Punched Cards Are In The Cloud, With This Arduino

Grizzled veterans of the computing industry will relate stories of submitting projects on stacks of punched cards, something those of us who stored their 8-bit works on audio cassettes could only imagine. But for those who fancy experimenting with the format it’s still possible to make a basic card reader using LEDs and light sensors, as [Nino Ivanov] has done using an Arduino Uno as the brains. And these aren’t just for show, each of his cards holds a LISP program that runs in a cloud service.

The Uno does the job of reading, passing its data over its USB serial port to a tablet. On the tablet the serial data is piped to a cloud API to a LISP interpreter. It seems a needlessly complex way to run a factorial program and it’s certainly a little over the top, but on the other hand we love it as a glorious combination of the old and the new. With only 23 characters per card it’s quite an impressive feat to even fit a program on the format, perhaps writing code to fit on minimalist punched cards like this could become a programming challenge in its own right for a generation accustomed to mega-and gigabytes.

If you fancy a go yourself, this isn’t the first punched card reader we’ve shown you.

15 thoughts on “Punched Cards Are In The Cloud, With This Arduino

  1. Wow! I’m a grizzled veteran!! I feel special.

    Indeed, when I started all this, it was punched cards or else go home.

    If you can imagine it, you learned skills to edit punched cards. Most keypunches had a “dup” button that would copy one card to another, and various things could be done holding down the master card with your thumb and then adding content to the new card. These are skills lost and almost forgotten.

    I don’t pine for those days, nor do I have any decks of cards I am itching to read.

    A fellow I know tells a story. A younger fellow than me. He entered a university lab and saw these odd cabinets. He pulled a drawer open and exclaimed, “what the heck are all these?”. The professor there said he had been waiting for the day when someone would show up and not know anything about the days of early computing. (The cabinets held decks of punched cards).

    Time marches on.

    1. The punch card cabinets are fantastic for storing tools, parts, or projects. Blank cards are great for notes or bookmarks. Of course, those two applications are fading in relevance too.

    2. When I was a kid – around 3rd grade, we would use these manila cards in one of our classes as sort of scratch paper to solve problems. They had this green printing on the back, and I was slightly curious what they had been from that we had so many and nobody cared how many we used. A decade later I was in college and talking to my parents about the days when they were in college and had to use punch cards to run their programs and it all came together. I have never seen an actual punch card that was punched, and I have definitely never seen them in use. I’m 45.

    3. When I was a kid (60’s/70’s) I remember having a toy car that used punched cards. You punched one row to go forward, another row to go backwards, a row for left and a row for right.

  2. Punch voting machines “hanging chads” are a type of “data only” punch card.

    America: Where the voting process is moving 1960s tech with 1460s tech. We went from punch to scanned and now “some people” want to go back to hand counting.

  3. “election worker”

    You start the day arriving at ~4AM….
    A good day is when you leave for home by 11PM….
    All for less than McDonalds pays. Ohhh…then we get the
    threats. Folks telling me I am “rigging the election” and they
    will come back with their AR-15 and kill us all.
    And don’t forget—- I have caught COVID 2 times working the vote.
    (Yes—I have the vax.. but there was not one in 2020 and it almost killed
    my wife)
    All that so some wacko can vote….. :(

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