When I was last here two weeks ago I discussed ancient books and authors. I was gratified to receive a number of comments on the topic, including one from Dan Phalen, who wondered what would become of our digital prose. Dan used the example of an archeologist coming upon an iPhone a thousand years from now who would be faced with the task of coaxing digital text from the device.
Dan’s example isn’t going to have to wait for one thousand years to occur. It’s happening right now. Remember floppy disks? Some of you may not. They were and are these square things that were read by something known, by amazing coincidence, as a floppy disk drive. If some of you have a bunch taking up space in a forgotten corner of your office you might be surprised and disappointed to find that the data on them is corrupted or bye-bye. On the other hand, some companies, like Boeing, the airplane people, still use them. Think about that the next time you are in the air and you hear your pilot say “Uh-oh” on a hot mike, followed by an extended period of turbulence.
There are also .art files. Back when AOL was (almost) the only game in town and you downloaded pictures from the internet using AOL those pictures were saved in the form of an .art file. A great many of those are corrupted as well. I have tried several programs to open them but none have worked. AMF. That said, the unknown of the obsolete goes back much, much further than the most recent turn of the century. More on that in a minute.
I did another research deep dive — this one into the topic of information storage retrieval — and almost didn’t get this post written because of it. I was in so deep and had to come up so fast that I am still recovering from the bends. I did find a number of interesting websites dealing with the topic of retrieving data from obsolete technical doo-dahs. I’ll (attempt to) limit my discussion to two of them, which hopefully will be particularly relevant for those of you who labor in the historical fiction grammar mine. As an aside, let me note that there doesn’t seem to be an agreed-upon definition of what “historical fiction” is. For our purposes, we’ll call it a story set at least twenty-five years before the year in which the story is written. That would be from the beginning of all of this around us to…um…1996. That is disconcerting because I can remember a number of major events in my life from that year but not what I had for lunch yesterday. Oh, the humanity!
Onward. There is a wonderfully nerdy (and I say that with the highest respect) site named the Museum of Obsolete Media which is a time bandit of the highest order. If you look under the “Popular Tags” section you will see links to decades beginning with the 1860s. If you are neck-deep in writing a series set in the 1900s and want to see what was there in 1906 that ain’t no more and want to use it as a starting point for some element of your novel, this is the place to go for that and so much more. I was surprised when looking through my own timeline to note how many cutting-edge items (at that time) were listed that seemed futuristic but are now practically forgotten. Anyone want to buy a non-functioning Apple Newton?
Obsoletemedia.org is a labor of love. If you want to get up to your neck in things, however, the oft-forgotten but absolutely indispensable National Archives has an area — a very, very large area — devoted to “special media preservation.” That area has everything from wire recordings and machines to play them on to that new iPhone that you’ll brick in two years. It is particularly noteworthy that you can email questions to them about such topics and the worker bees there will happily email you back with everything you ever wanted to know about, say, wax cylinder recordings, the same way that your local library still does for more mundane topics.
It all sounds very cool. The problem, though, is that all of that data, particularly the digital type on collections such as the ones in the National Archives, is sitting on a time bomb. The immediate problem with contemporary “media preservation” is that digital media isn’t built to last. It is fragile coming out of the box and deteriorates relatively rapidly. That is but one reason that I can’t open .art files I made twenty years ago but I can go on eBay and buy photographs taken in the 1800s. As far as digital information is concerned, there is more and more of it being made, lost, and found even as there are fewer people dedicated to exploring the obsolete storage mechanisms and preserving what they find. Information is being lost, as is the ability to retrieve it in the first place. Meanwhile, wire recordings made by Thomas Alva Edison still work and can be repaired.
