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The Last of the Punch Card Programmers 149

Posted by samzenpus
from the back-to-basics dept.
Peter Cus writes "Cluny Lace, an English lacemaking manufacturer, has reverted to 19th-Century Leavers machines in order to stay competitive. These 19th-Century machines use Jacquard punch cards. Ian Elm, thought to be the last of the card punchers, says young people don't want factory work: 'Younger people coming into a trade want a guarantee of a career out of it, and this is so uncertain.'"
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The Last of the Punch Card Programmers

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  • Hard to believe (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mangu (126918) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @12:13PM (#33481742)

    There's something more that the article did not mention. It's not as if 19th century technology has been forgotten already.

    If there is a market for it, you can be sure someone will build a modern machine to do it better, faster, and cheaper than those old machines do.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Colin Smith (2679)

      If there is a market for it.

      Well, that's the key isn't it. You have to have a market which understands and cares about quality. So far, there isn't really any evidence for that. The evidence is generally for faster/cheaper.

      What market exists for quality is only sufficient to sustain some old 19th century technologies.
       

      • Business basics (Score:5, Insightful)

        by AliasMarlowe (1042386) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @12:43PM (#33481912) Journal

        The evidence is generally for faster/cheaper.

        Indeed. Business 101 teaches us that "cheap shit drives good shit out of the market" in a race to the bottom. Business 201 modifies this slightly by noting that statutory regulations and standards usually place a lower bound on how shitty stuff can get. MBA courses subsequently add an "unfortunately" to the latter observation.

        • Business 101 teaches us that "cheap shit drives good shit out of the market"

          That's down to the national culture.

          Actually I have a theory it's related to the true rate of inflation (as opposed to the published level) within an economy.
           

        • Re:Business basics (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 05, 2010 @01:55PM (#33482198)

          Your "cheap shit drives good shit out of the market" idea is not Business 101. It's nothing more than short-term thinking on display. It's short-term thinking that has sent our IT jobs offshore. It's short-term thinking that has sent the majority of our manufacturing jobs offshore. It's short-term thinking that lays off employees to create non-existent profits rather than engaging in more research and development to create more income through new or improved products.

          It's short-term thinking that has sent so many jobs overseas that we have drastically reduced the buying power of our own economy and sent millions of people into long-term unemployment. You can call all this shit Business 101 all you want. I call it flat out stupidity.

          • by MsGeek (162936)

            Mod up insightful.

            Then again sometimes "good enough" is: I am typing this to you on an Acer netbook. It cost me $200. It is better than a micro-lappie from 2000 which I also have as part of my collection: a ThinkPad 240. It was the netbook of its day and cost...$3,000 US in 2000 dollars.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IBM_Thinkpad_240 [wikipedia.org]

          • I *am* a business major, and one of the most consistent themes from my professors is that responsible behavior is supposedly financially better in the long run anyways, in addition to whatever ethical/moral claims involved.

            • by whoever57 (658626)

              I *am* a business major, and one of the most consistent themes from my professors is that responsible behavior is supposedly financially better in the long run anyways, in addition to whatever ethical/moral claims involved.

              Unfortunately, there are too many CEOs whose compensation is linked to short term goals. This, IMHO, is due to the fact that the board members frequently don't have have significant shareholdings and the CEOs have too much control over the board. This, is IMHO, due to the legal framewor

            • by russotto (537200)

              I *am* a business major, and one of the most consistent themes from my professors is that responsible behavior is supposedly financially better in the long run anyways, in addition to whatever ethical/moral claims involved.

              Ah, but as John Maynard Keynes pointed out, in the long run we're all dead.

              • by MaggieL (10193)

                That would help explain why the Keynesians have no problem with running up the tab and leaving it to the kids.

                • by russotto (537200)

                  That would help explain why the Keynesians have no problem with running up the tab and leaving it to the kids.

                  Hence the quip that Keynes is dead, it's the long run, and we're left holding the bag.

        • Re:Business basics (Score:5, Insightful)

          by hitmark (640295) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @02:10PM (#33482264) Journal

          I wonder how much the "cheap shit" issue have to do with readily available credit.

          With hard to obtain credit, one would see things as more of an investment and therefor try to get more out of each unit of currency.

          But with cheap credit it is all to easy to just go "if it breaks, i'll just buy a new one".

