Saturday, January 23, 2016

170 Floppies for sale!

Cross posted from

Gather round, kids, for you are about to hear a tale of patience, and the acceptance of failure.

Once upon a time, hard drives were expensive.  Like, $300 for a 40 megabyte drive expensive.  But a much cheaper alternative existed, in the form of a black round disc.  Problem with this disc is that it was very sensitive to dirt and fingerprints, so it was enclosed inside a 5.25-inch plastic square, and it was called a floppy disc.  It could even be made double sided, so that reading the entire contents of a disc meant you had to flip it over.  In its heyday, it would store 1.2 megabytes, which by today's standards, might store about a minute-long mp3.  But back in those days, where a program's size was measured in kilobytes, that size was plenty.  You kids might have seen this disc, in the form of a Save icon.  Well, take a gander at one of the photographs in this ad, because there it is!

Floppies got smaller and more durable.  In a 3.5-inch format, they'd store 1.44 megabytes.  Sold for as cheap as a dollar a disc retail, they became the most common format for distributing software in a pre-internet era - just package up a floppy of hardware drivers with a network card, and the user would be able to use it right away ("right away" meaning after manually experimenting with IRQ's).  A company called AOL sent out millions of 3.5-inch floppies in the mail with free trials of its online service to become one of the largest dial-up internet providers in the world.

Floppies, however, were manufactured of varying quality, and susceptible to enviromental factors.  Bad sectors would creep up on the cheaper discs over time, irrecoverably trashing the data on the disc.  They were common vectors for viruses which would copy themselves onto the boot sector of the disc, where most computers were programmed to boot from upon bootup, silently infecting the hard disc.  Ambient magnetism could undetectably corrupt data.

Support for USB drives in Windows 95 (and an even better implementation in Windows 98) eliminated the need for a floppy drive, though it would take a few years more before BIOS manufacturers came up with reliable solutions for flashing BIOSes from something other than a floppy.  Apple was the first major computer manufacturer to push the floppy drive out of public usage by not including one in 1998 with their iMac.

Since then, floppies have disappeared the way rotary phones, LP records, and cassette tapes have, replaced by much better technology. And like many of those unused kin, their imagery exists solely as an icon to the tool.

 In a retro kind-of-way, the 170 3.5 inch floppies (and the dozen or so 5.25 inch floppies) might be useful to someone. Maybe you want to stick them on your wall, and spell out your name in pixels.  Maybe you want to attach a few to your fridge with magnets, as a conversation piece.  Maybe you're building a custom water feature that testifies how the disposal culture of technology is eroding our planet's resources.  There are some AOL discs in here too (though they've been erased) that you might want to mail your friends as a joke.

Or maybe you really want to use these to store data.  In which case you're in luck - I've erased/formatted every one of these discs (with the exception of some write-protected driver discs - I leave them as a bookmark into the era that created them) so they're ready for you as a receptacle to your (hopefully replicated elsewhere) data.

What's that?  You don't have a floppy drive?  Well now, here's a bonus for you - act now, and I'll include an internal 3.5" floppy drive and cable!  I know it works because it's the one I used to read/format these discs.  You will need to make sure your computer has a floppy connector (my 5 year old computer still does).

Also included are a few disc carrying cases, as well as a foam shark carrying case!

Asking $20, because the foam shark is so cute!  But feel free to shoot me an offer, or send a sob story of how the floppies remind you of an long-ago-but-not-forgotten error-prone relationship, and how they have inspired you to "chkdsk /f" that relationship so that you can "xcopy a:*.* c: /s" right away and salvage what's left.

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