Floppy disk Star Wars

December 29th, 2011 3:29 PM
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Chiptune music is the art of using classic computing hardware to make original tunes. Usually, there's software involved, such as DMS Drummer, and the result is emitted from the device's inbuilt speakers.

Such is not always the case. Over the past few years, I've posted several videos of hard drives and printers making music, from Bohemian Rhapsody to "A Simple Text File". I also once posted a hard drive playing the "Imperial March", which proved popular enough on Digg to shut down my site. I don't think that'll happen this time, though, so please enjoy a floppy disk rendition of the march:

The artist's Web site describes the method for producing this video:

The sound comes from a magnetic head moved by stepper motor. To make a specific sound, head must be moved with appropriate frequency… To move the head you need to activate the drive by pulling the DRVSB0 or 1 (depends on the cable you have and the connector – notice the crossover on the FDD ribbon cable) pin low and then falling edge on STEP pin makes the head move one step in direction dependent on DIR pin state. An ATMega microcontroller is generating those frequencies and it makes the drives play music.

Another variation is demonstrated on the Amiga using a seemingly different method:

Listen to Amiga floppy drive playing a simple music, however, not with the step motor which moves the head, but with the motor which spins the disk. This means that disk must be inserted to hear music. And there is no fear that floppy will break like with the step motor music!

I've yet to find any such musical demonstrations that feature an Apple II floppy disk. Do you have some? Let me know!

(Hat tip to Paul DeFilippo)

A generational hardware gap

January 10th, 2011 12:10 PM
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Anyone who has been using computers for a few decades has the questionable pleasure of reflecting on how far technology has come. We remember the massive leap forward 3.5" floppy disks represented over the old, which makes us appreciate the volume and affordability of modern storage all the more.

Newcomers to technology don't have that historical context — but rather than berate them for not knowing how good they have it, Montreal journalist Jean-Christophe Laurence brought them face-to-face with hardware older than they are. He presented several kids with such equipment as a Nintendo Game Boy, an LP record, several floppy disks, and more. With nary a hint as to their purpose, the children were tasked with determining the nature of the enigmatic tech. He recorded the results, which are presented in French with English subtitles:

It's a creative scenario, as it doesn't try to impress upon the students how different this stuff is from what they know: when they guessed an LP was like a CD, nobody said "Yes, but it holds this much less data, and has this much slower access times." It's more a matter of function and design than of better or worse, which is likely to be more educational and thus make them better appreciate (and familiar with) what's come before. (Maybe they'll learn the other by being taught programming on retrocomputers.)

It's also similar to what older generations have to do when confronted with new technology. We've heard those old chestnuts of newbies mistaking a CD-ROM tray for a cup holder, or a mouse for a foot pedal or a TV remote. Those mistakes happen because users are familiar with cup holders and channel changers, so they bring those analogues to their new experiences. It's impressive how spot-on many of the above children's guesses are, especially when they have to use modern metaphors to make their guesses. Although it's useful to have a frame of reference by which to learn new skills, as they demonstrated when confronted with a 3.5" floppy, it's also occasionally necessary to abandon old ideas to grasp new ones.

What do you think? Should these kids have been able to identify these objects? Would you have been able to?

(Hat tip to Genevieve Koski)

Floppy disk sticky notes

December 9th, 2010 2:05 PM
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Shopping for the Apple II user in your life? For less than $100, you can get a Uthernet network card, a Focus IDE interface card, every issue of Softdisk G-S ever. Each of these is a significant and invaluable gift — but you may want to pick up something smaller and simpler from a mainstream retail outlet to stuff in a stocking.

For that need, I recommend floppy disk sticky notes.

Floppy disk sticky notes

Image courtesy Burak Kaynak

This unique stationery is designed Burak Kanyak with attention to authentic detail. Whereas standard Post-it notes measure 3" square, these pads, like actual floppy disks, measure 3.625" tall and 3.5" wide, replicating the look and feel of when being able to hold 800K of data meant not needing three 5.25" disks. Each of the pack's three pads has fifty sheets, providing ample opportunity to leave 150 floppy notes and labels in your home, work, vehicle, or wherever a gentle reminder is needed, at an average cost of less than ten cents each (plus shipping).

For a retrocomputing enthusiast who still relies on this ancient medium, these notes are the perfect gift — as long as they don't end up accidentally inserted into a floppy drive!

(Hat tip to TheDieline.com and Jason Scott)