          And it's probably not helping that spare parts are more expensive. That is: if one buy the parts and try to assemble a second device, one can not match the price of the first, fully assembled, device.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Totenglocke (1291680)
          You blame it on businesses, but the only reason it sells is because the average person would rather buy a cheap POS than spend more money to get a quality product. I used to work retail and I can't count how many people would buy something just because "It's so cheap!" and I'm standing there trying not to say "It's so cheap because it's utter shit and only a moron would buy it".
      • Re:Hard to believe (Score:5, Insightful)

        by hey! (33014) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @01:26PM (#33482082) Homepage Journal

        This reminds me of the most fascinating lecture by a bad speaker I've ever heard. It was a by a cognitive therapist on the topic of "Willpower". He had what I thought was an interesting point: there are other ways to conceptualize self-discipline than in terms of willpower. He argued that it is more useful to look at what we call willpower as a matter of scope: the universe of outcomes we consider when we make a decision. There is the dimension of time: if I buy the cheap alternative now, in the short term I have the widget I need and more money in my pocket. In the long term I may have to keep buying that widget over and over again. There is a social dimension. If I make a selfish decision, I undermine people around me upon whom I depend. I think one aspect of contemporary culture is a pressure to narrow the scope of our decisions. We are trained by big box stores to go to the store with the lowest advertised entry price and walk out on our first visit having made a purchase. If that purchase is cheesy enough, we'll be back again soon for a replacement. Our attention is saturated with distractions and exhortations to act now because the clock is ticking on a low price for a purchase we probably shouldn't make in the first place.

        We've been trained, I think, not to buy quality for *pragmatic* reasons. Instead, quality is a *fashion statement*. People will will drop several thousand dollars on a Rolex watch that doesn't keep any better time than a $30 watch with a Japanese quartz movement, because of the vast amount of labor and craftsmanship lavished on the inferior technology to bring it up to scratch. As it happens, I don't condemn the quality as fashion statement phenomenon. Arguably it is entirely rational to make top quality lace using 19th century tech. What better place to make a fashion statement than in fashion? There is a certain charm to displaying an elaborate textile created on a authentic period technology. Likewise there's a charm to having a watch (which is after all jewelry) with an exhibition back that lets you show off the complex automatic movement. I do worry about the lack of pragmatic concern for quality.

        As an environmentalist I believe one of the best ways to reduce human impact on the Earth while improving human lives is to focus on pragmatic quality. Buying quality is even better than recycling. It's actually better for the planet to drop a couple thousand dollars on an office chair that will look like new in twenty years, than to buy five or six cheap chairs over the years that fall apart. That's true even if you recycle the junk chairs. In the meantime you're a lot more comfortable. Environmentalism doesn't necessarily mean wearing a hair shirt, although buying the very best may not always be possible with one's immediate means.

        In any case, getting back to this speaker, he was extremely insightful, but spoke in a very slow monotone with lots of "umms" and "errs" that made it very difficult to follow him. The effect is hypnotic. I have the lecture on my iPod, and play it when I have difficulty sleeping. The insights in it are enough to capture my attention, but the delivery has me nodding off within a few minutes.

        • by Raenex (947668)

          cognitive therapist

          Phrases like this set my bullshit detector off.

          other ways to conceptualize self-discipline than in terms of willpower

          What you describe is something we already know, which is why we are engaging in willpower: We are trying to resist short-term urges that are bad in the long-term. Example: Quit smoking.

          Buying quality is even better than recycling.

          The trick is actually knowing what the true quality of something is. Paying more isn't any guarantee. I've bought cheap furniture that has done just fine for for a number of years. Is it worth the risk to pay many times more for something that might last for 20 years?

          The other tr

          • by hey! (33014)

            Phrases like this set my bullshit detector off.

            Which is ironic, because phrases like *that* set *my* bullshit detector off. But I try to ignore it. One ought not be credulous about any such detector that operates on automatic.

            • by Raenex (947668)

              One ought not be credulous about any such detector that operates on automatic.

              It's just a warning flag. You'll note, unlike your post, I backed up my detector claims with actual criticisms.

              • by hey! (33014)

                You need to back up claims with evidence, not criticisms.

                • by Raenex (947668)

                  You need substance, not one liners. I gave real examples along with my criticisms.

                  • by hey! (33014)

                    You didn't criticize. You (ironically) pontificated about something you don't really know anything about (cognitive therapy). You then pulled an "example" (smoking cessation) out of thin air which didn't have any bearing at all on your "criticism", which it could not have because the "criticism" was inherently substanceless (i.e. "sounds like bullshit to me". OK, I accept that, but it doesn't *mean* anything).

                    Now, if you said, "I prefer behavior modification therapy because it is evidence based (see B.F.

          • by cromar (1103585)
            It's really not that hard to discern quality, especially if we are talking about furniture or kitchen ware. Wood and metal are definitively sturdier than consumer plastics, and the fewer attachment points, the sturdier they are (say, a chair carved out of solid wood vs a chair fitted together from several parts, or a knife made from one piece of metal). And I mean "real" wood and metal here -- not aluminum or particle board or other pressed woods. Ceramic and glass are also a good investment, unless you
        • I'm reminded of a blog post I read wherein a guy defended his gas-guzzling muscle car (which he liked anyway) by saying it held together much longer than a regular vehicle would, the higher gasoline usage being offset by the lower use of manufacturing resources.

