Floppy Disk Sales Are Higher-Density Than You Might Think

Floppies may be big in Japan, but nostalgic and/or needful Stateside floppy enthusiasts needn’t fret — just use AOL keyword point that browser toward floppydisk.com. There, you can buy new floppies of all sizes, both new and old, recycle your disks, or send them in to get all that precious vintage stuff transferred off of them.

That delightfully Web 1.0 site is owned by Tom Persky, who fancies himself the ‘last man standing in the floppy disk business’. Who are we to argue? By the way, Tom has owned that address since approximately 1990 — evidently that’s when a cyber-squatter offered up the domain for $1,000, and although Tom scoffed at paying so much as $1 for any URL, his wife got the checkbook out, and he has had her to thank for it ever since.

My business, which used to be 90% CD and DVD duplication, is now 90% selling blank floppy disks. It’s shocking to me. — Tom Persky

In the course of writing a book all about yours-truly’s favorite less-than-rigid medium, authors Niek Hilkmann and Thomas Walskaar sat down to talk with Tom about what it’s like to basically sell buggy whips in the age of the electric car.

Tom also owns diskduper.com, which is where he got his start with floppies — by duplicating them. In the 80s and 90s, being in this business was a bit like cranking out legal tender in the basement. As time wore on and more companies stopped selling floppies or simply went under, the focus of Tom’s company shifted away from duplication and toward sales. Whereas the business was once 90% duplication and 10% floppy sales, in 2022, those percentages have flopped places, if you will.

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IGY: The Year We All Got Along

If you are a Steely Dan fan, you might know the Donald Fagen song, “IGY.” In it, Fagen sings about a rosy future with high-speed undersea rail, solar power, giant computers making life better, and spandex jackets. Since that song was on the 1982 album Nightfly, it is already too old for some people to remember, but the title goes back even further: the International Geophysical Year which was actually a little longer than a year in 1957 and 1958. The year was a concerted effort by 67 countries to further mankind’s knowledge of the Earth. It was successful,  and was big news in its day, although not much remembered now.

The real origin dates back to even earlier. In 1882 and 1932 there were International Polar Years dedicated to researching the polar regions of the Earth. In a way, it makes sense to do this. Why should 60 or more countries each mount difficult, dangerous, and expensive expeditions to such a hostile environment? However, instead of a third polar year, James Van Allen (who has a famous belt) and some other scientists felt that advances in many fields made it the right time to study geophysics. From the scientific point of view, the IGY coincided with the solar activity cycle maximum. But there were other forces at play, too.

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Sappers clearing the last mines from the beach front of a former French luxury hotel, now in use as a rest club for troops of 3rd Division, 15 July 1944.

The Long Tail Of War: Finding Unexploded Ordnance Before It Finds Us

Long after the enemy forces have laid down their arms, peace accords have been signed and victories celebrated, there is still a heavy toll to be paid. Most of this comes in the form of unexploded ordnance, including landmines and the severe pollution from heavy metals and other contaminants that can make large areas risky to lethal to enter. Perhaps the most extreme example of this lasting effect is the Zone Rouge (Red Zone) in France, which immediately after the First World War came to a close comprised 1,200 square kilometers.

Within this zone, contamination with heavy metals is so heavy that some areas do not support life, while unexploded shells – some containing lethal gases – and other unexploded ordnance is found throughout the soil. To this day much of the original area remains off-limits, though injuries from old, but still very potent ordnance are common around its borders. Clean-up of the Zone Rouge is expected to take hundreds of years. Sadly, this a pattern that is repeated throughout much of the world. While European nations stumble over ordnance from its two world wars, nations in Africa, Asia and elsewhere struggle with the legacy from much more recent conflicts.

Currently, in Europe’s most recent battlefield, more mines are being laid, booby traps set and unexploded shells and other ordnance scattered where people used to live. Clearing these areas, to make them safe for a return of their inhabitants has already begun in Ukraine, but just like elsewhere in the world, it is an arduous and highly dangerous process with all too often lethal outcomes.

