Monday, August 15, 2011
My first COBOL class, back at the College of Lake County in Grayslake, IL required us to buy McCracken's Simplified Guide to Structure COBOL programming. It was the best manual I ever had, bar none. McCracken was God. I had one Other Manual which better explained the obscure Usage is Index business, but McCracken made the obscure Clear as crystal, and by the time I finished My COBOL career, the book was beat up and dog-eared. I never knew who McCracken was until I saw his obituary today, but he was my mentor and my right arm. He started writing computer manuals in 1957, long before I ever came into EDP as it was often called in those days. Electronic Data Processing. Part of a lyric from Hair. Then it was called MIS, then IS, then IT, and having been retired for lo, these six years, I don't even know what it's called anymore. Totally out of touch. Don't own a smart phone. I have an IPOD touch that I use on the road for email, calendar and address book. My small friend keeps asking, "don't you have any apps?" No dear, I don't. Once upon a time, McCracken's paperback COBOL manual was all I needed.
At one time, I could make COBOL along with a few ventures into Assembler subroutines do anything. Bar codes? No problemo. Manufacturing, retail, logistics. Yowza! I could make tables read tables with fancy indexing routines that were awesome. I could "go to, depending on." All thanks to McCracken. I actually knew everything there was to know about COBOL. Makes me feel like the last living dinosaur. McCracken helped "ordinary practioners improve their computing skills." The term "reference bible" was bandied about. Yup. That was McCracken. Wish I had hung onto my book, just for the hell of it. Now I'm sorry that I didn't write him a fan letter telling him how much I had learned from his book and how it had helped me
Today I discovered he was a fellow Montanan, born in Hughesville to a mining engineer father. Not too many people have been born in Montana. He was a father to seven children and always kept up with his field, going on to teach Java programming. I recall discussing with a colleague whether we should learn Java. Android was perhaps his last teaching endeavor. What a giant among techies. He taught until he died at 81.
Daniel McCracken, you were a hell of a teacher.