Ancient technology (what to do with these punch cards)

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iChef
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Ancient technology (what to do with these punch cards)

Postby iChef » Wed Jul 20, 2011 10:15 am UTC

I came upon a box full of old punch cards in my attic. I'm pretty sure they were from my dad's college years in the 70's. Does anyone know how I could find out what is on them? There is a good sized box full. My dad remembers storing the box up there but can't seem to remember exactly what is on all of them. Some of them are for ancient accounting software.
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Re: Ancient technology (what to do with these punch cards)

Postby poxic » Thu Jul 21, 2011 12:49 am UTC

Make art. Get some nifty spray paint, glue, assorted beads or other doodads, and mess around.

Seriously. The cards probably contain a pile of numbers to be calculated, or semi-cryptic account information to be entered into a database, or highly abstracted business processes to be run. I've never used punch cards, but I did use a system that was designed to feed into a machine that used to take punch cards, or something like that. There is still a business function in my industry that is called X69 because, if you punched out box X on row 69, that stock's average cost price was reset to something else.
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Re: Ancient technology (what to do with these punch cards)

Postby mikeeve » Mon Jul 25, 2011 5:34 pm UTC

My dad used to bring home these cards in the '50s and '60s. At Christmas, he'd make a Christmas wreath with them --- seriously, it was a nerdy thing to do back then. They also make good bookmarks, especially if you have some of the brightly colored ones (not all were plain).

I generated plenty of cards like these myself in the early 70s. They were a mixture of job control language, source code, ASCII (or maybe EBCDIC) and binary data.
The 2 major languages were Fortran and COBOL. In the early 90s, I archived thousands of these card images to disk. They were some of the original programs for design of the Saturn booster and orbital calculations for the Apollo missions.

You can probably find a service with a card reader to make a mag tape from them, then get someone to transfer the mag tape to 8" floppy and then etc.

Maybe you could sell them as nerdy souvenirs? 10 for dollar/15 for Euro plus a ton for shipping!

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Re: Ancient technology (what to do with these punch cards)

Postby Carnildo » Tue Jul 26, 2011 4:23 am UTC

mikeeve wrote:You can probably find a service with a card reader to make a mag tape from them, then get someone to transfer the mag tape to 8" floppy and then etc.

It shouldn't be that complicated. I expect most card readers have some form of serial output, so you can archive the bitstream directly to something modern.

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Re: Ancient technology (what to do with these punch cards)

Postby lemmings » Tue Jul 26, 2011 9:28 am UTC

If you're a DIY nerd that is handy with both hardware and software, you can find out yourself. Construct a device which can separate the individual cards from each other so that you can take photos of them. This will basically be like the DIY book-scanners, except much easier as you don't have to worry about turning pages. Then feed the results from your digital camera to a computer and a simple optical recognition system that finds out which lines have been punched wont be too hard to write. At this point, you have a 3-dimensionial array that stores each hole which has been punched and at which index.

We don't know what is on the cards, it could be data or it could be machine code instructions that was executed by the reader.

If it's data, then you need to find documentation on the software that ran it or more likely you will have to you will have to tediously look though the data that you received and manually reverse the messages by looking for things that look like strings (they may not be ASCII), financial information, or indexes.

If it's software, then you absolutely need to find documentation of the system that was running it. The data that you received is machine code which was executed by a processor using simple logic operations. Given time, you can recreate this software, burn it onto a disk, slide the disk into the box of punch cards and then slap a sticker on it that says, "supports Windows 7" on it :lol: .

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Re: Ancient technology (what to do with these punch cards)

Postby TaylorP » Wed Jul 27, 2011 2:38 pm UTC

lemmings wrote:Given time, you can recreate this software, burn it onto a disk, slide the disk into the box of punch cards and then slap a sticker on it that says, "supports Windows 7" on it :lol: .


Win. :)


It would be cool to make your own punch card reader that works over USB or something. Imagine having your boss ask to see your progress on some big software project, only to have you pull out your reader and a stack of cards.

