Back in the olden days, when I was taking my computer classes and when I started working in Data Processing, input to certain programs was punched on 80-column cards similar to the one shown above. In fact, our programs were punched on cards like this one, too. If you typed "C" instead of "X" or "*" instead of "8", you had to eject that card, throw it out and start all over again with an unpunched card. You could spend the better part of a day trying to keypunch a 2000-line program, with someone standing behind you wondering if they could just punch one card.
Eventually, the 80-column card was replaced by something called key-to-disk, where a keypunch operator would type 80-column images onto a disk file, then that file was either copied to tape or sent directly in to the appropriate process on the computer. We had terminals on which we could type our programs and compile them so they could would execute. It was a whole lot better than the 80-column cards. Trust me on this.
Remember when your phone bill came with a similar card, which you then had to send back with your check for payment? After a while, they figured out how to print the appropriate information on the bill, and the keypunch operator would create the card from there.
When I was finishing my last quarter at Northwestern, I was working on a very large program, one that I kept in two boxes, each of which could hold 5000 cards. One night very close to the deadline (I think it was the next day at 4:00), I figured out what was wrong with the program, and decided to go to the data center, make a few changes, and the program would do exactly what it was mean to do, and I’d meet that 4:00 deadline with time to spare. So at around 8 PM, I put the boxes and the most recent listing on the back of my bicycle (because I didn’t drive) and rode from Northfield, Illinois (I was a commuter) to Evanston, on a route that took me down Sheridan Road past the magnificent Baha’i Temple (see above) and to the Technological Institute, where the data center was, and fix my program and run it.
It was a typical blustery night in late May, and as I passed the Baha’i Temple (which is a glorious sight at 8:30, when the thing is lighted up), I hit a bump. Both boxes and the listing slipped off the back of the bicycle. The listing furled like a flag, while one of the boxes opened, allowing some of my 80-column cards to be caught up in the wind and fly, some into Lake Michigan, some no doubt to heaven. And all I could do was stand there and watch it happen.
I got a B in the class (I was working on a C), mostly because the professor found the story hilarious.
Now that I think of it, I probably should have ridden to the L station and taken the train down…