Thu, Mar
20
2008

Look How Far We've Come

Thu, Mar 20, 2008

the-disappearing-floppy.jpg

Above is a picture of an eight-inch floppy drive, a five inch floppy drive and a three-inch floppy drive, courtesy of Wikipedia. Of course, the progression has continued, with the floppy drive practically disappearing entirely.

So, in the process of rearranging our upstairs in anticipation of the arrival of Nora at the end of April, I come upon a series of 3.5 inch floppy disks that I’d been looking for, for a long while. Among other things, these contain the text documents of various fan fiction stories I wrote back in the early to mid 1990s for Trenchcoat and Myth Makers.

In my last couple of years as Myth Makers editor, and as publication assistant to my successor, Matt Grady, I was able to create an electronic copy of the issues and print copies directly from the PDF, but my early work wasn’t so lucky. I was able to recapture my Trenchcoat material for the :Trenchcoat Farewell Project:, but stuff like Erin’s first published piece of prose fiction (the award winning A Man at Intervals in Myth Makers 6) and my first formal story submission (In Tua Nua, co-authored by myself and Joseph Keeping) was in limbo. I’ve given some thought to reproducing In Tua Nua in electronic format, and Matt Grady was kind enough to supply me with scans of the illustrations, but the text was harder to come by until I found that box of 3.5 inch floppy disks.

Of course, once the box was recovered, I ran into my second problem: there is not a single working computer anywhere in this house with a floppy disk drive.

Actually, that’s not quite true. There is an IBM ThinkPad somewhere, which can barely manage to run Windows ‘98. It’s floppy drive and CD-ROM have to be swapped in and out. It doesn’t have a USB port, however, or Wi-fi. So, getting the files from the floppy drive on that laptop to my Macbook would require hooking it up to my Airport Extreme router via Ethernet cable (Fortunately, I do know where those are), accessing the Internet and then mailing the files to myself.

Don’t be silly, I told myself. My father has a desktop computer with a floppy drive, CD burner and USB ports. Ask him to do it.

Which he does. He then leaves a message on my answering machine, saying, paraphrased:

“Um, James? I copied all of those floppies onto a CD on my CD burner and I had about 670 Mb of free space left. Is that right? There shouldn’t be that much free space after all those disks. Well, anyway, I filled up the rest with pictures of Vivian that I took, which you don’t yet have.

Thanks, Dad.

Actually, I initially shared his disbelief. How could a hefty box of floppies fill up so little space on a single, shiny metal disk? But then, these pieces of plastic all hold only 1.44 Mb of data each. Twenty disks would give you, at most, 30 Mb of data. And against a 700 Mb CD-Rom, that’s lots of space left over.

My first hard drive was 40 Mb, and I was amazed that it could hold the equivalent of 40 floppy disks of information. I thought backing the hard drive up on floppies used a lot of floppies. Now, if I were to try that on my 250 Gb Macbook hard drive (of which 60 Gb is in use), I would need 40,000 floppy disks.

Wow.

It’s only been fifteen years since I got my first e-mail address, learned how to use Pine, and tried out this neat new browser called Mosaic. I remember putting fanzines together using dot matrix printers, cut and paste and photocopiers. Now a full magazine can be sent with just 5 minutes on an FTP account. We’ve come so far in so short a time, I have to wonder, just where can we possibly still go, five or ten or fifteen years in the future?


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