Getting back to archeologists and the like…this photo may look like the water shutoff valve in your basement
but it is something called the “Antikythera Mechanism,” considered to be the world’s oldest computer. It is believed to have predated Bill Gates’ monster by around two thousand years. The Antikythera Mechanism was discovered amidst the ruins of an ancient shipwreck in 1901. It was not until 2008 that it was recognized for what it was (“Why…that’s an Antikythera Mechanism!”). Yes. It took a looong time for archeologists and scientists to figure out what the f-heck it was and what it could do, which was predicting solar eclipses and organizing calendars (“Meet Lycastra on the down-low. 4P by the sundial”). It can probably do a heck of a lot more, such as spontaneously opening dimensions between our reality and the netherworld on July 11, 2021. What I find particularly interesting is that our contemporary technology had to catch up with the Antikythera Mechanism so that it could be recognized for what it was. Otherwise, it would probably be a paperweight on a desk of a Greek fishing boat.
Sobering, isn’t it?
I had a conversation last week with my granddaughter, who is starting high school next year. We talked about fields of study. My advice to her was to master computer systems and storage retrieval. “This is all going to break down,” I said. “All of it. It’s not a question of ‘if’ but a question of ‘when.’ When all the king’s horses and men need those digital bits put back together be ready to be the one to do it. You’ll be able to name your own price. Settle for nothing less than your own island and a bunch of people — well paid, but well paid by somebody else — to look after it.”
When I think about the Antikythera Mechanism, that advice looks better with each day.
So what technological device, program, or storage entity do you miss? Windows 7 is an okay answer.
How about carbon paper and a desk drawer?
When dedicated word processors became available in the mid-80s, William Zinsser wrote a hilarious little book about learning to use one. It was a highly complicated IBM machine and he was an old newspaper man with a manual typewriter. At the end of the book he imagines the old days when a Jack London or Thomas Wolfe would hand in a stack of paper to an editor. Now he would be handing over a couple of floppy disks. “Don’t bend them,” he’d say.
Fascinating stuff, Joe. Thanks for the entertaining deep dive.
First! Thanks so much, Jim (do you ever sleep?!). I appreciate your recommendation of the Zinsser book, “Writing with a Word Processor,” which is still readily available.
Carbon paper! Now that’s a trip down memory lane. And it can still be purchased.
Have a great weekend, Jim.
Carbon paper! And mimeograph machines. Now that you mention it, I bought some carbon paper a year or two ago for some art projects. I should get it out & see how it’s holding up.
Joe, I’m typing this comment on an almost-historic Windows 7 PC.
We have albums of old photos and Polaroids (remember those?). B&W photos from 100 years ago are still sharp. So are Kodachrome prints. Other color prints degraded to reddish, brownish, or yellowish blurs but are still recognizable.
How many photos of birthdays, weddings, and reunions that are taken with phone cams will be lost to obsolescence?
Hope your granddaughter listens to her wise grandpa.
Thank you, Debbie. Windows 7 is highly prized among many gearheads. You were wise to hang onto yours.
As far as photos and the like are concerned, I cringe when I hear folks say, “Oh, I keep everything in the cloud. It’s safe there.” Right. It’s okay for redundancy, but that’s it. I’ve also lost many (unimportant) things when transferring to a new phone. It will only get worse, I’m afraid.
I was born only about twenty-five years ago, but I can’t count how many times I told my parents that we should print out our best photos and keep up those photo albums. We literally had the same problem last year where my sister copy and pasted videos over to a disk instead of doing the fancy upload thing, and now we can’t open them. And those videos were just a few years old. I think I’ve given up on preserving anything.
Azai, did your sister copy and paste to a CD or DVD? Regardless…most medium to large metro areas have at least one dedicated camera store staffed by camera and video experts who will have either the software to attempt to retrieve the video or will know where you can go to have it done. I suggest contacting them. Good luck!
When I start whining about writing, I often remind myself, no carbon paper, no whiteout, no having to retype an entire page. Living in the techno golden age – at least till A.I. shows up – is awesome. Great post.
Thank you, Warren. There is no question that editing in the digital age is a dream. Some years ago I showed a technologically challenged friend of mine the magic of cutting/copying and pasting. He played with it for hours.
I have had problems with my Chromebook keyboard with accidental erasures of a paragraph or two but that is a minor quibble compared to typing a whole page over because of one instance of transposing letters. Thanks for the reminder.
