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A Short History of Crappy Storage

By / 05.20.10

It is rumored that Bill Gates once said, “640K ought to be enough for anybody.” back in 1981. He denies ever saying it although personally, I’m not sure why he cares. If I had $50 billion I don’t think I would even be able to hear rumors about me through my solid gold bedroom doors as I lay down in my bed made of rubies and emeralds Richie Rich style.

"What?I can't hear you. I am taking a dump on my diamond toilet."


Still, it is kind of a goofy statement to make and shows that people can be a little shortsighted. I had my own Bill Gates moment a year ago when we bought a new computer. It had a 500Gb hard drive and I had another 250Gb external drive hooked up to it. I remember looking at it and thinking my days of upgrading were done.

Of course this last week my computer laughed in my face as it warned me that I was down to less than 10Gb in each drive. It even showed me a red bar graph to really rub it in, because nothing is more depressing and scary than a red bar warning graph.

We have no idea what this graph is about but the red bar is probably something bad.


Much like the 20 pounds I put on since college I have no idea how it got to this point. But somehow between our music, documents, software and family photos and videos we have managed to fill up 480 Gb of hardrive space. That amount of space should hold about 500 copies of the Encylopedia Brittanica, a summary of everything in the world.

Somehow I have stored enough pictures and videos of my son pouring juice on his head that it takes up more space than the sum total of our collective human knowledge. This is both awesome and frightening.

History and science? Forget it, no room, got 50 more of these pictures.


Not only have I filled up the hard drives but I also have stacks of cds and dvds that I have burned as back ups. This got me to thinking whether this was all really a hopeless cause. Yeah, those dvds and cds are great for now but what happens when no one has the equipment to even read them anymore? What happens when people think back to dvds, horse drawn carriages and bell bottoms in the same sad way?
Some people might think this is a bit paranoid but a brief look at technological history shows that it’s just a matter of time before I’ll be forced to buy the next generation of storage medium, or risk being a metaphorical homeless geek, huddled with my collection of shiny disks.
Still, my current storage is better than some of the less than stellar technology we’ve had since computers first began their quest to take over to the world and enslave mankind.
1. Punch Cards
This was the first real storage for computers that came out in in the early 1900′s but the technology had been developed long before that. These were literally cards with holes in them that computers would read as you fed them. Each card held about 50 bytes of information.
This kind of number is so stone age I didn’t even have a frame of reference for what 50 bytes meant. After some poking around I found out that to the average low resolution picture would require the equivalent of 1000 punch cards.

If you think this sucks you should see the video.


Millions and millions of these paper cards were made and stored everyday and IBM was making a killing with this new fangled technology. For about 60 years these cards were responsible for running the world’s most advanced machines. But these machines took up entire floors of office buildings so playing World of Warcraft on punch cards was really not an option.
You would think that something so awkward and cumbersome could not have been much use but in fact when the US government began using them for the census it cut down the time to complete the census from 10 years to one year. This of course means that humans are really freaking slow if a paper card is with holes in it is 10 times faster than a person doing the same job.

"You're replacing me with what?"


2. Datasette Tapes
By the 1970′s basic personal computers were becoming more popular and a few uber geeks had home computers. Casette tapes were used as a cheap way to store programs or whatever constituted porn back then.

Apparently this.


Each tape could hold about 1000 Kb of data, and you had the added advantage of being able to go grab dinner and watch a T.V.show while your program loaded because the cassettes played in real time, just like a music cassette.
Cassette tapes ruled the nerd scene for less than 10 years. They were a huge improvement over the punch cards in terms of being able to hold more information in much less space. Actually using them was mind numbing though because you couldn’t just jump to the program you wanted. Each time you wanted to load a program you had to rewind the entire tape and then run it from the beginning. Of course this was offset by the fact that you could protect your data from being accidentaly deleted using nothing more than a piece of clear tape.

I got your read/write protection right here.


3. Iomega Zip Drive
Zip drives were introduced in 1994 and could hold about 100MB when they first came out. Compared to regular 3.5 inch floppies with their 1.4 MB storage these zip drives were supposed to be a huge improvement for people to store their data in one place.
Unfortunately for many people this meant that all their data would be in a place where it would promptly get chewed up and destroyed by a product called the 15th worst piece tech products of all time by PC World. As an example of how bad it was the zip drive beat out the Digi Scents iSmell which as you might have guessed, blasted you with smells from different company websites.

You really had to watch out for Farts.com.


Seems the zip drives had something that users referred to as the “Click of Death”. Not to be confused with the “Game of Death” which was awesome, the Click of Death was the term people used when their zip drives would die. That was the death part. The click part referred the the sound the drive would make as it wrecked whatever disk was inside at the time causing you to lose all your information because not only did it suck, it was also vindictive.

"Nom, nom, nom, nom."


4. LaserDiscs
These giant pre-historical ancestors to the CD first came out in 1978. As a foreshadowing of their suckiness they were first marketed as “Discovision”. Later they used LaserDisc to make something really stupid at least sound amazing.

We present: Laser Douche


These giant 12″ discs were competing with VHS tapes for the home porn movie market and basically went nowhere except in Asia because people in Asia think that everything with lasers is better. Not only were the giant discs heavy but despite their size they could only hold about 30 minutes worth of video on each side. This meant that most movies required more than one disc and you had to get up and flip or change discs to finish the movie.

Watching Lord of the Rings would have been a bitch.


Combine this with the fact that the discs were more prone to damage from handling and you wind up with a product that didn’t really do anything very well. Finally laser discs had their own unique problem called ‘laser rot’ which would cause the images on the disc to be damaged like some kind of technological STD.
Not only did these storage formats suck, but except for punch cards none of them lasted very long before they were replaced by something better. So in the end I’ll just keep backing up my files on whatever the tech gods throw at me, but I also started using something my parents have used successfully for the last 40 years.

Behold, the future.



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