The Lite Side

Old Files, Online Fiction, and Google Searches

- 2002.04.09

I'm an electronics pack rat. I also tend to ramble, as this offering will prove to you, because it wanders around like someone surfing from one pointless task to another, which of course is exactly what it is relating to you. This story begins with a file called SMARTPLY.ASC.

I was digging around on my hard drive the other day when it occurred to me to ask, "What's the oldest file on my hard drive?" I tend not to delete stuff unless forced to by circumstances beyond my control; I'll file it, mind you, but I won't delete it. I'm a pack rat.

A Sherlock search of my own hard drive revealed the answer soon enough: Discarding the files marked prior to 1980, because I know I didn't have a computer to make a file then (and any file labeled 1906 was obviously due to a badly set clock), I discovered some old lesson plans and handouts from my second year of teaching, 1986-87. I'm sure many of you will be able to beat that limit, but consider the life this file (SMARTPLY.ASC) has led. I didn't use a computer for my first year of teaching; handwriting those ditto masters convinced me that writing anything twice was a waste of time, so I begged a computer from the other physics teacher at our school.

In 1986 it would have been typed on an Apple II computer and stored on a 5.25" floppy disk.

Sometime around 1988 it would have been transferred to a 3.5" floppy via an Apple IIgs to an Atari 520ST by way of a PC-formatted floppy. It probably "lived" on floppies for several years and visited hard drives from time to time.

Around 1990, I got a hard drive for the ST, so eventually all my lesson plans and handouts wound up there. They lived there until 1992, when I got a job with the Kentucky State Dept. of Education. A couple of yeas later, I was in possession of a PowerBook Duo 230, and eventually all my important files wound up there. Running System 7.1, the Duo had catastrophic (read: reformat necessary) crashes once or twice, and I'm sure I eventually resorted to reloading the files from the archival copies onto my brand spankin' new Power Mac 7200 in 1995.

I backed up the 7200 with 200 MB Syquest cartridges and had occasion to use them once or twice, so the file probably "lived" on the cartridges until 1998, when I purchased my current machine, a G3/300. The SyQuest died in that time period, but I haven't had more than one or two knockdown, drag-out hard drive wipes since then either.

Copies of the file are now stored on CD-R, and when I upgraded to a 15 GB drive a couple of years ago, I moved all the files over including this ancient document. That makes my G3 nearly four years old now. It's showing its age, but it still does the jobs I need.

The most I ever use those old files for is as working drafts to edit a new handout for a class. Most of the time I end up changing so much I might as well have started from scratch, but it comforts me to know those files are still there and following me around, patiently waiting just in case I might need them.

Speaking of Old Files

If you want to talk "old files", here's a link to check out: http://www.tinfoil.com/cm-0101.htm. This file is a digital recording of an early clock device. Tinfoil.com is a fascinating site; check it out.

Now that's really old.

I've been reading ebooks published at www.fictionwise.com. They specialize in science fiction, but it's several years back from what is available in print bookstores. You can purchase individual short stories instead of entire books for just a few cents. One story I ran across by Gregory Benford, "Time Shards," expounds upon a technical paper written some years ago that hypothesizes that a certain method of making pottery involving a frame holding a stiff metal wire, engraving the pot like an old style cylindrical phonograph, might have recorded sounds in much the same way as an Edison-style cylinder recorder. Tiny motions of the wire inscribe analog waves in the clay, which can be "played back" in much the same way as a record is played.

In Benford's story, voices are also recorded - but I won't give anything else away. It's a good story; if you haven't tried ebooks, you could not have a gentler introduction than fictionwise.com. According to the background supplied by Benford, actual sounds of the potters' wheels have been recovered, but no voices. It turns out an X-Files episode was based on the same premise, probably derived directly from Benford's story (as much of the X-Files is derived from classic science fiction and horror). If there have been any current breakthroughs in this area, I'd love to know about them, but an exhaustive Google search turned up pretty much what I just told you.

Search for Yourself

Speaking of Google, when's the last time you did a search for yourself on Google? C'mon, you know you've done it; everyone does. Because I write for Low End Mac, I expected a bunch of links from that, and, of course, they were there. There were also links from the fine folks at MacSurfer, Mac Observer, MyAppleMenu, Educator's News, Architosh, Applelinks, and a few others - more than I expected, really. Also a few citations from teachers using the Mac Lab Report for a paper or opinion essay, and a bunch of hits from my own pages for school and hobbies (naturally).

I also found there are a bunch of people named Jeff Adkins; some are involved in sports, others have done masters level work in horticulture, and one works for NASA, which is kind of spooky. One guy is mentioned as a pallbearer for a funeral. Sometimes I'm tempted to contact these alternate Jeffs and ask them who they are and what their life is like, but I usually conclude they'll think I'm some sort of wierdo (possibly true) and potentially dangerous (most likely not), and they'll refuse to respond to me.

Nevertheless, if you're active on the Web at all, it's an interesting exercise.

The Meaning of It All

These searches for myself and tracking of ancient files probably have some deep philosophical meaning related to perpetuating myself into cyberspace as a sort of immortality by proxy. I'd pursue that further, but it's late, and I probably should get some sleep. Nitey-night.

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