Entry 170: Data Darwinism

When we moved to our new house, I did something very radical: I threw away all my 5.25″ floppy disks.

In case there are any teenagers reading this, a 5.25″ floppy disk is an ancient artifact that your ancestors used for data storage. It was ginormous, higher and more than double the width of your iPhone 5. Yet it could only store an amount of data equivalent to one tweet.*

It wasn’t evolution that took it’s toll on these giants that once roamed the Earth, it was intelligent design. Intelligent designers looked at this huge bendy disk and thought, “Can we design something that maybe could fit in a shirt pocket along with our pencil holders?” and they came up with the 3.5″ floppy disk, which was smaller and more agile, although it really wasn’t floppy at all.

In the ensuing decades (okay, decade), multiple species of data storage devices appeared and quickly died out: Zip drives, CDs, DVDs and flash drives, a device about as big as your thumb that could hold as much data as 8,000,000,000 5.25″ floppy disks.**   If you put all those floppy disks end to end, they’d reach to the moon and back, with enough left over to go around the Earth about seven and a half times, which would leave you somewhere in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, where you would drown and/or be eaten by sharks.

Anyway, I had kept all my old 5.25″ floppy disks, along with my 3.5″ not-so-floppy disks, even though I had transferred all the data that was on them to Zip drives, and then to CDs, and then to flash drives, and even though it had been years since I owned anything that could read the data that was on them. So, before we moved, I threw them all out.

Well, not exactly. The fear-mongering media has conditioned us not to throw any computer-related item away without first pulverizing it, shredding it, cooking it in the microwave, and tossing the remaining fragments into a large body of water. This so that unscrupulous cyber-thieves cannot steal my NYNEX account number from 1995.

I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of having to change my data storage media every few years. Especially since we also have to change our entertainment media every few years. Vinyl, then cassettes, then CDs, then iPods. But wait, music fans, the digital stuff is missing the depth and emotion of analog recordings, so let’s go back to vinyl! Every time they come out with something new, you have to rebuy everything, which is when you determine how much of your stuff you actually like.

We threw out dozens of VHS tapes when we moved, and I made a list of the movies I wanted to get again on DVD, but I haven’t yet, because I know that as soon as I do, they’ll come out with bionic holographic video chips or something, and I’ll have to go out and buy the Back to the Future boxed set again in the Super Amazing Bionic Holographic Video Chip Edition.***

Or maybe the next thing will be…glass.

As in Hitachi Data Glass, which according to The Huffington Post, is:

…a new storage system that the company claims can keep data unscathed for 100 million years. Data is etched onto four layers of a thin sheet of quartz glass using a  laser that creates dots that can be read by a standard optical microscope.

Reportedly heat-resistant and water-resistant, it’s also invulnerable to “many chemicals” and unaffected by radio waves…Hitachi reported the glass enduring 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours without affecting data quality. PC World reports that just a square inch of the glass can store 40MB of data, which is 5MB more than a square inch of a CD, though the storage will likely only be useful for archiving.

That means a little square inch of glass can store about 28 times the data as a 5.25″ floppy disk about 27 times the size.

It also means you’re going to be seeing thousands of geeks crawling around on their hands and knees looking for the data glass squares they dropped on the carpet.

Here’s my question: what exactly is the point of inventing something that can store data for a hundred million years? Just to drive some future civilization nuts trying to figure out what all those dots on the chip are? If I don’t have anything that can read a floppy disk from 15 years ago, what are the chances that anyone will be able to read these glass chips in 100 million years? I mean, the ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs are only about 5,000 years old, and it takes us years to decipher those, and half the time it turns out to be someone’s dry cleaning receipt.

And when the next data storage device comes out two years later, and I transfer my data to that,  how the hell am I going to destroy the data on something that can endure 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit for two hours? Cook it at 3,500 degrees for three hours? I don’t think our new oven goes up that high.

What they should be creating is a medium that automatically turns to vapor as soon as you transfer data onto another storage device.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go read a book. On paper.

And by the way, thanks to all of you who expressed your concern and well-wishes upon reading my previous post. My face is just about back to normal now, which is to say, nothing to write home about perhaps, but at least my head is down to a size I can hang my hat on.

See you soon.

*Maybe a little more.

**An approximate, not to mention, completely made-up large-sounding number.

***With bonus material.

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