All posts by Louise May

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Computer Lessons Past and Present

My involvement with computers goes back to the early 1950s. I was assigned to work on the audit of Trans Canada Airlines (now Air Canada). They had advanced unit record equipment for the time. Eighty column cards with holes punched in them were the data media. Plug boards, sometimes called spaghetti boards because of the complicated wiring, were the equivalent of computer programs. Sorting machines could turn a deck of punched cards into something close to a data base. Mostly the combination of parts printed, added and subtracted numbers in varied sequences. Multiplication and division functions required special control boards.  That approach to data processing was almost the exclusive domain of IBM. They didn’t call it a computer but that may have been because they were working on a fully electronic computer and thought they could divert attention from that effort. In fact they were embarking on a series of developments that lead to the famous 360 series that dominated the computer scene for many years.

But other developments were taking place along side the business systems where IBM was focused. The experience of working with some of them has had a significant impact on my own career. In the early 1950s there was a simple computer called an LGP30. This unit used ticker tape for input of data and loading programs. The computing function consisted of what we now call a central processing unit (CPU) and a rotating drum on which the program was stored as well as any data the program had to read or write to. These were stored in the form of magnetic on or off signals that the CPU could interpret.  In operation, the drum rotated so that the the CPU could execute program instructions sequentially and store results elsewhere on the drum as instructed by the program.

Lesson 1. The LGP30 provided clear  lessons in how computers function. 

A while later when working for a firm of architects, I had the opportunity to talk the partners into investing in an LGP30. A very bright member of the structural division of the firm, Adolf Berg, took an interest in it and quickly learned how to program it. The firm had a project on the books to design a large office building. Adolf decided to program the structural calculations for the building. As the firm worked through various design possibilities, Adolf would recalculate the structural requirements very quickly saving hours of engineers’ time. When the project was put out to tender the structural cost came in substantially below estimates. This was very pleasing to the owner but not so much for the architects. Their fees were based on a percentage of the cost of the building.

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Maxims for Honest Entrepreneurs

There is a great similarity between the creative artist and the entrepreneur. Each must know their craft thoroughly or will drift into mediocrity or failure. Each must have infinite patience and infinite stamina. Both will be poor until accepted by the public. With success, both will have the most fulfilling lives of any profession. Here are some maxims that I have found useful.

1. Whenever conventional wisdom says you shouldn’t do something, that is very likely exactly what you should do.

2. Business is not about taking risks… it is about minimizing risks.

3. When you do take risks, do so from a position that allows you to survive if the risk fails. Never bet the company.

4. The small business can always beat the large business by being more flexible, knowing the market better and taking advantage of change sooner.

5. Starting a business and making it run well is an intellectual exercise of the most demanding kind.

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The Purpose of Business

My first experience in “industry” as opposed to the “profession” of chartered accountancy was at Winnipeg and Central Gas Company. One of the senior executives there made the statement that, “The purpose of business is to make as much money as possible this year without spoiling the chances of making more next year.” That can be a useful guideline in most situations, crude though it may seem if taken the wrong way.

One of the easiest ways for a corporate executive to increase profits by ten percent is by reducing corporate taxes by ten per cent. So businesses put on great pressure for governments to do so. One of the happier occasions of my life was having to pay corporate taxes. I continue to be quite satisfied to be a taxpayer.

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Computers and Me

Computers and Me
My first acquaintance with something close to a computer came in 1950. I was assigned to work on the audit of TransCanada Airlines (now Air Canada). Their new accounting office was at the airport in Winnipeg. They had a large installation of what was a coded unit record equipment to aid in accounting for airline tickets, payrolls and general expenditures. The equipment consisted of punch card sorted, card readers and printers. Of course elsewhere there were keypunch machines and operators who keyed the information onto cards. Holes punched in the cards created a coded record that could be dated back to the beginning of the twentieth century.
The equipment was programmed in the sense that a plug board could be wired so that the functions of the readers could produce different reports from the same punched cards. Also, different information could be obtained by sorting the cards first. For example sorting hours worked by employee numbers and merging that information with the employee’s rate card could cause a printer with multiplication capability to calculate the employee’s wages. By a series of steps a payroll could be calculated. More and more elaborate procedure, plug boards and calculating units could come close to emulating what we eventually came to know as the programmable computer. At the time there were few such machines and IBM took the position that they had few practical applications in the business environment. By the end of the decade, they had changed their minds and were to become the dominant player in the computer field.
Around 1960, I took an evening course at the University of Alberta on programming a computer. The computer used was an LGP30. It had its origin in the late forties or early fifties. It used a magnetized drum for storage of programs and data. Input was in the form of ticker tale, the kind used in the telex machines. Output was also ticker tape and a telex type of printer. As the drum rotated instructions were read and executed sequentially.
For programming the machine you could use a computer that was called SPS (Simplified Programming System). Simple it was not, but it was better than, but still close to, machine language. Machine language is a series of ones and zeroes. The compiler took our decimal instructions and turned them into one and zeroes that the machine could understand. The same process is used today though the compilers are much more elaborate and more efficient. It was a good place to begin though because it forced you to understand exactly what the computer had to do. Operations of computer have not changed from that fundamental approach.

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Internet gods!

I can hardly believe it. Here I am, the last person in the world to know anything about social media. I am guided step-by-step in this process of providing little tales about my experiences and, low and behold, I have already offended the internet gods! Facebook has found last week’s blog offensive enough to deserve its censure.  Well, at least their new regulations require me to prove that I am who I claim to be before I can use any paid advertising.  (See explanation note below.) 

As it happens, on the very day you may have read my last blog, I was reading a US newsletter, Pymnts.com, that described a decision by a South Dakota court that individual US states could assess taxes on the very online sales companies that Canada is planning to tax. So does Facebook feel my blog should not be promoted beyond its current modest readership?

So does Prime Minister Trudeau intend to honour his election promise and join the US so Canada can also tax these freeloaders? Politics can create strange bedfellows but Americans need to elect better presidents before we will throw in the towel on that matter.  Besides where would the US find a state among its 52 states, that is more docile than Canada?

Kidding aside, it is really an affront to our intelligence for those companies to think they should be allowed to operate tax free in any country they choose to do so.  Maybe we should revisit that Trans Border Data Flow issue again.

With Cyber Monday coming up and consumer online sales expected increase over 400% from any other Monday, its good to think about how this economy is taking advantage of our country’s slack tax laws.  This year it might even be a bit worse as the exchange rate favouring Canadian retailers so we should be the ones to attract more American business.  

If you are thinking about shopping online for Cyber Monday or online shopping at anytime please also see Online Safety Tips written by Telpay IT Systems Manager Jack Slawik:   https://blog.telpay.ca/online-safety-tips/

NOTE: 

According to Facebook:

“Ads about social issues, elections or politics that appear on Facebook or Instagram should include a disclaimer provided by advertisers that shows the name of the person or entity that paid for the ad. This is a list of top-level issues that will be considered in determining which ads targeting Canada require authorization and disclaimers:   civil and social rights, economy, environmental politics, health, immigration, political values and governance, security and foreign policy.” 

Disclaimer:  So to make it clear, I, W.H. (Bill) Loewen through my company Telpay, am paying for this Facebook account and any ads that appear here. 

“On Innovation” is a corporate blog by W. H. (Bill) Loewen, founder, Comcheq Payroll Services and Telpay Bill Payment Services, exploring the impact of current innovations in the financial services industry and reflections from his past 50 years of business experience.  In his spare time, Bill likes to spend time with family and friends, play bridge, dabble with woodworking and is a passionate classical music lover.