Remember the Floppy!

My first storage medium was paper tape. Narrow strips of tape with holes punched out of it to store programs and data, could be printed out of a tape-puncher attached to a paper-based TTY terminal, or read into the terminal. Then, I used punch cards. Eventually I upgraded to a casette player for small data sets, and a tiny magnetic rectangle for my TI 59.

And I can relive all of these experiences with a walk down memory lane. …

Computer Data Storage Through the Ages — From Punch Cards to Blu-Ray

By the way, when the 5.25 inch floppy disk was replaced with with the 3.5 inch plastic dis in South Africa, what do you think they called them?

Stiffies! They still call them that. “Hand me that stiffy, would you?” and so on.

Comments

  1. #1 Argon
    March 7, 2009

    Bernoulli drives had a following in the ’90s. SyQuest too before the company got hammered by IOmega’s Zip drives.

    Sony blew it with their MiniDisc. A nice format for the time but Sony never seemed to get it that consumers might want to use the disk for music & data at the same time.

  2. #2 Greg Laden
    March 7, 2009

    Bernoulli drives were good. Zip, I found, were often unreliable. IOmega kinda ruined that avenue.

    But think about the sizes! A bernoulli was pretty hefty and held five megabytes or something like that. Maybe more, but not much more. I’ve got a micro stick sitting right here that holds 1 gig,and I”m thinking …. “Why not get a 4 Gig micro stick) (A micro stick is slightly larger than the fingernail on my pinky.)

  3. #3 Lee Daniel Crocker
    March 8, 2009

    It’s often useful to remember old technologies to make sense of modern software cruft. For example, why is ASCII code 0x7F (all bits on) reserved for “rubout” while all the other control characters are on the 0×00-0x1F range? So you could erase a section of paper tape by punching all the holes…

  4. #4 pixelsnake
    March 8, 2009

    I often have people tell me “Oh you’re WAY too young to remember THAT!” (and often in a chiding tone, what’s up with that? Not like I CHOSE to be younger than them). But I remember the 5.25″ floppy! My very first computer was an Apple (Apple – something, can’t remember but it didn’t have a GUI) and it had this amazing game on one of those discs that consisted of a stick man that could run around little stick platforms and try to find the exit.
    It’s really crazy (and exciting) how quickly it’s all changed.

  5. #5 MikeMa
    March 8, 2009

    I used paper tape on a PDP 7 or 8 in college to boot it. I also used 8″ floppies on a Fairchild Sentry 7 IC test computer. It also had front panel switches. To reset the system, you had to press a certain sequence which, if faced with that panel I bet I could remember.

    As part of a business I owned, we built 386 PCs and I remember how very pricey the combo 3.5/5.25″ floppy drives were when they came out. Didn’t last very long.

  6. #6 george.w
    March 8, 2009

    I got into IT in my late ’30′s so the earliest media I can remember is a 5.25-inch low-density floppy. Woo-woo! 360KB!

    Pixelsnake: “I often have people tell me “Oh you’re WAY too young to remember THAT!” (and often in a chiding tone, what’s up with that? Not like I CHOSE to be younger than them).

    Because I am quite young-looking, I get that a lot even from people who are the same age I am. (But I’ll have the last laugh when I’m eighty and going out with hot 60-year-old chicks) Anyway I think older people are often insecure. When we were kids, age equaled credibility. You didn’t know anything; it was up to you to learn what your elders knew. Now that we’re older, younger people know everything and older people are considered out-of-touch.

    GET THE HELL OFF MY LAWN!!! (shakes cane)

    Sorry, don’t know where that came from. Anyway, I’d be happy if college students would just learn file management. Bonus if they could disentangle themselves from the concept of “drive letters”.

  7. #7 khan
    March 8, 2009

    I switched majors from Computer Science to Math because I could never get the stupid cards punched correctly.

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    March 8, 2009

    Lee: That will be the coolest thing I learn today, no doubt!!!!

  9. #9 dean
    March 8, 2009

    And, for the photographers, you can now get 16 gb cards for your camera.

    I still have the 5.5 inch disks that hold the original AMS-Tex files for my dissertation. How time flies.

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    March 8, 2009

    My dissertation is on a combination of 5 and 3 inch disks, because my text was in Word for Windows and my graphics were in Adobe Illustrated (most of them, except the ones in Harvard Graphics DOS). I was able to integrate the three operating systems seamlessly because of the recent invention of Scotch Brand Magic Tape.

    I might have a 32 gigabyte camera memory card …

  11. #11 llewelly
    March 8, 2009

    A bernoulli was pretty hefty and held five megabytes or something like that. Maybe more, but not much more.

