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The Last of the Punch Card Programmers

samzenpus posted more than 4 years ago | from the back-to-basics dept.

United Kingdom 149

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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Deskilling 101 (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33481724)

Yes! We need more low skilled factory workers, earning as much to subsistence wages as possible.

Why bother training people?

Why bother having to upgrade people's skills?

Once a bolt-tightener, always a bolt-tightener.

Lets also apply this practice to programming. We already have 'easy' programming languages that let people 'not worry about the hard stuff'.

Just point and click, and you too can become an application designer.

It's the Henry Ford Principle, de-skill the worker, and make him dependent on you.

Re:Deskilling 101 (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33481746)

What we really need is for people to RTFA before they comment.

Re:Deskilling 101 (1)

retchdog (1319261) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482510)

I'll take the bait.

Actually, advances in programming languages and user interfaces on computerized machine tools went along with the re-skilling of factory workers. See, when there was no effective UI, it was a selling point that the Managers would have to program the machines or hire consultants to do it.

Admittedly, a number of factors went into reversing this situation. Perhaps most importantly, the products of the preprogrammed machines were mostly junk, and the market didn't want them. Cause and effect is hard or impossible to pin down. However, yeah, when the workers regained control of their machines, there was an improved UI.

Keeping things hard always doesn't benefit the practitioner; making things easier doesn't always deskill them. We just need to keep trying to find the natural correspondence, and this is a slow and inefficient process exactly because we're human.

Hard to believe (4, Insightful)

mangu (126918) | more than 4 years ago | (#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:Hard to believe (2, Insightful)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 4 years ago | (#33481786)

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 (5, Insightful)

AliasMarlowe (1042386) | more than 4 years ago | (#33481912)

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.

Sadly (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 4 years ago | (#33481988)

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.
 

i'm not certain the basis for your claim (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33482070)

...particularly the "unfortunately" part. It simply different products for different markets.

I would guess your dress shoes, for example, cost 10 bucks to make and involve lots of rubber, cardboard, glue and cheaply tanned low grade leather. My dress shoes probably cost $200 to make - and retail for $600. They are made in england by craftsman who use age old methods for tanning the select hide leather and sewn and glued to the oak bark soles and finished by hand.

Certainly the availability affordable goods has allowed for a higher standard of living as many "good enough" products are just that.

Re:Business basics (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Business basics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33482330)

It all depends on your frame of reference - we may have reduced the buying power of our economy, but we have raised the buying power of another economy (albeit by a smaller amount for the offshoring to make sense) while lowering costs. It is probably more accurate to call this local optimization than short term thinking - if you are able to be more profitable with fewer employees, why shouldn't you make that labor available for something more profitable. Creative destruction is the way capitalism works. We (generally) don't bemoan having farm labor reduced by a factor of 40 or so over the last century because it made labor available for industry and commerce. Look at some of the struggling industries today, particularly the auto industry, and you will see companies that didn't/were unable to shed labor by modernizing equipment over time hemorrhaging money. Instead of keeping unproductive workers on, it is much better to send them to work on the next product that improves our lifestyles (or perhaps reduce working hours so that their own lives are more pleasant).

Right now would be a great time for innovative companies to form and produce new goods if not for a high degree of uncertainty in what rules they will be operating under in the next few years. That uncertainty rather than outsourcing is why the unemployment won't go down. Even bad policies that remain consistent is better than variable policies that can turn wise decisions into unwise ones.

Re:Business basics (2, Insightful)

Znork (31774) | more than 4 years ago | (#33483286)

It all depends on your frame of reference

Unfortunately, the frame of reference of several significant players in the system is decidedly mainly local. The theory of globalization you express works until you add fixed currencies, central banks acting on local variables in a global system and government + CB enforced borrowing on a local basis.

a great time for innovative companies to form and produce new goods

That certainly wouldn't hire local labour. Local labour growth will be limited to the kind of society for creative anachronism theme-park work mentioned in the article (or at the Federal Reserve).

That uncertainty rather than outsourcing is why the unemployment won't go down.

