Great Opening Lines of Fiction on Old School IBM Punch Cards

Call me Ishmael 2Looking to kill some time during the dog days of summer? Here’s one option that John Ptak came up with. On his intriguing blog, The History of Ideas, he writes: “Isn’t this great?  I bumped into a wonderful site called kloth.net that provides a free-to-all and unrestricted use of their punch card emulator. It was found while looking for dating ideas for an IBM 5081 card that I have that has programming information for the BINAC computer (ca. late 1940′s), and kloth.net had info on the history of IBM cards as well as the emulator–plus other stuff. Completely distracted from the BINAC quest, I created some cards using some great first lines of literature.  You can play too!”  I created two of my own, using The American Book Review’s list of 100 great opening lines.

I am an invisible man 2

What exactly is a punch card, our younger readers might rightly ask? An IBM web site tells us:

Perhaps the earliest icon of the Information Age was a simple punched card produced by IBM, commonly known as the “IBM card.” Measuring just 7- 3/8 inches by 3- 1/4 inches, the piece of smooth stock paper was unassuming, to be sure. But taken collectively, the IBM card [like the floppy disks that came later] held nearly all of the world’s known information for just under half a century—an impressive feat even by today’s measures. It rose to popularity during the Great Depression and quickly became a ubiquitous installment in the worlds of data processing and popular culture. What’s more, the punched card [see examples from Columbia University here] provided such a significant profit stream that it was instrumental to IBM’s rapid growth in the mid-twentieth century.

Now punch away….

via The Paris Review

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  • Avi Burstein

    Related to this, I think you’ll get a kick out of this fascinating site, which lets you use Google via punch cards: http://www.masswerk.at/google60/
    Really cool idea.

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