Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Archived 7000 punched cards of DNA sequencing


Another university researcher has contacted us to read some boxes of punched card data from old gene sequencing work. In this case, four boxes of 2000 card each have arrived, although the contents of the last box is half data and half spare cards as padding.

I hauled my Documation card reader and interface over to Computer History Museum where I can process these cards in batches, producing digital files we can send back to the researcher. My reader is capable of processing 600 cards per minute although generally there are misfeeds or other errors that occur often enough that the true reading rate is much lower.

If these fed and read flawlessly, it would take about 15 minutes to archive but I expect the project to take a couple of hours. Firstly, we reread the cards and compare to the stored version to detect any errors, which would push the time to 30 minutes in a perfect world.

More importantly, I expected to experience about one stop per 100 cards based on past archiving efforts, which introduces 140 stops of about 2 minutes to the processing, plus time to load and unload hoppers. I thus assumed the total task will take 2-3 hours, divided into batches limited by my patience.

I had fewer stops that I expected, with boxes 2 and 3, a total of 4000 cards, reading almost flawlessly. Even with the verification errors and need to reprocess some batches, plus the stops due to cards in box 4 that were bowed top to bottom, it took just a bit over 2 hours to deal with 7000 cards.


Meanwhile, parts have been arriving - everything but the USB module which is due on Thursday. The PCBs themselves are now in the process of fabrication and should be mailed out to me on May 16th. I have yet to work out the exact mounting process of the board on the back or inside the Documation reader.

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