    They were 5MB initially. Every few years IOmega would turn out a bigger model of Bernoulli disks – 5MB, 10MB, and 20MB. Then they went to the Bernoulli II, a physically incompatible (but technologically similar) drive which accepted larger capacity disks – 20MB, 35MB, 44MB 65MB, 90MB, 105MB, 150MB, and 230MB.

  12. #12 MH
    March 8, 2009

    It doesn’t seem so long ago that I was using 3.5″ floppies. Now I can get a 2TB HDD, which is the equivalent of 140,000 floppy disks!

  13. #13 MH
    March 8, 2009

    What am I talking about; 1,400,000 floppies!

    Such an increase in capacity in what, ten years, is dizzying!

  14. #14 John J. McKay
    March 8, 2009

    My Master’s thesis is on a 5.25 disc and I no longer have anything that can read it. I keep telling myself that I’ll scan the hard copy some day. But that sounds too much like work, so it gets pushed into the future.

    On the shelf behind me, there is a box of eight inch floppies from a dedicated word processor that Clever Wife used into the early nineties. I think the early drafts of a few of the thesis chapters are on one of those disks.

  15. #15 Greg Laden
    March 8, 2009

    Remember Wang?

  16. #16 Glenn Scriven
    March 8, 2009

    Oh the good (bad) old days. Typing IBM cards and submitting them to the computer center, over and over until they were “right”. Then using a PDP11 with 8″ floppies with no word processing, just Fortran (yuck). Then a TRS80 with two floppies and DOS! Then and IBMPC with hard disk (wow), many upgrades (more wow). Now HP Pavilion with everything, amazing! I still have some “stiffies” laying around.

  17. #17 Greg Laden
    March 8, 2009

    You had floppies for your TRS-80? Cool!

    Some day I’m going to go through all my stiffies.

  18. #18 Gray Gaffer
    March 8, 2009

    Now this triggers old memories! I wrote my first programs – for Elliot 803 and Elliott 4120 – on a Friden Flexowriter, and had many opportunities to use the little handpunch to “rubout” typos. The 4120/4130 series used a 1000cps tape reader that could build up enough static on the paper for a 6″ spark. Total SOA for the time. I also worked on the 9 track tape drives. 2 GB. We used to joke that the CPU would someday fit into the 4″ Ampex plug that connected the drive bay to the CPU. Half right, I guess.

    In the job that followed that, I designed and built a 100 cps reader and 20 cps punch for my lab’s PDP 8E. Then I designed a Floppy interface for 8″ disks, one that could handle both hard and soft sectoring. Things were still fluid back in those days. IBM had only just given Seagate (AFAICR) permission to release their system boot hardware to the public – that being the original hard-sectored 8″ floppy. Wonderful career experience, total flop (!) as a product unfortunately.

    I still have my RS data cassette. It still works, and so does the TRS 100 laptop I bought it for. Not that I use it much lately. I also have an archived PC with Windows 95 and a 3.5 / 5.25 combo and a Colorado tape drive for data recovery. But my Masters backup is on a special style of data cassette. The tape drive is in a large and heavy iron case, the I/O is a full size pre-ISA card, and I have no hardware still running that can mount it. Not for nothing is the immediate past 50 years or so sometimes referred to as a “Dark Age”. Meaning no readable records survive. It would seem the records do, but not the technology for reading them. In fact, I have never successfully recovered anything from a tape backup system. So to me they effectively implement the Signetics Write Only Memory system (see http://www.national.com/rap/Story/WOMorigin.html).

  19. #19 khan
    March 9, 2009

    I still have some 8″ floppies; probably should just throw them out.

    There were many bad jokes at the office when people had to attend training to learn to use the new Wang.

  20. #20 BruceH
    March 9, 2009

    I seem to remember the geeks wearing black t-shirts with “Wang” written on the front in white lettering. I thought that was pretty funny, and still do.

  21. #21 Spiv
    March 9, 2009

    1: I think I picked up around the cassette tape time and used everything since.

    2: holy crap, those 5.25 floppys have the “maniac mansion” game label on them. I played the heck out of that trash.

    3: the colorado tape backup was garbage. I still have one in a box somewhere too.

    4: My old webpage used to have “this page created using edit.com” on it. Viva Ye Ol Skoolyard.

  22. #22 sinned34
    March 9, 2009

    Still have Pool Of Radiance on 5.25″ floppies in the original gold box!
    My old 386 was still chugging away in my mom’s office until about three years ago. I wonder if it still works…