on a tape cassette (they were actually used, the PMDčko didn’t have diskettes yet, we didn’t have punched tapes connected to the computer and maybe such flash drives didn’t even exist yet), reloading into the operating memory and then the examiners could try asking the complexly combined questions that I indicated. The computer always growled, flashed, whistled for a while, which seemed mysterious enough, and at the end colored graphs appeared on the monitor, which I also printed out on the attached dot matrix printer and handed over to the chairman of the examination board.
When I had unloaded everything and the professors had had enough of the graphs, I asked permission to turn off the computer. And he wrote on the screen exactly what I, a twenty-two-year-old boy at the time, had programmed for him. The sentence sounded something like “The PMD-85 computer bids you farewell and have a nice day. Hello.” At that moment, the opponent of my thesis jumped up, that colonel, who so far had been sitting on the exam not unlike a hard Y. He had for the whole diploma thesis, how else, a very serious reminder : “Comrade second lieutenant, this is after all a SCIENTIFIC computer and a SCIENTIFIC program !!! You can’t just write hello there !!! That computer should say goodbye!!!” … I promised the old gentleman with a serious face that I would fix it in the computer, and that next time he would greet his operators as befits and belongs to a scientific program. And that was my thesis (for one) defended.