Am I old enough to remember keypunch cards? Umm, yeah…

This question asked by one of my co-workers. No, she is not a “millennial generation” kiddo. Actually, we don’t seem to have a whole lotta those where I work. Go figger. She is my age or possibly just a leetle scrappy leetle bit older. Or maybe younger. I’m not sure. She and I are somewhere around the age where we throw out junk mail from the AARP and Cadillac vee-hickles. At least I do, maybe she doesn’t. I don’t keep my age a secret. If there’s a reason to say how old I am, I do. 54. Just like that. But I don’t broadcast it either. Why would anyone want to know? Anyway, she is my friend, a beautiful woman and wonderful mentor in this new journey I seem to have undertaken. But I still think she was being *way* polite asking that.

Yes. Sigh. I do definitely remember keypunch cards. Keypunched cards were our main data processing media back in what I now often refer to as something like “my old professional computer career back in the dark ages”. People would submit 80-column data entry sheets at our I/O window. We would log them in, our keypunch gals would keypunch the data onto those cards. And yes, they were always gals, although I did train myself to use one of those machines so I could pinch-hit. Oh yeah, I am a gal too. Then our computer operators would batch the newly keypunched data cards together with, well, what should I say here, a bunch of old folded, stapled, mutilated cards that represented whatever job needed to be run and, with a little luck, the job would process quickly and a printout would spit out. Or maybe not. We were connected to the U of M mainframe and sometimes it was down or hung or slow or whatever and even if the computer was working, sometimes the printer would die or whatever. And it was a different sort of printer than we have today. I could sit in the other room and tell by the sound it made what kind of report or whatever was being printed and sometimes I could even tell who had printed it. Ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunkity chunkity chunk.

I know that some of y’all who read this blahg cut your programming teeth on keypunch cards. I can’t even imagine having to type a Fortran (or assembly language?) program onto cards and hand it in to some dude and wait for him to hand me back about 200 pages of errors because I had made one blasted typo. I taught myself Fortran (IV) on a DecWriter II connected to that blasted U of M mainframe. I could go back in and edit my source code and re-compile it without re-punching a bunch of cards. If the mainframe wasn’t down or hung or whatever. That was light-years beyond what some of y’all *early* (70s) adopters had to do. And a quantum leap backwards from what we have nowadays.

I am outta steam but, yes, I am old enough to remember keypunch cards. In a lot of ways, I miss those days.

8 Responses to “Am I old enough to remember keypunch cards? Umm, yeah…”

  1. Dog Mom Says:

    Even some of the bills and magazine subscriptions from that era came thru the mail containing a partially-keypunched card that always had to be returned with the customer’s response/payment!!!

    I did FORTRAN and COBOL and JCL on punch cards. Because my stuff was relatively small, I punched my own, then (in Oak Ridge) loaded the code into LIBRARIAN, which then allowed us to reference the code without the huge deck (if I remember correctly). JCL was a challenge for me, as it used some rather odd keywords…..and there were no manuals and it wasn’t taught at MTU!!!!

  2. Kathy Farnell Says:

    Hey, do you remember the ticker tape like paper rolls that I think came from computers? My dad bought a roll of it home one day trying to explain that if you ran that roll of Paper (light green, about 1 1/2″ wide) through the computer (or reader) it had real info on it! Not just a bunch of holes! I think I was about 10 or 11 years old.

  3. Maquis Says:

    Real men, like the GG and I we programmed Compass. Compass was Control Data Corporation’s assembly language. Compass was an assembly language, consequently it had to be assembled in order to become machine language. Real men like the GG and me, we patched our assembly code at the machine level. HECK, us real men read and wrote machine language.

    I’m going to go off now and relieve myself of my testosterone overdose now.

  4. GG Says:

    I did the COMPASS assembly language thing with the Marquis. It was easy since it only had 63 instructions plus a NO-OP.

    Formula Translation is always written in CAPS as FORTRAN.

    I still have a paper tape of Garth Courtois Jr. ETAOIN SHRDLU Chess Program for the early version of the Data General Nova Mini-computer.

    COMPASS, FORTAN, APL, COBOL, Forth, C, C++, Visual Studio, Visual FORTRAN, VBA, various web languages…..

  5. Jay Says:

    Yes – the green papertape. I used it in high school with Basic. We had “punch” cards too that we did FORTRAN on that they would take to UM to run, except they were not really punched – they were Mark Sensing – you know, take you number 2 pencil and fill in each square instead of it being punched out after you got to type in your work.

  6. Kingfisher Says:

    Oh yes, I do remember keypunch cards. In fact, I looked up to the keypunch operators because they were considered “highly skilled”. (And then suddenly obsolete). Our income tax refunds used to come on keypunch cards! (Just remembered that).

    I taught myself BASIC way back when (in a rather elementary way), but never had any formal training. Used to be to operate a computer you had to know at least a little programming. Just a user these days. And I do mean a USER!

  7. jane Says:

    I used keypunch cards in college at MTU. you know what’s sad? when someone drops their cards on the floor and then they’re out of order. that’s sad, except when you break out into hysterical laughter. which is probably just relief that it hasn’t happened to you.

    and I remember the green papertape too – it was probably Jay’s homework or something. I never used it that I recall.

  8. Pooh Says:

    If the Maquis wasn’t so full of testiness, he would have admitted to the green paper tape too. That’s what we used in HS. We had four machines that made the paper tape from your typing on a keyboard. Only one of the machines had a reader and was connected by phone line to the UM computer. Once, someone didn’t watch their feet, and they stepped on someone’s long scroll of paper tape. OUch! Could we tape it back together?

    At MSU, we submitted jobs on the punch cards. The profs always said to put the card number in columns 72-80, in case your card deck fell, as Jane mentioned. How many of us did that? I’m thinking of a binary digit between 0 and 1, inclusive.

    That’s why I laughed while setting up a PC for a new user at the Corps of Engineers, and she asked, “Did you learn how to do this at college?” A lot of changes in computers had occurred in the ~20 years between college and then.