Lack of demand is why unemployment won't go down, and demand driven by credit is unlikely to recover any time soon. People have figured out that the state isn't going to save for them, their retirement schemes will probably be bankrupt by the time they need them, and their house isn't going to recover it's ATM function any time soon. With the last 20 years of artificially induced massive overspending there's a fairly severe economic hole to fill in before demand recovers to anywhere near baseline.

Re:Business basics (1)

MsGeek (162936) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482346)

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]

Re:Business basics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33482426)

I think OP was referring to the fact that older MBA courses teached short-term thinking along with other bad stuff from the "shareholder value" age.

Re:Business basics (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33482492)

> It's short-term thinking that has sent our IT jobs offshore.

You say that like you believe it is a bad thing. It isn't: It is a good thing.

It means that hundreds of millions of people can now buy an adequate computer that meets there needs for a few hundred dollars. If everything was still being done in the USA, that same computer would be costing them $3000, and the difference (call it $2500) is all money is available to buy goods and services that the person could not have afforded if they had to spend the $3000 on their computer.

No one is *entitled* to anything. If you can't compete, then you can't compete. The world does not exist to give you handouts: if someone else can do your job cheaper, then the jobs will naturally flow in that direction. Complaining about this is like complaining that water is wet.

Thank you! (1)

KingAlanI (1270538) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482564)

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.

Re:Thank you! (1)

whoever57 (658626) | more than 4 years ago | (#33483534)

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 framework under which companies operate and the lack of opportunity for shareholders to control the board.

Re:Business basics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33482686)

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.

Wait, there's a difference?

Re:Business basics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33482226)

Yup, "cheap shit drives good shit out of the market" that's why everything in the App Store is 99 cents... the good shit had to cave on price to compete.

Re:Business basics (4, Insightful)

hitmark (640295) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482264)

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:Business basics (2, Interesting)

Totenglocke (1291680) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482784)

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 (4, Insightful)

hey! (33014) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482082)

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.

Re:Hard to believe (1)

Raenex (947668) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482324)

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 trick is actually knowing what the true environmental cost of buying something is.

Re:Hard to believe (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482864)

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.

Re:Hard to believe (1)

Raenex (947668) | more than 4 years ago | (#33483088)

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.

Re:Hard to believe (1)

cromar (1103585) | more than 4 years ago | (#33483282)

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 are really clumsy :)

car analogy time! (1)

KingAlanI (1270538) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482534)

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 (1)

misexistentialist (1537887) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482608)

Quality is difficult to quantify, unlike price. And if you by some chance find a "quality" product by extensive research and/or trial and error, it's almost certain that the manufacturer is working hard every day to lower quality, and the next time you buy it (for twice the price it should have increased due to inflation) you will find it to be crap.

Re:Hard to believe (4, Informative)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 4 years ago | (#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:Hard to believe (5, Informative)

MoonBuggy (611105) | more than 4 years ago | (#33481792)

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 (5, Interesting)

Felgerkarb (695336) | more than 4 years ago | (#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:Hard to believe (2, Interesting)

falconwolf (725481) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482186)

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 around to the point where manufacturing costs in the US are competitive with Asia in this regard

Free trade does that, as there's more trade people demand more pay from their employers. China is seeing more suicides [wtop.com] , which is going too far, because employers won't give them raises they demand, though employers [nytimes.com] are giving some raises. China's middle class is rising [wikinvest.com] afterall and there are now 64 Chinese billionaires on Forbes list [globaltimes.cn] . The same is seen in India. Free Trade raises everybody's boat.

Of course China doesn't have free trade, the Chinese currency isn't allowed to float, but trade is more open there now than it has been.

Falcon

Re:Hard to believe (1)

hitmark (640295) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482326)

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.

Re:Hard to believe (1)

KingAlanI (1270538) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482432)

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.

Re:Hard to believe (1)

Phrogman (80473) | more than 4 years ago | (#33483610)

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.

Re:Hard to believe (1)

DMoylan (65079) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482148)

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.

my 2c.

Re:Hard to believe (2, Insightful)

timeOday (582209) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482178)

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?

