Skip to main content

A floppy what?

The sad remnant of my diskette collection
I was watching the first series of 24 the other day on my mission to use Netflix to catch up with the good stuff I never saw the first time around. At one point someone needs to get information from one computer to another. She puts a black rectangular object into a drive and uses this to pass the information. I swear this is true: for just a moment, I thought 'What's that?' It was, of course, a diskette, something that was central to our computing lives only a few years ago and yet, to all intents and purposes, disappeared off the face of the planet more rapidly and completely than black vinyl records ever have.

I had a sudden wave of nostalgia for floppy disks and diskettes. At one point I ran the PC department of a certain large airline whose initials include B and A. We genuinely did get those old hoary misuse stories of the 5 1/4 inch floppies. People really did occasionally staple them to a report. And one user really did complain that their disk wouldn't read when they shoved it into the gap between two drives.

When the rigid 3 1/2 inch diskettes came along, confusingly still called floppies by many, it was wonderful. They were much harder to damage, you could slip them in your pocket, they held about four times as much data (yes, children, over a MEGABYTE per diskette) - they were great. Unlike floppies they protected the read area of the magnetic disk, where floppies left it open for prying fingers and dirt. I used to have cases on my desk especially made to hold diskettes. I backed up onto diskettes. (And yes, after the hard disk failed twice on my IBM AT, I really did back up with some fervour on the more modern machines that took diskettes.)

And yet now they're gone. We don't have a computer in the house that takes them, though I do have an external diskette drive left over from an old Sony laptop that was too slim and sexy to have a built-in drive. And yes, in the drawer if I dig around, I do have one or two diskettes left. But even so - how the mighty have fallen.


Popular posts from this blog

Is 5x3 the same as 3x5?

The Internet has gone mildly bonkers over a child in America who was marked down in a test because when asked to work out 5x3 by repeated addition he/she used 5+5+5 instead of 3+3+3+3+3. Those who support the teacher say that 5x3 means 'five lots of 3' where the complainants say that 'times' is commutative (reversible) so the distinction is meaningless as 5x3 and 3x5 are indistinguishable. It's certainly true that not all mathematical operations are commutative. I think we are all comfortable that 5-3 is not the same as 3-5.  However. This not true of multiplication (of numbers). And so if there is to be any distinction, it has to be in the use of English to interpret the 'x' sign. Unfortunately, even here there is no logical way of coming up with a definitive answer. I suspect most primary school teachers would expands 'times' as 'lots of' as mentioned above. So we get 5 x 3 as '5 lots of 3'. Unfortunately that only wor

Why I hate opera

If I'm honest, the title of this post is an exaggeration to make a point. I don't really hate opera. There are a couple of operas - notably Monteverdi's Incoranazione di Poppea and Purcell's Dido & Aeneas - that I quite like. But what I do find truly sickening is the reverence with which opera is treated, as if it were some particularly great art form. Nowhere was this more obvious than in ITV's recent gut-wrenchingly awful series Pop Star to Opera Star , where the likes of Alan Tichmarsh treated the real opera singers as if they were fragile pieces on Antiques Roadshow, and the music as if it were a gift of the gods. In my opinion - and I know not everyone agrees - opera is: Mediocre music Melodramatic plots Amateurishly hammy acting A forced and unpleasant singing style Ridiculously over-supported by public funds I won't even bother to go into any detail on the plots and the acting - this is just self-evident. But the other aspects need some ex

Mirror, mirror

A little while ago I had the pleasure of giving a talk at the Royal Institution in London - arguably the greatest location for science communication in the UK. At one point in the talk, I put this photograph on the screen, which for some reason caused some amusement in the audience. But the photo was illustrating a serious point: the odd nature of mirror reflections. I remember back at school being puzzled by a challenge from one of our teachers - why does a mirror swap left and right, but not top and bottom? Clearly there's nothing special about the mirror itself in that direction - if there were, rotating the mirror would change the image. The most immediately obvious 'special' thing about the horizontal direction is that the observer has two eyes oriented in that direction - but it's not as if things change if you close one eye. In reality, the distinction is much more interesting - we fool ourselves into thinking that the image behind the mirror is what's on ou