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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 27, No. 3. 1964.

You Cannot Beat The Machine

page 8

You Cannot Beat The Machine

A noise like machine guns greeted Salient on the basement floor of the Administration block of VUW. This deafening noise came from the room where every student is reduced to little punched holes on pieces of cardboard.

This noise was the verifying system of the punch card tabulator belonging to the University. It is in charge of the Statistics Registrar, Mr. D. B. Leadbetter, M.Sc., who was interviewed by Salient recently.

He informed Salient that the idea of having a punch card tabulator had been mooted for some time. It was ordered during 1960 but because of delay in delivery did not arrive until 1962. The main reason for having it was to keep VUW student records. The university becoming bigger made keeping the records by manual means more and more difficult.

When Mr. Leadbetter was asked if the computer would be able to cope with any number of students, he replied that although its capacity was large it was not unlimited since it had many different functions.

Its main advantage was that it saved much time in checking and was more accurate than a manual system. It saves much time; it can print out class lists for al! subjects at Varsity in 100 minutes (working at the rale of 100 names per minute) as compared with two or three weeks needed previously.

On being asked how much it cost, Mr. Leadbetter told Salient that only half of it was owned by the University while the other half was rented from the firm concerned at a very advantageous discount. This was the only way it could be an economic proposition.

Briefly, it works thus: the card is punched, verified, sorted and stored until needed. When the cards are needed, they are put in to the printing out machine which is controlled by a programme unit. This unit or board is wired differently for different uses and this may take up to three weeks. It is joined to the machine when wired up. Then by pushing buttons and pulling levers the machine prints out the different pieces of information as directed by the programme board.

Mr. Leadbetter explained that it was not a true computer because it was on a fixed programme and has not got a memory unit.

The computer has made mistakes. A mistake that was made two years ago was that in exam code slips for accounting students. Flat No. 125A Colombo St. Christchurch was printed out as 1251 Colombo St. In wiring up the board, alphabetic street numbers had not been taken into account.

It was rumoured that last year an honours student was granted both Stage III and Honours in the same year for the same subject. This was probably not true since the printed out pass list is checked against the number of passes the department concerned has allowed for that unit.

The tabulator at present does class lists, term lists, examination code slips, exam supervisors' lists, mark slip, mark sheets for the different departments, genera' statistics for the Department of Education. VUW's own statistics, and class lists for the different timetables. The machine is also used for familarising Accounting II students with these sort of machines and for demonstrations in Statistical Maths II. University departments use it for research: sampling, etc.

Each student has a card for every subject, a statistics card, and a progress card. By referring to previous years' progress cards it is possible to pick out students who have not passed two units in two years.

The machine can also hit where it hurts most—in the pocket. All those students who have been under-paying their fees or paying incorrect fees can be spotted immediately using the tabulator properly. For instance, in some law subjects there is confusion over whether 12 guineas or 15 guineas is to be paid. When the fee lists are printed out any incorrect payments stick out like sore toes. Similarly in Education II the £1/1/- Material Fee is often missed at enrolment and can be easily picked out.

Top—each has its function. A common rubbish tin beside the university tabulator. Lower left—assistant punches details on to a card which appears at lower right.

Top—each has its function. A common rubbish tin beside the university tabulator. Lower left—assistant punches details on to a card which appears at lower right.

assistant punches details on to a card which appears at lower right

punch card