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?

Read the full post here.

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