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Re: Ancient technology (what to do with these punch cards)

Postby lemmings » Fri Jul 29, 2011 6:59 am UTC

TaylorP wrote:
lemmings wrote:Given time, you can recreate this software, burn it onto a disk, slide the disk into the box of punch cards and then slap a sticker on it that says, "supports Windows 7" on it :lol: .


Win. :)


It would be cool to make your own punch card reader that works over USB or something. Imagine having your boss ask to see your progress on some big software project, only to have you pull out your reader and a stack of cards.

I wonder how long it'd take to load a reasonably large software project from punch cards. Commercial products often have on the order of 100,000 to 1,000,000 lines of source code. As I recall from my assembly class projects, a line of code in a higher level language often correlated with about 5 lines of assembly code. Punch cards usually have at least 80 columns of data, however they usually could only store 6 bits of information per column leading to a requirement of about 5 columns/instruction or 16 instructions/punch card.

Based on these assumptions, it should take between 30,000 and 300,000 punch cards to save a program. And paper has a thickness of about .004", so this would require a stack of punch cards between 10 feet tall and 100 feet tall. :shock:

Given that this stack is now taller thank the celling, I'd probably invite you to work outside. I hope it isn't windy or else that tree died in vain :twisted:

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Re: Ancient technology (what to do with these punch cards)

Postby Carnildo » Sat Jul 30, 2011 10:48 pm UTC

lemmings wrote:I wonder how long it'd take to load a reasonably large software project from punch cards. Commercial products often have on the order of 100,000 to 1,000,000 lines of source code. As I recall from my assembly class projects, a line of code in a higher level language often correlated with about 5 lines of assembly code. Punch cards usually have at least 80 columns of data, however they usually could only store 6 bits of information per column leading to a requirement of about 5 columns/instruction or 16 instructions/punch card.

Based on these assumptions, it should take between 30,000 and 300,000 punch cards to save a program.

The IBM 5081 (the standard punch card) is 80 columns by 12 rows. In "binary" mode, this translates to 24 36-bit machine words, with the last eight columns being the card sequence number. If you wanted to adapt this to a modern machine, the data area could hold 108 8-bit bytes, or 9710 cards per megabyte of compiled code. The six-bit-per-column restriction you cite is actually six holes per column, needed to provide a rigid enough card to keep early readers from jamming; binary-mode readers don't have this restriction.

In text mode, each column is one EBCDIC character, and a card is one line of source code. However, source lines were typically much denser than they are today (less structure, no comments, and more operations per line), so what would be a 100,000-line program today would have been around 20,000 lines in the punchcard era.

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lemmings
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Re: Ancient technology (what to do with these punch cards)

Postby lemmings » Sun Jul 31, 2011 11:04 am UTC

Carnildo wrote:
lemmings wrote:I wonder how long it'd take to load a reasonably large software project from punch cards. Commercial products often have on the order of 100,000 to 1,000,000 lines of source code. As I recall from my assembly class projects, a line of code in a higher level language often correlated with about 5 lines of assembly code. Punch cards usually have at least 80 columns of data, however they usually could only store 6 bits of information per column leading to a requirement of about 5 columns/instruction or 16 instructions/punch card.

Based on these assumptions, it should take between 30,000 and 300,000 punch cards to save a program.

The IBM 5081 (the standard punch card) is 80 columns by 12 rows. In "binary" mode, this translates to 24 36-bit machine words, with the last eight columns being the card sequence number. If you wanted to adapt this to a modern machine, the data area could hold 108 8-bit bytes, or 9710 cards per megabyte of compiled code. The six-bit-per-column restriction you cite is actually six holes per column, needed to provide a rigid enough card to keep early readers from jamming; binary-mode readers don't have this restriction.

In text mode, each column is one EBCDIC character, and a card is one line of source code. However, source lines were typically much denser than they are today (less structure, no comments, and more operations per line), so what would be a 100,000-line program today would have been around 20,000 lines in the punchcard era.

Ah, thank you. Looks like we're still stuck hauling around our programs in crates that'd require trolleys to move.


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