Can a always count on you for a fascinating post, Joe.
What about the early computers that used tape cassettes for memory?
Carbon paper. Typing a letter when I worked in my dad’s office. Dictated on a dictaphone. Got to the end, and the guy says, “CC to X, Y, and Z.”
There was a copier in the office. It was like developing a photo. Wet chemicals.
Typing on stencils for the mimeograph machine. Remember the smell? I typed my husband’s doctoral dissertation on an IBM Selectric, on special thesis paper with the margins faintly visible on the page. Three white-out corrections was the max per page before you had to retype it.
But that was a luxury. I remember asking for a typewriter and my parents asked me if I wanted one with automatic tabs. Otherwise, you had these little pin dohickies that you had to stick in wherever you wanted a tab.
Our wedding album photos were fading. I scanned them and used the computer’s color correction to get them back.
I agree that data recovery is already a big thing. I have a mousepad that’s an ad for a data recovery company that I got years and years ago at a conference.
One of Hubster’s hard drives failed, and he discovered he’d lost some of his photos. They wanted $1100 just to try to recover them, no promises. Since the “good” ones were already saved elsewhere, he declined.
Thank you, Terry. I remember those computer cassettes. I even remember when the tape was “played” on those huge reel-to-reel devices. At The Ohio State University the original computer center was quickly outgrown and some bright light decided that instead of moving it to a bigger facility they just got a second small room. Across campus. A van drove the computer reels back and forth all day long.
Mimeographs?! Oh, the humanity! My internal waste processing system just spasmed at the very memory! I remember the pin doohickies, too. I had a typewriter with those. It was okay. It was a typewriter. I thought I had the world by the tail with a downhill pull when I got it. I really did, actually.
Thanks for sharing, Terry, and bringing back memories.
You remind me of what I now find humorous–in high school we had the “new” IBM selectric typewriters and it was a big deal that you could type a line of type into the memory and then it would type it all out for you. LOL!!!!!
My first computer was a 1992 that used the large floppy disks. We had upgraded so many times we practically had a room dedicated to storing them because they all had books on them. Some were complete first drafts, but most were beginnings of various lengths. I didn’t want to lose them.
It came time to downsize, but how? I could no longer print from the original computer and all seemed lost. But my husband figured out how to cannibalize those machines and wire a 3.5” disk drive to the first one. I saved each as .rtf (rich text files) because we needed to go from ancient to modern systems. After that, he piggybacked to a thumb drive on an even newer model. I printed all of them because, as you say, paper endures, and also uploaded them to a desktop and a laptop.
I remember when computers were supposed to make us a paperless society. Even at work, we found that, instead, it created more piles and we had to buy special storage boxes. Thank goodness for all that distrust of technology. Otherwise a whole generation of work would be lost.
Thank you, Becky! Sounds like you have a husband who is a keeper. If I had tried something like that I would have burnt the house down. That’s an excellent point about the paperless society leading to…more paper. Maybe I’ll write a future essay in praise of 703 boxes…
Whatever came after Windows 7 is the reason I own a Mac. But it too will fail at some point.
I started writing on a Hermès portable typewriter and if computers hadn’t come along I doubt I would’ve ever written anything more than short stories. And while my typing has gotten better I still wouldn’t be able to type a clean page.
I do still use a lead pencil to outline my story. Great post! I think I still have some of those big floppy discs somewhere. Remember DOS?
Thanks so much, Patricia. I absolutely remember MS-DOS. When I started fooling with computers the only games in town were Fortran and Cobol. was surprised to learn that both are still in limited use today though in vastly different capacities.
Wow, Joe, great post. This is interesting stuff. I can see how you would get lost in researching all the history.
Device, program, or storage entity that I miss? Windows 7. I have several computers, and still use a laptop with Windows 7.
