back to article Orders wrong, resellers receiving wrong items? Must be a programming error and certainly not a rushing techie

Punch cards are the order of the day in a reader confession that takes us back to an unfortunate incident with a trolley. Welcome to Who, Me? To be fair, punch cards were on the wane at the time of our story in the early 1980s, but our reader (Regomised as "Ivor") was gainfully employed at an international manufacturer still …

  1. Admiral Grace Hopper

    It wasn't always an accident

    Annoy the wrong operator and your cards might get "accidentally" dropped and shuffled before the job run. Later on, a judicious tug on a mag tape to stretch a short section would have the same effect. The truly malicious op might spool the tape on before tugging then rewinding it to send the failure forward in time to the small hours, hoping to get the victim called out.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: It wasn't always an accident

      Shuffle away. Using a card sorter isn't exactly rocket surgery.

      Ever lose control of a handtruck loaded with punchcards containing a post-grad's entire dataset from an overnight run at SLAC? I have. Down a flight of stairs (the elevator/lift was down for maintenance). I was a teenager, landed a position as a summer intern ... I thought for sure I would be out the door.

      After giving me shit for about half an hour as we picked up the cards, Don (the post-grad) relented & demonstrated the proper care & feeding of a card sorter, and explained how columns 73-80 were used. And why there were lines drawn at various angles, in various places, in various colo(u)rs, across the edges of the cards in the deck. I'm pretty sure that's where I started developing my belt-and-suspenders (belt-and-braces to you Brits) approach to data retention. I'm not quite paranoid about it, but I'm getting there.

      I've heard of the tape stretching thing, but although I've tried a couple of times (curiosity, not maliciousness), I have never been able to do it myself. Mainframe data tape isn't exactly as vulnerable as consumer-grade audio tape. I have snapped a few, though.

      1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

        Re: It wasn't always an accident

        Works fine for cards that are punched in a specified order. Not so much when they just contain data from arbitrary sources, with extra cards inserted to group them.

        In retrospect, not a great design. It may not deserve the blame for going wrong but it certainly deserves it for creating the opportunity.

      2. Admiral Grace Hopper

        Re: It wasn't always an accident

        Perfectly true when you're the one with the cards in your hand, but when you aren't allowed into the Holy Of Holies and the acolyte who has shuffled the cards decrees that that which has been shuffled is not to be unshuffled, ah, then you have a problem. Unprofessional, certainly, but explaining professionalism to an irate Glaswegian* is not a sport in which I am inclined to participate. While I could never prove it, I suspect that those Glaswegian hands were capable of giving mag tape a sufficient wrench to disrupt the dust glued to it. If not, he had a friend who could.

        * I am assuming that he would be irate, I never saw him operate at a level lower than Simmering Resentment.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: It wasn't always an accident

          Computers sometimes make mistakes. To really bugger it up requires a human.

    2. CountCadaver

      Re: It wasn't always an accident

      So the old chestnut then....bullying, must have made the perpetrator feel like such a big person.....

    3. swm

      Re: It wasn't always an accident

      At some college students would always duplicate their card deck before submitting it to the operator because there was a 50% chance the operator would drop the deck. This led to a long queue in front of the card duplicator. So the procedure was changed so all duplication jobs were to be submitted to the operator.

      Oh well...

  2. Dr Scrum Master

    Punch cards?

    Cards for receiving punch?

    Cards for receiving a punch?

    Or do we mean "punched" cards?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Punch cards?

      Well, the blanks, before punching, are punch cards; they then become punched cards - which is (as you infer) what is being written about.

      Of course, a real pedant, would want to call them punched punch cards...

      PS I'm a Member of the RIP (Royal Institute of Pedants); I aspire to, one day, become a Fellow and then a Doctor (achieve the post nominal: DRIP.

      1. Scott 53

        Re: Punch cards?

        A real pedant wouldn't have used so many commas in the second paragraph.

        1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

          Re: Punch cards?

          Can I just say that it appears that the pedants are revolting!

          Of course a decent revolt requires pitchforks and -------------->

          1. Shady

            Re: Punch cards?

            I agree. The pedants should have better personal hygiene.

          2. TeeCee Gold badge

            Re: Punch cards?

            In the words of Louis XVI; "Tell me something I didn't know".

            Of course, he'd have said that in French...

            1. Xalran

              Re: Punch cards?

              Dites moi quelque chose que je ne savais pas.

          3. Arthur the cat Silver badge

            Re: Punch cards?

            I'll just leave this here.

      2. Stumpy

        Re: Punch cards?

        Of course, a true pedant would have insisted they be referred to as Hollerith Cards.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Punch cards?

          A true pedant would have specified how many columns, too.

          1. David 132 Silver badge

            Re: Punch cards?

            And closed the final parenthesis.

