Weight and Stuff Report – 23 January 2017

Hmmm, back down a bit today.

Warning to people reading this on Facebook: there’s a lot of words in this one which you won’t see if you don’t click through. It even has some of my finest footnotes.

Here’s a retro thing for you. We’ve been clearing out a load of old stuff from the server room at work, and amongst the old cables, idols of Cthulhu[1], dust badgers[2] and manuals for long extinct software, we[3] found a load of boxes of items of historical interest only: floppy disks.

For the benefit of younger readers[4], long, long ago[5], if you wanted to save files on a computer, you’d use a removable storage device called a floppy disk. These fitted into special devices that sometimes could read back what you’d written[6]. The technology evolved over the years, but despite a few bold experiments with larger capacities, the standard eventually became an enormous 1.44MB. Yes, megabytes. Not gigabytes. And yes, 1.44, not 144. In those days, documents could actually fit in that space, and the primitive digital cameras[7] of the time created files so small you could get lots of them on one of those things.

Old school!

Old school!

But what’s that odd one at the front? Well, back in the 1990s, internet access in the UK wasn’t all that widely available, and companies hadn’t quite got up to speed with the whole online ordering thing, but Action Computer Supplies (long since morphed into the UK branch of Insight) had a clever solution. Instead of leafing through their catalogue and calling a free phone number where an actual human[8] would listen to you reciting product codes and note them down on a clay tablet, or maybe even typed them into their computer system, which generated an order, which resulted in things being sent to you at some point, you could use a modem[9] to connect directly to the ordering system. This was great, because you could actually tell if the wossname you wanted to buy was in stock without having to do all that talking to people stuff. So they used to send out these disks which had software on that listed the products in the catalogue and could connect to their system to confirm pricing and availability, and even let you place an order. Except when the line dropped, or it didn’t work, or something. It was a long time ago, and my memory is vague.

Of course, not everyone had one of those fancy modem things. So you could also use the disk to send a fax, which is a kind of old technology so horrible that I won’t explain it.

Now that’s some of my finest wittering, set off by seeing an old floppy disk.

[1] Everyone has a few of those in the server room, right?
[2] Like dust bunnies only bigger and more aggressive
[3] Well, it was Aaron, actually
[4] And historians reading this in the 25th century  :wave:
[5] Though not, as far as I am aware, in a galaxy far, far away
[6] And sometimes didn’t, causing much  :wah: and  :angry:
[7] Including some that had floppy drives built in as their storage medium. Cool until the drive got a bit misaligned, and the files couldn’t be read by any computer at all…
[8] Well, I presume that’s what they were. They sounded human, anyway
[9] Odd device which plugged into an analogue telephone line, made rude noises and beeps and linked your computer to someone else’s. This was how we connected to the internet way back when, you know. And if you got a 56k connection, you were damn grateful. Try telling that to kids today, etc, etc…

One thought on “Weight and Stuff Report – 23 January 2017

  1. Pingback: Weight and Stuff Report – 24 January 2017 | Losing it

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