        • Re:Hard to believe (Score:5, Informative)

          by rolfwind (528248) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @04:17PM (#33483008)

          As an environmentalist I believe one of the best ways to reduce human impact on the Earth while improving human lives is to focus on pragmatic quality. Buying quality is even better than recycling. It's actually better for the planet to drop a couple thousand dollars on an office chair that will look like new in twenty years, than to buy five or six cheap chairs over the years that fall apart. That's true even if you recycle the junk chairs. In the meantime you're a lot more comfortable. Environmentalism doesn't necessarily mean wearing a hair shirt, although buying the very best may not always be possible with one's immediate means.

          I would caution against judging quality purely by the price tag. Sure, you're not going to get quality at the $1 store. OTOH, I have owned several recent model Mercedes in my life and the car I'm most happy with as far as reliability is concerned is my current Honda Civic. And it cost 1/3 of the amount new compared to the Mercedes. Mercedes, especially the diesels in the 1980s, were rock solid until they started getting too many electronics in them. Always electrical problems, which can be as expensive to fix as any drivetrain problem. Those specific models I owned were not exactly fashion statements either, just lower end pragmatic cars.

          Imo, from overall buying experience, pragmatic qualities tends to correlate with price under the bottom half or third of the industry price range depending on the product, and fluctuate wildly thereafter.

          As another example, 30 years ago, Ikea made really crappy Kitchen cabinets. Absolute garbage. Doors would loosen and tilt after several weeks of use and using a screwdriver to tighten it up fixed it for a day or two tops (many big box stores still sell these crappy systems). Wanted quality cabinets, you had to get them custom built. These days, the metal hardware was redesigned and dramatically improved on the better and more expensive Ikea cabinets so not everything comes loose in 5 minutes and are actually better than custom built for a fraction of the price in terms of durability and I'd even venture looks in many cases.

          What price generally guarantees you is that the manufacturer can turn to a certain level of raw material and amount of processing/labor involved and still turn a profit. What is does not is that they will crank up the level of raw material/processing, nor that they will actually design it well.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by tombeard (126886)

          The Sam Vimes "Boots" Theory of Economic Injustice runs thus:

          At the time of Men at Arms, Samuel Vimes earnt thirty-eight dollars a month as a Captain of the Watch, plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots, the sort that would last years and years, cost fifty dollars. This was beyond his pocket and the most he, Vimes, could hope for was an affordable pair of boots costing ten dollars, which might with luck last a year or so before he, Vimes, would need to resort to makeshift cardboard insoles so

          • by daveime (1253762)

            But by buying 10 pairs of boots, he was keeping the boot-maker in employment, and his cast-offs could be eaten by Foul Old Ron. Buggrit, Mud & Old Boots.

            This is the reason why everything, from the car you drive, the computer you type message to Slashdot on, and even you yourself, have a shelf-life.

            If everything lasted for ever, the economy would grind to a halt, as no one would need to produce anything.

    • Re:Hard to believe (Score:5, Informative)

      by MoonBuggy (611105) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @12:20PM (#33481792) Journal

      The article mentions exactly that - they say that the modern computer driven machines don't produce lace of the same quality.

      I don't doubt that we could build modern machines to emulate the Victorian ones perfectly, but it's quite possibly cheaper to just keep the old ones going for such a niche product, especially when the current computer-driven machines apparently make lace 'good enough' for most purposes.

      • Re:Hard to believe (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Felgerkarb (695336) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @01:28PM (#33482094)
        Manufactured lace and embroidery was my family's business, for many many years. These machines were run by large spools of punched paper tape. My father and my uncle designed and created an early CAD system, and built machines that would create punch tape from the computerized design.

        Modern machines are now being built that are run directly from computers, but I'd say, given that these are huge expensive machines that are often resold and moved to new locations rather than bought new, the majority still run on paper tape.

        The issue of quality isn't directly related to the machines being computer-driven. The quality depends on the care of the designer, the 'stitch count' or density, and quality of thread, etc. As with many manufactured goods, you can get lace for less money if you accept lower quality. No surprise there.

        I assume the computer-driven machines would let an operator change the stitch count. These days, there are few people (in the West anyway) who know how to create a 'punching' as it is called, and fewer who are interested in learning. Strangely, the remnant of my father's business is just starting to get orders from Asia, so maybe 'Free Trade' is finally coming around to the point where manufacturing costs in the US are competitive with Asia in this regard, but there really is no one ready or willing to meet the manufacturing demand if it ever really comes back. You can probably ditto this sentiment for US shoe manufacturing, furniture, etc.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by falconwolf (725481)

          These days, there are few people (in the West anyway) who know how to create a 'punching' as it is called, and fewer who are interested in learning.