            "...then a Doctor (achieve the post nominal: DRIP."

        2. Tom 7 Silver badge

          Re: Punch cards?

          I came from a mill area. They were always Jacquard cards but largely because I like to be irritating. Had kung fu films come in a bit earlier they could have been death throwing cards from the way they frequently escaped from their elastic bands and flew round the room just as you were about to get them onto the shelf so the invisible operators could deal with them.

          1. Admiral Grace Hopper

            Re: Punch cards?

            I had a very happy moment when I visited the Silk Museum in Macclesfield and saw a Jacquard loom in operation. Without Jacquard I would have had a very different life.

            1. Terry 6 Silver badge

              Re: Punch cards?

              You're a fashion designer, yes?

              1. jake Silver badge

                Re: Punch cards?

                I know you're making a funny, but don't laugh too hard ... I learned card weaving (kind of a cross between simple backstrap weaving and Jacquard ... look it up) back in the 1960s in Palo Alto. It was a bit of a fad at the time, you can see hippys wearing belts and headbands made this way in photos of the era. I made the guitar strap that I still use today in roughly 1970.

                Creating new patterns (including lettering in a variety of fonts) is without a doubt simple programming ... Did it help shape my mind for the computer revolution that was to come? Probably. Hard to say for sure ... but I made sure to teach my daughter this deceptively simple technique.

                Give it a whirl. It's cheap (you can make all the hardware at home, even if you're not particularly handy), relaxing and a useful skill in that you can make custom flat webbing for almost any need.

                1. H in The Hague

                  Re: Punch cards?

                  "Give it a whirl."

                  Thanks for the tip! Always fun & useful to learn a skill that doesn't involve computers. (I should really use the long winter nights ahead to get to grips with the Festo PLC, Arduino and RasPi gathering dust here - but I really don't want to look at a VDU in the evenings or at the weekend.)

            2. keithpeter Silver badge

              Re: Punch cards?

              The Herbert Art Gallery in Coventry has a Jacquard loom which is not operated normally. You can see the mechanism and the cards from the balcony in the gallery where the loom is housed. Just in case that's nearer for anyone who has not seen one.

              Back to main thread, I'm a bit confused about why the cards issued to the customers did not have customer references coded onto them? The lost cards would be lost but then the right things would go to each customer at least.

      3. Mast1

        Re: Punch cards?

        Well there is always the future tense use of "punched cards" as in "to be punched"......

        which gets abbreviated.

      4. Precordial thump Silver badge

        Re: Punch cards?

        A true pedant would tell you that the D in doctorates' postnominals comes at the end (PhD, MD...). To become a DRIP, as opposed to a PedD, you would of course have to become a diplomate of that august institution.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Punch cards?


      5. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: Punch cards?

        Do you get a pendant for that?

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: Punch cards?

      They were called variously punch cards. punched cards and punchcards. All are equally correct, IMO. IBM calles them IBM cards.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Punch cards?

        IBM wouldn't have called them simply cards, they would have been rectilinear data input units

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Punch cards?

          "IBM wouldn't have called them simply cards, they would have been rectilinear data input units"

          Shirley IBM wouldn't stop there, they'd be something like "rectilinear data input units, paper, type 83c/22-B".

          (Maybe I mailed one too many data tapes to IBM Rochester, their office addresses had dashes, slashes, numbers, and letters. I'm sure the place was like the central bureaucracy building from Futurama).

          1. swm

            Re: Punch cards?

            Morley 5081?

        2. Herby

          Re: Punch cards?

          Sorry, form 5081's

  3. TVC

    The delights of punch cards

    An early finish to a night shift was often guaranteed by the addition of an extra hole to a punch card deck, resulting in a failed job which would be blamed on the punch card machine. Not that we ever tried it, of course not.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    years ago in a 9BUSD revenus company

    There was this operator, and we we were the system team for the global DC.

    One transfer tool was utter shite, but it was concentrating all WW inventory. It had a DB and the op, spotting an alarm, applied the wrong documented process, the one used when everything else (4 other processes) has failed (DB corruption). He basically zeroed the DB, therefore forgetting all transactions.

    He then came to us asking for help. Then left for the day. I still remember my boss saying to him "thank you for you work".

    It took us one week for recovery.

  5. trevorde Silver badge

    Fun with punch cards

    Had to use punch cards in my second year of Uni as part of our two week, crash course in Fortran. We were all walking around with a thick wad of punch cards, secured by an elastic band. The smart people secured theirs with *two* elastic bands.

    If anyone left their deck of punch cards unattended, we used to either slip in an extra card or swap the order of two random cards. It was a guaranteed compiler error and the waste of a day.

    None of my programs compiled due to self inflicted syntax errors.

