A few days ago I needed a program. It was included in a compilation book ‘Numerical Recipes’, and the disk the program was on is ‘Numerical Recipes in C’. (C as in the programming language – other languages were available). I had purchased the disk, needed for the company I was working for at the time, over 20 years ago. Anyway, the disk I used from time to time was unreadable. I soon confirmed it was not the computer’s fault.

This was not the original disk, which was a 5.25″ 360k floppy disk – when floppy disks were Real Floppy Disks, and 5.25″ a minaturisation of the 8″ (and no doubt larger before that) but a copy made on a 3.5″ 1.44MB floppy disk – those in the hard plastic covers.

I am pretty damning about those hard cased 3.5″ floppy disks, especially the later ones. I refer to them as ‘write-only’ media. As that joke so often needs explaining, even to computer experts, I sometimes wonder why I bother…and in case… ‘Read only’ means that, the data can be read, but not edited or altered, whereas Read-Write means both reading and editing/altering. Write only is, of course, useless, the point of my joke, but all too often in the past I’d save data to floppy disk, then when I come to need it again (to ‘Read’ it) I find the disk corrupted or otherwise unreadable.

33MHz, oh, 120MB Hard Disk, I forget, state of the art PC {computer} circa 1992, with a 1980s monitor.

So I dug out this really old computer, as it had a working 5.25″ drive. As I got it going after years of somblescence, I thought, ‘Gosh, I remember when this was the new, latest thing, that you didn’t have time to make a cup of tea while it compiled the firmware’; it was that fast…and how slow it felt now. Mind you, the computer I am writing this entry on is 15 years old, and on its third reincarnation. Still the original Hard Disk as well, although there is a second one with rather more storage space.

After various interface sorting out, the display shown here proved to be dead so another one was lashed into service (the one shown has five BNC connectors as the video input, that was outdated when we got it, over 20 years ago), got it all running. Most importantly, I found the original ‘Numerical Recipes in C’ 5.25″ disk – kept in the inside jacket cover of the book. And it was readable (defying my predictions – but then it is a Real Floppy Disk). And it’s now copied and a copy on this hard disk as well. But I have the original, given how precious the authors of ‘Numerical Rec….’ are about copying even ye-olde versions.

The Book, the Disk, and the copy on Write-only media.

However, this is a near-miss example of what is happening every day. Information is being lost. In the good-old days, there would be paper brochures, manuals or whatever, so usually a copy would be at the originator, and if not, one lying around somewhere. All the time (if you are looking for such things), you hear of paper documents turning up – just consider the Radio 4 programme ‘Document’. But these days, information is all electronic, much easier to generate, and just as easily lost. I can think of many internet sites that have disappeared, and as likely as not, there is no copy left. The project to archive the internet seems to have ground to a halt – I’m not surprised, but there are times I really could do with an old copy of a website.

I could no doubt go on for a long time giving examples, and, of course, I cannot provide links because it is exactly my point – these random examples were on the internet, but no more:

The US Antarctic Survey used ‘A frame’ huts for many years. At the end of their life, they were put onto an iceberg to fall into the sea; but the New Zealand Antarctic Survey rescued one and used it for many years as a recreation hut. It eventually burnt down. Pictures that I didn’t copy showed the interior, and it looked really a rather nice place. So much so, given the fact I need another shed on limited space and one that I don’t hit my head on the door as I go in, I’m thinking of designing and making one in homage!

Only 'A frame' hut image I have left... saved from some website years ago...

I have a small length of solder, which is very special (even by this hoarder of solder’s standards); the emf [thermally generated voltage] of the solder is matched to copper, so that there are no thermal emfs generated at solder joints. Essential, or at least used to be, in some applications. Is there any reference to this solder on the internet? Rhetorical question. Certainly not on the website of Multicore Solders, the manufacturer, whose website I refer to as ‘fact-free’.(c.f. the phrase ‘Fat-free’ for diet foods)

To be continued.

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