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Don’t quit using compact cassette tapes for computer data storage


Message from the Chairman

I began using computers in September, 1986. My first computer was that British marvel, a ZX Spectrum +. Loading games or programs from cassettes was a captivating experience to me.

By 1989 my family bought a Spectrum +3. Despite its floppy drive, I never entirely abandoned cassettes. But only one year later, in 1990, my family bought a PC with a 5 1/4 floppy drive. Since then I’ve never had the real need to use audio cassettes again to store computer-generated data.

I’ve wondered on occasions whether it is possible to use a present-day computer (“present-day” is an indexical, pointing perhaps to the range 1990-2013) to record programs or files on tape.

I began using Linux in 2010 or so. Since I’ve been using Linux I am a diffeent user of computers. At some point the idea of using tapes for recording computer data sprang forth. I knew that tapes were used for home computers in the 80s, and I also knew that they had been used for storage for several years before that. I began to search for web pages on this subject, using search engines. I learned that spools of tape have been used uninterruptedly since the early 50s to record computer data. Spools of magnetic tape—cassettes or cartridges—are used today, especially for massive backing up of data in large companies.

I have no need for cassettes. Having purchased a modern drive to make a backup of, for example, 1 TB of my data, would have had very little resemblance to the experience of loading a small 40 KB game in five minutes, as I would do on the Spectrum. Realizing what my real needs were, and realizing what I did not want, I fine-tuned my goals and became more specific. This interest of mine might be described as a hobby. And what I was after was quite specific: to reproduce the experience of recording computer data on tape, but data of a current computer, and loading that data back to the computer.

While searching for information on the use of cassettes to record computer data, I discovered that there was little interest in this. Few people talked about it, few asked on forums, and the fewest offered solutions. I should add that the few who mentioned these issues in forums were almost always misunderstood. I’ll give you examples of the worst there is in the forums: people who understand nothing, but nothing at all, and still respond by giving information or advice without any humility. These are this one and this one. Some of the comments in these forums are simply shameful.

The right thing to do would be to give the names of the miscreants. I don’t have them. I’ll give their nicknames.

A certain Adrian asks about the possibility of recording computer data on tape. Excellent. In a sense that Adrian is my representative in that forum (although that forum took place nine years ago). Someone nicknamed desiboi calls Adrian junkie for even thinking about the possibility of putting data on tape (“That’s possible? Putting data on a tape? What are you on crack?”), shamefully ignoring the long and unbroken history spanning six decades of using magnetic tapes to store data. A certain DJ-CHRIS points out that the cassettes are limited in storage. Well. It must be assumed that the one who raised the question (the OP) already knows that. So DJ-CHRIS actually is not contributing anything to the issue. A certain Harper gives one of the worst answers, saying that that technology is dead (he is an ignorant, that’s simply a lie), and offers alternatives to make backups. He says, more or less, that if you want to make backups, he recommends the CDRW, the DVDRW, the I don’t know what drive for backups, etc. As if the original question had been “Hello to all the members of the forum, I have a proposal that has not been put into practice ever so far, because I have an urgent need to back up thousands of GB of data: why not use audio cassettes for the first time ever to see if you can record computer data on them and, if possible, large amounts of GBs?”. That Harper understood absolutely NOTHING. What happened to Wayniac? After commenting on the use of magnetic tape for data storage … he suggests other ways to do backups, like DVDs or high-density DVDs. Many people did not understand what Adrian was asking. I do not understand why so many people had so much trouble understanding what Adrian was asking, I do not understand how it is possible that so many people did not understand anything of what Adrian was asking, when I myself, as an ignorant humanist who can barely use a computer, completely understood the original message that Adrian left in that forum. DJ-CHRIS adds that a cassette could not store much. Actually, he should have assumed that Adrian knew that. All those scoundrels who dared reply to Adrian in these forums had to assume that this man uses means to backup his data. I myself use 1TB external hard drives, CDs or DVDs to store large amounts of data, but that issue has nothing to do with this different thing that motivates me now, which I guess was the same thing that motivated Adrian nine years ago: using audio tapes to store data because I like vintage things; as Adrian does, as he said in his first posting. DJ_CHRIS says that no sane person would create a software to write data to tape. That’s insulting to people like Dave and Oona. A certain Byteman simply replied “no” to Adrian.