    1. Admiral Grace Hopper

      Re: Fun with punch cards

      "crash course" - "Fortran"

      I see what you did there.

    2. John Sager

      Re: Fun with punch cards

      You actually got to program a real computer as part of the course? We did the one term course and then the lecturer said that elec eng are commissioning a new ICL190something so you can have a bit of time on that during the summer. I actually got my program to work but it took several turnarounds for syntax errors and then the ops gave me a nice debug printout to sort the logical errors. That is the one and only time I've used punched cards, and I don't miss them!

      1. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Fun with punch cards

        We had 'em in school 1970s. We had to write our programmes then send them to the local Uni's com centre to be run, generating errors to correct for the next time. Our aim, of course,(apart from not getting errors) was always to try and create a well hidden unlimited programme loop that would lock up their computer.

        1. aerogems Silver badge

          Re: Fun with punch cards

          I had a cobol class when I was in uni, and for any given assignment like 60% of the grade was based on whether it compiled and ran. I remember a certain satisfaction one time when I couldn't get a program to work for the life of me and finally ran out of time and had to turn it in. It compiled and ran, but would lock up the system in the process since the compiler was some old Win 3.1 16-bit job and this was the days before XP brought protected mode operation for all processes to the masses.

    3. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

      Re: Fun with punch cards

      At uni, in the 70s, worked at the computing center. We still had punch cards, by the thousands (2k/box).

      Of course, the mainframe (CDC 3600/3800, later CYBER74) would also accept input from Teletype terminals over phone lines. When given an assignment to write assembly code on the mainframe using punch cards, I did just that. Once. From then on, I did the code writing and debugging from my personal Teletype, and sent the working source file to the card punch to produce a deck I could hand in.

      My hat is off to anyone who had to code on punch cards. It seems like an awfully inefficient way to talk to a computer. I can understand having data on punch cards, but only until they could be read into a disk or tape file.

      They also make dandy notecards and bookmarks. This was 40 years ago, and I still find them in books and file folders :-)

      1. keithpeter Silver badge

        Re: Fun with punch cards

        Sometimes, a print statement printing a single line followed by a form feed may have found itself within a loop of modest size thus fortuitously providing me with a supply of paper for the next week.

        I liked the pale green and white alternating lines on the wide format line print paper.

        1. A.P. Veening Silver badge

          Re: Fun with punch cards

          That truly accidental double form feed worked even better for that.

        2. jake Silver badge

          Re: Fun with punch cards

          My IBM 1403 can crank out a hair over 6 feet of paper per second if you do that.

          Need I add "please don't"?

    4. GlenP Silver badge

      Re: Fun with punch cards

      I managed to miss punch cards at Newcastle Uni by one year as they'd just set up a Unix based data entry system which submitted the jobs to the IBM 370. We were still using teletypes most of the time (unless you were lucky enough to grab one of the few vdu terminals) and jobs took between 15 minutes and several hours to be turned around, annoying when there was a syntax error right at the beginning (it taught us to error check everything carefully).

      I also narrowly missed punch cards in my first IT job as they retired the ICL 1900 a couple of months after I arrived.

      1. dvd

        Re: Fun with punch cards

        When I was at Newcastle first years had to use punch cards; year two and on could use the terminals.

        We reckoned it was to weed out the weaklings.

        1. Martin Gregorie

          Re: Fun with punch cards

          My first exposure to assembly language programming involved an ICL 1901 and punch cards because, apart from the operator's control typewriter (a KSR 33 teletype) its only input device was a card reader.

          We also had 12 key hand punches which we used the transcribe our program from coding sheets to card decks.

          Bit of a shock to the system, since I'd previously learned to write Algol 60 for the university's Elliott 503. The Elliott used paper tape for input, which we prepared and edited on a Friden Flexowriter - a wonderful device.

          1. Sam not the Viking

            Re: Fun with punch cards

            At school, I started by writing the program on prepared sheets for transcription by others. Turn-round from writing to receiving the error-report was about a week. At university we moved onto punched tape, then cards before finally using a terminal. Although it's more decades ago than I care to admit, I still remember my login details.

            My first 'serious' programme involved matrices and took ages to complete. We were only given a set 'time to complete' before the overlords cancelled the program. We got special dispensation because finals etc....

            I recall the adage "The total sum of programs which correctly complete first time is less than 1". I learnt best by finding errors. The reward? See icon ->

            1. ricardian

              Re: Fun with punch cards

              In 1977 I was working in Brora, Sutherland and I took the Open University course PM951 "Computing and computers", my first encounter with any sort of computing (anyone who took this course will remember "Koch-Light" and visible-record computing). The course involved writing programs in OU Basic which I could then type in on a teletype, first booking a time slot at a school in Thurso (which was an hours drive north of Brora) and hoping that the system wasn't "down" when I got there, or

              writing the program out on squared paper and posting it via Royal Mail to the OU computing centre in Milton Keynes who would run the program and post back the original hand-written program, the program as typed in by the OU and the output (if any) of the program.