          TFA mentions this, "What do young people want to come into this trade for, especially at the manufacturing end - because it's so dirty, you know". Yet there are young people getting into it and Etsy [etsy.com] provides them a sells outlet.

          Strangely, the remnant of my father's business is just starting to get orders from Asia, so maybe 'Free Trade' is finally coming aroun

        • by hitmark (640295)

          I find myself suspecting that the bulk lace have been undercut by newer computer controlled machines, while the market for more complex have stayed with the older machines.

          That is, the numbers work out like this: Lower quality gives lower price gives higher number of customers. But as one work ones way up the quality level, the number of potential customers drops, creating a kind of pyramid.

        • Strangely, the remnant of my father's business is just starting to get orders from Asia, so maybe 'Free Trade' is finally coming around to the point where manufacturing costs in the US are competitive with Asia in this regard, but there really is no one ready or willing to meet the manufacturing demand if it ever really comes back. You can probably ditto this sentiment for US shoe manufacturing, furniture, etc.

          I keep on hearing that higher-tech and/or more-efficient manufacturing is a major way to compete with hordes of cheap outsourced labor.

        • by Phrogman (80473)

          I see things like this, and I find myself thinking that we are just lacking the means to connect people who want to learn some ancient technology like this with those who *are* willing to learn. Retro is so "in" these days, I would think it would take very little time to find someone who wants to learn how to do a "punching" and is willing to spend the time. Its just the lack of communications between those who would be interested in the skill and those who are in need of trained employees.

      • by DMoylan (65079)

        or perhaps it's like valve radio technology which the audiophiles swear sounds far superior to any transistor ever made. my parents were given a beautiful phillips valve radio for a wedding present which i used as a kid and the sound from that was like nothing i have ever used since.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Audiophile#Amplifiers [wikipedia.org]

        or those engineers who still see advantages to steam.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steam_engine#Advantages [wikipedia.org]

        just because something is newer and cheaper does not mean it is better.

        m

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by timeOday (582209)
          Hmm, I was about to speculate the opposite - the new robotic stuff is probably too perfect, lacking the flaws that we think of as craftsmanship or authenticity. Like how women don't want man-made diamonds even though the only difference is they're flawless [popsci.com]. And just like audiophiles who stick to LPs and vacuum tubes despite all evidence of their inferiority because, hey, what kind of enthusiast am I if I use the same equipment as everybody else?
          • by hitmark (640295)

            The diamond thing, especially as a gift, is probably more about a social test then the actual value. It's a way of asking "how much are you willing to sacrifice for me, and perhaps our shared offspring?".

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Faerunner (1077423)

              No, the "diamond thing" is nothing more than a fantasy spread by De Beers and friends to turn a tidy profit from exploiting diamond mines in Africa. Where did you pull this "social test" BS? 100 years ago nobody gave a shit about diamond rings. Search "De Beers Diamond Ad campaign". There are plenty of sources for this.

              Women want "real" diamonds because that's what the media tells them they should love. Something "real", not "fake" (yes, I know they're real diamonds. Don't get me started on the masses' lack

              • by hitmark (640295)

                Note that you basically confirmed my "BS" later on. It is not about the diamond specifically, but the action. It could be anything hard to come by, dangerous or of high sentimental value that gets invested.

    • Re:Hard to believe (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 05, 2010 @12:27PM (#33481828)

      i work in the metalworking trade, and many times an old screw machine can do a run of parts so much more efficiently than a cnc machine that it is used instead.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by ScrewMaster (602015)

        i work in the metalworking trade, and many times an old screw machine can do a run of parts so much more efficiently than a cnc machine that it is used instead.

        Well, if you mean by "screw machine" a machine that makes screws, well, generally they literally stamp fasteners from spools of metal wire. Much faster and more efficient than trying to machine such parts ... that would be hideously slow in comparison.

        • Re:Hard to believe (Score:5, Interesting)

          by vlm (69642) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @01:00PM (#33481994)

          Well, if you mean by "screw machine" a machine that makes screws, well, generally they literally stamp fasteners from spools of metal wire. Much faster and more efficient than trying to machine such parts ... that would be hideously slow in comparison.

          Not a stamper. Think of a metal lathe, then porcupine it with multiple cutting tools and power feeds, to get a turret lathe. Then add even more clockwork/gearing and it can make multiple parts pretty much hands off, and you got a screw machine.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Screw_machine [wikipedia.org]

          All that clockwork/gearing is complicated as heck to modify compared to feeding a new gcode file into a CNC. However, being hyper-specialized, if you don't need a slow precisely controlled negative X-axis movement or whatever, a screw machine probably has a big ole high tension spring that moves "instantly" vs the CNC slowly methodically and precisely crawling neg x-axis.

          As far as hideously slow, you'd be surprised even in ancient history what a couple horsepower and sharp cutting/forming tools can do...

