John "The Gneech" Robey (the_gneech) wrote,
John "The Gneech" Robey

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Post-1987 Technology: You're Doin' It Wrong

A thing you have to understand about my parents: they were born and raised during the Great Depression. When people talk about having to make a single piece of coal last the whole winter or walking uphill both ways in huge snowdrifts to go to school — they really did. So they were imprinted early on with the idea that "buying something new" was only something that profligate culture-destroying fat-cats did, and that buying something new would surely cause the Earth to be destroyed in a ball of fire.

Thus it is that, as the Family Help Desk, laurie_robey and I are constantly being forced to try to get these amiable old fossils to work with technology that isn't at least 20 years old — usually without success. It's particularly difficult with my mother because she has an odd psychological quirk: on any topic, she believes the first thing she hears and it takes an act of congress to convince her that there may be other alternatives.

For instance, my Uncle Billy the Player Character happened to come around some years ago, when my mom was connecting to AOL via the modem, and the modem was on the blink for some reason. He pulled out a cellular modem that he just happened to have in his pocket (the same way he might happen to have a gun, a wristwatch with a laser beam, or the access codes for Air Force One in his pocket) and plugged it in.

So my mom was instantly imprinted on the idea that a cellular modem was what she should have if she ever got the opportunity. Of course, cable or even FiOS would be ten times cheaper, but she wasn't about to believe that until she got the bill. ("SCANDALOUS! Why is my cellular bill so high??? I think they must be trying to rip me off!") Anyway, we finally got her off of the cellular modem ("Can you use it for something? It seems a shame for all that money to go to waste." "No, mom, without an account tied to it, it's not worth the plastic it was made from.") and onto cable, but these days we have another problem:

The 5¼" floppy drive.

My mother has a bank vault full of 5¼" floppies, which contain everything from bootleg copies of "WordPerfect 5.0 for DOS" that she got from other government employees back in the '80s, to awful cheapy solitaire games that she loves, to all sorts of historical records from various genealogical societies. And she wants to access these things. But practically no computer that actually still runs can even mount a 5¼" floppy drive any more, even assuming that the magnetic media inside hasn't disintegrated by now.

This is not something my mother wishes to hear, so of course, she doesn't. No matter how many times we say it.

My mom had a computer with a 5¼" floppy drive on it, carefully Frankenboxed together by mammallamadevil, but of course she didn't take the opportunity to transfer the items off the floppies. Oh, she'd "get around to it eventually," of course, but that didn't fool anybody but herself. So naturally, the Frankenbox died, as computers will, and she still has the bank vault of 5¼" disks.

So now, every time I speak to my mom on the phone, the first or second topic of conversation is when I'm going to get her a 5¼" drive. I have one, the same drive from her previous machine actually, but it needs to be removed from that machine, taken over to her house, plugged into the new machine (assuming it even will), drivers have to be found (if they exist), and it needs to be mounted. This, as you might imagine, is an enormous song-and-dance routine that I am loathe to get into, especially when I haven't even had the time to, say, draw or write all week.

laurie_robey and I have scoured the internet for options. There are external USB floppy drives, and I'd grab one of those in a heartbeat — except that they're all 3½", not 5¼". I thought about getting one of those, cracking it open, then plugging the IDE cable from the 5¼" in where the cable for the 3½ was ... but I'm not convinced that would work and I don't want to waste the time and money on a failed gamble.

There are also services that will transfer old disks for you — at the cost of $15 a disk. Holy cats.

And like I say, there's no guarantee that the disks are even still readable. My parents' house, let us just say, is not the ideal archival environment. *cough*

So the problem remains. If any of my many tech-savvy LJ readers have a viable solution, I'd love to hear it. Meanwhile, it's looking more and more like I'm just going to have to bite the bullet and sacrifice an evening's productivity to going over to my parents' house and trying to shoehorn a 1987 floppy drive into a 2007 computer.

-The Gneech
Tags: family, gneech news, i.t.
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