Database programs on personal computers have proven
extremely efficient at organizing and manipulating certain
kinds of everyday information. How did people store and
sort this kind of data back in the dark ages before
desktop computers, say, 25 years ago?
One method was to use the special sortable paper
cards marketed as the "Indecks Information Retrieval
System." Each Indecks card was approximately the size and
shape of the old computer "punch card." Like punch cards,
Indecks cards had a diagonally-cut corner, so they could
quickly be aligned before sorting. Each card face had two
parts: a rectangular central area (where one would note
down information), surrounded by an outer margin with
about 80 numbered, punched holes. Each number could be
assigned a subject appropriate to one's project.
A "notcher" tool was used to chop a notch in a card
from any subject hole to the card's edge. When a stack of
cards was aligned and the Sorting Rod (sort of a knitting
needle) was run through a particular subject hole, the
appropriate cards == those notched at that subject's hole
== would drop down out of the deck into one's lap.
At least one competing product existed in this
category, referred to below as "McBee cards."
From the Last Whole Earth Catalog's review of
Indecks, by Stewart Brand:
"What do you have a lot of? Students, subscribers,
notes, books, records, clients, projects? Once you're
past 50 or 100 of whatever, it's tough to keep track, time
to externalize your store and retrieve system. One handy
method this side of a high-rent computer is Indecks. It's
funky and functional: cards with a lot of holes in the
edges, a long blunt needle, and a notcher. Run the needle
through a hole in a bunch of cards, lift, and the cards
notched in that hole don't rise; they fall out. So you
don't have to keep the cards in order. You can sort them
by feature, number, alphabetically or whatever; just poke,
fan, lift and catch. [...]
"We've used the McBee cards to manipulate (edit) and
keep track of the 3000 or so items in this CATALOG.
They've meant the difference between partial and complete
The subsequent (1980) issue of the Whole Earth
Catalog is full-to-bursting with information about
personal computers, but contains no mention of the Indecks
system. Sometime between 1971 and 1980, this medium seems
to have died...
Candi Strecker (strecker@sirius@com)