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Fork And Run: The Definitive Guide To Getting Started With Multiprocessing

Since the early 2000s, the CPU industry has shifted from raw clock speed to core counts. Pat Gelsinger famously took the stage in 2002 and gave the talk the industry needed, stating processors needed specialty silicon or multiple cores to reduce power requirements and spread heat. A few years later, the Core series was introduced with two or four-core configurations to compete with the AMD Athlon 64 x2.

Nowadays, we’re seeing heterogeneous chip designs with big and little cores, chiplets, and other crazy fabrication techniques that are fundamentally the same concept: spread the thermal load across multiple pieces of silicon. This writer is willing to put good money into betting that you’ll see consumer desktop machines with 32 physical cores in less than five years. It might be hard to believe, but a 2013 Intel Haswell i7 came with just four cores compared to the twenty you’ll get in an i7 today. Even an ESP32 has two cores with support in FreeRTOS for pinning tasks to different cores. With so many cores, how to even write software for that? What’s the difference between processes and threads? How does this all work in straight vanilla C98?

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New Parkinson’s Test Smells Success

Parkinson’s disease affects millions of people all over the world. The degenerative condition causes characteristic tremors, trouble walking, and often comes with complications including dementia, depression, and anxiety.

One of the major challenges around Parkinson’s disease involves diagnosis. There’s no single, commonly-available test that can confirm or rule out the disease. It’s can cause particular frustration as the disease is most treatable in its early stages.

That may soon change, however. One woman identified that she seemingly had the ability to “smell” the disease in those affected, and is now working with scientists to develop a test for the condition.

Follow Your Nose

The human sense of smell, by and large, isn’t particularly impressive. It helps us enjoy the scent of fresh bread baking in an oven, or the aroma of freshly cut grass. However, as a tool for inspecting and learning about the world around us, it really comes up short.

Some of us, though, are more capable in the olfactory department than others. Joy Milne from Perth, Scotland, is one such person. She happened to detected a change in her partner’s characteristic smell, one day, and twelve years later, they were diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

The idea that someone could “smell” a difference with people with Parkinson’s disease is an easy one to test. When Milne eventually put the idea together that the different smell she noticed was perhaps related to her husbands condition, she quickly drew the interest of scientists. With the aid of her partner, a former doctor, she teamed up with researchers Dr. Tilo Kunath and Professor Perdita Barran to investigate further. Continue reading “New Parkinson’s Test Smells Success”

Floppy Disk Sings: I’m Big In Japan

The other day, a medical office needed my insurance card. I asked them where to e-mail it and they acted like I had offered them human flesh as an appetizer. “We don’t have e-mail! You have to bring it to us in person!” They finally admitted that they could take a fax and I then had to go figure out how to get a free one page fax sent over the Internet. Keep in mind, that I live in the fourth largest city in the United States — firmly in the top 100 largest cities in the world. I’m not out in the wilderness dealing with a country doctor.

I understand HIPAA and other legal and regulatory concerns probably inhibit them from taking e-mail, but other doctors and health care providers have apparently figured it out. But it turns out that the more regulations are involved in something, the more behind-the-times it is likely to be.

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Robotic Surgeons Are Showing Hints Of One Day Outperforming Humans

When it comes to fields that are considered the most complex of human endeavours, the most typically cited are those of rocket science and brain surgery. Indeed, to become a surgeon is to qualify in a complex, ever-changing, and high-performance field, with a pay scale and respect to match.

The tools of surgery have changed over time, with robotic assistants becoming commonplace in recent decades. Now the latest robots are starting to outperform human surgeons in some ways. Let’s look at how that’s been achieved, and what it means for the future of medicine. Continue reading “Robotic Surgeons Are Showing Hints Of One Day Outperforming Humans”