              I always took the second option which worked quite well until about half-way through the course when I had to recall some data stored in "my" memory area by one of my previous programs. This produced an angry response from the OU computing department asking what had I done with my data, they couldn't find it! After a lot of discussion it transpired that the OU used two mainframes, one in Milton Keynes and another in Newcastle. Although the mainframes ran the same software they did not share the data of OU students thus a problem occurred if my program ran on the Milton Keynes mainframe and my previous program which stored some data ran on the Newcastle mainframe. I eventually got an apology from the OU thanking me for drawing attention to the problem.

      2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        Re: Fun with punch cards

        Durham, where I was at university (1978-1981) used the same computing facility as Newcastle, called NUMAC (Northumbrian Universities Multiple Access Computer), and I used punch cards for my first year, learning PL/1. There was quite a scrum for the card punches, which did sterling work considering the battering they were given.

        We had HASP running down a leased line to Newcastle for batch submission, which allows a self-service jub sumbission, but there were PDP/11s running as terminal concentrators to allow serial terminals to be connected to the IBM 360 and also the 370 which was running MTS rather than any IBM supplied operating system. The terminals were a mix of Newbury, Mellordata, Tektronix and IBM golfball terminals.

        Because I was on the Main computing course (courses were modular, and designated as Subsidiary, Main and Principal) we were also taught APL, which is a totally interactive language, we were given special access to a number of the terminals which could display the APL character set. This marked the end of my card punching at university, although my first job after leaving was in a batch environment on a Sperry Univac system.

        A year after graduating from Durham, I got a job at Newcastle Polytechnic (also a member of NUMAC), and I was working there when the IBM 370 was replaced by an Amdahl 5860, and Durham got an IBM 4381, and then an Amdahl 470/V8. They ran MTS until about 1989, which was after I left.

        1. I Am Spartacus
          Thumb Up

          Re: Fun with Durham and NUMAC

          Oh, yes. I was there 77-80 doing a Joint Honours in Computing and Electronics. The fun we had on that mainframe. We did do a bit on punch cards but mainly we used the terminals upstairs in the computing room. Having only previously used punch cards and paper tape I do recall being rather scared the first time I had to use a terminal. But we did learn PL/1 on a terminal.

          And APL. The only language which was write once and hope. Because if you ever had to come back to it a week or so later it was impossible to understand.

          Later moved on to programming Motorola 6800 series in assembler.

          Heady days indeed!

          1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

            Re: Fun with Durham and NUMAC @I Am Spartacus

            We must have met frequently. I started Joint Honors Computing and Electronics 1978, although I could not cope with the Maths subsid that was intended for Engineers (although I think they had too few places and had to choose somebody to shed, and I had issues at the end of the first year). and fell back to General Science. But I did Principal computing in my second year, and then became a once-a week advisor for the Computing subsid. course in my last year, which paid for my beer (£3 an hour for three hours, and beer costing <50p a pint!) and kept me an account on the computers, even though I was not a computing student that year,

            It was less NUMAC that I was interested in, and more the PDP-11/34 on the ground floor that was running UNIX. This is what set my career, and here I am, over forty years later still using UNIX. I have a lot to be thankful to Durham for.

    5. eldel

      Re: Fun with punch cards

      Little known factlette - punch cards are the ideal thickness for setting spark plug gaps. At least they were for the Ford 'engine' (and I use the work loosely) in my Cortina in the 70s.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Fun with punch cards

        From memory, the Ford Kent engine's plug gap was 0.027in, or 0.7mm. This IBM 5081 card, as measured by me just now, is 0.009in or 0.27mm. The motor will run with that small a gap, assuming everything else in the system is in spec. You'd be better off folding the card in thirds.

        Interesting factoid: A standard metal fingernail file (yes, the one your Gran or Auntie or Mum frowned upon) is just about the right thickness to set your points. I always keep one in the glovebox ... one end to file, one end as a gauge. Has got me home more than once. Thanks, Grandad :-)

    6. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

      Re: Fun with punch cards

      Oh...and...FACE DOWN 9 EDGE FIRST

      // IBM unit record gear had those words on every input hopper

      // plugboard programming FTW...high school class

      // IBM 5081 card in one pocket, jumper wire in the other...

  6. trevorde Silver badge

    Seen that face before...

    Bloke I worked with used to have a *massive* box of punch cards which, when run, used to send an ASCII art picture of the Mona Lisa to the line printer. He was walking across the office one day, tripped, dropped the box and scattered cards over the floor. It never worked again and the cards ended up in the bin.