All the discussion about lost data, extra paper used, reminded me of the unpleasant task I am currently knee deep in. After shutting down an office, used for over thirty years, I am now cleaning out the mess and fixing up the building to sell. My office manager saved EVERYTHING. And I have to go through all of it to see what is confidential, what needs to be shredded, what can be burned, and what can go out to the trash. The experience is like an archeological dig. Layer after layer. Yesterday, after having hauled two pickup loads of paper from her office, I have reached pristine, uncluttered walls. And on the way I’ve found a large box of floppies used for computer back up, and enough jumbo paper clips to stock an office supply store. So anybody interested in the history of data clutter, is welcome to come research my office. No charge. Just help carry the archeological shards out to the pickup. Oh, and a free lunch.
Have a great weekend, Joe. Don’t get lost in the research, at least don’t store the directions for getting home on a 5 1/4 floppy.
Good morning, Steve! Thank you for sharing. I am doing the same thing with my own office. I am having many “Why did I keep THIS?” moments as well. And jumbo paper clips…we both must have hit the same sale at OfficeMax.
I may take you up on that research offer, Steve! Good luck. Oh, and about those directions for getting home…I am amazed at home many teenagers have no idea how to get home, or even read a map. They are TOTALLY dependent on Waze. I see a problem with this…
Fascinating post! Thank you.
My first computer was a Tandy 1000 SL. I played a variety of games on the thing (I was a teen) using floppies – the 5 1/2″ (or was it 5 1/4″?) black ones that actually were floppy. I had to swap those disks out several times during a game because the storage capacity on a single disk was quite limited. Yet, this was cutting edge stuff at the time, like living in a sci-fi world.
I have two kids. The wife and I have taken probably a million photos of them through the years, all digital. Some are on old CD’s, some are on USB drives, many are just stored on computer hard drives. My brother gave me a shoe box filled with old photos, paper photos, taken by my own parents – hundreds of pictures. I spent hours looking at them, seeing everybody from the 1960’s and 1970’s as I remembered them. It’s a treasure. I thought, “What are my kids going to look at in 2040? What kind of shoe box is one going to pass to the other?”
This worried me, and it still does.
Thank you so much, Carl. I remember Tandy computers very well. They were, as I recall, available only at Radio Shack (which I thought was out of biz but which is alive and well, if not huge). I never had one but they seemed very cutting edge at the time.
There is a market in old photographs of any sort, Carl. Collectors are snatching them up. I even know of some guys who go door to door in older neighborhoods looking to buy them. I have the feeling that the shoebox you described will be a thumb drive, or its futuristic equivalent, in a couple of decades. Kind of sad…
Joe, your excellent post reminds me of Thomas Edison’s phonographic doll, released in 1890. Ever hear it? Guaranteed to produced nightmares. Here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_bgXH7U2Ja0 Enjoy! 😉
Thank you, Sue, for your kind words and for sharing the Edison doll! That is creepy. It took me almost to the end of the video to decipher what it was saying. Oh, the humanity! It makes “Enter Sandman” by Metallica seem benign in comparison.
I have a pair of Furbys leftover from my daughter’s childhood. For whatever reason I have left them “on” with the batteries inside. Sometimes apropos of nothing they will start chattering to each other in the middle of the night. Very strange…
Have a great day, Sue!
Sue, you spelled pornographic wrong again.
This post is very interesting on many levels. Thanks for the link on the Museum of Obsolete Media. I’m going to check it out as soon as I finish my friend’s edits today. Several thoughts:
1) This post ties nicely with yesterday’s talk about our first books written. That post caused me to ask myself “You haven’t been in that manuscript lately. Where do you have it saved? You better make sure it’s in a good safe place.” Thankfully I know it’s at least NOT on a floppy disc, but CD/DVDs sometimes aren’t the most long-lasting media either. But I’m a skeptic who doesn’t trust relying on cloud storage. I need to be more consistent about doing what many have advised–storing my work on more than one kind of storage media.
2) From the historical standpoint, I have wondered many times what it will be like for people digging for historical information a couple hundred years in the future. One of the fun things about writing historical (for me 1800’s) is the treasure of finding letters, diaries, etc. that people have preserved. My concern for the future isn’t that there aren’t ways to preserve things but the glut of information. And people have less attention span now than they did–will people even bother to TRY and proserve any writings or things from our time? If they don’t, how in the world will future generations have an accurate picture of the people of this time save for celebrities etc? I’m curious what other TKZers think about that.
