Not Old Enough to Remember Punch Cards

I guess it makes me feel a little better on my last day of being able to claim being 34 that there are some of my fellow bloggers out there who still remember programming on punch cards.  The first computer I ever used was one of these.  No punch cards, but it did have a BASIC interpreter, and you had to load and save programs through a MODEM like device onto an audio cassette.  Next machine was this one.  We were lucky to have one with an expansion slot and a high resolution color monitor.  But hey, it had a screaming fast 1MHz 6502 in it, and a whopping 64K of RAM.  It was an aircraft carrier compared to the 16MHz of RAM in the TI.  Of course, the TI’s 3MHz TMS9900 was faster than the Apple, but it never felt it.

By the time I hit college, I was using this machine, which I still have up in my attic, and as of a few months ago, still boots MacOS Version 7.5 just fine.  Most obscure system I ever had the pleasure of working with was one made by this company, and I have more than passing familiarity with Unisys’ line of A-Series mainframes, and its MCP/CANDE operating system.  Not many people left to know what a CS Bus is.  A-Series was an interesting beast.  Did most of it’s I/O through dedicated I/O processors.  The machines were basically designed to move large quantities of data, which is why so many large banks and airlines liked them.  Fault tolerance out the wazoo.  The entire machine could be paused, and the state of every flip flop and register in the system shifted out through a JTAG interface, then shifted back in if corrections could be made.  All the while users would be unaware this was happening.  I worked on those systems back in the days when I was a real computer engineer, rather than an IT monkey.

17 thoughts on “Not Old Enough to Remember Punch Cards”

  1. I may be dating myself but my first programming class was on a TTY terminal with paper tape reader Telephone netted into a DEC10 through a 1200 BAUD modem that you had to place the phone handset into. Punch cards were a step up.

    Next big leap was working for Radio Shack when the Trash-80 came out. I was the only person in teh region that had any training and could actually program in Basic as well as Assembler. Damn those cassette tapes looked good at the time.

  2. Sebastian,

    I’m about the same age as you, and I too had my first computing experience on a TI-99. Wrote, saved and loaded programs to it via cassette :D

    The TI-99 was followed by a Commodore 64, and then a string of PCs, with the latest being an iMac. It’s amazing how things have changed, but I agree it must seem even more drastic to those that had to program on punch cards. BASIC sucked, but at least it was a (somewhat) high-level language, at least compared to writing assembly/machine code on cards.

  3. Guess I’m way late, and more than a dollar short.

    I remember seeing quite of bit of this stuff, but I never purchased my own computer till Summer ’06. Only used them at work, had no reason to own one.

    Who woulda thunk?

  4. The first computer I used in college required this to communicate with the DEC 9 mini.

    My first PC was a Kaypro 4 Plus 88 which had both C/PM 80 and MS-DOS v. 1.25 on it. It had all of 64K RAM for C/PM 80 and it could expand to 256K RAM for the MS-DOS.

    I remember my uncle who installed water-cooled mainframes for IBM never thought the PC and esp. the PC Jr. would amount to anything.

  5. Man I’m feeling old! Started working on Competers while in the Army in 68. We had IBM 1460’s, 7010’s. Then we really had it great when they brought in the IBM 360-50’s! In Vietnam we IBM 360-30’s. Had to freeze our butts off because if we got over 75 degrees the computer’s would shut down.Ahhh…the good old day’s! LOL

  6. My first computer was a TI99-4/A as well. Then I graduated to a C64 which I used for the next 9 years until I got a Mac. I loved typing programs listed in magazines or books in BASIC and I remember saving them off to cassette tape, and later floppy disk.

    What would suck is if I forgot to save the program before running it, and, after typing in god knows how many lines of PEEK, POKE, and DATA statements with all of those memory addresses and constants, would crash the computer because I mis-typed some value and POKE’d something to the wrong memory location.

  7. Sebastian, yup, I’m a bit older than you. Tomorrow if you take your age and reverse the order of the digits you will have my age.

  8. Paper tape was before my time, but before I got into system administration I did “keypunch” on “reverse 10 key” (anybody remember that latter?) on card reader systems. By then they were legacy’s, of course.

    And then there were those huge floppy disks (like 14″) at some sites and the Adam I had at home that ran with cassette tape drives and hope. Actually a good wordprocessor, but without the floppy drive a lousy storage device.

    In my earliest resumes I brag about working with Novell servers with a full “3 GB” of storage space!

  9. “Let us play Global Thermonuclear War!”

    Ah the good old days of the old Macintosh. Back in the day, I rmember when My Dad bought a whole bunch of Apple stock. It went through the floor! I was hankering for him to buy Hasbro (I was really into GI Joe…) which was showing some serious promise. Anyway, I my first one was one of the Mac Plus’s. What high end machine it was……LOL! My favorite was playing Mac Attack (the tank game) on it. It was just pure awesome……

  10. I started with a 286 with 512k of ram and a 5 mb hard drive. I was at one time familiar with the 8086 processor, functioning and programming.

    I remember when 4 megs of ram cost 80 bucks.

    Remember – “risc always trumps cisc!”


  11. How timely. I have been on an eBay buying spree to relive my early days. Just got a Vic-20 in the mail (my 2nd computer). Working on getting my 1st which was a Timex Sinclair 1000. Ironically, buying that nearly 30 year old machine costs as much today as it did for me in 1980.

    I’m 36 so I am like Sebastian. I skipped the punch card era but they did have one in my college. Solely because it was too heavy and too large to get out the door. We programmed on the mainframe using Joe’s “visual editor” (xedit). My experience runs the gamut from direct entry and saving to cassette up to today. Heady days! Looking forward to enjoying the experience of loading programs from tape tonight.

  12. OOPs.. Happy Birthday.. Boy you are getting old.. Dinner is on me… Only one responder (Eagle’s Dominion), who remembers what I remember.. The first computer I worked on was an IBM 360-20, with a card reader only. The next year the school upgraded to a 360-30 with a card reader and tape drive.
    We programmed in COBOL, and assembly.


  13. I used the paper cards in college (sheeze I’m old). The joy of the cards is when you finally got the damn program to run, someone would come by and knock the pile of cards over, mixing up the order.

    Then after several hours, you’d get it to work again and go home where your rooom-mate needed a piece of paper to pick his teeth with. Of course, he being a jerk pulls out one of the punch cards from the middle of the deck. Thus, the program doesn’t run the next time you are at the machine.

    Ahhh, the joys of punch cards in college.

  14. In College we an IBM System 34 with 128K of ram and 27MB of hard disk supporting 5 Users at a time. It had an 8″ floppy drive that if I recall took single sided hard sectored 70K diskettes. Anyone remember hard sectored floppys?

    After graduation, at my first job the first computer I put my hands on was being used to set type at a commercial printer. It was booted by typing the boot sequence into a HEX keypad which then loaded the operating system and program from Paper Tape!

    The REAL computer was a Microdata 1600 running “Reality”; a MicroData version of the PICK operating system.

    To be honest… those were much simpler times!

  15. I forgot to mention that I used to be able to “read” the ASCII punched in the tape.

  16. Oh yes I remember paper punch tape, punch cards, cassette tape, 1″ tape, 2″ ( video) tape. and all that. The first computer I worked on was a hybred. half analog, half digital. Paper punch load and had a 53 track drum memory.

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