discards

my grandfather wrote
on the most beautiful note cards
these were the rejects
these were the discards

they were not flowery
nor adorned with birds
yet preprinted on them
were the most curious words

he wrote on the backs
the side which was blank
except for the holes
by which his space shrank

the holes were like windows
through which one could see
the original character
the card was meant to be

for in these cards’ previous life
cadets would file and rank
and for this gift of the rejects
we had my uncle to thank

at the top of the backs
which once were the fronts
each card had some printing
which led me on great hunts

grandfather favored short mishaps
which gave him more room to write
he gave me the lacey ones
and my research took flight

deciphering the combinations
of holes for each character
transfixed me for hours
i would stare and compare

then to the words themselves
my interest did steer
i ardently read day after day
until it started to come clear

if do format and goto
read write such joyous delight
a delicious feast of formulae
but does it evaluate left to right

from my grandfather’s note cards
i learned a language of formula translation
blackjack and trajectories the applications
from numbers to beauteous computation

yet like learning piano
without strings hammers or keys
these cards were silent music
like having honey without any bees

so i asked gramps for his grocery list
not intending to shop
i shuffled the lacey deck
sorted them from go to stop

and i became the computer
running each statement in song
tallied variablese like shopping lists
and found i had dealt the cards wrong

i adjusted the flow
as best as i knew
played blackjack against myself
the afternoon flew

gramps got me a hole punch
and i corrected some bugs
entered azimuth and altitude
and more numbers did chug

within a few days
i had run all the cards
learned how computers play
and how not to punch cards

then later one night
when fetching his socks
gramps told me a secret
that was just the first box

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About Brad Werner

Technical Evangelist
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4 Responses to discards

  1. I do believe you are referring to key punch cards!

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    • Brad Werner says:

      Yes! Exactly.
      The classic manila 80-column kind.
      They *did* make excellent note cards for my grandfather.

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      • I liked the poem! Very clever.
        Even though it shows my age by my knowing what they were. LOL! When I was young, my mother took a key punch course. I still only have a vague idea of how they worked.

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      • Brad Werner says:

        I am glad you enjoyed it. I did end up using punch cards with keying machines and readers many times after that initial introduction, however most programming I did after that point was on teletypes, printing terminals, and video displays (that were typically modeled after the 80-column standard), including several years working in (newer versions of) Fortran. Having approached software from a simulation perspective initially proved to have many advantages. But I still remember trying to explain my early discoveries to my grandfather. Physical cards that one can hold at a certain degree of tangibility. e.g. “Here Gramps, please hold these variables. These are you cards. We’ll run the program. Every time we need to know the value of one of your variables, call it out. Every time we need to change a value, please edit the value on the card.” Programming and simulation/debugging became a game, and I have always approached it that way, even now with fancy graphical devices and embedded systems.
        Ah, but I digress…

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