On this day in 1887, Herman Hollerith was awarded a patent for his punched card calculator. He designed his machine to automate the processing of the census records, and the company that he founded went on to become IBM.
The card shown is identical to the ones that I used when I first started learning to program, back in 1975. Each card, we were taught, should have a single line of fortran code. Each card, we were taught, should have an instruction number - so that if we dropped the card deck, we could reassemble our program in the correct order.
There weren't ever enough card punch machines. The card punch would chop a hole in a location on the card, so that the card reader could determine what character was encoded. If you made a typing mistake, you had to throw away the card and type another, unless you were good with masking tape and an exacto knife (I wasn't, and had to stand in line).
The card decks were loaded into the reader face down, nine edge first. The nine edge was the long side, shown on the bottom of the picture. Now that you know it, I can tell you an obsolete technology joke:
When Herman Hollerith died in 1929, he was buried face down, nine edge first.And now that I told you that, I can tell you another obsolete computer joke, about card punch machines. When you pressed a key on the keyboard, the punch chopped a small piece out of the card. The piece, called chaff, fell down into a glorified wastebasket called a Chaff Box. High-end card punch machines had sensors for the Chaff Box, so the Operators would know to come and empty it.
A man I knew was once the Uber Support guy in the Computer Center - the guy that everyone went to with the unsolvable or unknowable problems. The guru on the mountaintop, so to speak. With a evil sense of humor.
One day a junior Operator came to him, with a puzzled expression. He's received a strange OPSCOM console message, Chaff Box Full. What did this mean? I should point out that this was after most card punch machines had been replaced by electronic terminals - but a few had been kept to support older card deck programs.
Ralph explained the message, and the junior Operator left to empty the chaff. Ralph forged a OPSCOM message: Chaff Box Empty. Junior came back, even more confused, and then dismayed to find out that "You need to leave an inch or so of chaff at the bottom of the box!"
I never learned if Ralph ever got the Operator to bring him a left handed smoke shifter.
UPDATE 8 June 2010 22:00: ASM826 remembers some tech pranks from Back in the Day.