Floppy disk autoloader gives dead medium one last chance

What do you do with 5,000 floppy discs besides use them to play Star Wars music? Answer: nothing. The best you can hope for is to try and get all your data off of them before consigning them to the scrap heap, and one exceptionally creative (or desperate) hacker named Dweller has developed an autoloader to do the job for him.

Many of you are probably wondering what these things called "floppies" are, and sniggering a little bit because you're imagining something dirty. Well, get off my lawn, sit next to my rocking chair, and let me take my teeth out to better be able to explain what a floppy disk is.

Back when I started using computers (i.e. before it was cool), I (or rather, my dad) had an Apple IIe with a sick color monitor and a joystick and a bunch of games. These games (like my original copy of Zork) couldn't all fit in the memory of the computer itself: instead, they were stored on external magnetic disk media, essentially the same as the hard drive you've got spinning inside your computer right now, except removable. The removable disks were giant 5.25" magnetic platters encased in a black plastic cover, the combination of which was large enough (and thin enough) to lack any structural integrity whatsoever, making them quite literally "floppy."

The next generation of disks came into use sometime around when the definitive digital repository of information was Microsoft Encarta, Netscape Navigator was the Web browser of choice, and your Internet connection ate up your phone line. They were smaller and entirely rigid 3.5" diskettes that for some reason retained the name "floppy" despite their pronounced lack of floppiness. Each of these could store 1.44 megabytes of data, which was a lot back in my day. However, if a program was larger than 1.44 megabytes, you needed several (or lots) of separate disks to run it, which is why people ended up with caseloads of these things.

And this brings us up to speed with Dweller, one of the aforementioned people with caseloads of these things. Specifically, Dweller had six crates plus several shoe boxes of disks, amounting to about 5,000 of them, and he wanted them gone. Getting all of his data off, however, would have been a pain in the hip, so instead he hacked together a commercial disk duplicator with an Arduino board, a custom mount, some extra servos and a digital camera to create a system that could extract the contents of a disk, take a picture of it and then move on to the next one. Automatically.

Copying each disk takes this thing between three or four minutes, but since it doesn't need supervision, there's really no rush. The hard part, as Dweller points out, will be going back and figuring out whether he cares about any of these data. It's easy to think that it's probably all junk, but this makes me want to go back and find out what terrifying things I have on all of my old floppies, too.

Dweller, via Hack a Day

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