Digital Archeology: Quinn Dunki digs up treasures (floppy discs!) in her mom’s basement
Quinn Dunki has a great post on her blog Blondihacks about looking through her mom’s basement for some retro electronics to save. Check it out here.
Over the holidays, I took the rare opportunity to dig through the stockpile of childhood belongings in my parents’ basement. Thanks as always, mom and dad, for judiciously moving that stuff from house to house and storing it carefully all these years. I had two singular preservation goals- My Apple IIgs motherboard, and my 5¼” floppy disks.
The IIgs motherboard was a concern because it’s the one and only Apple II model with a realtime clock, which means it has a battery. As regular readers will know from my extensive berating on the subject, batteries get old and leak. When they do, they take everything in a 6″ radius down with them. Many a retrocomputer has been irreparably destroyed by battery neglect. In the case of the IIgs, the battery is soldered to the motherboard, so you need to cut it off. Of course, this means you lose whatever 25-year-old NVRAM settings you had, but that’s a small price to pay to avoid PCB Cancer. There are only two kinds of motherboard batteries- those that are leaking and destroying the machine, and those that are imminently leaking and destroying the machine. As it turns out, mine was in the latter category, and in fact the motherboard looked brand new. Two quick snips, and now I know it will stay that way until I can get around to resurrecting the machine properly.
With that out the way, it was time to press on to the more interesting of the two missions. I had set out to rescue my 5¼” floppy disk collection. The rated life on these disks was only about 20 years, so the clock is very definitely ticking on all that remain. If they were stored in a humid environment, they likely have mildew on them at the very least. More on that later. At worst, the magnetic medium is literally flaking off the mylar base, and whatever treasured bits were stored therein are lost forever. Floppies are a dying medium, and a great deal of interesting human history does not exist in any other form. Nowadays, our precious data goes through a sort of constant migration. You move it from hard drive to hard drive as you upgrade computers, and increasingly it finds its way on to the internet, where magic Cloud pixies presumably back it up and propagate it ad infinitum. Floppies were before all this. This data was occasionally backed up… on to other floppies. For the most part however, it’s all locked in a moment in time. If we don’t make an explicit effort to physically carry it over the air gap to the internet, an entire generation of digital human history will be lost forever. I wanted to do my little part in this effort, and indulge in some nostalgia along the way. Join me, won’t you?
Adafruit has had paid day off for voting for our team for years, if you need help getting that going for your organization, let us know – we can share how and why we did this as well as the good results. Here are some resources for voting by mail, voting in person, and some NY resources for our NY based teams as well. If there are additional resources to add, please let us know – adafruit.com/vote
Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on code.org, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.