I’d like to add that my post was deleted from these forums after a few MINUTES. I just wanted to point out how shameful the responses were that Adrian received. They punished my honesty. They punished the one who showed them their garbage, and swept it back under the carpet.

If Adrian is reading this, I am hereby inviting him to join this Council.

Using cassettes for recording computer data today, in 2017, does not satisfy a need. It is not true that no one in their right mind would develop an application to do so, as someone said. But, look, two of the authors of scripts to record computer data on tape felt a kind of shame. Yes, a kind of a shame that manifests itself in the explanations that they both voluntarily gave about why they wrote those scripts. Analyse Dave’s explanation:

Why Bother? Aside from the obvious nostalgia (the Superboard II being my first computer), why bother messing around with something like this? After all, we’re talking about a long-since-dead 1970s technology. Any sort of practical application certainly seems far-fetched. […] Anyways, getting back to my motivations, I don’t really have any urgent need to access my Superboard from my Mac. I’m mostly just interested in the problem of how I would do it. The fun is all in the process of figuring it out.

(Quoted from Dave’s blog).

Oona Räisänen says: “I had contemplated using Compact Cassettes as a cheap, fun and hipstery small yet valuable media for backups.”

I do not mean a great shame, like one that could accompany the public confession of a very embarrassing deed. It’s just this little thing, wanting to explain that, voluntarily anticipating possible criticism, anticipating someone blurting them, ridiculing them: “why do you waste your time doing that?”. It is a little shame if you want. Certainly not the huge embarrassment that accompanies ignominy, but a type of shame nonetheless.

I took the decision not to explain to ANYONE why I use cassette tapes to store computer data. I proudly claim that I use ordinary audio cassettes to record computer data. Tape users have less social acceptance than gay people. We still have to do our utmost to explain why we do what we do. Currently, in general, a gay person does not have to explain anything to anyone about their essence. Indeed, today, fortunately, someone harassing a gay person asking for explanations about why he or she is the way he or she is is frowned upon. I am proud to use audio cassettes for recording computer data. I may have my reasons. I think I do. It’s only that I choose to give up looking for them just to satisfy a curious impertinent who thinks they deserve an explanation. It’s like building a ship in a bottle if you will. One cannot approach someone building a ship in a bottle and go “numbskull, it is easier to build it out of the bottle.” We must assume that they know it, and that they have their reasons, or just the motivation, to do it the way they do it.

Members of this Council need to be sure that they are free if they ever decide to explain to someone why they use cassette tapes to store computer data. Giving explanations should not be forbidden, but discouraged instead, and above all we must give ourselves the freedom to give these explanations or not.

The members should share their achievements with the rest of the community. For example, describing what results are obtained with different types of decks and different types of cassette tapes; adding the details of the recorder, such as brand, model, year of manufacturing, etc., and data about the cassette, such as if it is of type I, type II, which brand it is, lenghth in minutes, etc.

Members of this Council are required to make a long-term committment to using cassette tapes to store computer data. Members are required to share performance reports with the rest of the community. This Council does not welcome curious people. If you download one of the load, save or modem routines to use it just once, and record the sound on an iPod instead of a tape deck don’t apply for membership. Those who are serious about this and want to apply for membership are encouraged to email us, or to send us an off-line message, attaching a formal request. The document should be in pdf, odt, fodt or txt format. For other formats, ask first. In the form, please include: your name, or a nickname under which you’d prefer to be known by the community, your country of residence, a valid e-mail address, an explanation as to why you’d like to be a member of this Council, a declaration of your committment to use cassette tapes to store computer data regularly and share performance reports with the community, and an authorization to be contacted through the e-mail address you provide by this Council and only regarding issues and topics relating to it.

A performance report does not need to be a long piece. If you write an initial report stating the deck you use, the kind of tape or tapes on which you save the data, the size and brand of the tapes, the routine, script or program you use, and—very important—the date of recording, then an annual report saying “Files saved in 2017 loaded back in 2018”, or “90 per cent of the files mentioned in my 2017 report loaded from tape in 2019”, or whatever, will do. That alone would be an invaluable piece of information for the community. Failing to report frequently may entail suspension from membership. For the time being membership is free.

Gabriel Artigue
Caretaker Chairman of the Cassette Tape Storage Council
July 21, 2017

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