          • Re:Hard to believe (Score:5, Interesting)

            by ScrewMaster (602015) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @01:24PM (#33482072)

            Not a stamper. Think of a metal lathe, then porcupine it with multiple cutting tools and power feeds, to get a turret lathe. Then add even more clockwork/gearing and it can make multiple parts pretty much hands off, and you got a screw machine.

            Okay. I've seen equipment like that, but the screw machines I'm familiar with (I did a lot of data acquisition work in the fastener industry, many moons ago) were basically large solenoid-operated stamping machines. Rows and rows of the things, all thumping out about three or four parts per second. They had separate dies to form the various parts of the fastener, and were fed by large spools of metal wire (steel, brass, whatever.) They were also very loud, as I remember, although not anywhere near what I experienced in a some automotive stamping plants. Earplugs for the win.

            These were mostly self-tapping parts (drill screws and the like) and the systems I developed measured various attributes such as drill time, peak and tapping torque values, end-load, and so forth. This was mostly for statistical process control purposes, although I did a number of laboratory test systems as well. Those were used for design testing, as well as assessing performance of competitors' parts.

            • Re:Hard to believe (Score:5, Interesting)

              by plover (150551) * on Sunday September 05, 2010 @05:13PM (#33483434) Homepage Journal

              A "screw machine" is the name of an automated lathe, and while they can certainly produce screws, they're often used to make all kinds of cylindrical metal parts. They are not limited to making just screws. We used them to make everything from locomotive fuel injectors to hex-socketed screwdriver shafts.

              We also made plenty of screw-threaded items, but never just ordinary "raw" screws. Other, simpler machines, such as the ones you described, had long ago taken over that task.

      • by vlm (69642)

        A screw machine is a super-specialized brother of a turret lathe but a CNC mill can machine pretty much anything. So its a "specialized task" vs "general purpose" battle.

        The article seems to focus on how the old machine uses punch cards to actuate instead of a PLC and some solenoids or servos, which seems irrelevant to making better lace. So its a binary data format battle.

        The best machinist analogy I can come up with is claiming an old bridgeport with a PDP-8 CNC controller reading gcode off papertape so

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Sarten-X (1102295)

          So its a binary data format battle.

          From what (little) I understand of the machines in the article, it seems the new machines have different capabilities than the old ones. In the pursuit of speed, the new machines lack the ability to make designs that are as intricate as the old ones can. While they're still just "lace" to the untrained eye, the old style is capable of producing a better product.

          Compare board games of the 1950's-1970's with games of today: There are many cases where plastic pieces have been replaced with printed cardboard. S

        • by plover (150551) *

          The best machinist analogy I can come up with is claiming an old bridgeport with a PDP-8 CNC controller reading gcode off papertape somehow magically produces higher quality parts than my current Linux/EMC2 controller system, which I find unlikely.

          A better analogy would be to say that a cam actuated system somehow magically produces higher quality parts than a CNC machine with linear actuators. And all other things being equal, that's a pretty silly statement.

          Therefore, I suspect "all other things" are not equal.

          Perhaps the linear actuators in the CNC equipment are rigidly fixed to operate in one particular fashion and no other. I would suspect that long ago the makers of "the best lace" added novel mechanical levers and arms to get their machines

      • ASIC vs generic CPU analogy FTW!

      • Re:Hard to believe (Score:5, Informative)

        by plover (150551) * on Sunday September 05, 2010 @05:04PM (#33483374) Homepage Journal

        Screw machines are indeed awesome, once they're set up properly. Watching them run is like watching a mechanical ballet. And for what they do, they can be a cheap way to do it. A CNC machining center ties up half a million dollars of electronics and servos but it gets you producing parts after only a few hours to set up the machine. A six spindle mechanical screw machine takes about 40 hours to get properly set up, but it ties up a much cheaper machine while it runs.

        There are a lot of problems with screw machines. The biggest is setting them up properly. You've got to get the speeds and feeds just right (which means a big inventory of cams), your tooling has to be rigid, is often custom, and you don't get all the cool benefits of CNC like automated broken tool replacement. You need a skilled operator who knows how to set them up and keep them running. They're not as flexible either: some operations (like peck drilling) are more difficult, and may require custom cut cams or expensive tool attachments. The big advantage is the run-time cost of the screw machine is much lower. And they're efficient: a multiple spindle screw machine can turn out parts four or five times faster than a single tool CNC machine.

        It really depends on the lot size and on the operations to the parts to be made. If you're producing lots of small runs of intricate parts, the flexibility of the CNC machine will make it cheaper since you spend less time setting it up. If you're producing giant runs of identical simple parts over a long period of time, a screw machine will have much lower operational costs.

