As at least one of you know, I am on a quest to rescue my ancient backups from bygone times before the media on them either disintegrates or is no longer readable. I am very close to the edge. I have three mediums:

1. Two 800k Mac floppy disks from 1990

2. One QIC-24 tape, also from 1990, from my tenure at a Santa Cruz-based computer company which shall remain nameless

3. One 4mm DAT tape, 2GB (DDS1) from 1995 which contains my backups from my tenure at Cygnus Support, which became Cygnus Solutions and was then purchased by Red Hat in 1999

First, the Mac floppies. They contain some, though sadly not all, of my (UUCP!) email from UCSC in the late 1980s as well as college papers, Usenet memes, and burp sounds that my roommate added to my collection of data when I wasn’t looking. I had a Mac Classic for which I believe I paid over $1400.

I have now discovered that the “classic” Macintosh could read and write single-sided double-density (400k), double-side double-density (800k), and high-density (1.4mb) floppy disks. It was able to write 800k to DSDD floppies in a time when most were 720k by using variable motor speeds in its floppy drives, thereby rendering those floppies unreadable by any machines other than Macs. Unthinkingly, I stored my precious backups on 800k disks and have thus been searching for a working 16+ year old Mac to read them, with the help of my son’s electronics lab teacher, my good friend and ex-college roommate who works at Apple (and who I think wants his burp noises back), and the random local community. I now have three non-working older Macs partially disassembled in my office.

The latest score is interesting, though – I have discovered a cache of old backups on ZIP 100 disks which contain most, but tantalizingly not quite all, of the information on those Mac disks! Now I simply need to figure out if the remaining miscellaneous data is worth the effort. As a bonus, if I do get an old Mac working, I will be able to play Dark Castle again, a game which I humbly refer to as “Freshman Year”.

Next up, the QIC-24 tape. For those who are not familiar, QIC stands for “quarter-inch cassette”, meaning a cassette with 1/4″ magnetic tape. This is a similar tape to that found in standard audio cassettes, but in a very sturdy aluminum-and-plastic cassette that you could use to ward off intruders. ┬áThese same tapes are still being used for backups worldwide. I have no doubt that the data is safe there – but QIC-24 is very ancient format and modern drives cannot read it. I discovered this by attempting to read the tape in the one drive that exists in my local area, which happens to belong to my one local client. Unfortunately, their tape drive is new enough that it no longer reads QIC-24.

The DAT tape is more interesting, as I purchased an older DAT drive on eBay at one point but never got it working. Two days ago I was able to source a SCSI card and managed to get the drive up and working on a Linux PC, and “mt status” returns information about the drive, but “tar” or “dd” on the tape only returns “Input/Output Error”, indicating that the drive is bad or dirty… or the tape is no longer recognizable. My next step is to clean the drive, and if that doesn’t work I will take my friend Beth’s offer up on a working DAT drive and give that a shot.

So… if you have any advice on where to find a QIC-24 drive, or how to get an old, dirty DAT drive working, I would be most grateful.