An old idea for general noodling


I just discovered your fascinating site, and will be exploring it during many upcoming lunch I build my first HipsterPDA. But I wanted to also share a very old idea that may (or may not) be of general interest to today's "DIYplanners."

Before computers (there WAS such a time), scientists like my father used pre-punched "data cards" to organize and sort masses of information. These cards came with little holes punched around their perimeters, and users assigned their own meanings to each hole (or group of holes). If the material written in (or pasted on) a card's central area matched any of the categories assigned to specific holes, the card edge was punched away at those holes...leaving "U"-shaped slots running from each qualifying hole out through the card edge.

These cards were then saved in boxes (they didn't have to be kept in any particular order). And when the user wanted to extract all cards that matched a specific hole's category, they simply inserted a long, narrow needle through that hole in the entire stack, and lifted. All cards that remained in the box matched the hole's category. And they could be further sorted by inserting the needle through another hole, and again lifting.

In a DIYplanner, one possible application might be for a very busy event/to-do schedule. With a hole in the card edge assigned to each month, you could keep a large box of schedule cards, to which new cards are added as needed. For example, if a new April event pops up, you write its details in the cantral area of a blank card, immediately punch away the card edge at the "April" hole, and add the card to the boxed collection. Then, when April comes, you simply insert a coathanger wire through all of the cards' April holes, lift, and put the cards that remain in the box in your carry-around PDA, to reference during April.

A practicality issue is that I don't believe one can still buy cards with holes pre-punched around their edges. So you may have to make your own, using a regular single-hole punch. This could become tedious. But I still wanted to raise this idea, just in case someone knows of a supplier of suitable pre-punched cards...or has a suggestion for easily punching the initial holes around the edges of multiple cards.

I'll look around at home...I think I have dad's old "user manual" for his cards. If anyone's interested in seeing it, I might be able to scan and post a PDF!


Dave Powell

Syndicate content

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Sounds great.

I remember a card system like this from my days of playing Dungeons & Dragons. The cards were for character stats. I remember them being large -- 5 by 8 or larger.

A copy of the manual would be a very interesting read.
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

Edge-punched cards

I'll look into making a PDF!


Would you believe a Wikipedia reference...?
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

Thanks Ygor...That's exactly

Thanks Ygor...That's exactly what I'm talking about! (Only perhaps a simpler version for DIYplanning needs.) The photo link at the bottom of the Wikipedia page is exactly the kind of card my dad used. I remember that he cataloged the contents of his scientific journals using one set of cards. Always thought it was a neat "technology."


In today's world, call it a "Tag"

Think of each notch as a tag.

Same idea, yes ?
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

I'd say so!

Yes ygor, it definitely sounds like an old type of tag.


(I should take a seond tonight to register!)

a little like a tag

This does sound a bit like a tag. Wouldn't it get tricky to remember which hole means what though? I could see this working much better if you could have some kind of icon or small bit of text near the hole in indicate what it is for. I know I've seen some people on this site implement the icon idea, especially when space was limited like on index cards.


Sounds like a good thing to

Sounds like a good thing to add, if one creates a template file for printing multiple cards. Then I guess the cards would also indicate where to punch the initial holes and the followup holes (to open them to the edge).

I did a little web search, and one of the Swingline 3-hole punches at Staples (item 816124, $23) lets you set the individual punch positions (as many punches do), but you can also buy and insert more punch heads (item SWI74865, costing $11 per hole). So this could be a tool for punching the initial holes in a standardized way. (It's one of the desktop punches that you close with a lever arm.) And then, one would open up selected holes to the edge using a hand-held single-hole punch.



which hole means what...

Wouldn't it get tricky to remember which hole means what though?
If you look closely at the pictures of these cards, you will see labels next to the holes where they would not get punched out. Groups of holes are typically categories.
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)


We would love to have another paper/productivity person on board :D

my artwork| my blog

Thanks Sara...I'll start

Thanks Sara...I'll start looking into developing a possible template!



Full Circle

As I read this thread I couldn't help but think that we have come full circle. In this age of advanced technology, we are fascinated with the old ways.

In fact, if you look closely at the picture on this site's home page of one hand holding a mouse and the other holding a pen, it does conjure up the visual of a circle.


punch cards (slightly off topic)

I remember my dad telling me when he was younger, they would get these surveys in the form of punch cards that they could hole punch and send back. The company that sent the survey would then run the card through a computer to store the results.

He (and I think some of his friends too) would take a regular hole punch and punch many, many, many random holes in the card and send them back.


Hi Kenny, Those sound a bit

Hi Kenny,

Those sound a bit like the "Holerith" cards that computers used before keyboard input had been invented. A devious trick that they played!!!

More benignly, perhaps, during the days when I programmed IBM mainframes with cards, we used to staple the no-longer-needed cards into ring-like wreaths, spray them with gold or silver paint, and hang them on the computer-room door for Christmas.



I've been wondering

what to do with my trays of old IBM program data cards from my undergraduate days. Christmas crafts... what a perfectly geeky solution. I love it.

very cool

I've been thinking of doing something similar, but different, with my Moleskine. I'd like to punch an inverted tab into the side of the page. I'd punch the tab in a location dependent on some system. Then I could tell by looking at the cutouts on the side of the pages what info I have on what page (does that make any sense?). After seeing this topic, I ran to both Michael's and JoAnn on the way home and looked at the scrap-booking section. They didn't have an inverted tap punch. Which only proves, once again, that what I think should exist doesn't. I could try a scrap-booking store, but then workers there might actually ask what I want and I'm not sure I want to explain. I suppose I could try punching half a hole with a single hole punch, but that has the danger of looking sloppy.

if you

if you have a hobby lobby near you... i would try there. i was in the scrapbook section (which is 50% off) and they had tons of punches with different shapes...