        I worked in the 1980s at a shop that had a dozen multiple spindle screw machines, and one of my tasks was developing a screw machine estimating program. The primary problems we faced then were retaining the skilled operators, and the fairly low efficiency of the machines due to constant maintenance issues (tool sharpening, quality control, etc.) By the year 2000 the owner had sold off the last of the multiple spindle machines in favor of all CNC gear. The mechanical beasts simply weren't as profitable for the bulk of his work, which was primarily short runs. Long runs had already moved overseas.

    • There's something more that the article did not mention. It's not as if 19th century technology has been forgotten already.

      If there is a market for it, you can be sure someone will build a modern machine to do it better, faster, and cheaper than those old machines do.

      You've missed the point. There are people who want to hand make things, such as Makers [makezine.com]. And there are others who want what they make. Etsy [etsy.com] is a market for both. Other links from my bookmarks are for handspinning [joyofhandspinning.com] or making your own threads a [etsy.com]

    • > if there is a market for it, you can be sure someone will build a modern machine to do it better
      That would only be true if the market for the end product would be big enough to create a market for the tools.

      The issue for all the "handicraft" is that it is difficult to find good tools, before dwelving into IT I was a copersmith sculptor, and I still do some work now and then.
      But most of my tools are inherited, second hand, self made, ... not because "them good olde times..." and not because a good (or e

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 05, 2010 @12:19PM (#33481778)

    Given how long I've been out of work, I'd take any offer of employment at this point. Punch cards would be swell.

    CS Bachelor's degree and 20 years experience mean jack shit in this economy.

    • by couchslug (175151)

      "CS Bachelor's degree and 20 years experience mean jack shit in this economy."

      What OTHER skills did you invest time and effort in acquiring during those two decades?

      Specialization is wonderful when specialists are in demand, less so when that demand drives a bunch of people to flood the labor market for that specialty, even less so when (normal, periodic) economic cycles shrink that market.

      Great Depression lesson from the Greatest Generation:
      Good times are nice, but if you don't use those times to carefully

      • by russotto (537200)

        What OTHER skills did you invest time and effort in acquiring during those two decades?

        Specialization is wonderful when specialists are in demand, less so when that demand drives a bunch of people to flood the labor market for that specialty, even less so when (normal, periodic) economic cycles shrink that market.

        As someone coming upon 20 years professional programming real soon now... what sort of skills are you referring to? What sort of skills could a person versed in the computer-related specialties le

        • by couchslug (175151)

          One needs skills that are different enough not to be smashed by the same wave of outsourcing.

          They can be learnt as hobby that overlaps a portable trade (auto or truck mechanic, weldor, electronic service tech) or acquired through continuing education (most any field you like, for what one enjoys one is more likely to be good at). Interest in things geekish can translate into different jobs, particularly if one has enthusiasm for electronics.

          While not a programmer, I knew I'd not be an aircraft mechanic afte

          • by russotto (537200)

            They can be learnt as hobby that overlaps a portable trade (auto or truck mechanic, weldor, electronic service tech) or acquired through continuing education (most any field you like, for what one enjoys one is more likely to be good at). Interest in things geekish can translate into different jobs, particularly if one has enthusiasm for electronics.

            It's unlikely, as a 40-year-old unemployed computer programmer, that you'll be able to get a job in a trade that will pay the bills. You have to start at the b

  • by TaoPhoenix (980487) <TaoPhoenix@yahoo.com> on Sunday September 05, 2010 @12:26PM (#33481818) Journal

    They hand plant each blade of grass for that high quality finish!

  • Programmer? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kaz Kylheku (1484) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @12:28PM (#33481832) Homepage

    Is it programming if the output is basically a copy of the program?

    Or is it data entry?

    To BBC's credit, nowhere does "program" appear in the original article.

  • by perpenso (1613749) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @12:31PM (#33481852)
    Punch cards can be a pretty useful educational tool. In the 1980s I had an intro to computer science class where we had to write our first programming assignment in fortran(*) using punch cards. Second and subsequent assignments would use terminals. The professor explained that doing so was terribly obsolete but that this experience would help us understand why some computer languages (fortran in particular) and some operating systems (including unix) are the way they are. He added that the deck of blank punch cards we would have to buy would also provide us with plenty of book marks for the rest of our years in college.

    (*) Fortran was only used in this intro computer science class. This class was required for many engineering and science majors who were more likely to use fortran than computer science majors. Unexpectedly in the mid 1990s I actually used fortran as my company was contracted to move some chemistry software from mainframes to personal computers.
    • by ScrewMaster (602015) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @12:55PM (#33481970)

      In the 1980s I had an intro to computer science class where we had to write our first programming assignment in fortran(*) using punch cards.