Re:Hard to believe (1)

hitmark (640295) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482284)

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:Hard to believe (3, Insightful)

Faerunner (1077423) | more than 4 years ago | (#33483808)

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 of chemistry skill) - A Diamond is Forever!(tm) but a "lab diamond" seems to represent an artificial love (as if the real thing doesn't!). The sacrifice of buying a diamond says only that the man handing it to you is thoughtful enough to buy into the best marketing scheme ever conceived.

Mine bought me a small sapphire which I helped to pick out and love dearly because it represents a lot more than his determination to provide me with what is probably the most expensive status symbol I'll ever have, right at the beginning of the relationship (once you've blown 3k on a single ring, it sets quite the precedent for other gifts!)... it tells me he cares more about our long-term financial stability than about a colorless chunk of rock.

Re:Hard to believe (1)

Faerunner (1077423) | more than 4 years ago | (#33483880)

To be a little more on-topic: I can appreciate the value of something that was handcrafted or otherwise had a lot of time and attention (and possibly skill) put into making it vs. something that gets cranked off an assembly line three times a second. There -is- value in older, more time-consuming manufacturing styles, all efficiency or lack thereof aside. And that's probably part of the appeal in flawed diamonds vs. the flawless lab ones. Sure, the lab can make me a diamond the size of my fist without a single flaw, but no human alive can wish one that big and flawless from the earth, so every time they manage to cut a diamond the size of my fist from a mine, it's unique and unpredictable. No one knows when they'll do it again (or if).

Still, there's not a large enough market by far to support every lace manufacturer going back to an older standard, and the market that keeps the last few going would probably go along with a change to new equipment if the brand remained at about the same quality. The lack of workers is also a bit of a stumbling block, although I'll bet anything they could get plenty of immigrants working there... some of us are a bit too spoiled for "dirty" factory work, but it doesn't mean that it's not still a legitimate way to make a living!

Re:Hard to believe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33482236)

lol, audiophiles...
I mean, after you've milked the snake oil, why not just sell the goddamn snake too and pretend it makes stuff sound better than it possibly can.

Re:Hard to believe (1)

whitehaint (1883260) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482550)

Consider that nuclear/coal/oil/gas power plants still have a steam turbine at their heart I am not surprised.

Re:Hard to believe (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#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:Hard to believe (2, Informative)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 4 years ago | (#33481926)

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 (4, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#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 (4, Interesting)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 4 years ago | (#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 (4, Interesting)

plover (150551) | more than 4 years ago | (#33483434)

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.

Re:Hard to believe (1)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#33481946)

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 somehow magically produces higher quality parts than my current Linux/EMC2 controller system, which I find unlikely.

Re:Hard to believe (2, Interesting)

Sarten-X (1102295) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482024)

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. Sure, the game's the same, but it's not the same quality.

The best computer example I can come up with is Pentium chips. They're faster than the old 486s, but not quite as good [wikipedia.org] . Perhaps in time new lace machines will have both speed and ability, but I don't know enough about lace to predict anything.

Re:Hard to believe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33482382)

Even if new machines might be able to do the high quality lace, it might not make economic sense to have them do so. Having a machine produce a much higher quantity of lower quality lace might be more profitable for the owner in the current market, so anyone buying a newer machine naturally goes after that market instead.

Re:Hard to believe (1)

plover (150551) | more than 4 years ago | (#33483528)

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 twisting fancy knots that no other lace-makers knew how to twist.

It's probably not that card operation makes them better, but that these particular machines are overloaded with extra parts that makes them do stuff nobody else's machines ever did.

Re:Hard to believe (1)

TooMuchToDo (882796) | more than 4 years ago | (#33481954)

ASIC vs generic CPU analogy FTW!

Re:Hard to believe (3, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482004)

ASIC vs generic CPU analogy FTW!

More like discrete logic chips vs FPGA

Re:Hard to believe (4, Informative)

plover (150551) | more than 4 years ago | (#33483374)

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.

Re:Hard to believe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33481940)

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.

