A history of data storage and recovery

I once mentioned to the kids I was teaching how useful I found having CD-ROMs to store stuff on. “What?!”, they said. “You had CDs back then?”

Young people always seem to have a working assumption in life that the technology they use only came into existence when they did. Anything else is ancient history. With that in mind, perhaps your pupils will find the infographic below useful and interesting. It charts the development of data storage and recovery from the time of Babbage, in 1834. Along the way there are interesting articles, photos and videos.

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Learning tools over the years

Here’s an interesting infographic which looks at how the technology used in the classroom has changed over the years (or remained pretty much the same!). The only one of the “outdated instruments” I never used was a slide rule! How many of these do you remember? And please don’t send me messages along the lines of “Before my time, Terry.” I feel ancient enough when I look at things like this already!  The infographic includes the history of Computer Science.
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In The Picture: History Lesson

Here’s a photo that was taken circa 1990. It shows a history lesson in progress, in one of the computer rooms. This is the sort of lesson I really like. As you can tell from looking at the picture, which was unposed, all the kids are fully engaged. The history teacher can be seen to the left of the photo, almost out of shot – literally a guide on the side. The topic, as you may have gathered, is the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and the students, who were 14 at the time, were using a variety of sources, both digital and paper.

History in the making

I’ve annotated the photo with letters. Here’s what they indicate.



A: The history teacher.

B Two girls collaborating on researching a database.

C Girl making notes on her findings, on paper, for use in a presentation later.

D Screenshots from the JFK database showing photos that were taken at the time.

E You can’t see it very well, but that’s a box of printer paper for use in a dot matrix printer. The paper was a ream of pages joined up and perforated, like toilet paper, with sprocket holes down the sides.

F A camera. I used to use cameras in my lessons to capture what went on. Note that this was pre-digital camera days, so the camera took…

G … Film.

H Newspapers, just one of several types of resources we used in the lesson.

I It’s not very clear, but that’s a 3.5” so-called “floppy disk”. That one could hold around 740 kilobytes of data.

J A monitor. It looks very quaint now, but I’d equipped the room with Atari ST computers. Although mainly associated with games, there was a range of office and educational applications available. All the programs shared common menus, which made it very easy to learn new applications – remember, this was around the time of Windows version 1. The monitors were high definition, with black text on a white background, unlike certain other computers at the time. They were fast too.

K As far as I can tell, this is one of only two girls in the entire class who was actually listening to the teacher at the time; well, be fair: they had work to do!

If you think I’ve missed some bits which need explaining, please let me know.And please let me know if you find this sort of thing interesting.

An Email Retrospective

I was looking for a particular video I made, to illustrate an article about the forthcoming edition of Computers in Classrooms (the fantastic free newsletter available only from this website), when I came across this video about email.

I think it was the first video I ever made for the internet, and as it was my first attempt I got the video settings wrong. In addition, there was no script, just Elaine and I looking through old emails to see if anything had changed. It was our way of celebrating ten years on the web, back in 2005 (it's ok, I know: we really do need to get out more).

Anyway, it's so boring that it's quite funny. Well, I think so anyway.

It includes one of those awful spam emails which contain just random sentences, except that back in 2005 I don't think I'd quite cottoned on to the fact that it was spam.

Elaine had suggested a friendly wager, that the emails would reveal that nothing had changed over ten years. I think I would say that she won.

I'll leave you with one final thought: what can be sadder than the fact that in 2005 I still had emails going back to 1996? How about the fact that, five years later, I've still got them?!

Well, we all need a hobby.

On a more serious note, I do find it interesting, every few years, to look through old emails to find out what I was concerned with, and what the burning issues of the day were. We lose too much personal and organisational history in today's ephemeral society, which is a pity: it's good to reflect on the journey now and again.


Uploaded by terryfreedman.