Death of a recordable compact disc

This, my dear readers, is the equivalent of some 300MB of data. Or rather, it was.

This is what approximately 200 floppy diskettes look like after just one decade.

Broken CDr

Confused? Allow me to explain.

When CD-R/RW writers hit the market and got within financial grasp, I could hardly wait to transfer my ever-increasing collection of 1.44MB floppies (or “stiffies”, for the sake of our South African readers) onto this new, massive, enduring, and stable format. Or so we thought in 1998.

Accelerated-aging tests hadn’t gotten to the point that any printed reviews could be trusted, and so we all went and splashed out obscene sums of cash for a 2X burner (a whopping 300KB/s writing speed) and copied all our precious data over onto CD-Rs — media where only one thing was guaranteed: one blank disc out of a box of ten will become a coaster, regardless of brand or cost.

This particular specimen was a Ricoh-branded disc. It was recorded onto with a since-deceased Dysan CRW-1622 writer (a fine and flexible device, mind you) somewhere around the year 1999 and replaced the princely sum of four hundred 1.44MB floppy diskettes. These, in turn, contained half my stash of image files at the time, dating back to around… oh, 1990 I believe.

So there I was, a few days ago, filing away last year’s digipics that I decided to also add the contents of the aforementioned old CD-Rs full of pictures onto the same DVD-R.

And then the bomb dropped. Unreadable.

Non-responsive PC. Blank disc. No content. Empty. Data gone. Shit!

Six different drives in four different PCs later (go figure) I did manage to recover the contents… of one disc. You see, I had made two copies of each disc, purposely even using different brands — and it was the Verbatim disc that magically survived, one drive in one PC could still read it. Its contents were swiftly transferred onto a USB-stick (oh, the irony!) and I broke the Ricoh disc in half.

Broken CDr

Observant readers who have snapped CD-Rs in half themselves will have noticed in the photos that the dye/recording layer simply peeled off the transparent plastic layer in two nice and large halves instead of shattering into the expected spray of little messy slivers that stick to everything. And that part I found very interesting and could offer a clue as to why and how this disc failed.

I also found this most annoying. In fact, I’m more than just a little peeved.

Not fuming just as yet, just pissed off because that was the one CD-R, with floppy disks #1 to 400 on it. It has a sequel — with no really happy end in sight. Six PCs and eight drives later the others with disks 401 and above remain unreadable. Lost. Both copies. Gone. Miffed I am. At least the alternate backup of the backup is still intact… we can rebuild it.

And what is it, I hear you ask, that was nearly lost to the great Recycle Bin in the sky? History, dear readers, that’s what. Zeitgeist. Snippets of history that offered an insight into that which was good enough for a certain group of people to want to digitize with considerable effort some 20 years ago… those same nerds without whom you wouldn’t be reading this or anything else on the intertubes right now. This was the stuff that geeks found exciting and SysOps featured on their BBS because it was somehow cool to force monitors into “graphics mode” in order to display pictures on stoic office clones.

EGA / 16 Colour GIF Pictures (Disk #1)
“This is the original bunch, the first lot I ever saw, and the initial files to enter my personal collection. Were it not for these few initial pictures, who knows what would’ve happened!
I blame all my subsequent perverted actions on a dude called Dave Prinsloo, it’s his fault :)
So what if they’re only 16-colour files, it’s the fact that they existed, were available on a previously-disadvantaged machine (at least where graphics capabilities were concerned), and the content thereof that made them all the more desirable and – at the time – a helluva curiosity.
Remember, these were the days before the internet, and the times of strict censorship! This stuff was illegal…”

Translated by CSHOW


Rendered reflective apple

Realise, children, that these images were considered state of the art and hi-tech in the days when a PC with a 14-inch monitor that displayed a maximum resolution of 640×480 at 16 (not 16 million) colours via by a 256kB (not MB) Trident card was regarded as hot stuff.

Another observation is that, at the time, there simply weren’t many image files (mostly in .GIF format) around in BBS-land, or elsewhere. It really is quite possible that someone somewhere out there has all of them… every single one, and since we were limited to the old 8.3 file naming convention, it’s hardly surprising that while browsing someone else’s collection of similar old material one would find some oddly familiar pics, most still known by the same file names. There’s a noticeable undercurrent of thematic similarities, too.

But that’s topic for another article.

Photos by hmvh DOT net, GIF images via BBS archives.

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