3) The other concern besides how we store our data is the GLUT of data and how to organize it. I consider myself an organized person, but I still struggle with how to organize historical data for my writing research. It gets overwhelming trying to figure out how to maintain data and be able to retrieve it easily.
4) the loss of file types is very annoying. I lost some awesome images with the loss of .art files and some others.
Now I have to go make triple sure I haven’t left anything on floppy disc…. 😎
Thank you BK, particularly for points 2) and 3) which raising interesting issues. Contemporary archivists have been sounding the alarm about the intersection of the glut of information stored digitally, the lack of researchers interested in accessing it, and the deterioration of digital media. It’s a perfect storm. I’m not sure if even celebrities are immune from obscurity. We’ll see. Or maybe we won’t.
Joe, you sly dog, you. Dumpster diving the archives and you fished me out with that one.
My first computer was an IBM 704 in 1960 (owned by General Dynamics). I operated the vacuum tube thing that filled a room as big as my house is today. Its two IBM “keepers” played pinochle *inside* it during lunch. Punched cards, mag tape units the size of a refrigerator. But within one year the mag tapes were replaced by a gigantic drum that ran on a horizontal axis and shook the building. Two years later it was disks 3 feet in diameter and half an inch thick. None of the data on that stuff mattered nine years later when we put a man on the moon.
Thanks for the links–I can definitely use them for my current historical. And what a fascinating trek into the unknown past. Do I detect a nerd gene in your family? A chromosome or two on the strand?
I remember those gigantic computers, Dan. Thanks for the description, which is perfect. There are adults today who basically grew up with devices that do everything those did and more but that will fit in the palm of their hand.
If there is a nerd gene in my family it skipped my generation. I was a poor student of math and science but my younger daughter is science prodigy. She has a degree in neuroscience, works as a researcher at the leading pediatric gene therapy lab in the country, and is publishing her fourth research paper this year at the tender age of 24. I wonder who her father is…
Good stuff, Joe, and if I could only have Windows 7 back I’d be a happy camper, er, ah writer that should be. Gotta share a story with you and the others on The Kill Zone which, by the way, was again listed in the top 101 list of best websites on Writer’s Digest.
My daughter is circa 1988, and she’s grown to be an accomplished writer with her own writing agency. She’s a thing of beauty to watch type as her fingers fly over her laptop keys at a half-jillion wph, but I stopped them in their tracks last Christmas when I presented her with a mechanical typewriter. I found a pristine Olivetti portable in an antique shop. It was mid-forties vintage and in perfect order and I knew where that belonged despite the inflated price.
You should have seen her response. While she was thrilled, she seemed somewhat scared of the thing. She cautiously put a finger on one key and slowly pushed down and wide-eye watched the frail arm climb up and approach the virgin page. Then she let off before it struck and carefully tried another. I don’t think she could comprehend how this relic from before I was even born could produce something as advanced as a work like Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Her brother, my son, is two years younger and he’s a communications tech in the Canadian Forces. He’d never seen a mechanical typewriter before either. Those two kids were absolutely fascinated with this thing and spent Christmas day plucking and plunking on it – to hell with the new GoPro and FitBit. And by the time the turkey was done, those youngin’s had the hang of mechanical typing and had an absolute blast. Fun day and enjoy yours!
Thanks for sharing, Garry. What a great present! Will you adopt me?
Interestingly enough, my grandmother presented me with a similar present when I was twelve and the type of typewriter you describe was pretty much the only game in town. She was concerned that I would be disappointed. Wrong. I had been hoping for either a typewriter or books. She got it in one.
Enjoy your day as well, Sir!
I recall a museum displaying a vintage typewriter, loaded with paper, and signage encouraging everyone, especially the kids, to try it out.