    1. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      Re: Seen that face before...

      I only once saw a card system in operation, at the NEL in East Kilbride in about 1980. All I can remember is that we were shown that the stack of cards could be shuffled and then resorted in order automatically.

      1. batfink

        Re: Seen that face before...

        Number those suckers. I learnt that the day I first dropped a box of the bastards...

        1. Sean o' bhaile na gleann

          Re: Seen that face before...

          "...dropped a box of the bastards..."

          Back in my day, known as a 'floor sort'

        2. Admiral Grace Hopper

          Re: Seen that face before...

          The truly paranoid would draw a line corner to corner across the top of the card deck, which helped to realign them after any mishap.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Seen that face before...

            Most of us used column 73-80 to number the cards, and then just fed 'em through the sorter after a mishap.

  7. DJV Silver badge

    A whole lot of hole poking

    Back in the 1970s a guy joined the company where I worked and told us about when he worked on some computer system that used punched paper tapes. Everything worked fine for a while but then, not long after they'd had a new boy start, they would get the occasional error after loading a tape. The new boy, who was apparently not the sharpest tool in the shed, was getting bored with doing his punched tape loading role and, to relieve that boredom, would occasionally poke a random new hole in a tape with a screwdriver or sharp pencil. It was only when someone caught him in the act that the source of the errors was discovered.

  8. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "were you one of the developers on the receiving end of unjustified blame? "

    Maybe not so unjustified. 80 columns on a card should have been enough for customer and product code.

    Isn't hindsight wonderful?

    1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      A checksum card at the end would also have helped, at least in flagging the deck as corrupt and preventing the incorrect shipments.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        If you read the original story the customer just returned the product card taken off each item they'd sold. They didn't punch a deck of cards so no checksum and the cards were presumably not specific to the customer but attached to the product at manufacturing.

        Common sense though says it shouldn't have been possible for the stacks to become physically separated (a couple of rubber bands and a label saying "Fred Bloggs Shop" tucked in would have prevented the problem).

        1. martinusher Silver badge

          You can write on them without degrading the data. That also helps.

          Working with unmarked cards just gives you a lesson in Murphy's Law.

  9. H in The Hague

    One of the very few regrets

    I have is that I didn't keep a few punch cards, mark sense cards and a bit of punched tape from when I was a teenager (though those media were already on the way out then). That was the time you could actually see and feel the digital data. Still think it would be good to show them when teaching folk the basics of data processing.

    Mrs H has similar regrets about the manual card punch she threw out a few decades ago. Perhaps I should point my browser at Fleabay.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: One of the very few regrets

      I can show you places in the heart of Silicon Valley where cards and tape are still in use daily. Mostly used for controlling old machinery like mills and lathes.

    2. ChrisC Silver badge

      Re: One of the very few regrets

      *Somewhere* in the accumulated piles of storage crates dotted around Chez Chris, is roughly a metre of punched tape from a childhood visit to Jodrell Bank many moons ago - the tape punch was connected to a receiver detecting some signal from somwhere out there, and visitors were free to take as much of it as they liked as a souvenir.

      Despite not having the foggiest what's encoded on the tape, it's the fact that, as you say, you can see and feel the data that made it such a prized addition to my collection of stuff. When so much of what we generate, consume and store these days consists of intangible flurries of bits flying back and forth behind the scenes, and when the size of even a "simple" bit of data these days (e.g. a single photo from a bog standard phone camera) is orders of magnitude larger than the equivalent bit of data from not so very many years ago, I think you're right that it'd be useful for people to be able to take a step back and consider some of this stuff in a way that makes it more manageable and relateable.

      1. David 132 Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: One of the very few regrets

        I remember seeing that very same (presumably) device at Jodrell Bank! Was probably around 1984-6 or so that I visited and saw it. As soon as I read your comment I had a madeleine moment and remembered the punch tape. Thank you for the memory.

      2. ricardian

        Re: One of the very few regrets

        I joined the RAF in 1959 as a 16 yr old Boy Entrant and after 18 months training left RAF Cosford as a "Telegraphist" with the ability to read/send Morse at 21 wpm and use a teleprinter to type at 45 wpm. One esoteric skill was memorising ITA2 ( and thus being able to "read" 5 hole punched tape which came in very handy when I moved into programming after leaving the RAF in 1973.

    3. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Re: One of the very few regrets

      When tidying I recently found some paper tape from the 1980s that contains Fortran IV sources to the "Jack Pike" version of Adventure. I knew I had it somewhere, and I can't read it (yet, it's a project for later...), but I don't plan to lose it.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: One of the very few regrets

        Fortran66, Shirley.

        This link might interest you :-)

        For those unlikely to click random links provided by random commentards, go to and follow your nose.

        1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

          Re: One of the very few regrets

          Fortran66, Shirley.

