Drudge Retort: The Other Side of the News
Saturday, October 19, 2019

Five years ago, a CBS 60 Minutes report publicized a bit of technology trivia many in the defense community were aware of: the fact that eight-inch floppy disks were still used to store data critical to operating the Air Force's intercontinental ballistic missile command, control, and communications network




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I thought this was an Onion story, but oddly enough, it's true.

My first real computer after my TRS-80 used 5" floppies, with no hard drive. Then I got the 20 meg hard drive (never thought I'd use that much storage in my life!). For removable I of course went with flow and the 3.5" floppies, then CD and DVD ROM, but of course now use solid state storage and the cloud.

How odd it took the Air Force 50 years to finally rid itself of the 8" 1.44 meg floppy. The first ones were actually 60 kilobytes. At least the got rid of punch cards and punched paper tape!

And to think it was used on a missile launch control system.

#1 | Posted by goatman at 2019-10-19 01:13 PM | Reply

The exotic headline brought me here.

Good morning, Goat!

#2 | Posted by Karabekian at 2019-10-19 01:23 PM | Reply

Good morning, sir! Yep, the headline caught my eye during my daily coffee and catch-up-with-the-news ritual I perform every morning if I'm not too busy pushing vets around the VA hospital. And it's slow on Saturday with most of the clinics closed. So yeah, lots of coffee, lots of time to get to the weird news part of the internet this morning.

I thought it had to be a joke, but it wasn't best as I can tell

#3 | Posted by goatman at 2019-10-19 01:27 PM | Reply

Our youngest son is an IT guy who works for a small computer services company in mid-state Michigan. One of their customers are the city offices of a small town. He made his first call there about 6 months ago and was shocked to find that they're still using 5 1/4 inch floppy disks to back-up their data.

Our son only moved back to Michigan a year ago and got this job shortly after arriving. He had worked several different IT jobs in in SoCal over the last 20 years or so, both working for service and support companies as well as being part of the IT departments of small to medium size corporations. But his move back to the mid-west has been a big shock to him in terms of the level of technology being used by his customers. He told me about an auto dealership where they had 14 PC's and not one of them required a password to log-on, and these PC's were connected to the OEM's dealer portal in Detroit. Many of his customers had no idea what a firewall was or even having their PC's tied to a common server, like that small town with the floppy disks having to use a 'sneaker-net' to move files from one PC to another.

BTW, here's a bit of trivia that fits right into the theme of this thread:

What were the last computers in the United States being used for, which still had vacuum tubes?

The computers that ran the nation's air traffic control system, and many of them were not replaced until the '90s.

I learned this several years ago when I saw some of that old ATC computer gear, which had been donated to 'The Computer Museum' in Boston, which unfortunately closed in 2000.


#4 | Posted by OCUser at 2019-10-19 02:17 PM | Reply

"One of their customers are the city offices of a small town. He made his first call there about 6 months ago and was shocked to find that they're still using 5 1/4 inch floppy disks to back-up their data."

I worked in IT for a long time.
What you describe is rare, but I usually see it as a good thing, and here's why:

If it ain't broke, don't fix it!
(Especially if it's a nuclear bomb.)

#5 | Posted by snoofy at 2019-10-19 02:22 PM | Reply | Newsworthy 1

the fact that eight-inch floppy disks were still used to store data critical to operating the Air Force's intercontinental ballistic missile command

It's very cool and sophisticated to have been using 8" floppies - everyone knows that 5.25" are just not nearly as safe because many people / commercial outfits are still using them and could accidentally or intentionally replace them in the central missile command.

Hopefully they switched to something similarly difficult to substitute and stay away from the "cloud" (Internet) storage, so they ain't gonna get hacked.


#6 | Posted by CutiePie at 2019-10-19 07:07 PM | Reply


During the 5.25" to 3.5" floppy transition, I saved my 5.25" ones on a spindle I made from a mop hand attached to a base. I wasn't sure if I'd ever need them again. When it became clear I didn't, I continued to stack them there. It got to about 4 or 5 feet high. Had I been a famous artist, I probably could have sold it as a work of art. LOL

#7 | Posted by goatman at 2019-10-19 07:14 PM | Reply

"Had I been a famous artist, I probably could have sold it as a work of art."

"I've always felt that a lot of modern art is a con, and that the most successful painters are often better salesmen and promoters than they are artists."
Donald Trump, Trump: The Art of the Deal

#8 | Posted by snoofy at 2019-10-19 07:22 PM | Reply

I probably could have sold it as a work of art.

I remember a competition years ago to create useful things from all those free AOL CDs that used to come with everything.

Some of them were pretty cool.

#9 | Posted by REDIAL at 2019-10-19 07:32 PM | Reply

I like this statement about it:

"Actually, it does. The fact that you cannot load data on these machines using a USB device does mean that they are more secure. The fact that anybody carrying around something that would allow them to quickly and easily load software (whether malicious or not) onto these machines would be obvious to anyone watching them does in fact increase security. The security does not come from the fact that the hardware is old, but from the fact that attempts to load software onto it are obvious. And on the software side it is not the fact that it is old that adds security, rather it is that the people who are knowledgeable enough about it to hack it are extremely rare. In both cases, these facts are a result of them being old, but the age is not what he is claiming makes them more secure. Rather it is a side effect of them being old."

Read more here: tech.slashdot.org

Think about it, no USB ports for someone to input corrupted or malicious data.

#10 | Posted by MSgt at 2019-10-19 07:57 PM | Reply



"Think about it, no USB ports for someone to input corrupted or malicious data."