I was in a revolutionary (for it’s time) high school program in 1970 that taught us how to program in the Basic programming language. Programs were stored on paper tape, which got created after you finished the program and consisted of a role of paper with holes punched into it. You took the tape and fed it back into the computed and voila; your program started up. Floppy disks were about a 1,000 times more reliable and durable than paper tape, but paper tape DID work.
Ed, I used one in college for Chemistry – Quantitative Analysis. The computer filled a whole room. And the nerds learned how to program the computer so that when the next unsuspecting victim turned on the computer, it started spitting out the paper tape so fast the non-nerd went running out of the room.
Thanks for sharing, Ed. I remember those days. My first experience was with the IBM 80 column keypunch cards, which were indistinguishable from magic at that time. No more, obviously!
Sorry, this post calls for a relevant tangent. I virtually attended my Corral of Westerners group this past Wednesday and the presentation was on the history of gaming. They just opened up an exhibit at the Tempe History Museum (Tempe AZ) called Video Invaders where you can go & play pinball and try your hand at a few old electronic games.
I did not know that the first attempts at video games occured in the mid-late 1940’s! The presentation was a nice walk down memory line. As the 4th of 5 children, I was growing up just before the gaming boom. But my little brother was growing up right in that time period and was the first to have an Atari, etc.
So there have been a lot of technology changes there too.
BK, the first home video game I encountered was called “Pong” and was a two player game that was an entire unit. Then…I heard about what became known as an “arcade game” called Space Invaders that was an obsession in Japan and that ultimately led to a coin shortage, thanks to so many people feeding the machine for just one more round. I saw my first one a couple of months later in a bar in Columbus. I wasn’t any good at it but played it waaay too much. More of course follow and continue to do so. Thanks for sharing.
Ah, the night/morning Hubster crawled into bed around 2:30 and announced his new high Space Invaders score.
Your post also reminds me of The Time Machine movie made in 1960, when Rod Taylor comes across a vestige of the past (around 10 million years from now???) that looks remarkably like the DVD disk that would be discovered around 35 years after the movie was made. In the movie Taylor figures out that if you give the disk a good healthy spin on a tabletop, the disk comes to life and reveals its information.
Ed, I loved that movie as a youngster, as well as the source material and the Classics Illustrated comic book which pointed me in the direction of both! Thanks for the reminder.
Joe, if you posted this two days ago, I would have voted for a return of the original Alta Vista search engine. My husband and I worked at Digital Equipment Corporation when the company released Alta Vista. It produced effective results through a simple, elegant user-interface—no spam, no porn, no top hits based on paid placement. However, I have moved on from such wistfulness.
My new vote for a technological comeback is the Kodak camera that took 3D Kodachrome Stereo Transparencies.
In the late 1990s, I bought a collection of 3D slides at a thrift shop in Boston for $5. I packed them away and forgot about them until yesterday. My husband had dug out the slides last week and ordered a 3D viewing reader from Amazon. We spent two hours yesterday, viewing a small portion of the slides, which were all taken by one family during years covering 1950 – 1958. The condition of the slides and quality of detail and three-dimensional effects are amazing: the sheen and roll of fabric of “Francie’s” turquoise prom dress, a drop of condensation bubbling up on the outside of a water glass. I want one of those cameras.
I loved Alta Vista, too. Used it extensively back in the late 1990s and early 2000s at the library branches I worked at at the time.
Yes, Dale, we librarians always ferret out the good tools.
I never did use Alta Vista, Truant, but it sounds like it was a dream. I do remember 3D slides, however, and of course Viewmaster, their toy equivalent, which I STILL use and enjoy.
