Someone from Archives came to me recently with an interesting problem. They had received a collection with some born-digital material, and amongst that material were a number of 5.25″ floppy disks. Archives of course wanted to know if we had something that would read those disks.

You know how you never need something until you get rid of it? Well up until about a month and a half ago, we had something that would read those disks.

Over a year ago when the reference department personnel moved to new offices, they decided to surplus an old computer that had been stored in a closet for over a decade. We wrote up a surplus form and sent it through to Property Control, and then the computer went to sit in another closet for a year. Finally about a month and a half ago, Property Control came to collect the old computer and send it off to the computer graveyard, so we finally got rid of it.

And then Archives needed that drive.

Fortunately one of the IT units on campus still had a functioning drive that they loaned us, so I went to work. I found an old computer that we could use and connected the drive. In the end I wound up disconnecting the 3.5″ floppy drive, the DVD burner, and the Zip drive (yes – it was old enough that it had a Zip drive) to provide a connection on the motherboard for the older drive, but at last it was done.

The computer recognized the drive, but it identified it as a 3.5″ drive. Finally – after bullying the BIOS a bit – the computer agreed that it had a 5.25″ drive, but I wasn’t convinced that it was really convinced.

Oddly, although we no longer had any 5.25″ drives around the library, we did have some blank disks sitting around. Formatting took much longer than I remembered. So long, in fact, that I was pretty sure that something had gone wrong. Seriously – I’ve formatted terabyte hard drives in less time that it took to format that floppy. It finally worked though, and I was able to write and read data to/from the drive. We tested it today using some of the real data from Archives, and it looks like it’s going to work for them. I felt the urge to shout “It’s Alive” in my best horror movie mad scientist voice, but I restrained myself.

Until last week I had never seen a Windows XP computer with a 5.25″ floppy drive.

Given the time of year, somehow putting together a Frankenputer seems oddly appropriate. But now that I’ve done it, I’m wondering how far I can push it. Just how many old, odd, and outdated devices can I connect and get working on a Frankenputer?

Of course, the person from Archives did tell me today that they have another collection with some 8″ floppies . . .

Data Failure First-hand

A lot has been made recently of AT&T’s seeming inability to support their millions of iPhone users and the associated data needs. Lately it seems that a new story pops up every day highlighting some flaw in AT&T’s network and/or ability to handle data demands.

Many of the stories are anecdotal, so here’s one more personal anecdote to add to the growing evidence.

Note the irony of the photo above: with good signal strength and a 3G connection, I still received the infamous “No Internet Connection” message. This happened repeatedly on a recent central Florida trip. In areas of strong coverage, AT&T’s network was simply unable to move data. This occurred in an area that plays host to thousands of guests, and unfortunately this seemed to be the norm rather than the exception. You’d think that a well-known tourist destination would be a logical place to beef up the network, but apparently it isn’t. No wonder so many people are waiting for Verizon to start carrying the iPhone!