Even then, the new solution may not be purchased. London Underground still schedules trains on some of its lines using an archaic punch card controlled computer. (There was an article about this in The Times a couple of weeks ago but it's stuck behind a paywall.)

Re:Hard to believe (1)

falconwolf (725481) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482096)

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 and yarn [etsy.com] , weaving [weavingtoday.com] and knitting [etsy.com] for turning those threads and yarns into cloth, and Making Cordage By Hand [primitiveways.com] .

Falcon

Re:Hard to believe (1)

Coeurderoy (717228) | more than 4 years ago | (#33483740)

> 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 even a half way ok) artisan/artist cannot live from his/her craft, but just because there are not enough of them, and unfortunatelly a hammer is not something you need to change every three years...
So "no market for the tools"...

The other issue is that the "powers that be" do not recognize the artisan market as a real "business", although it is still the largest in the world as a whole, but since it is absolutelly framented it is easier to ignore than to support.

So it is seen as a craft where people who are "not so smart as in able to be a manager"... a french politician said recently, (meaning well) that we should recognize that there is not only the "intelligence of the mind" but also the "intelligence of the hands"...

Unfortunatelly this is utter bulshit, you need to be smart to make a good artist/artisan/craftsperson and you need to want to have an education, because you will not learn for example 3 thousand years of stone cutting in tree easy lessons while browsing youtube.

So we need: smart people who will maybe bring the "fab at home" movement to the next level and be able to create tools for people who just need one exemplar.
Smart people who see value un creating beautiful quality with their hand (and brain)

And smart clients who will see value in buying something that will last centuries instead of days..

As for the "hero" of the fine article, let's hope he will post on some "steampunk" forums :-)

And in fine, I pledge that if I see on anybodies resumé: 1..2 years of Jacquard Punch Card Programming I'll hire him/her just for the hell of it, and because I'm sure that this person would be able to "really" learn OpenGL or what ever, and not just some magic incantations...

Last of the posts! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33481764)

No posts after this one, please.

Re:Last of the posts! (1, Funny)

causality (777677) | more than 4 years ago | (#33481768)

No posts after this one, please.

Ok.

better than unemployment (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:better than unemployment (-1, Flamebait)

Frosty Piss (770223) | more than 4 years ago | (#33481826)

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

20 years experience? Dude, you're over the hill in this industry. If you have not made it to management, you'd better just cross train into something else. Wal-Mart is hiring "greeters", and I hear several buildings downtown need night security guys.

Re:better than unemployment (2, Insightful)

negRo_slim (636783) | more than 4 years ago | (#33481896)

If you have not made it to management

Spoken like a true fucktard.

Re:better than unemployment (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 4 years ago | (#33481944)

If you have not made it to management

Spoken like a true fucktard.

Well, he does have a point. That last thing many employers want to see on a resume is more than five years of relevant experience. They simply aren't willing to pay for more than that.

Re:better than unemployment (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33481990)

"WHOOOOOOSH!"

Re:better than unemployment (4, Insightful)

beelsebob (529313) | more than 4 years ago | (#33481928)

And you sir, are exactly why we have so few good, experienced programmers out there. There's an inbuilt assumption that people can't possibly want to write code, and be good at it. If you haven't got to management in 20 years, you must suck, rather than being incredibly good at what you do, and enjoy it.

Re:better than unemployment (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33481976)

Perhaps it's occurred to you that he was being snarky and simply speaking the view common to an industry that regards its people to be as disposable as its technology.

Re:better than unemployment (1)

timeOday (582209) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482206)

Perhaps it's occurred to you that he was being snarky and simply speaking the view common to an industry that regards its people to be as disposable as its technology.

Or perhaps he really does think programming is good, but he played it straight evil so we wouldn't guess he was being snarky and thus fall even harder for his reverse psychology.

Or maybe he's really a manager, sick of all the MBA abuse on slashdot and this is his chance to say what he really feels, yet in doing it so over-the-top that the really cool people will think he's just being snarky and come to his defense, yet actually just making fools of themselves and proving what tools programmers really are! Except for me... and now I have him right where I want him!

Re:better than unemployment (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33483270)

What? LOL!

