Shark Tank: Any similarity to a ballot box is coincidental

It's the early 1980s, and this university computer center still makes heavy use of punch cards for student jobs, says a pilot fish who worked there as a mainframe operator.

Students could drop off short programs at satellite sites around campus, where there were card readers that were slow but did the job. "But program decks greater than a certain size were sent by courier to the main site to be read in on the high-speed card reader," fish says.

"The protocol was to insert a color-coded job card at the front of the deck describing the type of processing required. Small decks were rubber-banded together and transported in a metal box, but large programs typically got a card box all by themselves."

Student operators being, well, student operators, they're always looking for new pranks to pull on each other. One day the courier arrives at the computer center with the usual metal box full of decks and a cardboard card box on top of it.

"I picked up the card box," says fish. "But a hole had been cut in the bottom and, instead of a card deck, the box had been filled with chad collected from the keypunches in the remote site workroom. There is nothing messier than a boxful of chad all over a machine room floor!"

Fish immediately cleans up the mess and then carefully reloads it into the gimmicked card box. Then she marks the job card as having been processed and, when the rest of the jobs from this batch have run, carefully places the card box back on top of the metal box for the courier to deliver.

Reports fish, "The remote site operators, still laughing over what they had pulled over on me, thought nothing of picking up the box that I had sent them, thus redistributing the chad on their floor -- and giving me the last laugh!"

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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