          Entirely possible. F66 was the standardized ANSI version of F IV, I don't think there was much between them.

          This link might interest you :-)

          Thanks for the reminder, I've not looked at that site for years. I didn't realise that I had a tape of a 'lost' version, I got it from Jack Pike in 1979 or maybe 1980. There were indeed two tapes, one with the source and one with the data file obfuscated by reversing each sequence of 4 characters, so that first line began something like:



          presumably so that messages & locations weren't immediately obvious. I should still have both tapes, and have sometimes thought about hacking a tape reader together. Should make a good Arduino or RPi project for the winter evenings. I'll drop Mike Arnautov a note.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: One of the very few regrets

            You might have the oldest known version, which would be a very cool find indeed. Let us know if Mike adds a copy to his site.

            This round's on me ... us packrats gotta stick together :-)

        2. Stevie

          Re: One of the very few regrets

          The University of East Climategate was using Fortran IV as of 1977.

      2. swm

        Re: One of the very few regrets

        The original adventure game was written at Xerox PARC.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: One of the very few regrets

          "The original adventure game was written at Xerox PARC."

          Nope. Crowther was at BBN in Cambridge, Massachusets in 1975 when he initially wrote it. Right bout the same time that he he moved on to XeroxPARC in 1976, Don Woods at SAIL asked permission to work on/extend it. (SAIL and PARC worked hand in hand on many projects back then. This wasn't one of them) To the best of my knowledge Crowther didn't do much, if anything, with Adventure during his half decade or so at PARC.

  10. LenG

    Dropped cards

    Out of university I worked in an engineering department for the now abolished GLC. All the data for our structural models was entered on card for overnight runs, which could take many hours. When the night operators wanted to go home early they would simply drop a box of cards and return them to us for resorting the next day.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Dropped cards

      Give them two copies of each card deck. Dropping one could be an accident, dropping both would lead to a sharp interview.

    2. hutchism

      Re: Dropped cards

      Guns don't kill people rappers do!

      1. David 132 Silver badge

        Re: Dropped cards

        I seen it in a documentary on BBC2!

    3. AndyMTB

      Re: Dropped cards

      Same here, massive decks for aircraft finite element models. Our main computers were the other side of of the city, a particularly large set of cards slid out of the van on a roundabout in the city centre.

      Incidentally, we used a home-made FE program running on an ICL 1906A. The full analysis run could take days - or rather, several nights in batch. The Fortran code was converted to run on a new Vax,taking just a few hours. Probably run in minutes on the lowest spec PC you can find these days.

  11. scott2718282828

    I am old enough to have used punch cards, dropped a deck down the stairs, and so on. I remember the joys of putting serial numbers in columns 73-80 (or wishing you had), diagonal lines on the edge of the deck, etc. But nobody has mentioned the uses of the little chads produced by the card punch machines.

    I was in the high school band in the late sixties, and one popular prank was picking one victim to blast with confetti from multiple directions. (It's always the drum section, they're a bunch of thugs.) If you are armed with weapons-grade punch card chad your father provided from work though, you are untouchable. You only have to retaliate with that stuff once or twice for them to learn how uncomfortable those tiny little cardboard rectangles with pointy corners can be when they get down the collar of your heavy band uniform jacket. And you can't take it off to get rid of them for a couple of hours.

    1. ben kendim

      Packing chads (acquired from the big waste drawer built into the punch machine) into a car's exhaust was always fun. Especially when it was parked with the aft end pointing where people were likely to line up, like the student lot at the university, right by where everybody lined up for ride share...

    2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

      Safer than paper tape chads, which being round and slightly domed could stick to a damp eyeball & require hospital attention to remove without causing damage.

      1. Stevie

        paper tape chads

        My chief programmer's Cherokee Chief* was rendered scrap when the punch girls doused every surface including the engine block (WHY?) with paper tape chads adhered with a light coating of fairy liquid as part of her impending wedding celebration.

        The mechanics who stripped the car found spindled chads in the carb jets. which suggests someone had added them to the petrol tank.

        * - Hubby to be ran a swank car dealership.

    3. Antron Argaiv Silver badge

      We had an obnoxious student on our dorm floor. Polite requests to tone down his partying achieved nothing. Stronger measures were called for.

      One weekend, he went away. Fatal error. After unplugging all possible ignition sources (see, we were thinking...a bit), his room was filled to eye level with crumpled (but highly flammable...) newsprint.

      The drawer with his underwear, was liberally dosed with punch card chad (the future Mrs Argaiv worked in the computer room), about a cubic foot worth IIRC.

      He was very annoyed when he returned late Sunday night.

      When he returned the next year, he was somewhat better behaved, but continued to complain about finding punch card chad in his clothing.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Starting in the late '60s, filling dorm rooms with packing peanuts was expressly forbidden at Berkeley.