      Back in the 1970's when I was in college, the first day of my first computer class the professor told us that "the keypunch machines are down the hall." I asked him, "uh, as in punch cards?" At that point I'd been hacking assembler code on microcomputers for a few years and doing real-world interfacing, and really wasn't interested in punch cards. Sure, had it been a one-time experience like you had, that would have been interesting. But an entire school year spent in front of a keypunch machine, submitting jobs to an IBM 370, when there were rooms full of 3270 terminals all over the place? No thanks. I dropped that class that afternoon.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by perpenso (1613749)
        At my university in the 1980s there were two "programming" degrees. The school of science offered Computer Science (CS) and the school of business offered Computer Information Systems (CIS). This is not standard nomenclature, at other universities CIS is from the school of mathematics or science. The CIS folks were still using punch cards for their COBOL programming. I knew a few folks who transferred to CS because of the requirement to use punch cards. Terminals were plentiful around campus but CIS wou
        • Terminals were plentiful around campus but CIS wouldn't let people use them.

          Interesting. Sounds like the same mindset that wouldn't let students use pocket calculators.

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward

            The level of calculator use depends on the level of the student - the number of times I've seen my students reach for a calculator for simple arithmetic (9 x 13) or similar worries me that they don't truly understand what they are doing. Much of the basic arithmetic helps inform the algebra usage in later classes, which is why things like long division are still relevant. I relented and allow non-symbolic manipulation calculators for my calc classes these days after a student pointed out that their cell p

            • The level of calculator use depends on the level of the student - the number of times I've seen my students reach for a calculator for simple arithmetic (9 x 13) or similar worries me that they don't truly understand what they are doing. Much of the basic arithmetic helps inform the algebra usage in later classes, which is why things like long division are still relevant. I relented and allow non-symbolic manipulation calculators for my calc classes these days after a student pointed out that their cell phones meant they have a calculator permanently available. I also make a point of assigning a problem or two that the TI-89's choke on to explain why learning the techniques directly is important.

              Okay. I'll buy that.

            • by jrumney (197329)

              the number of times I've seen my students reach for a calculator for simple arithmetic (9 x 13) or similar

              That doesn't surprise me in the least. At school we only rote learned our times tables up to 12, and even then 11 and 12 were introduced later so aren't as ingrained in my brain. So for 9 x 13, I'd have to think about it long enough that a calculator would probably be faster if it was close at hand.

              • by russotto (537200)
                9 x 13 = 10 x 13 - 13, so you really don't need the calculator.
                • by arkenian (1560563)
                  This really doesn't obviate the point. Of course you don't need a calculator for 9x13. I rarely used a calculator in college, and I can approximate logarithms in my head well enough to pass a chemistry quiz. This said, when I HAVE a calculator at hand, I'm likely to use it for 9x13, it will be faster. (I can do Start -> Calculator and punch it in in about the same time, and then I have calculator open for the next problem.)
                • by jrumney (197329)
                  Of course I don't need the calculator, but I was pointing out that there is a cost/benefit analysis for this type of thing - if the calculator is already there ready to accept input, then the cost of using the calculator for such a seemingly simple problem is very low. If I have to reach into my bag, or go down to the Start Menu, or into the menus on my phone, then the cost becomes higher and I am more likely to work it out in my head.
      • by plover (150551) * on Sunday September 05, 2010 @06:38PM (#33484046) Homepage Journal

        But an entire school year spent in front of a keypunch machine, submitting jobs to an IBM 370, when there were rooms full of 3270 terminals all over the place? No thanks. I dropped that class that afternoon.

        I'd been programming on terminals for several years before college, and one of my first college classes required us to punch cards as well. I'll say it's worth the experience, once, but you did the right thing in avoiding a whole year of it.

        In some respects, punch cards are to teaching programming as film is to teaching photography. The problem is that the cost of any operation is high (you had to wait hours for your results in the case of punch cards, just as film was very expensive) so you did things differently. You'd waste hours of time scouring your deck for syntax errors. Or you'd take only one photo of an interesting scene, saving those other 35 exposures for other interesting scenes.

        With digital photography, you can take a dozen shots with different settings in hopes that one will turn out spectacular. With compilers being virtually instant, practices like test driven development are possible, where you write a test, bang out some code to pass it, then move on.

        I always think it's good to know about the past, but that doesn't mean we should remain stuck living in it.

      • by owlstead (636356)

        I spent some quality years programming basic and - later on - machine code (there weren't too many assemblers lying around I, as a kid, I didn't know about them). Then I got to high school and thought that blind, 10 finger typing would be useful. For this I had to stay at school for 2 hours without lessons (I didn't do any homework at high school, so this was a bore). Imagine my surprise when I found out that typing was done using actual *typewriters*, placed next to the computer class. Dropped it after 5 m

      • by Bozdune (68800)

        I did not drop the class; I learned JCL, too; learned how to duplicate decks, sort them with a big sorting machine, "interpret" them (don't ask); even program the keypunch terminals themselves (with a punch card -- what a shock); and so on.