I picked up a corner rounder for $3.50 :D... gotta love sales~!

my artwork| my blog

McBee cards

Hi We no longer use them but we used to use cards with small holes all around them called McBees. I am a health department employee and we used those for everything from head lice to hearing tests. It had regular name, date DOB Reason for coming in, address etc on the left and a "notes" side on the right. I never knew what the holes were for but knew there had to be a reason. Interesting.

JoAnn's had 'em

My local JoAnn's has corner-rounding punches -- specifically this one in the "medium" size seems to be a very close match to the rounded corners I see on real pages. It has a removable guide which you use to slide the edges of the paper along to ensure that you're actually snipping as far as you can inwards. On sale, mine was about $3.50
I had to hunt around a bit, though -- it was not in the regular scrapbooking section with other punches, but instead near paper cutters.

It would work for tabs once the guide was removed. You'd need to do some measuring or rig up a template of some kind of keep the punches even, though, since the area you're punching is well-obscured by the body of the punch die.

Looks like they also carry this one online, which appears to just be bigger? I don't know if you could use this for tabs, though.

I bought the punch with the clever idea of punching pages I had already written on, so I could easy thumb to the next-unused page. Alas, I'm now having so much fun punching corners of everything (tabs! labels! covers!) that I have yet to try it for this purpose. :-)

Any European sources?

My local JoAnn's has corner-rounding punches -- specifically this one in the "medium" size seems to be a very close match to the rounded corners I see on real pages.

That is very close to the style of corner one of my children wants for their home-made journals. But there's the usual problem I'm in England and JoAnn's is ... well not. I forsee the same punative shipping costs as Levenger's especially on such an esoteric tool.

There must be something local to you

I can't speak to the quality of any of the merchants, but searching for UK scrapbook corner rounder turned up a number of matches. Certainly better than paying to having to paying international shipping.

I have used these prepunched

data cards before. Most memorably when I started crunching data for my dissertation proposal. I can still remember my graduate seminar prof showing us how to use these cards with a knitting needly type device and going on and on about how invaluable they would be for data analysis. I very quickly ignored her recommendation and went for a main frame app that I could access because I was deemed geeky enough by the one prof in our entire college who actually used the main frame for data analysis. These are definitely a separate product than punch cards for computer programming. I used lots of those too. I think I still even have both types of cards in boxes in an attic somewhere. OK... showing my age here. Must be silent now before I am deemed geeky and geezery.

New use for an old punch

It just dawned on me that this would be a good use for my soon-to-be-neglected FC punch -- knocking regular-spaced holes into the edges of index cards. I have the adjustable Compact/Pocket punch, which in Pocket configuration punches a set of three holes, a gap, and then two holes on the long edge. Add a knitting needle and I'm all set. :-)

Great mod for this idea

I found this great idea while procrastinating and thought it fit right in here:

Clever index card mod

It's aimed at writers, but I thought others might find the idea useful as well.


This is such a simple-tastic idea! I knew there had to be a simpler way to accomplish this, and you've found it! (ok, somebody else thought it up, but by posting it here, you've opened it to a new world of uses) ;-)

Add this to the Pile of Index Cards concept, and you've got journaling and other uses wrapped right into it! thanks for posting it!


I finally did it

Checking the dates on these posts, I see that it took me long enough :-) but the page linked to from the ancestor of this post -- about using cards for writing ideas -- finally gave me the motivation for setting this up for myself.

The author of that page suggests cutting the spiral off a pack of spiral-bound index cards. All the sets I could find, though, had a line of perforation between the holes and the regular card ("for easy removal.") Argh -- what if we WANT the holes? Well, not a big problem, since Staples offers spiral binding service as well. I convinced the clerk to run a line of holes down one edge of a pack of cards, and then I chopped off one corner of the cards at home for alignment purposes.

Following the example of that link, I'm going to use this for plotting out my NaNoWriMo ideas. I used cards extensively last year -- about 200 total, I think -- and it was a terrific boon, unless my toddler got her hands on them and scrambled them all up. Being able to lift out a set of cards like "this is about the main character" or "this is a major plot point" is most appealing, certainly more than sifting through a whole stack of cards to find that one with that idea...

I put up a scan of one of the blank cards on my blog, showing the sizes of the hole punches I've investigated for notching the edges.

This was always such a cool idea, and now I'm glad that I finally have an excuse, er, "good reason" to pick up more cards and play with my typewriters. :-)

Punched edge cards

Dave, this is tremendous!!! Would you mind scanning and posting that PDF of the manual?
I have been looking for a source for readymade cards, but it looks as though I'll have to come up with a reliable seems like a neat way to organize data...Thank you so much.


The downside of this method...

as I recall, is that it will snowball very quickly such that you will run out of "edge" for tags. If you can limit the number of tags, this can work.

Just my opinion. Intelligent discussion is welcome.
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

McBee Cards

I like reading about this, its very interesting - but aren't we in danger of making planning a little too complicated? I would spend more time planning these cards than actually living life!

Here's an idea! Take a regular notebook and put whatever day of the week it is at the top. Write down a list of things to do/appointments/phonecalls/ideas etc, on the page. Tick them off as they get done. Carry over to the next day any stuff which didn't get done. Repeat until notebook is finished, then start another one.

Works for me!

Clara B.

But.. but.. playing with

But.. but.. playing with different planners is half of the fun!

McBee Cards

Yeah, I know - and I made so many variations of the darn things that I had info lying in about 29 different places, and not being able to find anything! lol I love the whole planning and organising thing to bits, but I guess I'll just stick with a plain ol' single notebook. Its more straightforward for me! lol

Clara B