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ATPM 13.07
July 2007





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by Mark Tennent,

Stuffed, Eleven Years Ago

It was eleven years ago, almost to the day, I wrote my first backup CD. The information contained on it is still relevant and fascinating to look through as a time capsule. It’s just that I can’t get the darned stuff off it. That is, I can, but I just can’t use it. It had to happen, and I share the blame 50/50 between myself and StuffIt’s owners, currently Smith Micro.

Back in 1996 when the CD was burned, computers came with on-board RAM that would fill the average low-key graphics card nowadays. Hard disks were smaller than the space occupied by today’s decent first-person shoot-em-up, and would never be able to accommodate a software suite such as Adobe’s CS. Empty space in 1996 measured in megabytes as today’s is gigabytes, meaning it was possible to back-up an entire computer to one or two CDs.

Publishing then was still at the cutting edge of computer innovation, needing ever more space and power as the boundaries of possibility were stretched. As we already had a collection of external hard disks, removable media, and a billion floppy disks, CDs seemed a good solution, able to hold what felt like an enormous amount of information. Little did we suspect that things would go full-circle, and hard drives would become a cheaper form of mass storage and transportation. One of our large-format, full-color books recently took six DVDs to transport, an unbelievable amount of data in 1996.

The 1996 CD in question took about an hour to make and verify at a heady 2× speed. On it are document backups and, more importantly, 19 MB of maps I need for a job in hand. At that time we were using a compression application called DiskDoubler, which could compress and decompress files on the fly. It meant we could squeeze more on our hard disks, and it was these files that we copied onto the CD. DiskDoubler remained a feature of our computing until Apple moved to Mac OS X. StuffIt has been around even longer, and for years the free StuffIt Expander could open DiskDoubled files. But unbeknown to us, this feature was abandoned a few versions ago.

This year our laptop died. It didn’t have a hard life and could run old Mac OS 9 natively unlike our desktop Macs. They, being powered by PowerPC G5s, will still run the old Apple operating system in the Classic environment but, the relevant StuffIt version needs the real McCoy to install into. So we are…er…stuffed, and the 19 MB of maps might as well be on the moon.

Our real problem is that much of the huge collection of CD backups will also contain compressed files. The information is there; we just cannot access it anymore. In many respects this is a good thing. After filling drawer after drawer with CDs, then DVDs, before moving on to shoe boxes, and lately the spindles the blanks come on, we are just about CD’ed out. Our database will say exactly which CD contains the files we want, but it cannot tell us where the darned thing is. One late-night misfiling can take hours to rectify; and, besides, we’ve run out of names to call the boxes.

It looks like our garden will sprout a whole new crop of bird scarers, the only other use we can put the useless disks to. Not that the pigeons seem to mind; instead of scaring them, the CDs act as a physical barrier between brassicas and birds.

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Reader Comments (4)

Lee Bennett (ATPM Staff) · July 1, 2007 - 13:10 EST #1
I may be treading the "duh" waters here, but if you still have any access at all to a machine that can still run Classic environment, the DDExpand application is not hard to find.
Mark Tennent · July 2, 2007 - 04:12 EST #2
Thanks a good link. I searched the Net for such a site.

Unfortunately DD Expand and the rest won't run in Classic. Or more correctly their various SEA's and HQX's won't expand to run in Classic. I even found an old System with a Stuffit Engine still in but no joy with that either.
Andrej Gustin · July 2, 2007 - 04:24 EST #3
It's this kind of situation that virtualization (ok, emulation :)) comes in handy. You just have a virtualized environment in an emulator like SheepShaver or Basilisk that takes care of all your backwards compatibility needs. The downside is that you have to have licenses for the emulated software. And you somehow have to legally obtain a ROM for the emulated machine...
Lee Bennett (ATPM Staff) · July 2, 2007 - 07:41 EST #4
Mark - that's strange. I successfully decompressed several DD files with DDExpand on my G5 at work. Granted, I'm out of luck at home on my MacBook Pro, but I don't have any DD files at home.

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