23 May 2012

Picture <- Thousand Words

Way back when, I worked as a Fed, initially and for most of the time for McElhone, who was a math stat from Iowa State ("Yes, sir. Pigs and corn".). This from 1975 onward. Early on, he decided that we (the Office of Analytic Methods), should have our own computer. There wasn't room in our office for a 360 or even a PDP-10. When you want to buy something, you have to have purchasing authority for the good or service, its cost, and the specific good or service has to be on a GSA list.

Since this was pioneering days for microprocessors, and GSA wasn't necessarily a geek fest, McElhone found that the Tektronix 4051 was listed on the calculator schedule, not computer. "Boy howdy", to quote the man. He had authority to buy calculators (but not Real Computers, of course), since stats used calculators a lot for small projects (HP and TI sell stat calculators still); ones that didn't demand BMDP on the mainframe. And it was within budget.

It soon arrived, and later we got disk storage. Well, it was a Shugart (not yet morphed into Seagate, sort of; it's a long story) 8" floppy drive. The box was about 3 feet by 2 feet by 6 inches, and sat on a movers' dolly; weighed a lot.

I am catapulted down fading memory lane because the 4051 was a graphics workstation. The tube was storage, so it didn't flicker, but did require a screen erase. We digitized the world. We studied employment discrimination ("Yes, Mr. Secretary, we need to know what the baseline level of acceptable discrimination is.") Today, Rob Hyndman announced a new edition of his forecasting book. This is the quote that jogged the memory:

"We emphasize graphical methods more than most forecasters. We use graphs to explore the data, analyse the validity of the models fitted and present the forecasting results."

Deja vu all over again.

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