        One day a couple years later a 3330 pack at my summer-job company (a research organization) crapped, wiping out a whole project related to the Space Shuttle. My boss had made sure our little sub-organization was completely backed up on cards, and so we smiled right throu

        • There's nothing like the confidence that comes from a box of cards.

          Basically you're saying there's nothing like a relatively stable medium made from wood. Just like books, and I agree with you. My problem was less that I would have to use punch cards, but that I would have to spend time on a mainframe. I had little interest in mainframe programming at that point: I had already decided that microprocessors were were I wanted to be.

    • by Kaz Kylheku (1484)

      The professor through Unix was the way it was because of punched cards?

      Are you remembering that right?

      Unix was an interactive system from the beginning.

      Teletypes would explain the design of editor ed.

      According to "The Development of The C Language" by Dennis Ritchie, Ken Thompson did some cross-development. Initially, he used a GE-635 machine, where he generated code for the PDP-7 that was put onto punched tape (not cards) and carried the PDP.

      • by perpenso (1613749)

        The professor through Unix was the way it was because of punched cards? Are you remembering that right? Unix was an interactive system from the beginning.

        The punch card influence manifested in the preference for keeping things brief, ideally within 80 columns. Some may focus on brevity due to "efficiency", 300 baud connections and such but 80 column terminal displays and 80 column printers also contributed to brevity.

        Also while Unix was preferably used interactively there were environments where people were restricted to batch jobs. In another post I mentioned students taking cobol classes in the school of business being restricted to batch even though

    • by gafisher (865473) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @02:18PM (#33482288)
      I well remember punching decks of cards for my Computer Science classes, then "submitting" them to the guy behind the bank-teller window in the Mainframe Suite and waiting for my job to finish so another guy could hand me a thick stack of folded paper from the LinePrinter so I could see if my program had worked. I always got a laugh out of waiting an hour or more for my printout, which proclaimed on the second page that I had consumed .00058 seconds of CPU time -- talk about a responsive user interface!
    • by trb (8509) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @02:52PM (#33482408)
      UNIX was influenced by punched cards in a couple of ways. The 80-column line width went from punched cards to teletypes to early (pre-bitmapped) terminals, which were the input device for UNIX in those days. Also, UNIX was developed at Bell Labs research, but Programmer's Workbench [wikipedia.org] was an important early Bell Labs (the development side, not the research side) version (today you'd call it a distro) of UNIX that focused on providing a tolerable front-end interface to several old punched-card batch systems. It gave people screen, editor, and hard disk instead of keypunch and punched cards, and you could automate your build process with shell and make instead instead of using card-reader and line-printer.

      In those days, UNIX ran on machines that we would consider tiny today, and so it had small input buffers, which you might say it was influenced by the 80-column punched card, or perhaps just by the 32k bytes (or 64k or 128k, if you were rich) PDP-11 system memory size. These buffer size limits were in the kernel, but easier to see in the /bin utilities.

    • I used Fortran for some run of the mill, ordinary, regular business LOB apps consulting work a few years ago. A scientist had a simulation that he originally wrote in Fortran, and had been ported poorly to VB6 a while back. He needed some changes, so I referred to the original fortran code to understand his intent. No biggie.

      Scientific programming is a blast.

    • by iamhigh (1252742)
      It may be true that it was useful, but I wish they hadn't made so many buisness majors do punch-card programming. I can't tell you how fucking sick I am of hearing some 40-something break into how they took programming in college, so they "know a little about it". This has been from entry level workers to CEO's. None of them had, or have a clue.
      • by perpenso (1613749)

        It may be true that it was useful, but I wish they hadn't made so many buisness majors do punch-card programming. I can't tell you how fucking sick I am of hearing some 40-something break into how they took programming in college, so they "know a little about it". This has been from entry level workers to CEO's. None of them had, or have a clue.

        We computer science majors are guilty of such things too. For example we take an electrical engineering class or two and think we know how to design hardware. My first job out of college was doing a kernel for a custom motherboard. The hardware guys were a little distant until they got to know me and saw that while I could often follow/participate in conversations I had no delusion about being proficient in electrical engineering, but more importantly I did not cry wolf and blame the hardware when I didn

  • Figures (Score:5, Funny)

    by Purity Of Essence (1007601) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @02:03PM (#33482240)

    Figures it would be a guy that loves lace [wikipedia.org].

  • by gafisher (865473) on Sunday September 05, 2010 @02:24PM (#33482306)
    John Leavers invented those machines in 1812 and they're still in use. If two hundred years isn't job security, I don't know what is!
  • Is there a device that can be connected to a PC that will read punch cards? Does the iPhone have an app yet? I have simh! http://simh.trailing-edge.com/ [trailing-edge.com] I need to feel the smell expensive cardboard and heard grinding noises (make sure that app does sound effects!)

    I started on the C-64. My only nostalgia is for the sound of a non-audio processing tape drive!

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