Re:better than unemployment (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33482036)

"WHOOOOOOOOSH!"

Re:better than unemployment (2, Insightful)

MacGyver2210 (1053110) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482570)

I like to code. I think it's a sort of digital puzzle - I've been doing it for decades now and I'm nowhere near tired of it. I will readily turn down promotion from my coding position because I have no desire to spend all day looking at other people's code and telling them how to do their job.

I also love old style electronic computers which have to be programmed by switches or - gasp! - punch cards. I think the fact that they were able to achieve the same computing 30+ years ago without all the modern technolo-crap is cool, and I feel like everyone who programs should know it at least a little bit.

Even if you program Java, C#, and all manner of simple managed code all your life, they're going to make you learn Assembly and Binary math if you go get a CS degree.

Re:better than unemployment (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 4 years ago | (#33483272)

And that's why we see the same mistakes made year after year and why we still don't have secure and stable machines in most places. One day, someone will release a truly nasty virus and do TRILLIONS in damages in a single action.

The big cyber attack the DOD fears won't be hackers hard at work from china, it'll be millions of bot infested PCs in America attacking America. That or, one day, they'll all just overwrite their own BIOS and crash.

Re:better than unemployment (-1, Troll)

Majik Sheff (930627) | more than 4 years ago | (#33481996)

Did you list pissing and moaning on the internet as a skill on your resume? Perhaps instead of complaining because you can't find EXACTLY the job you think you deserve you should get off your ass and learn a new skill. FFS, grow a little.

Re:better than unemployment (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33482132)

I take it you're a young guy who has never tried changing careers in your late 40's or even your 50's. It's not easy finding an entry level job in a new field at that age. I was forced into changing careers due to a physical disability after a 20 year career, and I've been trying to get a job in a new career for about 10 years, with no luck, and I worked my ass off 12-14 hours a day for 3 years developing new skills and worked at job search 8 hours a day for 3 years before basically giving up. I'm not alone either as I know of several guys my age in the same position. I've had many interviews and it always came down to my age or lack of experience. The combination of ageism, lousy job market, and failing economy make it impossible for certain groups of people to get a job. I'm in one of those groups: 50+ years old, white, male, physical disability.

Oh, and FFS, get a little empathy and try to imagine situations you've never experienced, asshat.... You know, grow a lot as a human being.

Re:better than unemployment (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33482192)

See, if you had said that in the beginning you probably would have got a lot more sympathy from me. Good luck on your job search/impending retirement; I hope for your sake you were living well below your means while you had the earning power.

Re:better than unemployment (1)

couchslug (175151) | more than 4 years ago | (#33483166)

"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 and thoroughly prepare yourself for the ______INEVITABLE________ Bad Times, it's yo' ass! Use what you learn now to prepare for when it happens again, and again, and again. It _will_ happen, there is no choice.

Get Off Their Lawns! (4, Funny)

TaoPhoenix (980487) | more than 4 years ago | (#33481818)

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

Programmer? (4, Insightful)

Kaz Kylheku (1484) | more than 4 years ago | (#33481832)

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.

Re:Programmer? (1)

caffeinemessiah (918089) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482108)

It's programming [wikipedia.org] .

Re:Programmer? (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482126)

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

The "program" tells how the needles move up and down, they don't directly describe the result weaving pattern. There may be some visual correspondence in some cases, often not.

   

Re:Programmer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33482172)

Failed to read the article did you?

If you had bothered to read, or understood what you read, you would realize this article wasn't about programming at all. It was about setting up, maintaining, and operating the old mechanical machines that are capable of making specific types of high quality lace. You know, the comments in the article by someone doing the job who describes it as dirty work, because you cannot stay clean maintaining mechanical machinery.

Re:Programmer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33483138)

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

When is it not?

The question is whether it's the first copy of a given program.

Computer programming via punch cards is useful ... (5, Interesting)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Computer programming via punch cards is useful (4, Interesting)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 4 years ago | (#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:Computer programming via punch cards is useful (2, Informative)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482034)

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 wouldn't let people use them.