Or export data, e.g., Chelsea Manning, who used a CD burner.

If only the military stuck with 8" floppy disks, Chelsea would probably still be writing data to disk, and would have to hatch a cunning plan to disguise them as a work of modern art in order to smuggle them out.

#11 | Posted by snoofy at 2019-10-19 08:19 PM | Reply

A few years ago I sold two Tandy/Radio Shack TRS-80's I bought way back when with a box of floppies and a printer to a collector for some decent cash.

My favorite floppy story happened one afternoon in the 80's.

I was unplugging all my studio gear because I heard a violent thunderstorm coming. The only thing that was still plugged in was the external floppy drive for the Commodore 64 I used for recording MIDI with my keyboards and drum machines. I saw an orange fireball outside the window. A bolt of lightening hit a tree in the front yard and dug a 10' long trench in the lawn to the outlet it was plugged into. There was still a floppy inside, but the thing looked like a Salvatore Dali painting because the floppy melted inside and was partially oozing out the front slot.

#12 | Posted by AMERICANUNITY at 2019-10-19 08:42 PM | Reply | Funny: 1 | Newsworthy 1

#12, the only lightning issue I ever had was on my screamin' 56 kbs *internal* (hot stuff) modem. Same thing. Storm was a coming and I went to unplug the modem and as I reached for it, lightning dumped into it and every capacitor on the thing blew up. Luckily it didn't happen two seconds earlier. Also lucky the modem was the only thing that got damaged. Motherboard and all else was OK.

#13 | Posted by goatman at 2019-10-19 08:48 PM | Reply

#12 -- I bought my TRS-80 in '79 with money my mother left me in her will. It cost $900, (that's almost $3,2000 in today's' money) but that was because I paid $200 more to upgrade from 4k (yes, k, not meg) RAM to 16k. No disk drive. It used an audio cassette recorder to save and store programs and data. Of course it was monochrome.

Mine was the first PC ever on my Navy ship. Shipmates came and marveled Pong and Space invaders, and Yahtzee (I wrote that program in BASIC myself) and a few other programs we hand typed in from the TRS-80 monthly magazine.

#14 | Posted by goatman at 2019-10-19 08:53 PM | Reply

#12 | Posted by AMERICANUNITY

PS - those were 5" floppies, not the later, smaller ones.

#15 | Posted by AMERICANUNITY at 2019-10-19 09:17 PM | Reply

When I was in middle or high school we were at the Naval Academy for homecoming and we went into the campus store. They had a computer game I thought looked cool and the store was a lot like a PX so it was pretty cheap (20-30) bucks which was close to half price of most games at the time. So I bugged my dad and he bought it for me. It was Sid Meier's Pirates! Before that my gaming experience was pretty much Oregon trail, lemonade stand, and snake and Oregon Trail I only played at school in the computer lab.

Anyway I got home and I went to load it on my computer and lo and behold it was a 3.5 disk and I only had a 5.25 drive.

My dad had a notebook with a 3.5 drive though so I would sit at the kitchen table for hours using a laptop with about a 6" mono screen and horrible sound screeching out all the time. I eventually got the money for a 3.5 drive but by then I was pretty much done with pirates it had gotten me into to Sid Meier's games and I got Railroad Tycoon (and learned from my mistake made sure it was 5.25 this time)

I miss those old games when developers didn't have the crutch of good graphics they had to make the game fun.

God I sound old.

#16 | Posted by TaoWarrior at 2019-10-20 06:31 AM | Reply

I have worked in the same place for many years. In my office I have relics from the past such as actual reels of tape that used to be the memories of old main frame computer systems. We don't have the main frames any more but I still have the memories. My office probably has items that date back 40 or so years, none of them have any relevance to what we do today but we keep them as souveniers of our beginnings as a company long ago. Makes me feel old though when I consider that many of those old relics were state of the art when I was already an adult working in the field. But then I realize, I'm not "feeling old," I am old.

When I think that I always remember, it beats the alternative.

#17 | Posted by danni at 2019-10-20 08:39 AM | Reply

My first introduction to computers is when I wwas in high school, early '70s. We were able to dial into a mainframe in Dallas with one of those phone cradle acoustic couplers. I forget the transmission rate, but it was extremely slow -- mI think 300 baud.

Using the phone itself was a trip. We were each allowed 10 minutes because it was a long distance toll call to Dallas, 20 miles away! I think rates then were 10c/minute. That's about 25c/min now.

There was no monitor. We communicated through a big lunky and very noisy teletype machine. The simple programs we wrote were stored on paper punch tape.

I concur with 'old', Danni!

#18 | Posted by goatman at 2019-10-20 08:52 AM | Reply

This is nothing. There are some similar systems that still use a storage system that pre-dates the floppy. Or at least were as of 2012.

I was talking to some guys one time about the ancient technology they relied on. Some of it was made by Hewlett Packard. When their computer broke, they went back to the company to find a replacement. The only thing HP had left was a machine in their museum, which they swapped out with the AF's broken machine, which was put back into use.

It could have been BS...I don't know. I just know that the storage devices they used were their weird huge floppy disks that I've never seen anywhere else.

#19 | Posted by madbomber at 2019-10-20 10:00 AM | Reply

Y'all have to admit, if you are the only one using a format, it is secure.

#20 | Posted by docnjo at 2019-10-20 10:54 AM | Reply

Univac vs Eniac. In this corner...

#21 | Posted by madscientist at 2019-10-21 04:30 AM | Reply

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