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The patterns on Jacquard's cards were determined when a tapestry was designed and then were not changed. Today, we would call this a read-only form of information storage. Hollerith had the insight to convert punched cards to what is today called a read/write technology. While riding a train, he observed that the conductor didn't merely punch each ticket, but rather punched a particular pattern of holes whose positions indicated the approximate height, weight, eye color, etc. of the ticket owner. This was done to keep anyone else from picking up a discarded ticket and claiming it was his own (a train ticket did not lose all value when it was punched because the same ticket was used for each leg of a trip). Hollerith realized how useful it would be to punch (write) new cards based upon an analysis (reading) of some other set of cards. Complicated analyses, too involved to be accomplished during a single pass thru the cards, could be accomplished via multiple passes thru the cards using newly printed cards to remember the intermediate results. Unknown to Hollerith, Babbage had proposed this long before.

Hollerith's technique was successful and the 1890 census was completed in only 3 years at a savings of 5 million dollars. Interesting aside: the reason that a person who removes inappropriate content from a book or movie is called a censor, as is a person who conducts a census, is that in Roman society the public official called the "censor" had both of these jobs.

Hollerith built a company, the Tabulating Machine Company which, after a few buyouts, eventually became International Business Machines, known today as IBM. IBM grew rapidly and punched cards became ubiquitous. Your gas bill would arrive each month with a punch card you had to return with your payment. This punch card recorded the particulars of your account: your name, address, gas usage, etc. (I imagine there were some "hackers" in these days who would alter the punch cards to change their bill). As another example, when you entered a toll way (a highway that collects a fee from each driver) you were given a punch card that recorded where you started and then when you exited from the toll way your fee was computed based upon the miles you drove. When you voted in an election the ballot you were handed was a punch card. The little pieces of paper that are punched out of the card are called "chad" and were thrown as confetti at weddings. Until recently all Social Security and other checks issued by the Federal government were actually punch cards. The check-out slip inside a library book was a punch card. Written on all these cards was a phrase as common as "close cover before striking": "do not fold, spindle, or mutilate". A spindle was an upright spike on the desk of an accounting clerk. As he completed processing each receipt he would impale it on this spike. When the spindle was full, he'd run a piece of string through the holes, tie up the bundle, and ship it off to the archives. You occasionally still see spindles at restaurant cash registers.



Hasitha Helappriya

Some say he’s half man half fish, others say he’s more of a seventy/thirty split. Either way he’s a fishy bastard.

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