      2. Pen-y-gors

        A variation...

        A 'friend' once decided to wind up the old dear who used to clean our rooms. Scattered a load of punched 'holes' from paper over the carpet.

        Fair enough. Easy to hoover up

        Then he used a tube of copydex to stick a dozen of them to the carpet....

        Punched 'holes' could also be used to bug people in a less than obvious way. Just go through all their books and add a small handful between random pages. A joke that lasts for years.

        1. Stevie

          Re: A variation...

          Got yelled at for loading Dad's self-opening brolly with these back in '71-ish.

          He was walking past the fire station heading toward Coventry city centre down the Radford Road when it started to drizzle. He raised his brolly and pressed the trigger and deployed a blizzard of chads - all over the nearby policeman standing downwind.

    4. jake Silver badge

      When I was at Bigger Blue, it was rumo(u)red that being caught with a quantity of chad was a firing offense.

  12. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Bills with punched cards

    On this side of the pond, extremely many moons ago, we got punched cards with our utilities bills (water, electric, garbage, etc) and the standard "do not bend, fold, or mutilate" on them was fodder for lots of crap comedians.

    Anyway, when I went to college, I used my newfound knowledge (and access to the machines) to decipher the cards, and one night I repunched a card so it showed a negative amount of electricity used.

    Lo and behold, we got a very large refund on our account ($300 or $400 or so, when a usual bill was $35) on the next bill. I never did that again.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Bills with punched cards

      Sears and similar department stores had miniature punched cards called "Kimball tags" that were used the way we use bar codes today. A friend discovered that if he poked an extra hole or two the register would puke on the card, thus enabling any manner of social engineering options, especially if the flunky running the register was already rushed or otherwise flustered ... Or in cahoots.

      I never had the cajones to try this. Too much margin for error.

  13. aerogems Silver badge

    In what seems like a lifetime ago, I worked in a major fast food chain part-time. They had just gotten these spiffy new touch screen POS terminals which were controlled by a computer stuffed into the closet that was the first of the two drive through windows. The computer was running MS-DOS as best I could tell, not even a multi-tasking variant like DR-DOS, so the entire system seemed to rely on the idea that it was extremely unlikely two orders would ever hit at exactly the same time.

    I don't recall exactly how I figured this out, but I realized that if you tapped one of the corners of a POS display you'd get a popup to set the time and date. So, sometimes when it was slow, and I was bored, I'd bring that up on an unused terminal and see how long before someone noticed it. Well, turns out, that popup window locked up the entire system until it was cleared. This was discovered when the gods thought it would be funny to have a sudden rush of people come in before anyone had noticed that window up on the terminal. Orders were still being taken and were being added to a queue but they weren't showing up in the kitchen for people to make. The drive through people kept asking where orders were, so the kitchen would just make them. Eventually I hear one of the managers say something to the effect of, "How did this get left open!?" as they were near the terminal I had brought up the time and date window on. After they canceled out of it the kitchen got about a half-hour's worth of orders all at once and had to figure out which ones had already been made and which ones were still needed. Naturally I do my best innocent whistling routine the whole time, pretending like I'm not listening carefully to every word and just really focused on making the orders on the screen. Fortunately they didn't deem it worth checking the security tapes, so it became just one of those little mysteries. Fortunately in the world of fast food, memories are short and by the next shift no one seemed to even remember what happened.

  14. elawyn

    Fun for days!

    Way back in the early days, I was a shift leader in the computer room ( ICL 2904), I'd called in the engineers to fix the card reader and while they were in the other room finagling something they'd removed from the staking tray, I wrote " DO NOT USE CARD READER" in 6 inch high red letters on the whiteboard. Or ops manager( Hiya Barry!) Came walking in with a full tray of cards, I was across the room putting a new ribbon on a line printer and watched as Barry loaded a full stack of batched cards ( 10 cards followed by a checksum card, hundreds of them!) into the card reader and kicked the job off. Keep in mind that Barry was insistent we all check the whiteboard before running anything!

    I watched in horror ( well, amusement actually!) as the card reader started reading at it's fll speed of about 300 cards per minute, the stacker not stacking but instead flinging the cards into the air.

    Barry killed the job, spent a while picking up the scattered cards and just putting them back in the reader ( they didn't bother with sequence numbers at that place) and restarting the job. Every group was rejected for invalid checksums and Barry had had to go grovelling to the punch girls to have everything re-keyed. I was kind enough to point the big message on the whiteboard as he was picking up all those cards from the floor. I think he invented a couple of new swearwords that day!

  15. Charlie van Becelaere

    I'm so obsolete

    that I had to use punched cards to program an inventory control system in COBOL.

