Appreciating the physicality of floppies

As I continue imaging and curating a collection of Apple II software I received last year, I have an increased appreciation for the importance of preserving physical floppy disks.

Multiple labels and overwriting are visible in this scan of an old 5.25″ floppy disk.

I have a floppy which contains a copy of a game called “Nosh Kosh.” To preserve the game digitally, Keith Hacke created a “disk image”, which in this case is a .DSK file that can be played in Apple II emulators.

Hopefully these digital disk images will endure online and in archives long after the last magnetic particles have flaked off the original physical floppy.

But the floppy still has important physical artifacts, particularly the labels.

This specific “Nosh Kosh” disk has a stack of different labels and writing. “The Nosh Kosh” is written in permanent marker over a label that reads, in part, “Jerusalem Squares Question Bank Editor.” So obviously the Nosh Kosh game was not the original content of this floppy.

It reminds me of Christopher Tolkien’s work editing his father’s manuscripts. Because of paper shortages, J.R.R. Tolkien often wrote new drafts in ink on the same sheets of paper as his original pencilled drafts.

Sometimes CRJT could make out the underlying pencilled drafts, but often he couldn’t, and much of that early drafting remains tantalizingly lost to time.

In this respect, the 1980s and 1990s were not so different from Tolkien’s day. Disks could be expensive, and they filled up with data. If you ran out of blank disks, but had data you needed to save, it was very common to overwrite old disks with new data if you felt like you could live without the old stuff.

There was a time when Gesher Educational Affiliates would have had many copies of their “Jerusalem Squares” software as well as this editor. But as far as I can tell — and I have done extensive research on Gesher’s software effort — both game and editor remain unarchived and may be lost to time.

This label, then, is one more tantalizing piece of evidence that the game and the editor did exist. And I can hope that maybe copies will be located someday.

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