You might be able to find one of those cameras online. Is this what you are looking for? Good luck and thanks for sharing. https://www.etsy.com/listing/556231044/kodak-stereo-vintage-film-stereo-camera?gpla=1&gao=1&&utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=shopping_us_a-craft_supplies_and_tools-imaging_and_lighting-cameras_and_imaging-cameras&utm_custom1=_k_Cj0KCQjw-LOEBhDCARIsABrC0TlnZrbOyRLS6vE9XiLVoTT_jIC9gLgkXtimrABYkpCiVk5H-uVjUJEaAtNzEALw_wcB_k_&utm_content=go_1731451563_69240879793_337577547591_pla-295474486267_c__556231044_12768591&utm_custom2=1731451563&gclid=Cj0KCQjw-LOEBhDCARIsABrC0TlnZrbOyRLS6vE9XiLVoTT_jIC9gLgkXtimrABYkpCiVk5H-uVjUJEaAtNzEALw_wcB
Joe, I love this post almost more than I can say 🙂 Not only was I a librarian for thirty plus years, I have degree in history and a life long interest in the past. Written records are our window into the past. True, there’s surviving artifacts, relics and ruins which archeologists can uncover and interpret, but written records–be they official or personal, as well as literature, religious texts, scientific records, etc, are crucial to preserving that past AND to that past have a continued influence in our present.
Floppy disks are a great example of a perishable, impermanent storage medium. Online storage, which so many of us rely on now, can be another. I’m reminded of a story from perhaps ten years ago of a man who decided he was tired of having to store his digital photographs locally on his computer and uploaded his entire collection to a photo sharing /photo storage site and erased all of them from his computer. Then, somehow, he lost access to the photo storage site and thus all his images. I never heard if he’d gotten them restored or not.
Sometimes I miss my old Brother electronic typewriter, as well as my internet-less Atari ST (essentially a Macintosh clone). Nothing like not being connected to the internet to keep me focused on the writing.
The storage medium I miss, for all its faults, is the old library card catalog. The ability to find a book or author by cross referencing was a thing of beauty. I used them extensively in school and especially in getting my history degree. After being hired at the library, I helped maintain the one at my branch. Patrons loved them.
However, the card catalog did have faults–the indexing could have errors, or omissions. Cards could go missing. People regularly asked if our branch’s card catalog included the books at our much larger central library (no, that would take up a large portion of the branch’s open space 🙂 etc. It could be tedious to update.
But, card catalogs don’t crash or go off line. And there was something so satisfying about flipping through a drawer of cards to find just the right book.
Thanks for the trip down memory lane this morning! Have a wonderful weekend.
Dale, thanks for your kind comments and for sharing. I miss card catalogs as well. I have actually seen those currently in use at some smaller, rural, off-the-beaten-path libraries. What you say about card catalogs is true. Its weakness, however, was that it didn’t account for the occasional user who would pull the card out and then misfile it somewhere other than its proper place. I know that some units utilized drawers that had rods that went through pre-punched holes in the center-bottom of the card to keep folks from pulling the card out, but many didn’t. Any system is going to have its weaknesses, but…card catalogs are what I grew up with. All I need is the scent of those cards to take me back. Thanks for the reminder.
Great post, Joe! Love that “digital” started all those thousands of years ago. It kind of says to me, “Yeah, y’all aren’t so advanced!” I remember my first typing class in 1970 as a sophomore. I thought it was the coolest thing ever.
And all of these comments . . . I have to share!
We have recently run into a printer issue in our humble cave…it happened when we downloaded and installed the latest MS updates. (Usually a mistake!) Picture this:
Two *ahem* grandparents hunched over their laptops which are atop our fancy-schmancy printer, trying to figure out where to go next. We steadfastly refused to call one of the grandkids. We can do this, we said to each other!
Still working on it. I keep expecting a voice to emanate from the laptop saying, What are you doing, Deb? 🙂
Thank you, Deb. “Printer issue” is the new normal in casa del Hartlaub. My usual procedure is 1) turn off the printer and the wifi. 2) Turn both back on. 3) Email the project to my local UPS Store and have them print it out. Hope that works for you!
Makes me think of all the Thumb Drives in the world. There’s so much data that I’ve stored in my other career that I’ve lost – tons of that is on those tiny sticks. And those little things must amount to billions of objects around the globe with untold files.
And all of the different configurations. In addition to the usual, plain old rectangular “thumb drive” I’ve seen them configured as guitars, Jack Daniels bottles, and objects that we won’t describe since this is (usually) a family-friendly blog! Boggles the mind, doesn’t it, Ben? Thanks.