    If I had maintained any of those skills I might have been very popular at Y2K parties.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: I'm so obsolete

      COBOL coders are actually in great demand right now. Perhaps take a course to re-light those dormant brain cells?

  16. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    Not quite punchcards

    but punchtape

    At the end of the punchtape theres a choice of 2 commands, program end and program end/tape rewind

    As a newbie I always used end/rewind.. its what I'd been taught.. its what I knew..

    However what I didnt know was that the tape reader/reels thing on the machine was buggered....... so my loverly crafted program on the punch tape went into the machine and it performed brilliantly right up tape end/rewind.... where upon the tape was very successfully shredded by the reader.

    Bit of shame really as night shift wnated to make another 11 parts and the tape is in bits........ oops

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: Not quite punchcards

      Not your fault if no one told you. Crap management is crap management whenever it happened

  17. Pen-y-gors

    Lift shafts?

    I suspect there are still a load of punched cards at the bottom of the lift shaft at the old Pearl Assurance offices in 252 High Holborn.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Lift shafts?

      There probably are ... but they have been permanently cemented in place, thanks to decades of spilled sugar-drinks (coffee, tea, soda) interspersed with dripping floor wax.

      You can guess how I know this ...

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Good Old Days

    Back in 1969-1970 I attended the local technical school 2 year business program. We had a semester of programming a large computer with punch cards. No clue what exactly the equipment was ( DEC ? and FORTRAN ? ) but we'd work all class and hand in our tray of cards at the end and pray that when it was run during the evening that the print-out we received in the morning would show more than checksum errors and programming errors :) Never did it myself but I do recall classmates dropping their trays and having to start over.

    Whenever someone starts talking about the good old days and brags about whatever computer they used back in the 80's or earlier I always get to brag about my first experiences long before them. Of course I sometime even bring up the fact that my mother was a punch card operator during WWII at a defense contractor. Big brother was a new born when she worked there so he could out brag all of us. In the late 80's I helped her buy her first PC and she took an evening class at the same school.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Good Old Days

      > Of course I sometime even bring up the fact that my mother was a punch card operator during WWII at a defense contractor.

      Pah! :-)

      In the 1930s my grandmother's actual job title was "computer".

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Good Old Days

        Kids these days ...

        Me multiple-greats Gran wove a scarf for Ada Lovelace on a Jacquard loom.

        That's a joke, I say, a joke ... look at me when I'm talkin' to ya, son!

      2. Terry 6 Silver badge

        Re: Good Old Days

        Best see today's Dilbert then (2021/10/26)

  19. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    Lift floors....

    Oh dear, I saw that coming a mile off.

    In 2013 I was on a project upgrading our local authority to the sparkling new Windows 7. Part of the process was testing existing equipment and swapping out kit that wouldn't take the upgrade. With new kit brought upstairs from the the build room.

    Colleague and I were scheduled to bring the latest batch of 20 up to floor six (or where-ever). Using those mini-trolly things stacked with almost a dozen desktops. Out of long-formed habit I pushed mine down the corridor with one hand on the top of the pile for stability even though it was harder to steer. My youthful colleague had both hands on the handle confidently striding towards the open lift doors. Time slowed down.... I could see into the future.... the wheels caught on the slight miss-match of floor levels and a dozen PCs chose to very briefly sample the delights of flight.

    (Apologies to him if he's reading here, I hope it's sufficiently anonymous)

  20. Stevie


    Paper tape was better in every respect but one than cards.

    You couldn't make roaches from paper tape.

  21. DomDF

    Ah, so that explains...

    Why my takeaway delivery had the correct address and order number, but a different name and completely different food. Anyone fancy a bucket of hot wings?

  22. Man inna barrel

    Data input described as "cards" in modern applications

    I have an application for antenna design (NEC), based on FORTRAN code originally developed by the US military. When the military system was upgraded, the old code was released under a public domain license. The modern variant I use on Linux (xnec2c) is a translation of the original FORTRAN into C, with a GUI bolted on. Apparently, the original code was a frightful tangled mess, but it did work rather well.

    The interesting bit is that lines of input are still described as "cards", though the input is actually done via a GUI, where you fill in the fields in boxes. This can be pretty clunky. There are workarounds where you need more parameters than will fit on one card, so you need two or more cards. You would not design an interface like that now. I get the impression that the original FORTRAN was designed by mathematicians, and the modern translations left all that well alone, which resulted in inheriting the clunky (virtual) card data entry system.

    1. mechgru2

      Re: Data input described as "cards" in modern applications

      Almost all Finite Element programs refer to each line of the input file as a 'card', which is a hangover from NASTRAN. The input text file is referred to as the 'deck'.

  23. osxtra
    IT Angle


    Having dealt with my share of cards in the past, that's what I call a floor sort!

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