Re:Computer programming via punch cards is useful (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482092)

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:Computer programming via punch cards is useful (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33482508)

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.

Re:Computer programming via punch cards is useful (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482812)

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.

Re:Computer programming via punch cards is useful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33481980)

I agree with this method. If only to stave off the 1 minute edit-compile-edit approach a little longer.

Re:Computer programming via punch cards is useful (1)

Kaz Kylheku (1484) | more than 4 years ago | (#33481982)

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.

Re:Computer programming via punch cards is useful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33482050)

"Second and subsequent assignments would use terminals"

Re:Computer programming via punch cards is useful (1)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482106)

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 terminals were plentiful around campus.

Re:Computer programming via punch cards is useful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33482146)

I had a similar experience in the mid-70's, although the reason given was a bit different. The reason given was along the lines of we should learn how to structure and write our code carefully because programming in a batch environment with cards made fixing bugs so painful.

Of course, this mentality went back to the thinking that cards, card readers, and 132 column line printer output was something that was done through surly RJE operators. In that environment you pushed your deck through the service window, being very careful to be friendly to the operator if they were at the window (that tended to get your deck done first or, if you later had a "rush job", they would actually get off their butts and submit your job like NOW even though policy didn't require it), and then came back four to 24 hours later to get your listing and experience that sinking feeling when you saw that the output listing was way too thin and must just be compiler error output.

What the school missed was that they had decided not to bother with RJE operators - instead they had rooms with key punches, a high speed (relatively) card reader to submit jobs, and a printer right next to it. Oh, and the output usually was available in a minute or two (the printer was the bottleneck). So, the whole experience wasn't quite what the school intended. Fortunately, they only did this in one of the early courses -- other than that they were quite advanced for the day.

Unfortunately I got a summer job (and subsequent part time job during the school year) a couple years later at a major aerospace firm working for a guy who still believed in cards and maintaining and enhancing a program he kept on cards. Yech, that's when I learned about being friendly to surly operators (it worked - a smile, "Nice weather isn't it?", "Hope your hemorrhoids are better", and the like really did get jobs run more quickly!). Fortunately, after a few weeks, a coworker took pity on me and showed me how to get the program card deck online, edit it via TSO, and just punch a whole new box of cards with the current program on it whenever my boss became uncomfortable because he didn't have "his program" "safely" on his bookshelf in a box of cards. A lot of trees died unnecessarily that year and I have no idea, to this day, how the RJE operator's hemorrhoids did after that.

Re:Computer programming via punch cards is useful (1)

perpenso (1613749) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482194)

I had a similar experience in the mid-70's, although the reason given was a bit different. The reason given was along the lines of we should learn how to structure and write our code carefully because programming in a batch environment with cards made fixing bugs so painful.

So did you write out your programs by hand on Fortran coding forms, a specialized pad of paper with 80 columns and color coding to indicate label, comment, code, continuation and sequence number fields?

We were told that in the really bad old days programmers filled out these forms by hand and gave them to data entry people who punched your cards for you. Some old timers had two bottlenecks to kiss up to. :-)

Re:Computer programming via punch cards is useful (5, Funny)

gafisher (865473) | more than 4 years ago | (#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!

Re:Computer programming via punch cards is useful (4, Interesting)

trb (8509) | more than 4 years ago | (#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.

Re:Computer programming via punch cards is useful (1)

Saint Stephen (19450) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482966)

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.

PUNCHED card (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33482238)

Read the literature when they were being widely used.
It is NOT 'PUNCH' card, nor are the things that are punched out 'CHAD'
They are 'CHIPS', and accumulate into a 'CHIP BUCKET'.

I see that exactly ONE person has used 'PUNCHED' correctly in the replies.

Figures (4, Funny)

Purity Of Essence (1007601) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482240)

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

Job Security Expectations? (5, Interesting)

gafisher (865473) | more than 4 years ago | (#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!

Let the PC play! (1)

mrmeval (662166) | more than 4 years ago | (#33482400)

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!

Hmmm... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#33482736)

Interesting article, wonder what will become of the machine and its last operator?

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