Wonderful post, Joe!
I’m currently missing my thermal fax machine. It got blasted by a lightning blitz recently. I never got into electronic faxing because the thermal machine worked perfectly. And all I had to do was copy it (on a nearby toner copier) so I’d have it forever. (Toner is basically carbon, one of the longest-lasting things on the planet)
So the key point about storage to me has always been: be sure to have a hard copy. Of anything important. Pictures. Texts. And I’m a bit of an expert on “print permanence,” especially as it related to images/art/photographs. I could go on and on about all those fading wedding photos folks above are mentioning. Maybe another time.
Thank you so much, Harald! You said it all when you said to be sure to have a hard copy of anything important. I can only add, keep two!
And now, you can wear the mechanism on your wrist, assuming they ever decide to sell it: https://techcrunch.com/2011/10/12/hublot-rebuilds-the-famed-antikythera-mechanism/
I want one! I want one! Along with a trip to Paris to see the large reproduction. Thank you, Kessie!
Order one for me while you’re at it. 🙂
The wrist device or the trip to Paris? Or both?
I’ve always figured the Antikythera Mechanism was used in celestial navigation because it was found on a ship, but I just did some quick research, and in recent years they’ve found words denoting different Olympic Games on the wheel via high-tech x-ray, AND the tech might be Babylonian which is pre-Greek. Wow.
I got my first Mac in 1983 which used giant floppy disks, and it’s been a constant struggle to keep up ever since because Apple is brutal about getting rid of old tech and plug-ins. I felt like an idiot when I tried to find the CD slot on my newest model to discover it was no longer there. Bye, bye, all my backups. I dread the day the USB slot is gone which means all my data and old books will be on the cloud and on an external drive whose port may be discontinued without warning or nowhere. If the Internet goes down, eveyone’s data and the world’s images of world history will disappear.
I’ve also been through 4 major language changes of the OS where ProDOS became somthing else which became something else, and, if I didn’t translate all my old document files within a few years, they might as well be nonexistent. I’m now getting errors after Page’s newest upgrade that some of my newer files need to be upgrades, too. Sigh.
I’ve also been online long enough to see that the saw about the Internet forgetting nothing is completely wrong. Massive piles of data from old sites go poof every day. The good news is that the one brutal review I ever got went poof a long time ago. I dance on your arrogant grave, you idiot reviewer! Evil laugh, evil laugh.
Thanks, Marilynn. Never fear. When the internet goes down, my granddaughter will be there to make it right again because, unlike her father, aunts, and uncle, she listened to me!
After having several PCs, laptops, phones, digital cameras crash I’ve reverted to pen, paper, and 3-ring binders. I do have a new laptop, which I rarely use except to see if I’m on the page I think I’m on when I translate handwritten to typewritten (I usually am). This way I can work on stuff at my garden table, at the beach (too hot for the laptop), during out famous hurricane power outages (some of my best writing happens by lantern light during hurricanes), or my 30-minute lunch hour in the car at work.
I was always the first to try new tech and loved it until I figured out it was like a bad boyfriend – handsome amd exciting at first, but not dependable over the long haul.
Well, Cynthia, that description of the bad boyfriend made me choke coffee all over my keyboard AND my ever-present legal pad. Some would say that I resemble that remark, and with good reason!
I keep that pad at my side on the table because sometimes it is easier to scribble a couple of lines than to type them. It’s always on and doesn’t need a password and a screensaver, either. Thanks!
What a fascinating and fun post, Joe!
My first computer experience was coding on an IBM 14XX (I think it was a 1410, but it’s been a while.) Punched card readers, enormous tape drives, and such a small amount of memory that we had to code programs in overlays. Now that you mention it, I do kinda miss those days. It took some thought to do a good job.
Lately I’ve been digitizing our photos. I’ve discovered that it may be a good way to save the pictures, but nothing can replace the fun of sitting down and paging through an old photo album. I’ll keep the albums and try not to lose the flash drives I’m backing them up with.
Thank you, Kay. I agree about the photo albums. I don’t think that they will ever go out of style.